We All Get Scared

Posted: January 26, 2016    |   John Ehinger

A week or two ago, I had the pleasure of attending Parent Heart Watch’s annual conference. While PHW is a group of remarkably resilient and wonderfully selfless people, there were also a number of interesting educational sessions.

One of these was presented by Dr. Peter Antevy.   Dr. Antevy’s session focused on how he and others are seeking to change the approach to pediatric life support taken on-scene by EMS personnel.   In addition to the interesting medical facts and findings relayed in Dr. Antevy’s presentation, two other points struck me that apply more broadly.

The first of these is the fact that while EMS personnel are customarily very confident in treating adult patients, this confidence often evaporates when faced with the prospect of treating a child. As Dr. Antevy and his peers try to change this, it occurred to me that as lay people, there is a guiding point in here for us. Simply, if trained paramedics can be afraid in a lifesaving event, it is certainly normal for the lay public to have reservations too. The person next to you is just as nervous as you are. So, it is okay to be worried – what matters is that you do something. Call 911, start CPR, get an AED. Taking action may not ease all of your concerns, but doing nothing will only make your fears reality.

The point of action gets to another facet of Dr. Antevy’s discussion – how we take action. Influenced by the work of Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman, Dr. Antevy is advocating a process change in EMS response to better reflect the way our brains work. Without delving into too much minutia, Dr. Antevy aims to recognize the difference between what Dr. Kahneman refers to as System 1 (automatic, reactionary, ingrained) Thinking and System 2 (logical, calculating, processing) Thinking. In tense situations, the need to use System 2 thinking slows us down and makes us more susceptible to error.

There is a broad lesson in here for us as well, even if we are not professional first responders. Whether trusting your instincts at the individual level or ensuring the response plans are not overly complicated in a corporate setting, the more straightforward that we can make our response to an emergency situation, the better the prospects for a good outcome.

So, you should know that it is okay to be nervous. Everyone gets scared. Just trust what you know and try to make a difference.

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