What to do in an emergency

Few people think they will ever be involved in a medical emergency. However, when you do find yourself in that situation, whether as the victim or a bystander, being prepared can make the difference between life and death.

Statistics show much better outcomes if the people have had cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) training and some preparedness for emergencies.

In Auckland, the average time it takes for a life support ambulance to reach a patient is 12 minutes. However, brain death already starts at 4 minutes.

The longer a person is collapsed from cardiac arrest without CPR, the more likely it is that they cannot be saved. Bystander CPR can double or triple the victim's chances of survival from a cardiac arrest.

Early defibrillation (shocking the heart out of the abnormal heart rhythm) with a defibrillator plus CPR can increase survival to up to 75 per cent, according to some medical studies.

How to be prepared for an emergency

The first thing you should do is help someone to save you.

If you are the one who has collapsed or is in an accident, you should help your rescuers by having a Medic-Alert bracelet. Ideally, you will also have a card with additional information on your person if you have any health problems.

Medic-Alert is an international organization that produces internationally standardized medical bracelets and pendants for people with health conditions. They are readily recognized by doctors and health workers internationally. Your family doctor can arrange one for you.

The health problems that are wise to have placed on a Medic- Alert include drug allergies and medical conditions. If medical staff see that you have a certain condition when you are collapsed, they will get a head start in your care.

Helping other people

If you are in a situation where you need to help somebody else, the first thing to do is call for help.

The second thing you should do is make sure that you do not become a victim of the circumstances yourself. For example, 60 per cent of all fatalities in a confined space such as a mine are the rescuers. So often we hear that the person who drowned is the one that went to save someone. And don’t run back into a burning house!

When faced with an emergency where a rescue is needed, first look at the hazards that could be your own undoing.

Safety at home

Most accidents and tragedies happen in the home, so you should constantly look out for any potential accidents.

An example is if your elderly aunt who is unstable on her feet is visiting you, take those loose rugs off the floor. Be aware of any potential dangers involved with your work or hobbies and prepare for them.

First aid

So, what about that medical emergency where someone has collapsed?

Knowing how to do CPR can save someone's life. This is especially useful because if you have a lot of contact with the public, e.g. teacher, shop worker, health worker, etc.

If your spouse or a close family member has heart disease or has any condition that places them at risk of a heart attack, it may also become useful.

You can enquire about how to do CPR at your local Red Cross or St John centre.

Automatic external defibrillator

A new phenomenon we are now seeing in public places is the automatic external defibrillator (AED). These are automatic cardiac shock machines that are being kept in shopping malls and other public places. They are designed for any member of the public to use.

AEDs are a compact automated version of the ones you see on the medical shows on television that “shock the patients back to life” after they have had a cardiac arrest. Once the pads are placed on the victim's chest, the machine can read the cardiac rhythm and advise you if you need to shock the person. It tells you to just push the shock button.

Researchers have found that CPR alone is not enough to save a life if there is a cardiac arrest. If a shock is given within the first 2-3 minutes of collapse, there is a huge increase in survival rates. After a period of time without a shock, the heart becomes harder and harder to shock back to a normal rhythm.

Keys to dealing with emergencies

In summary, what you should do if there is an emergency is:

1. Save yourself by having a Medic-Alert bracelet if you need it.
2. Assess the hazards around the emergency and make sure you do not become a victim.
3. Call for help.
4. Start CPR while someone else sets up the AED.
5. When the AED says you need to shock, call “all clear” and push the shock button.

Consider updating your resuscitation skills periodically. With this knowledge, you are more likely to save a life when needed.

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