First aid – are you ready?

Your using the defibrillator is the best chance that the patient has of surviving.

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, nor a medical professional.  I will attempt not to give specific medical or legal advice in this article: please check your local medical and legal professionals before embarking on any course of action about which you are unsure.

This is, generally, a blog about security – that is, information security or cybersecurity – but I sometimes blog about other things.  This is one of those articles.  It’s still about security, if you will – the security and safety of those around you.  Here’s how it came about: I recently saw a video on LinkedIn about a restaurant manager performing Abdominal Thrusts (it’s not called the  Heimlich Manoeuvre any more due to trademarking) on a choking customer, quite possibly saving his life.

And I thought: I’ve done that.

And then I thought: I’ve performed CPR, and used a defibrillator, and looked after people who were drunk or concussed, and helped people having a diabetic episode, and encouraged a father to apply an epipen[1] to a confused child suffering from anaphylactic shock, and comforted a schoolchild who had just had an epileptic fit, and attended people in more than one car crash (typically referred to as an “RTC”, or “Road Traffic Collision” in the UK these days[2]).

And then I thought: I should tell people about these stories.  Not to boast[3], but because if you travel a lot, or you commute to work, or you have a family, or you work in an office, or you ever go out to a party, or you play sports, or engage in hobby activities, or get on a plane or train or boat or drive anywhere, then there’s a decent chance that you may come across someone who needs your help, and it’s good – very good – if you can offer them some aid.  It’s called “First Aid” for a reason: you’re not expected to know everything, or fix everything, but you’re the first person there who can provide aid, and that’s the best the patient can expect until professionals arrive.

Types of training

There are a variety of levels of first aid training that might be appropriate for you.  These include:

  • family and children focussed;
  • workplace first aid;
  • hobby, sports and event first aid;
  • ambulance and local health service support and volunteering.

There’s an overlap between all of these, of course, and what you’re interested in, and what’s available to you, will vary based on your circumstances and location.  There may be other constraints such as age and physical ability or criminal background checks: these will definitely be dependent on your location and individual context.

I’m what’s called, in the UK, a Community First Responder (CFR).  We’re given some specific training to help provide emergency first aid in our communities.  What exactly you do depends on your local ambulance trust – I’m with the East of England Ambulance Service Trust, and I have a kit with items to allow basic diagnosis and treatment which includes:

  • a defibrillator (AED) and associated pads, razors[4], shears, etc.
  • a tank of oxygen and various masks
  • some airway management equipment whose name I can never remember
  • glucogel for diabetic treatment
  • a pulsoximeter for heartrate and blood oxygen saturation measurement
  • gloves
  • bandages, plasters[6]
  • lots of forms to fill in
  • some other bits and pieces.

I also have a phone and a radio (not all CFRs get a radio, but our area is rural and has particularly bad mobile phone reception.

I’m on duty as a type this – I work from home, and my employer (the lovely Red Hat) is cool with my attending emergency calls in certain circumstances – and could be called out at any moment to an emergency in about a 10 mile/15km radius.  Among the call-outs I’ve attended are cardiac arrests (“heart attacks”), fits, anaphylaxis (extreme allergic reactions), strokes, falls, diabetics with problems, drunks with problems, major bleeding, patients with difficulty breathing or chest pains, sepsis, and lots of stuff which is less serious (and which has maybe been misreported).  The plan is that if it’s considered a serious condition, it looks like I can get there before an ambulance, or if the crew is likely to need more hands to help (for treating a full cardiac arrest, a good number of people can really help), then I get dispatched.  I drive my own car, I’m not allowed sirens or lights, I’m not allowed to break the speed limit or go through red lights and I don’t attend road traffic collisions.  I volunteer whatever hours fit around my job and broader life, I don’t get paid, and I provide my own fuel and vehicle insurance.  I get anywhere from zero to four calls a day (but most often zero or one).

There are volunteers in other fields who attend events, provide sports or hobby first aid (I did some scuba diving training a while ago), and there are all sorts of types of training for workplace first aid.  Most workplaces will have designated first aiders who can be called on if there’s a problem.

The minimum to know

The people I’ve just noted above – the trained ones – won’t always be available. Sometimes, you – with no training – will be the first on scene.  In most jurisdictions, if you attempt first aid, the law will look kindly on you, even if you don’t get it all perfect[7].  In some jurisdictions, there’s actually an expectation that you’ll step in.  What should you know?  What should you do?

Here’s my view.  It’s not the view of a professional, and it doesn’t take into account everybody’s circumstances.  Again, it’s my view, and it’s that you should consider enough training to be able to cope with two of the most common – and serious – medical emergencies.

  1. Everybody should know how to deal with a choking patient.
  2. Everybody should know how do to CPR (Cardiopulmonary resuscitation) – chest compressions, at minimum, but with artificial respiration if you feel confident.

In the first of these cases, if someone is choking, and they continue to fail to breathe, they will die.

In the second of these cases, if someone’s heart has stopped beating, they are dead.  Doing nothing means that they stay that way.  Doing something gives them a chance.

There are videos and training available on the Internet, or provided by many organisations.

The minimum to try

If you come across somebody who is in cardiac arrest, call the emergency services.  Dispatch someone (if you’re not alone) to try to find a defibrillator (AED) – the emergency services call centre will often help with this, or there’s an app called “GoodSam” which will locate one for you.

Use the defibrillator.

They are designed for untrained people.  You open it up, and it will talk to you.  Do what it says.

Even if you don’t feel confident giving CPR, use a defibrillator.

I have used a defibrillator.  They are easy to use.

Use that defibrillator.

The defibrillator is not the best chance that the patient has of surviving: your using the defibrillator is the best chance that the patient has of surviving.

Conclusion

Providing first aid for someone in a serious situation doesn’t always work.  Sometimes people die.  In fact, in the case of a cardiac arrest (heart attack), the percentage of times that CPR is successful is low – even in a hospital setting, with professionals on hand.  If you have tried, you’ve given them a chance.  It is not your fault if the outcome isn’t perfect.  But if you hadn’t tried, there was no chance.

Please respect and support professionals, as well.  They are often busy and concerned, and may not have the time to thank you, but your help is appreciated.  We are lucky, in our area, that the huge majority of EEAST ambulance personnel are very supportive of CFRs and others who help out in an emergency.

If this article has been interesting to you, and you are considering taking some training, then get to the end of the post, share it via social media(!), and then search online for something appropriate to you.  There are many organisations who will provide training – some for free – and many opportunities for volunteering.  You know that if a member of your family needed help, you would hope that somebody was capable and willing to provide it.

Final note – if you have been affected by anything in this article, please find some help, whether professional or just with friends.  Many of the medical issues I’ve discussed are distressing, and self care is important (it’s one of the things that EEAST takes seriously for all its members, including its CFRs).


1 – a special adrenaline-administering device (don’t use somebody else’s – they’re calibrated pretty carefully to an individual).

2 – calling it an “accident” suggests it was no-one’s fault, when often, it really was.

3 – well, maybe a little bit.

4 – to shave hairy chests – no, really.

5 – to cut through clothing.  And nipples chains, if required.  Again, no, really.

6 – “Bandaids” for our US cousins.

7 – please check your local jurisdiction’s rules on this.