At some point in your lifetime, you will need to use first aid- whether it’s for a clumsy child who has cut themselves while playing, or for an elderly parent who has fallen and can’t get up. But do you know what to do when faced with a medical emergency, or how to recognize when the situation can’t be solved with aspirin and a Band-Aid? Read on to learn how to recognize a life-threatening situation, and what to do if you encounter one.
Is this a medical emergency?
It can sometimes be difficult to determine if a situation requires emergency care. Generally speaking, it is always better to err on the side of caution and go to hospital if you think there is a possibility of a medical emergency. However, to help you recognize urgent situations the American College of Emergency Physicians has outlined warning signs of a medical emergency, which include:
- Bleeding that will not stop (including nosebleeds)
- Breathing issues
- Chest pain
- Loss of consciousness
- Head or spine injuries
- Sudden dizziness, weakness, or change in vision
- Sudden severe pain
- Suicidal or homicidal feelings
If you are fairly certain that symptoms are not life-threatening, you can always try calling your family doctor for advice, or visiting an urgent care center in lieu of a hospital.
I think I have a medical emergency, what should I do?
If you think your situation requires emergency care, you should always call 911. If you unable to call 911 yourself, try to find someone to call on your behalf.
If you’re speaking with a 911 operator, remember to breath calmly and evenly, and explain your situation as clearly as you can. They are there to help you, but they also have to be able to understand what’s going on. Be sure to let them know your location, how many people require first aid, and the health conditions of the patient(s). If you are dealing with an unconscious stranger, you can check their wrist and neck for a medical identification tag.
The most important thing is to make sure you follow the operator’s instructions, and to not hang up before they tell you to. They may ask you to start cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) if the individual is unresponsive, but even if you haven’t done CPR before don’t worry- they will walk you through it step-by-step.
If you have children, it’s a good idea to teach them how to place an emergency call, in case you are unable to reach the phone. You can use resources like kids health to determine the best way to educate your child.
I’ve called 911… now what?
Medical emergencies will vary, and you will have seconds to decide what the best actions are in each situation. In many cases, 911 operators will be able to instruct you on what to do. However, knowing how to deal with different medical emergencies ahead of time will help you stay calm when you’re faced with one.
You can start by enrolling yourself in a local standard first aid course to learn basics like:
- The Heimlich maneuver
- Treating wounds
- Dealing with head and spine injuries
- Using the recovery position
You can contact your local hospital, American Red Cross, or the American Heart Association for guidance on finding first aid courses near you. If you’re more of a visual learner or are lacking in funds to take a course, you can always check out first aid demonstrations on Youtube or wikiHow instead.
Aside from taking a course, how can I prepare myself?
“One of the best ways to deal with a medical emergency is to be prepared before one happens. If you’re reading this article, you’re already on the right track.”
Apart from getting certified in first aid, there are other steps you can take to ready yourself. When an emergency happens, you will only have seconds to act, so you should always keep a list of emergency numbers on your fridge and in your cell phone. These should include: the poison control center, the fire department, the police department, your doctor’s phone numbers, work phone numbers, and numbers for nearby relatives and friends. Keep a record of your insurance company and their associated information, so you will be able to give this to health-care providers. You should have a list of all the medications and dosages you and your family members are taking, as paramedics will need this information when they treat you.
You should also have well-stocked first aid kits in your home and car. These kits should include items like:
- Sterile gauze pads
- Adhesive tape
- Safety pins
- Non-latex gloves
- Antiseptic wipes
- Emergency blanket
- Breathing barrier
- Flashlight with extra batteries
- Coins for a pay phone
- First aid manual
Know how to use the items in your first aid kit, and check the kit every few months to ensure they are kept well-stocked.You can make these kits yourself, or buy them at a local drugstore.
Furthermore, you should always know the nearest hospital to your home and the quickest route to get there. In some situations, it may be faster for you to drive to a hospital emergency department instead of waiting for an ambulance.
Okay, I’m ready.
Now that you’ve finished this article, your first step should be to sign up for a CPR/AED and First Aid certification course if you’re not certified. Or at least check out one of the many YouTube videos available. When you are faced with a medical emergency, every second is precious. Remember to stay calm, call 911, and listen to the operator’s instructions.