Today, many people take for granted the idea that a stopped heart can be restarted, that a person who appears dead isn't really dead until all life-saving techniques have been attempted. But just a few centuries ago, dead was dead. The Amsterdam Rescue Society, formed in 1767, was the first dedicated to the idea that someone who appeared dead--drowning victims, in this case--could and should be revived. Life in the Balance
looks at the colorful history of resuscitation from biblical times to the present, and shows just how recent today's life-saving techniques, and the will to save lives at all, really are.
Eisenberg tells the fascinating, many-faceted story of the fight against sudden cardiac death. The first report in English on mouth-to-mouth resuscitation (administered to a Scottish miner overcome by fumes) appeared in 1744, and the method has been in and out of favor ever since. Of course, such artificial respiration will not do the job by itself. The circulation must be restored, and the heart returned to its regular rhythm. Chest compression helps with the circulation, but the electrical activity of the heart makes things much more complicated. Here, Eisenberg turns to the use of electricity in medicine and in quackery. Electricity furnishes the only means for stopping ventricular fibrillation, the wild pulsing that soon makes the heart useless. Eisenberg tells how electric medical pioneers worked with alternating and direct currents and how they invented and modified portable emergency devices. Moreover, his description of these developments in cardiac emergency medicine and the people involved in them makes us, too, feel involved. William Beatty