BACKGROUND: Rates of bystander cardiopulmonary resuscitation remain low nationwide. Possibly, low rates can be explained by examining the reactions of laypersons who attempt to resuscitate a stranger. OBJECTIVE: To examine the thoughts, feelings, and motivations of laypersons who have attempted to resuscitate a stranger. METHOD: Survey methods were used to do a qualitative study of 12 laypersons who had provided bystander resuscitation. A 36-item questionnaire of predominately open-ended questions was used to elicit retrospective information about the laypersons' thoughts, feelings, and motivations during several stages of the resuscitation event. Data were analyzed by using content analysis. RESULTS: Thoughts about the event included curiosity, questioning of personal capability, and recognition of differences between classroom training and real-life events. Feelings included hope, euphoria, pride, relief, satisfaction, hopelessness, doubt, agitation, anger, sadness, and fear. Primary motivations were duty and responsibility, guilt and social pressure, and altruism. All participants reported that they had excellent recall of the event. CONCLUSION: These results provide insight into a population that acts on behalf of the medical community.