I took CPR in the morning session, along with 145 others, seated on the floor of the auditorium in the Cubberley Community Center. A similar number of legless dummies joined us.
My group of 10 was taught by Mike Bender of Palo Alto and by the end he had each of us on the floor giving life-saving breaths and chest compressions to our dummies. We also learned how to help a choking victim, when to call 911 for help, how to recognize and care for shock, and to always ask for permission before trying to help a conscious victim.
Around the room other groups of 10 did the same, each led by Red Cross volunteer teachers. Head Instructor Mark Liao, a Stanford pre-med student and certified emergency medical technician, introduced the video-training program provided by the American Red Cross.
The mass class is an annual event for the Red Cross chapter, offered in addition to the much smaller regular classes offered at the chapter offices each month. The CPR Saturday classes are free (except for the afternoon first-aid classes) and are designed to let as many people as possible learn life-saving skills.
During the day more than 300 people were trained in CPR, with 89 of them also taking first-aid classes. Classes for Spanish speakers attracted 66 students and 28 more took classes in Chinese. Participants ranged in age from 10 to their 80s, and in the past have come from as far away as Modesto and Mill Valley.
Such a massive undertaking wouldn't be possible without a massive volunteer effort, and the Red Cross had more than 100 volunteers working on Saturday, including 30 instructors. The city of Palo Alto, Foothill College, the Stanford Federal Credit Union, the Palo Alto Medical Foundation and several individuals helped sponsor and pay all the costs of the event.
In my group, the students ranged from Stanford students to Gloria Reade of Palo Alto and Hal Makin of Mountain View, who lead hikes for the Avenidas senior center in Palo Alto and Little House in Menlo Park several times a week. Gloria Reade said they wanted to be prepared for an accident or illness on their outings.
Several Boy Scout troops, families and groups of friends also took the classes together.
As our session neared its end, head instructor Liao warned us not to take it personally if our new skills weren't perfect. "Don't ever blame yourself if the person isn't resuscitated," he said.
Mr. Bender echoed that sentiment. "At the end of the day, almost anything you can do is going to help," he said.
In the afternoon first-aid class I found out that putting a sling on a broken arm isn't as easy as it looks, practiced bandaging an open wound, and learned about treating burns, broken bones, strokes and seizures, allergic reactions, heat exhaustion and more. Foothill College Student Health Services Coordinator Naomi Kitajima made the first-aid lessons much more interesting by giving real-life examples of campus incidents in each category.
At the end of the day I proudly showed off my new certification cards to my husband and daughter, and offered to practice my sling making skills on them. They declined, and hopefully, I will never have to use my new skills. But if I do, I am ready.
Others who would like to learn to help in an emergency, or to volunteer to help the Red Cross, can visit www.paarc.org or call (650) 688-0415.
Barbara Wood is a freelance writer, photographer and gardener from Woodside. Her column runs the third week of the month.