Don't just stand and stare

By Nina C Zimmermann (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-04-28 09:59
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Don't just stand and stare
A resident of Xi'an, Shaanxi province, being shown how to
resuscitate a person with CPR. Yuan Jingzhi / Asia News Photo

Reacting to a medical emergency can save a life and 'the only mistake you can make is to do nothing'.

A shopper falls unconscious to the ground in a department store. During lunch time a colleague chokes on a piece of food and gasps for air. While cooking, a person cuts their finger with a knife and bleeds profusely.

If you know what to do in situations like these, you may end up saving a life. And even if you are unsure, you should try to help anyway as the law protects anyone who goes to a person's aid in an emergency from prosecution.

"The only mistake you can make is to do nothing," says Lars Menzel from the St John's Ambulance in Leipzig, Germany. Every person who happens upon an accident is obliged to come to the person's aid.

"I am the most important part in the chain of events that leads to a person receiving help," he says. That is because the faster the call to the emergency services is made, the quicker the professionals can get to work. "It's better to make one emergency call too many, than one too few," Menzel advises.

Here's an overview of what to do if you find yourself in a situation where a person needs help.

What do I do when a person falls unconscious?

If a person suddenly falls over most people automatically do the right thing and speak to the person. They shake them and check if they are still conscious. "Shake and Shout" is the name of this emergency method, according to Dr Markus Roessler.

If the patient fails to react you must call the emergency services immediately. Then, check to see if the person is breathing, advises Menzel, who is head of the emergency unit at University Clinic Goettingen.

"Can you hear the person breathing? Is their chest rising and falling?" If that is the case, move the person into a stable position with their head tilted slightly back. That will prevent blockage by any vomit or saliva and it will stop the tongue from covering the air passages.

If there are no signs of breathing you must immediately try to resuscitate the person with CPR. Place the person on his back on a solid surface and remove clothes from his upper body. Then kneel beside the person.

The rule is: Press the chest down 30 times and then exhale into their lungs twice, says Barbara Hogan from the German Society for Interdisciplinary Medicine in Hamburg. It is usually a good idea to begin resuscitation by beating the chest once with your fist - "Like hitting a table top."

Continue pumping the chest and ventilating the lungs until the person either resumes breathing normally or the emergency services arrive and take over.

Don't worry if a rib breaks during the process. "That often happens but it does not affect the patient. The main thing is to get the heart working again," says Hogan. The longer a heart ceases to function, the worse the consequences for the affected person.

If there is an automatic defibrillator close by, such as in an airport or a swimming pool, you should try to use it, advises Hogan. "You don't need to be afraid of a defibrillator. The machine tells you everything you need to do."

How do I treat a skin cut?

Every home should have a first aid kit. A kit contains sterile compresses that can be used to cover a skin cut before it is bandaged. If you don't have anything sterile to use, use something else. The main thing is to prevent bleeding, says Hogan.

If a wound bleeds heavily, Menzel recommends calling a paramedic. His basic advice is: "Use physics to your advantage." A bleeding finger should be held higher than the patient's heart to lessen the flow of blood. It is a good idea to wear disposable gloves when doing this as they can prevent infections.

How do I treat a burn?

The best way to treat a minor burn, such as a finger that has touched a hot cooking surface, is to hold the affected area under cold, running water for 10 minutes, says Menzel. A bleeding burn should not be cooled. Larger burns require the attention of a paramedic.

How do I help a person who is choking?

If a person has swallowed something the wrong way he should cough first if he can.

"That's the best way to get an object out of the throat," says Roessler. Usually the person bends forward when doing this.

You can help by patting the person between his shoulder blades, adds Menzel.

If the object does not move you must call the emergency services because if the person loses consciousness paramedics must get to work with resuscitation as quickly as possible.