Resuscitation by
Mouth-to-Mouth Breathing

When I was a medical student at the University of Moscow (1915-1921), we were taught the art or reviving the drowned or suffocated, or people in shock, by artificial breathing. The patient who had stopped breathing was put in the proper position (in the case of drowning on his stomach, with his tongue pulled out and held by a cloth) and his arms were lifted and then pressed to his ribs, pressure thus being rhythmically applied to his chest.

Once, years later, on a crowded beach, the body of a drowned man was brought from the sea surf. I happened to be in the crowd, and together with another doctor we desperately toiled for almost an hour, until an ambulance arrived. The doctor in the ambulance pronounced him dead—he did not breathe, nor did his heart beat.

After that incident I thought of Elisha’s method of artificial breathing; but many years passed before I read in the American press of a new method—resuscitation by mouth-to-mouth breathing. Since then, the method of mouth-to-mouth breathing has become widely known, and in very many cases people were revived who otherwise would be dead. Only yesterday (of my writing this) I read of a boy of ten who was discovered by his father with his neck caught by the sling of a rope; the father cut the rope and the mother, who happened to be a nurse, applied mouth-to-mouth breathing, keeping him alive until the ambulance arrived. The boy was saved.

In the time of Elijah there lived in Shunem “a great woman.” After years of childlessness she bore a boy.

And when the child was grown, it fell on a day that he went out to his father to the reapers. And he said unto his father. My head, my head. And he said to the lad, Carry him to his mother. And when he had taken him and brought him to his mother, he sat on her knees till noon, and then died.1

The mother put him on a bed and hurried on a donkey driven by a servant, and came to the man of God, Elisha, and begged him to hurry with her to her son. Elisha followed to Shunem, entered the house.

A staff brought in by the seer’s servant, Gehazi, who arrived first, and put it on the child, did not produce any effect. Gehazi “went again to meet him [his master], and told him, saying. The child is not awakened.” Then Elisha entered the house and “found the child was dead.”

And he went up, and lay upon the child and put his mouth upon his mouth, and his eyes upon his eyes, and his hands upon his hands; and he stretched himself upon the child; and the flesh of the child vexed warm. Then he returned and walked in the house to and fro; and went up and stretched himself upon him: and the child sneezed seven times, and the child opened his eyes.2

He called the Shunamite and said: “Take up thy son.”

The description of Elisha’s miracle makes clear that he did not resurrect the child by a gesture or a word, but by a prolonged procedure, with the seer’s mouth upon the child’s mouth; the exercise was interrupted, the seer, after straightening his body by walking in the house, repeated the procedure, and then the child repeatedly sneezed and the breathing reflex was re-established, and the child was alive again.

The description of the child’s sudden illness makes it appear that he suffered from sun-stroke when in the field with the reapers. A strong headache preceded the lapse into unconsciousness.

The mouth-to-mouth breathing accompanied by rhythmic movements of the body of the healer stretched out on the child’s body, who kept his hands on the child’s hands, and also warmed him by his own body warmth (and the flesh of the child vexed warm”), is an even better method than mouth-to-mouth breathing alone, and should be recommended in emergencies.

The story is apparently not fiction. In Ages in Chaos I have quoted from two letters of the great lady of Shunem. These two letters of the el-Amarna collection are the only ones written from Israel by a woman; she must have been a “great lady” if she corresponded directly with the pharaon. As I could show conclusively, these two letters were written from Shunem; and the woman signed them Baalat-Ness, or “she to whom a miracle happened.” From the appellation used in her letters to the pharaon it appears that the fame of the healing reached also the palace of Egypt.


  • II Kings 4:18-20.

  • II Kings 34-35

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