Hearty Musings

So, for Valentine’s Day this year, I gave myself a cardiac arrest. I was broken hearted.

In this post I contemplate the story of my cardiac arrest, my earlier heart attack, and the life saving treatment I received from strangers. How does this relate to the debate over “knowledge transmission” vs “discovery learning”?

This story begins in my kidneys, apparently. It turns out mine aren’t great – one is very small. I never knew this. The medical people discovered it during the investigations following my myocardial infarction (MI), or heart attack. And the thinking is that, over the years, this caused my blood pressure to rise leading to heart disease. I thought my asthma was getting worse, which is what the GP told me too.

So, one June day I was eating my lunch in the school canteen when I started to suffer what I thought was indigestion. And a very mild panic, which I tried to ignore. Like when I haven’t done something important.

I returned to my room, where I tried to dismiss the weird sensation in my left arm. There was a voice in my head which was telling me that I was imagining that. Google said it was a key symptom, but I was just 36 years old at the time and I was obviously not going to have a heart attack at my age.

So, I went about my afternoon as normal, teaching my year 9 class. That evening was the year 11 prom, so I went home and got ready. My wife could tell that something was not quite right, but I couldn’t put my finger on what I was feeling.

I drove to the prom, enjoyed it, and drove home again. Had a cup of tea. Went to bed. BAM! An elephant was sitting on my chest whilst someone was wrapping me in the hottest ice in the universe. I went into the bathroom where I found a cool patch on the floor to roll about on. Then I needed the toilet and the entirety of the cosmos left my body, whilst all of Hades came out of my mouth simultaneously into the sink next to me.

My wife called an ambulance. The paramedics worked quickly to treat me with something in my mouth and morphine in my arm. They took me to New Cross Hospital where I received swift treatment – an angiogram and angioplasty; I was fitted with two stents. Later, I was discharged from hospital with a bag full of tablets which signalled a lifetime of medical dependency. I was also put on a rehab programme of exercise, which was run by the British Heart Foundation (BHF). I began to look into the work of the BHF and was amazed at the amount of work they do, from CPR training, to research, to providing nurses.

Life returned to normal. Then super-normal, as we welcomed our second daughter into the world. Things were great. Then, in February this year I was attending an interview at the UCB in Birmingham when, during my presentation, I died. My heart went into VF and then stopped. This was a cardiac arrest. Luckily I received swift CPR from a security guard at the college, and was responded to by paramedics very quickly. Several people saved my life that day thanks to their calm and swift response – obviously the paramedics, but also the staff at the UCB and, of course, the man who pumped my chest.

I was taken to a local hospital, but I’m afraid I don’t recall or understand the details of the treatment I received there. Two weeks later I had an ICD fitted, which serves of a very physical reminder of what has happened as the device sits proudly under the skin of my moob. This clever bit of kit constantly monitors my heart’s rhythm and should it go into VF again, the machine will give me a quick zap. I understand it can give a shock of up to 8000 volts.

I had the great honour and privilege of being invited back to the college to meet this man and tour the building, as I had no memories of the place at all. This visit happened last week and it was quite an experience – what do you say to the man who saved your life? Not only that, but he saved my quality of life with his quick response and good CPR technique. This saved my brain – the biggest danger for survivors of cardiac arrests is loss of oxygen to the brain.

I think I may have suffered a very little as my short term memory is FUBAR and I struggle to organise speech in my head before it comes out of my mouth. And I have a fear of going anywhere by myself. But that will probably pass.

So, what has any of that got to do with learning, and the debate around knowledge transmission vs discovery learning?

Well, in the first instance I’m rather glad that those who have treated my following both of these events were able to call upon a body of learned knowledge in order to give me the best treatment, rather than having to look it up on Google before giving me the morphine, or inserting the stents, or giving me CPR or fitting an ICD.

This is knowledge that these people will have had to rehearse somehow I order for it to remain in their long-term memory. The CPR-hero told me that has trained in CPR for 15 years. I was the first time he had to actually use it.

But, medical science is not static. Rather it is fluid, and new guidelines are released frequently. Medical staff are required to keep up-to-date with recent research findings, and the advice given on CPR has changed over the years. These changes are based on new discoveries – ongoing research which is, by definition, a process of discovery learning. This is built upon, and intertwined with established medical knowledge. But that established knowledge was, in turn, learnt through discovery – right back with the men who began dissecting stolen corpses.

I guess I’m concluding that this debate is one of those dichotomies that we teachers and educationalists love to splash around in. And yes, I’m afraid I’m heading towards the suggestion that this dichotomy is one of those falsies.

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3 thoughts on “Hearty Musings

  1. That what it is that should be known changes, and changes through discovery, is not disputed by anybody. That doesn’t make the debate a false dichotomy. There are obviously quite genuine debates between those who think we need to have knowledge in our heads and those who advocate looking it up. And also between those who think we learn knowledge best by being told about it clearly and those who think we learn it best if we discover it for ourselves.

    • Thanks for your comment, Andrew. And thanks for reblogging – I really do appreciate that.

      Do you exclude the possibility of a third category of people – those who believe that being told things and looking things up can work together to provide a good way of learning?

      Besides, neither is effective without repetition and rehearsal. I can tell students something, and they forget it almost immediately. Being told things isn’t how we learn them. Being told things, and doing something with that knowledge is what helps us to retain it.

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