It doesn’t matter if you’re learning to be a nurse, or you’re just an average citizen, basic first aid is something everyone should know. The time between calling 911 and trained professionals arriving to help is critical, and it can mean the difference between life and death.
Doctors, nurses, and EMTs all want you to know the best ways to help someone. The better first aid you can provide while waiting for help to arrive, the better the chances that someone is going to be okay. It can sound like an overwhelming responsibility and sometimes it is.
Even being a nurse or other healthcare professional doesn’t always save you from the shocked overwhelmed feeling of an emergency situation. The best thing you can do to avoid making mistakes because you’re panicked is to be prepared with knowledge about basic first aid. These basic first aid tips could mean you help save a life.
1. If You’re Surrounded By People, Give Out Tasks
If an emergency situation arises while there’s a group of people around the instinct of everyone is to try and help. It can get quite chaotic and crazy, while in reality nothing helpful is actually being done. The best way to avoid this is to start giving out tasks to everyone around. Point to be people and be clear about what you’re telling them to do.
The first person you assign a task to should be the person calling 911. Calling for emergency help is always your first step. If you don’t do this right away you’re just wasting time. The whole point of basic first aid is that it’s meant to get you through until professional help arrives. Point at someone and clearly say; “You’re calling 911.”
After you’ve done that you can assign other tasks. If the person is bleeding have someone get gauze or clean cloths you can use to apply pressure. Ask someone else to see if there’s any kind of first aid kit available. Assign one other person to wait somewhere to meet emergency personnel if they’re going to need help locating where you are in a building or area.
This is something even doctors and nurses use in trauma rooms. Everyone is assigned a duty and the patient is better off for it. Be clear, decisive, and remember, 911 is the first duty assigned without exception.
2. Aren’t Trained (And Up To Date) In CPR? Chest Compressions Only!
This is often referred to as “hands-only” CPR and it is very effective in helping to save a life. Many people think because of past (now outdated) information that you MUST deliver rescue breaths or the person will die. In truth, effective chest compressions without stopping are more important when you don’t know what you’re doing.
Giving rescue breaths can be helpful but only when the person giving CPR is trained and up to date on their knowledge of the current CPR procedures. If not, remember, “Chest compressions, chest compressions, chest compressions.”
You can read about how to give effective chest compressions for reputable sources like this one online. The goal is to make sure you’re locking your arms and using your body weight. Don’t bend at the elbow and press down. That’s not enough force to help. The old standby of using the song “Staying Alive” to time your compressions is true. Use that beat to keep time.
3. Choking Myths Won’t Help Anyone
When it comes to treating a choking person time is extremely limited and you must act quickly. Ignore old wive’s tales and myths about the best way to help. There used to be suggestions that the person should raise their hands up or that pounding on their back would make things worse. Neither of these things is true.
In fact, the Mayo Clinic has come up with what they call the “Five and Five” rule. When a person is actually choking (they can’t talk, laugh, cry, or cough) stand next to them and use the flat heel of your hand to deliver five hard blows to their back. After that go ahead and give five abdominal thrusts (the Heimlich maneuver) by wrapping your arms around them.
One hand should make a fist while the other covers the fist, then thrust inwards and upwards hard and fast. After this go back to delivering the back blows and continue to repeat until the object comes out, or emergency help arrives.
4. Don’t Take Anything Out- Ever
When someone has been stabbed or impaled with a foreign object sometimes people with the best intentions will remove the item thinking they’re helping. Do not do this. If it’s stuck in their body, leave it in their body. Removal of a knife or other object without the right procedures in place can cause serious amounts of damage or even death.
There are also times when whatever is stuck in their body is helping to stem the bleeding. Removing it could cause massive bleeding that cannot be stopped. So remember what goes in stays in. A doctor is the only person who should remove anything stuck in someone. If you need to apply pressure around the sides of the stuck object until help arrives.
5. Never Replace Soaked Gauze
Constant and consistent pressure on a wound that’s bleeding is essential. It’s true that this is something most people know, but the mistake they often make is removing soaked gauze to replace it with fresh gauze. When you do this you’re removing pressure from the wound, even if it is only a couple of seconds.
Instead of replacing the gauze, add more to the top of what’s already soaked. You can slip new gauze under your hand and on top of the soaked through old stuff without removing pressure from the wound. This could mean the difference between a manageable situation for when trained help arrives, and a situation that suddenly has become very dire.
6. Do Not Put Yourself In Danger To Try And Help
If you come across someone needing help while you’re out and about, make sure you can help them safely. Take a moment to look around for hazards like fire, dangerous chemicals, downed electrical wires, or a lot of glass. If you cannot safely help the person do not get any closer. Call 911 and let them know what’s going on.
You can definitely stay as close as possible (while staying safe) and talk with the person if they are conscious and can hear you. Give any information they relay to you to the 911 operator. Remember that if you get hurt trying to help, you won’t be able to help at all and you’ll be giving EMTs a patient they weren’t planning for.
Stay safe and make smart decisions. Trying to be helpful when you could get hurt is never a good idea.
7. Watch For Signs Of Heat-Related Illness
Enjoying a summer day on the beach or campground is a great way to spend time with those you love. Depending on the weather things can get hot very quickly, so keep a watch for signs of heat sickness issues. If someone suddenly starts complaining about being nauseated, if they’re saying they’re hot but have stopped sweating, or have a sudden headache, it’s time to cool down.
Get them to an area that is as cool as possible. If you can go inside where there’s air conditioning that’s even better. Offer cool liquids to sip (no gulping, it could cause vomiting) and help them cool down with cool water on their extremities. You can also place a cool cloth on the back of their neck.
If they aren’t doing any better within 20 to 30 minutes, it’s time to call your doctor or go ahead and take them to the ER. Things like this can turn into something like heat stroke very quickly so once you’ve given things a try don’t wait while hoping your loved one will improve. Getting help quickly is essential.
8. Tourniquets Are Never Your First Option
In fact, you should avoid using tourniquets in almost all situations. The one exception to this would be if you really believe the person is going to bleed out before help arrives. If that’s the case you can follow the directions of the 911 operator. Never use a belt or tie as a makeshift tourniquet. They will cause more harm than good.
The best way to help someone bleeding heavily is always going to be constant and consistent pressure on the wound. If you’re in doubt about using a tourniquet, don’t do it. Keep applying pressure and talking to the operator. Help is coming, and they’re far more equipped to provide better help.
9. An Injured Person Should Not Be Moved
There is an exception to this rule, but it has limitations. If the person you’re trying to help is somewhere that isn’t safe (like the middle of the road) move them as gently as possible and make sure you aren’t moving them more than absolutely necessary.
When someone is injured it’s impossible to know what kind of internal injuries they may have sustained. Moving them roughly or at all in some cases will make these injuries worse. Give first aid to the person leaving them where they are. When help arrives they will have things like backboards to help safely transport the person to the hospital without causing more injuries.
10. Just Like Heat, Cold Can Cause Problems Too
Know what the symptoms of hypothermia look like. Whether you’re spending the day outside hiking beautiful snow covered trails, or only out in a few minutes of subzero temps, this knowledge is important. If someone you’re with starts becoming disoriented, says they are cold but you notice they aren’t shivering, or exhibits slurred speech it’s time to act.
Find the warmest area around you (go inside if possible) and call for help. While you’re waiting for help to arrive you can help start to slowly warm the person up. Never give in to the urge to use fast warming methods like a hot bath. Instead, replace wet clothes with dry warm clothing or blankets. Offer sips of warm liquids, and use warm compresses on the center of their body.
Going slowly can feel counterintuitive but using things like heat lamps or hot baths can cause more damage. A person in this situation can’t always feel when their skin is burning because of how cold they are. Remember to go slowly and continue offering warm liquids until help arrives.
This isn’t an exhaustive list of every first aid tip you could use if an emergency arises. No one ever wants to use these tips but if you’re in a situation where you need them you’ll be glad you know what to do. If you’re interested in learning you can seek out classes from the Red Cross, or even become certified in CPR. You just might be able to help save a life, and that’s more than worth any effort you’ve put in while learning these things.