Would you know what to do in an emergency? A parent has suddenly collapsed; you’re at the scene of a bad accident. Of course, call 911 — but what can you do while waiting for help to arrive? In medicine, we label the early moments after an emergency the “Golden Hour” — because what you do right then may determine the outcome.
That may sound scary. But as an ER doctor, I’ve seen countless patients whose lives were saved by a quick-thinking and knowledgeable bystander or loved one. We never know where life may lead — and every single one of us can learn these life-saving techniques. (Cue ER theme music).
1. Learn CPR and how to use an Automated External Defibrillator (AED).These are two of the most life-saving techniques you can learn. Why? Because of the 400,000 people who have a cardiac arrest every year (meaning they collapse and their heart suddenly stops), 88 percent occur at home and 16,000 of those are children.
Performing CPR until the ambulance arrives can TRIPLE someone’s chances of survival. Learn CPR and how to use an AED by taking a class with the Red Cross or American Heart Association. After my daughter was born, I had everyone in my family (including grandparents) learn!
2. Stop bleeding safely. If someone has a cut that’s bleeding, you should make a tourniquet, right? Wrong. Unless the injured person may bleed to death from an amputation, don’t try it. Instead, #1: apply pressure and #2: elevate the injured area (if possible), higher than the level of the heart. To apply pressure, ideally use sterile gauze. If that’s not available, grab a towel or t-shirt. A clot won’t form while it’s actively bleeding, so hold just enough pressure to stop the bleeding.
3. Do. Not. Move an injured person. Injuries are often made worse when someone’s well-intentioned friends try to move them/make them more comfortable. Unless someone is someplace truly dangerous (i.e. in the middle of the highway, or at risk of fire or drowning), leave him or her in place.
4. Know the “back blow” maneuver for choking. Did you know that the Red Cross now recommends doing back blows first, before the Heimlich maneuver? Start by leaning the person slightly forward and hitting them five times just between the shoulder blades with the heel of your hand. If that doesn’t work, give five quick Heimlich thrusts by standing behind them, grabbing your fists at their navel and giving five upward thrusts. Repeat back blows and thrusts until the person coughs out the object or they lose consciousness (at which point you start #1, CPR).
5. Keep aspirin on hand. In a heart attack, blood cells and platelets rush to the injured site – potentially causing more of a blockage. Aspirin prevents that clot formation in as little as five minutes from taking it. If you think a loved one is having a heart attack, call 911 first. If the emergency dispatch operator advises that they take an aspirin (ask the 911 operator), have them chew it to absorb quickest.
Saving someone doesn’t start with fancy tools; sometimes it just takes the appropriate knowledge. Learn these five tips today — it can make the difference between life and death for a friend, stranger or loved one.