Life or death

Life or death

When disaster strikes it can be difficult not to freeze, to become motionless in a moment when action is needed immediately to save a life. It’s one thing overcoming this fear or anxiety, it’s another to know what to do in a situation in which a person’s life is on the line.

Whether this is a family member, close friend or even a stranger, knowing basic first aid can assist someone long enough for emergency services to arrive, or for them to get to a doctor or hospital.

Over the summer some first aid tricks and tips can be particularly useful. Anything from knowing what to do when someone has an allergic reaction to how to administer CPR if someone is unresponsive can be learned quite quickly.

According to Emergency Medical Technician (EMG) Sandra Cregan, first aid is “a practical life-saving skill” that everyone should have.

Their First Aid Response (FAR) course is recognised by the Irish Health and Safety Authority. It’s a foundation level first aid course which teaches participants to provide first aid assistance to a person who becomes suddenly unwell or injured until the arrival of the emergency medical services.

It is estimated that 5,000 people die from sudden cardiac arrest in Ireland every year and 70% of these happen out of hospital, usually at home, so knowing CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) can save a loved one’s life.

Sandra says: “If the person isn’t breathing, then the lifesaving skill for that would be CPR, which is there basically for when the heart stops and the lungs stop and you’re going to bring both back to life, and that’s the reason for your resuscitation.

If there’s a defibrillator available and you know how to use it, it could save someone’s life she says.

“If the patient has been suffering with pains in the chest, by doing that FAR course it will also allow the first aider to administer aspirin to the patient in the hope it will prevent the cardiac arrest. Aspirin itself will help to break the clot down and it will prevent other clots from forming.

“The hope is that you’re treating the cause rather than waiting until the patient goes unresponsive and unconscious, then you’d have to do CPR,” she says.

Knowing CPR could be particularly important over the summer when thousands of people gather at beaches to bask in the sun – when it appears – and swim.

The lifeguard season began at the start of this month with Water Safety Ireland (WSI) saying there are many reasons to swim under supervision. Lifeguards administered first aid over four thousand times last year. They located 300 lost children and rescued more than 300 people nationwide.

WSI say: “Stranding will also be a risk for many walkers as lower tides will expose even greater areas of the coastline. Walkers should always carry a mobile phone to call 112 in an emergency. Parents should provide constant uninterrupted supervision as 30 children aged 14 and under drowned in 10 years.”

They added that those going afloat should always wear a lifejacket and carry a portable Marine VHF and/or a personal locator beacon.

“CPR can’t be performed while they’re in the pool or in the water, it’s got to be done on a hard solid surface,” Sandra says.

“So it will go back to the point of checking to make sure that that patient is not breathing and there are no signs of life and then you will continue with your CPR.”

She added that although water safety is important for the summer, bee stings and other allergic reactions can be dangerous – particularly if the warning signs aren’t known and the response isn’t fast enough.

Although intervening in a perceived emergency when a person’s life could be in danger is an honourable action, some may be concerned about the legal implications if something is to go wrong.

In 2011 the Government introduced the Good Samaritans law, which states that “‘good samaritan’ means a person who, without expectation of payment or other reward, provides assistance, advice or care to another person in an emergency…”

It generally provides legal protection for those who provide assistance in the event of an emergency. Summing it up Sandra says: “If you are a first aider and you do the treatment to the best of your ability regarding the training you’ve been given, you can’t be sued.

“Realistically if you’re looking at a person who’s not breathing and who’s got no signs of life, if you don’t do anything they’ve got no chance of surviving, if you do a little bit there’s a possibility that what you do may be just enough to keep them going until the medical services arrive.

“There is an element of CPR where we would class it as hands on CPR, CPR tips without the lips, compression only CPR, meaning you just press on the chest, you don’t have to breathe into the patient, you just continually press on the chest until the ambulance arrives.”

The Irish Red Cross recommend that for every 20 employees, three are trained as First Aid Responders, adding that it’s worthwhile training a group of staff members in this area to ensure there is cover when employees are on leave. The charity also provide first aid training to schools, generally for students in Transition Year.

The FAR course covers a huge area. Everything from patient assessment, incident procedure, common medical emergencies, injury management and shock, care of the unconscious patient, burns and electrical injury care, hypothermia and hyperthermia, information management, communications and the wellbeing of the first aider.

The Order of Malta Ireland also provides first aid courses. They have a membership of 4,000 volunteers across 81 local communities north and south of the border, including cadets (10-16 years). It offers a range of course options for anyone interested in gaining life-saving skills, from Transition Year students to community groups and health care workers.

The need for first aid sometimes only becomes truly apparent after an emergency has occurred. No one wants to be in a position in which they’ll need to administer care to someone waiting for emergency services or who has to be brought to the hospital. Knowing what to do can go a long way in helping anyone keep a cool, rational head and to respond quickly and efficiently in a tense situation.

For more information on first aid courses near you check www.orderofmaltaireland.org or www.redcross.ie

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