Somebody's bleeding. Somebody's
short of breath. Somebody (maybe you?) was just in a minor car
accident. Is it time for a trip to the hospital? Maybe. Maybe
not. How will you decide and what will you do? Everyone should have some basic knowledge of first aid.
If for no other reason to avoid violating the primary tenet of
medicine: "First, do no harm." It borders on your civic
responsibility to possess the knowledge to render aid to a
fellow human being who needs it badly, without doing anything
really stupid in the process. Not feeling civic minded?
That's OK. Perhaps this is more motivating: it's far, far more
likely that the person you'll be helping will be someone close
to you rather than a stranger. A family member, friend, or
co-worker IS going to experience a medical emergency one day.
Maybe sooner rather than later. How will YOU feel if you weren't
able to help a loved one in their hour of need? Well, here's the
good news: you don't have to go to medical school. You don't
even have to get a Boy Scout merit badge. The American Red Cross
first aid and CPR courses all over the country, on a
near-continuous schedule. I highly, highly recommend taking two
or three evenings out of your life to learn some basic
life-saving techniques. Meanwhile, here's a (partial) list of the dumb things people do
in an emergency medical situation:
Get out that tourniquet and tighten it down hard. Well, only
if the concept of an amputation is appealing. While profuse
bleeding in an extremity is frightening, a tourniquet is truly a
last resort. It can permanently damage nerves, blood vessels and tissues, and lead to the
new nickname: "Peg Leg." In virtually every case, direct hand
pressure over a clean cloth will stop even severe bleeding
anywhere on the body. However, if bleeding does not stop within
three minutes, call 911. (You've only got 12 pints to start with.)
If a cut isn't too deep and less than a half inch long, you're
probably OK treating it yourself. Clean the cut with plain water
(no soap), apply a triple antibiotic ointment, and cover with a
Band-Aid or small bandage. However, if the cut looks deep, don't
play the tough guy. Head to the emergency room. You'll probably
need stitches. In this case, don't put on ointment or use
antiseptic spray. Just wash with water and use a bandage.
You Cut Something Off
You just chopped off your finger with the hedge trimmer.
Don't pack it in ice. That will do more harm than good. Also
resist the temptation to wash off the dirt and grass with soapy
water. The soap will damage the exposed tissues. Instead, just
rinse in cool water and wrap in gauze. Then saturate the gauze
with water and put your "package" in a ziplock bag or plastic
container. You can put some ice cubes in the water. Get somebody
with a clean license to drive you to an emergency room. If
there's any day a speeding ticket will be worth it, it's today.
You need to get to the ER within three hours or the probability
of a successful reattachment falls off markedly (yes, I'm trying
to be funny...). Fortunately, advances in microsurgery mean many
amputated or avulsed (partially severed) body parts can be
reattached. Fingers, toes, ears are commonly done, but people
have had entire hands, arms, legs, and noses successfully
reattached. Even the penis can be put back in good working order
after an "incident."
Knocked Out Tooth
Time is even more critical if a tooth has been knocked out.
You have only a half-hour to reach the ER or a dentist before
the tooth dies. The stupid trick here is putting the tooth in a
glass of water. That will only hasten its demise. Find a small
container or use the corner of a plastic bag. Try to generate enough
saliva to cover the tooth. Failing that, use dairy milk. Don't
let the tooth dry out. If you don't have anything to contain the
tooth, try to place it back in position in your mouth. Just
don't swallow it.
Don't shmear butter or any other food item on a burn. A burn is thermal damage. A greasy
coating will only trap the heat and make things worse. Usually,
the best thing to do is immediately run cold water over the
burn. That'll draw out the heat, and have an anesthetic effect.
When you think you've run it long enough, you haven't; keep it
under for another ten minutes. However, don't apply ice directly
to a burn; it could contribute to additional tissue damage.
Another stupid trick is popping blisters. A blister is nature's
band-aid. Without it, the tissue beneath is exposed to
infection. For anything beyond a superficial first/second degree
burn, head on over to your doctor. Without proper treatment, you
could develop a really nasty infection. A trip to the
emergency room is in order if any of these things have happened:
- Your burn is bleeding.
- A child or elderly person received a second degree burn
(not just red, but showing actual blisters).
- You've been burned by a sticky substance such as tar or
asphalt or hot-melt glue.
- You burned your face or your groin (don't ask).
- You've been scalded by boiling water or live steam.
- The burn girdles (goes all around) a limb.
If a person is having an epileptic or other seizure, don't
try to pry his or her mouth open. It's quite difficult to do,
and you'll probably hurt yourself trying. It's unlikely to help
*unless* the person is having difficulty breathing. A blocked
airway is absolutely a life-threatening condition, and in that
case, you have to try to clear it. Otherwise, your job in this
situation is to prevent the person from hurting him or herself.
If you see the start of the seizure, catch the person and help
him/her down to the floor. Don't move him/her after that or try
to restrict motion. You could cause a fracture or muscle tear if
you try. Move surrounding objects out of the way. Loosen his
necktie and possibly his belt to facilitate breathing. There's a
chance the person could vomit. In this case, you should roll him
on his side to prevent aspiration of the vomitus. Of course, you
should call 911, or better yet, stay with the person and direct
a specific individual to make the call. However, if the person
is a known epileptic (look for the MedicAlert bracelet or
locket), you can wait about five minutes before summoning the
paramedics. Epileptic seizures are normally brief and don't
require medical attention unless an injury was sustained during
It's hard to gauge injury after a car crash, especially on
yourself. Even a slow-speed accident can cause trauma. It's
tempting to jump right out of the car and survey the damage to
your vehicle. Forget the car. It can be repaired.
You might not. It's best to stay put and determine if you have
pain especially in your head, neck, or back. If you do have pain there, do
not move. Wait for the paramedics to arrive, and then insist
they immobilize you. This is absolutely the time to err on the
side of caution. If you come on the scene of an accident, the
only time you should attempt to extract a victim is if the
vehicle is on fire and you don't hear sirens. Otherwise, let the
professionals handle it.
If it's you that's been in the accident, and you don't detect
any obvious injuries, you have a decision to make: whether to go
to the hospital or not. You'd be stupid not to go if you lost
consciousness after the crash, even for a moment. Likewise, if
you were thrown into the steering wheel or banged hard into the
car interior, go. If the "Jaws of Life" had to be used to get
you out of the car, go. If anybody else in the car had injuries
and is going to the hospital, you too
should go and get yourself
The Biggest Stupid Trick: Doing Nothing
We're all busy. Nobody wants to spend the evening in an
emergency room. Well, ignoring certain symptoms can land you a much longer stay in a rehab center or nursing home. For
example, if you detect some weakness on one side of your body,
possibly accompanied by confusion, headache, or mild slurring of
speech, what could that be a symptom of? A stroke perhaps?
Prompt treatment could prevent severe irreversible brain damage.
How about chest or abdominal pain? Could be indigestion. Could
also be a heart attack. Clot-busting drugs could save your life…
but only if you get to a place where they have them. Difficultly
breathing? Could be anxiety or something entirely else. You
should seek immediate medical help. Likewise, sustained (more
than one hour) high fever (over 101F for adults or over 104F for
children) can lead to serious complications. Prolonged vomiting
and/or diarrhea means something's very wrong. You need
professional medical help.
So go. Get yourself examined.
Play it safe.
I want you alive and kicking, and reading the August 2057 issue of the Urbach