Emergency: Basic First Aid When it comes to emergencies, there is often nothing more frightening that trying to deal with someone who is injured. And while there are people who are trained to do just that, in a real disaster, the number of injured and sick people will almost certainly be larger than that of the people who are trying to help. That’s why it’s a great idea for everyone to learn at least basic first aid; they will be able to help treat minor injuries on themselves and anyone who needs help, thus freeing up emergency personnel to work on those who really need it. The first part of first aid actually doesn’t involve touching at all: it’s about looking. Everyone has a basic urge to help someone as soon as they see that they are injured. But running into a road where someone’s been hit by a car probably means that there will soon be two people who have been hit. This is why the number one rule of any first aid is Safety. This should be everyone’s primary concern as they attempt to administer medical care to the injured person--safety for the one who’s injured, safety for themselves, and safety for all those around them. In order to ensure everyone’s safety, before approaching someone who is injured, first look around for any hazards. Sometimes these are obvious--like speeding cars. And sometimes it is less so--like a coiled snake or electrical wires. Once the situation has been deemed safe, then it is time to approach the injured party. If the injured person seems to be unconscious, try to wake them by tapping their shoulder forcefully and speaking loudly. Ask them if they are okay, or if they’re awake. If they don’t answer after a few times, it is probably safe to assume that they are unconscious, at which point, someone (not the person giving the care) needs to call 911. If the person is awake, however, then the person trying to help them must first get their permission to treat them. If they refuse, then by law, the person trying to help cannot administer any aid. If the sick or injured person goes unconscious, however, then it is once again safe to help them. During a disaster, there are all kinds of injuries that can occur--these range from a bad fever to broken limbs to burns and cuts. In each case, people must first check for safety before rushing into the situation, and they must also wear protective gloves (and a mask, if the person is sick and one is available). One can’t do any good if one gets sick or injured trying to help. Treating minor open wounds, like abrasions (scrapes), lacerations (cuts), and other wounds is something that everyone should know how to do. Much of the time it is fairly straightforward, and if treated immediately, the injury will not be life-threatening. If it is left open, especially in the unsanitary conditions that often develop after or during a disaster, the wound could become infected and cause serious problems. When it comes to these wounds, it is generally safe and actually recommended that people clean the wound before covering it. This will help prevent infection, as will running the cut under clean water for five minutes. If the cut is deep and bleeding profusely, apply pressure directly to the wound until it stops. If it doesn’t stop after a few minutes, then a professional needs to take over. Finally, just treat the wound as a normal cut: apply antibiotic ointment and a bandage. If the cut seems like it needs stitches, however, then it probably does, and again, a professional should be called in to treat it. Until the professional gets there, however, control the bleeding as much as possible by placing a sterile dressing over the wound and applying pressure before tying a bandage around it.
Cuts and other open wounds are the kinds of injuries people are most used to dealing with, so even in an emergency, it shouldn’t be much different. Burns, too, are fairly common and can be treated as normal. In order to care for burns, run the wounded area under cool water until the pain has receded some. Then, wrap the burn loosely in sterile dressing to prevent infection; if the burn is only first or maybe second degree, this should be enough. If the burn is third degree, or a chemical or electrical burn, however, it could very well require medical assistance to heal and a medical professional should be found to examine it. Burns are pretty easy to treat as long as they aren’t too severe. However, some of the common mistakes people make while treating them can actually make them much worse. These include applying ice or ice water to, trying to clean, or trying to use ointment on a severe burn, removing pieces of cloth stuck to the burn, and breaking blisters. When it comes to bones, muscles, and joints, things become more complicated, and all people can really do is make the injured party more comfortable until help arrives. Generally, making people more comfortable means splinting, which surrounds the injured area with either a soft town or a hard board, and wrapping it firmly. This can be done for breaks, sprains, and strains, and will help take the pressure off the injury as well as discourage the injured person from using that body part until they get the help they need. All of these treatments are pretty simple and easy-to-perform; unless someone doesn’t have any supplies. It becomes very difficult to help anyone if there are no first aid supplies handy. This is why it’s so important to always carry at least a small first aid kit around. When a disaster strikes, there will not be time to assemble one, and a few supplies are much better than no supplies at all. These supplies should include: adhesive bandages, gauze pads, triangular bandages, and roller bandages. It’s also important to include scissors, tweezers, a needle, moistened towelettes, antiseptic, a thermometer, safety pins, soap and anti-bacterial gel, and latex gloves. While this may seem like an exhaustive list, most good first aid kits will supply all these items and more. There are many more aspects of first aid that could be a problem during disasters, including heat- and cold-related emergencies, sudden illnesses, poisoning, animal bites and much more. However, not all of them can be discussed in detail here; besides, people learn much better with practice than just reading. The Red Cross offers dozens of classes each year in thousands of different locations that are designed to teach people exactly what they need to know to help themselves and others during a disaster. Although first aid has a lot of different parts to it, if people follow a few simple rules then they’ll have at least the basics down. Safety always comes first, and the second priority is to prevent further injury from occurring. Always remember to wear protective gloves and masks whenever possible, and remember: if the injury or illness seems like it might need professional medical care, then it almost certainly does. With quick thinking and acting, people can help prevent further injury and illness, making the disaster less stressful and traumatic for everyone.