Just because I report on health, I’m often treated as an honorary physician at work. Fever? People knock at my door for paracetamol. A scraped elbow? Sure, I have a band-aid. Asphyxiation, asthma or heart attack? I’m called before the ambulance and the family.
Recurring moments such as these have made me seriously consider opting for a crash course in first-aid. Dr Arun Agarwal, the head of Maulana Azad Medical College, firmly believes that all journalists — like paramedics and policemen — should undergo basic first aid training because they are among the first to reach disaster zones.
That’s a sobering thought for someone like me whose only contribution to saving lives has been advising people where and who to go to. So this week I got a doctor in emergency care to give me a crash course in ‘first-aid for dummies”. The simplest way to begin, he suggested, is to know how to deal with injuries, choking and minor burns.
If someone is bleeding after an accident, first call 100 and next try to stop the flow of blood to prevent the person from dying of shock induced by blood loss. Instead of tying a tourniquet — cloth or bandage tied tight above the wound in the arm or leg to check bleeding by temporarily stopping the flow of blood to the area — a dressing or cloth pad should be used to put pressure on the wound to stop the bleeding. This prevents risk of permanent tissue damage from blood flow stopping completely. Raising the wounded area also slows blood loss.
Make sure you move the person to a recovery position — placing an unconscious person on his or her side to prevent suffocation through obstruction of the airway — even if he or she is unconscious. The victim’s mouth should face downwards so that any fluid can drain out from the airways. This position also prevents blood from nosebleeds or other injuries to the face from choking the airways. The arms and legs should be used to support the position and ensure the body stays stable until medical help arrives.
A person chokes when there is an obstruction of the upper airways. It can be caused by something stuck in the airways or in the foodpipe. Obstruction can be partial or complete and if not relieved, can lead to hypoxia and death. If a person is choking and conscious, encourage them to cough. If that doesn’t help, stand slightly behind and give sharp blows between the shoulder blades. Do this while supporting the chest with one hand and leaning the person well forwards so that the obstructing object pops out when it gets dislodged. Experts now say that the classic treatment for obstruction called the Heimlich manoeuvre — also known as abdominal thrusts — should be avoided as it can cause internal injury. To treat minor burns, cool the burned area by putting it under cool (not cold) running water for 10-15 minutes or until the pain subsides. If this is impractical, immerse the burn in cool water or cool it with a clean, damp cloth. Cooling the burn reduces swelling by conducting heat away from the skin. Don’t put ice on a burn as it will peel the skin away. Cover the area lightly with a gauze or clean cloth. Don’t break blisters as it increases risk of infection.
Heart attack and asthma attack victims should be induced into a half-sitting position, with the knees bent to support their head and shoulders. Sitting up takes the pressure off the lungs, making breathing easier. As for helping someone feeling faint, lie them down and raise their legs to increase blood flow to the brain and ensure they have plenty of fresh air.
First-aid is not difficult, provided you stay alert and sober.