Life-Saving Skills that Everyone Should Know
Many people underestimate the power that being prepared for a medical emergency can have. But if you think about it, knowing the basics of emergency aid can truly mean the difference between life and death. In case you are looking to better prepare yourself for medical emergencies, here is a brief look at life-saving skills that everyone would do well to learn.
Note: You will find useful information about each life-saving skill below, but it is best to take a first-aid accredited training course and seek additional resources online in order to master these skills.
Identifying medical emergencies
You could have all of the life-saving skills in the world, but none of them will come in handy unless you can identify a medical emergency when it hits. Be sure to call 911 immediately if you recognize a medical emergency. Here are some examples of medical emergencies that you can learn to identify:
- Heart attack. Some common signs of a heart attack include chest discomfort, discomfort throughout the upper body (such as in the arms, back, neck, jaw, or stomach), and shortness of breath. Victims may also experience cold sweating, nausea, or lightheadedness. If the victim is conscious, give them one aspirin (as long as they are not allergic or taking any conflicting medications.) If the victim is unconscious, perform CPR.
- Choking. Someone who is choking may start coughing, in which case you should wait for them to attempt to dislodge the object via coughing. Once they are no longer making noise, however, and the face is beginning to turn red, it’s time to perform the Heimlich maneuver.
- Stroke. Symptoms of stroke include difficulty walking, speaking or understanding; paralysis of the face, arm, or leg; imbalance; and sudden blurred or lost vision. If you recognize someone having a stroke, call 911 immediately.
- Seizure. Symptoms vary, but typically the victim will fall down and/or make erratic movements. Their head may jerk, or their eyes may flutter. If you see someone having a seizure, call 911 immediately. Move all objects out of the way and try to move the victim onto their side to prevent choking. In addition, try to time the seizure and the time between seizures, if applicable.
- Overdose. Signs of an overdose vary depending on whether it is a stimulant or a depressant overdose. This article has some great information on the signs of each type of overdose and what to do in the event of an overdose.
- Fainting. Fainting may sound relatively benign compared to these other emergencies, but keep in mind that fainting can have a very serious cause. If a nearby stranger expresses that they are not feeling well and then suddenly collapses, it’s time to call 911. Then, check for responsiveness, breathing, a pulse, etc. If the victim is not breathing and does not have a pulse, perform CPR.
Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)
CPR is the first thing to come to mind for many people when they think about emergency aid. It is useful in many emergencies when someone’s breathing or heartbeat has stopped, such as when someone has nearly drowned or experienced a heart attack. It is best to take a formal training course in CPR, but even watching a video online can help you save someone’s life.
Before performing CPR, you should first check whether the person is conscious or unconscious. If they appear unconscious, ask them loudly, “Are you OK?” If the person does not respond, have someone call 911 immediately—or call 911 yourself if no one else is around. (One exception is if you think the person is unconscious due to suffocation such as drowning; in this case, perform chest compressions for one minute and then call 911.)
According to the American Heart Association, how you perform CPR should depend on what your experience level is:
- If you are untrained or trained but rusty in CPR, you should perform hands-only CPR. With hands-only CPR, you perform about 100 uninterrupted chest compressions per minute until paramedics arrive.
- If you are trained in CPR, begin by giving 30 chest compressions and then check the airway and give rescue breaths. (The acronym C.A.B. can help you remember this: compressions, airway, breathing.) Repeat until paramedics arrive.
When giving chest compressions, kneel next to the person’s neck and shoulders and place the heel of one of your hands in the center of the chest, between the nipples. Place your other hand on top of that hand (unless you are performing CPR on a child, in which case you should use only one hand), keep your elbows straight, and position your shoulders directly over your hands. Then, use your entire upper body to push the chest down, compressing it at least 2 inches.
Note: This CPR advice applies to adults, children, and infants needing CPR, but not to newborns.
The Heimlich maneuver can save the life of someone who is choking. Here are the basic steps for performing the Heimlich Maneuver on a choking, conscious adult:
- Stand behind the victim and wrap your arms around the victim’s waist.
- Make a fist and place the thumb side of your fist against the victim’s upper abdomen (above the bellybutton and above the rib cage.)
- Grab your fist with your other hand and press into the upper abdomen with a quick upward thrust.
- Repeat until the object is expelled.
If the adult is unconscious, you will need to perform the Heimlich Maneuver with the victim on his or her back. You should kneel astride the victim’s hips and use the heel of your hand—with the other hand on top—to press into the victim’s upper abdomen with a quick upward thrust. Be sure to keep your arms straight and use your body weight here.
Note: There are special ways to perform the Heimlich Maneuver on infants and on oneself as well.
There are, of course, many different kinds of bleeding, from minor scrapes to dangerous arterial bleeding. Here is a general look at how you can treat bleeding while waiting for medical personnel to arrive on the scene:
- Wash your hands and put on gloves. (If gloves are not available, a clean plastic bag will work.)
- Have the person lie down, and elevate the site of bleeding.
- Remove any obvious dirt or debris from the site of bleeding. Leave any large or deeply embedded objects.
- Apply continuous pressure with a clean cloth or bandage for at least 20 minutes.
- If the bleeding isn’t stopping, apply pressure to the corresponding artery with one hand while continuing to apply pressure to the wound with the other.
- Leave bandages in place and immobilize the site of bleeding once bleeding has stopped.