Slices from Life

Who’s the Dummy?

Or, ALS Recertification Thumping At 4:35 A.M. In the Morning

By Will Nuessle


“That within you that draws breath is where the music is.” Elena Gillespie

One thing I had not counted on when I signed up to coach new fathers were the numerous and seemingly constant hoops one has to jump through to have a job, even a part-time one, in healthcare. This week’s Cavalcade of Whimsy was my assigned and nearly overdue Advanced Life Support recertification training. You know — what they used to call CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation).

I mean, come on, besides watching two children, running a small business and writing a novel, what else did I have going on?

With some difficulty (ever tried passing a timed multiple-choice test whilst keeping a four-year-old from dumping water over the head of his two-year-old brother?), I managed to complete the online portion of the training, so it was just the on-site, iPod led, mannikin thumping portion awaiting me.

Lucky for me — I hoped — the on-site, iPod led, mannikin thumping training room would be available for the said thumping twenty-four/seven/fifty-two.

(Huh? Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year. I know that’s not the common way to say it, but my way involves a cleaner progression; hours/days/weeks rather than hours/days/days. Plus, the other way leaves out every-four-years February 29th completely. It’s time we changed that.)

When I woke up at 2:33 this morning and gave up trying to get back to sleep at 3:33 a.m., since everybody else was zonked out, there was nothing keeping me from slipping out of the house and driving in the freezing cold to the hospital and finding the Official Thumping Room.

Come with me on the magical mannikin journey, won’t you?

Around 4:10 A.M. I woke up the iPod at the First Mannikin Station; I watched the instructional video. I started the timed session and began compressing a plastic dummy. Took me a couple of tries to figure out the iPod screen was showing me where my compressions were going wrong, but I was a smart if exhausted cookie and I got it sorted. I need an 84 to pass the test, and I keep getting 74s and 78s and 80s.

Until my last attempt at that particular station, which I did not even bother to finish, as something had gone wrong. The 3×3 square readout that told me if I was too shallow or too deep on the up-down part and too slow or too fast on the left-right part was pegged up at the top; no matter how hard or deeply I shoved my hands into that plastic chest, it said my compression technique was off-the-charts shallow.

That’s fine. It was only 4:23 A.M. in the morning; nobody else was using the room. I would just disconnect from the station I was using and move over to the another.

Unfortunately, the adult dummy at the other station could not be connected to the iPod’s Bluetooth no matter what I tried.

That was fine. It was only 4:27 A.M. in the morning; nobody else was using the room. I would just change the station again.

And lo, dear readers, did the humble Daddy Boot Camp coach and father of three finally manage to complete the first of six certification techniques at the third station after only twenty minutes of thumping effort? Justifiably proud of myself, I started the second module, with the bag and the air into the plastic dummy’s mouth.

Except that the bag-breathing readout did not seem to be functioning. Could have been an user error; eight hours’ sleep in two days did not speak well for me — but no matter what I did, no bag breathing showed up on the readout.

That’s fine. It was only 4:35 A.M. in the morning; nobody else was using the room. I would just move over to the final station, possibly said a couple of bad things under my breath.

God be praised — this mannikin had a working respiratory system. And once I figured out all the instructions and offered the life-saving breath every 5-6 seconds instead of pumping the poor guy like I was trying to inflate a bicycle tyre, I passed the second of six modules after only thirty minutes of overall effort. Basic understanding of statistical analysis told me I would be done in another ninety minutes or so.

The third adult module put the first two together in an unholy concoction; thirty compressions that needed to go in that little green square indicating they’re not too fast, slow, hard or soft and then three breaths from the bag.

The bag, the same one from the previous successful test, mind you, from which I would sometimes get a ‘nothing happened’ reading and sometimes get a ‘you just blew this guy’s lungs apart’ reading despite applying, I swear to you, exactly the same amount of pressure every single time.

I needed an 84 to pass. I had been in this room for what felt like hours. I got a 78. I adjusted my technique and tried again. 74. I watch the instructional video again. I didn’t even finish the next attempt after two ‘lung bursting’ mistakes. I took a couple of deep breaths and tried again. 80. I stepped away from the station, did a couple of laps around the tiny room, and tried again.


And…I…lost it. I cursed that lifeless ALS Certification dummy, I cursed the factory that made him and for good measure I cursed the Red Cross founder, Clara Barton.

After I got it all out of my system, I did arguably the only smart thing I could claim in the past couple of hours; I abandoned that particular module and turned over to the infant tests. Passed the compression test on Junior in my second try; had similar ‘not enough’ vs ‘kid’s head just exploded’ bag squeezing problems but managed to overcome them, and the little baby dummy lived to see another plastic day.

It was after 5 A.M. in the morning. Just that one test remained. I don’t mind saying I prayed for grace and (the appropriate amount of) strength. I only sort-of mind admitting that I actually asked the plastic ALS Certification dummy out-loud to be nice to me; promising that if he would just give me a break on this once, I would go away and leave him in peace.

And I started the blessed Compression/Ventilation Certification test once more time.


First person to tell me that B stands for ‘Barely Passing’ will get a free sample of my recertified Chest Compression skills.

I turned off the equipment and grabbed my jacket. It was only as I was leaving the Mannikin Thumping room that I realised.

The room is located in the Birthing Recovery wing with beds sporting recently delivered mothers and fathers and newborns on either side.

It wouldn’t have kept me from my angry fit, knowing that — I would’ve tried to lower the volume.

Nobody banged on the wall or called the nurses’ station at least.

Meanwhile, it was 6:38 A.M.; I would really try and get some sleep.


Will Nuessle is a primary caregiver (two male homo-sapiens), a small business owner, and novelist who claims he can recite the alphabet backwards in less than ten second. He blogs at or search Will Nuessle on; print, digital and read-by-the-author audiobooks available in a variety of flavors)



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