Emergency underscores value of Red Cross health, safety classes

We all have been reminded of the value of periodically taking the first-aid, CPR, and other health and safety classes that are a staple of the American Red Cross. Like many of us, Nisha Baxi, a member of the Board of Directors of the American Red Cross of the Silicon Valley, did not fully appreciate the classes’ value — until a recent day in San Jose. In a “thank you” note she shared with her Red Cross colleagues, Nisha tells a story that should motivate all of us to stay current on our training. She gave us permission to post her note (and story) on this regional blog site.

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Nisha Baxi, right, a member of the Board of Directors for the American Red Cross’s Silicon Valley Chapter, is pictured with Ann Herosy, the Disaster Officer Volunteer Partner for this Red Cross region.

Hi Red Cross Family,

I want to share a story with you that illustrates why I am so proud to be part of this organization.

On a recent Saturday, my best friend since junior high, my boyfriend, and I decided to burn off some holiday calories by attending the SoulCycle class at Santana Row in San Jose. Little did I know that morning that I’d spent most of the day in the ER.

The class played a great mix of Arianna Grande and Beyonce — just the right amount to keep you moving and inspired. We were happily dancing on our bikes to the beat of the music, and once the class ended, the three of us cooled down to some chill, mellow beats. My longtime friend let me know he was feeling a little rundown, needed to sit down, and told me that he’d meet me outside. I knew instantly something was wrong, so I jumped off my bike and followed him.

He slowly lowered his body down in front of the door, grabbing onto the handle as though to open it — but instead of opening it he held it shut to stop himself from falling. I put his arm around me so I could support his body weight while we found a safe place to sit.

We didn’t make it to sit.

My friend immediately fell unconscious, eyes falling lifeless as he collapsed in my arms. But because of the way I was taught in Red Cross classes (and reminded of in Girl Scouts training before that), I was able to lower him safely to the ground while shouting as loud as I could for somebody to call 911.

It was only about 5 seconds or so before my friend opened his eyes again; but it felt like an eternity. I immediately asked him to state his name and location, and I kept asking him questions in hopes of helping him remain conscious. I told him repeatedly that he was going to be okay, but I knew that I was really comforting myself. So many things were flashing through my head all at once:

  • Would he start seizing? (That worry was a signal to myself: I need to make sure there were towels all around his head.)
  • Was he experiencing heart failure?
  • Should I start administering CPR? (Another signal to myself: How far is the defibrillator from me, and can someone grab it for me if I need it?)

Since my friend was now awake, I asked him as many questions as I could about his symptoms so when the EMT came they would have as much information as possible in case he passed out again; I also just thought it would help keep him awake. I figured the most likely scenario was that he was exhausted and dehydrated so I called for some juice and something to prop up his feet to elevate his legs over his heart.

These were all things I had learned from the American Red Cross over the years in first aid and CPR classes.

I tried to take my friend’s heart rate but was so overwhelmed I couldn’t find his pulse and knew I would confuse mine with his. I decided it was the EMT’s job to take vitals. Since my friend was conscious, I reminded myself that it seemed like my priority was to try to talk to him and keep him awake.

Within 5 minutes, an EMT team arrived. Shortly after they completed an initial assessment of my friend, he passed out again. I held him in my arms, fearful that he’d bang his head if he fell.

Taking over, the EMT team put him on a stretcher, and I followed the ambulance to the ER. In the hospital, my friend was diagnosed with severe dehydration — he didn’t eat much before class (other than a few bites of a protein bar), he hadn’t consumed much water since the night before, and he had likely had too much coffee before our workout.

I felt guilty — I was the reason we were at SoulCycle instead of sitting on his parents’ couch gossiping the way we always do when we’re together. Instead, I found myself crying on the way to the ER, insisting to my boyfriend that I made a mistake by suggesting such a strenuous class for the three of us. When we got to the hospital and learned that my friend was going to be okay, he thanked me for being there for him and said “I am so thankful that you are a Red Cross lady and you knew what to do.” He said that to me enough times that it stuck in my brain, and the guilt started manifesting itself into gratitude. Gratitude for the health and safety skills I have because of the American Red Cross.

Did I do everything perfectly during this emergency? Probably not. But is my friend safe and well now? Yes! We’ve spoken multiple times since his hospital trip that day, and we’re back to laughing and even had a chance to gossip a little bit during my lunch break on a recent day.

I will always be indebted to the American Red Cross for giving me the tools to handle this crisis. All of the hours I have put into the American Red Cross during my life is all worth it if it helped my friend through this one trying occasion.

I write this note sitting in the Salesforce Tower where I work. Sitting here, the incident already feels like a dream. But I am heartened by the fact that — because I was empowered to act — maybe my effort helped prevent this dream from becoming a nightmare.

Thank you, thank you, thank you Red Cross.

Nisha Baxi

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You never know when you might face your own “Nisha” moment. An easy first step is to learn more about the classes the Red Cross offers in your area; just go to this web page.