Medical Incidents and Emergencies
Emergencies can happen anywhere! Here are the do’s and don’ts of how to respond, from ER24 coastal regional manager Clinton Britz.
As ER24 coastal regional manager Clinton Britz explains, the best thing to do in a medical crisis is to remain calm and call for emergency assistance. “Before rushing to assist anyone, assess your personal safety,” he says. “Don’t rush across busy roads or enter hazardous zones unnecessarily.”
If you think someone is having a heart attack, immediate action could save their life. Although there are many causes of chest pains, including acid reflux and anxiety, it is crucial to take the symptoms seriously.
A heart attack is a sudden interruption of the blood supply to part of the heart muscle. The heart is still sending blood to the body, and the person remains conscious and is still breathing. The patient very often experiences a sudden onset of acute, unresolved, severe chest pain, central in nature which may radiate to the arm or neck. The patient may also present with nausea, and have cool, clammy greyish in colour skin.
- DON’T wait to see if the symptoms subside.
- DON’T let the person walk around
- DON’T lie the person down flat on the floor if they are still conscious as this makes it harder to breathe. A semi-seated position with their head and shoulders supported is best if conscious.
Cardiac arrest occurs when the heart suddenly stops pumping blood around the body. Someone who’s having a cardiac arrest will suddenly lose consciousness and will stop breathing, or stop breathing normally. Unless immediately treated by cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), this leads to death within minutes.
“Most people know to do mouth-to-mouth straight away, but you don’t always have to use mouth-to-mouth resuscitation,” says Clinton. “Chest-only compressions can be just as effective.”
To carry out hands-only CPR:
- Position the person’s head with their chin up, supine (on their back) preferably on a hard, flat surface
- Place the heel of your hand on the breastbone at the centre of the person’s chest
- Place your other hand on top of your first hand and interlock your fingers
- Using your body weight (not just your arms), press straight down by 5-6cm on their chest
- Try to do 100 to 120 compressions per minute
- Continue until the ambulance arrives
“If someone is coughing and talking, it means they are still breathing,” Britz explains. “If they aren’t making any noise and their face is getting red usually with their hands around their throat, it’s an emergency.”
Stand behind the person and wrap your arms around their waist. (If it is a child, kneel down behind them). Make a fist with one hand and position it just above the person’s belly button. Grab your fist with your other hand and press hard into the abdomen, as if you are trying to lift the person up. Repeat until the obstruction is dislodged, or the person loses consciousness
DON’T just hit them on the back. This can worsen the situation by forcing the food back into the windpipe.
Always protect yourself against blood and body fluids of others with a barrier such as gloves. Assess where the blood is coming from, and remove clothing only if necessary and appropriate. Adequate direct pressure for at least 3 – 5 minutes is the most effective way to stop bleeding.
If you can’t find a clean, bulky pad for compression, but strong, heavy pressure on the wound with the palm of your hand.
- DON’T apply a tourniquet (belt, scarf or backpack cord wound tightly just above the injury) unless the bleeding is profuse. Keeping a tourniquet on for too long can result in permanent nerve and muscle injury, but maybe the only solution to save a life.
- DON’T remove a foreign body that is causing bleeding. Rather apply padding on either side of the object.
Remove hot or burnt clothing from the victim. If clothing sticks to the skin, DON’T pull it off. Remove all jewellery and belts as burns can swell quickly.
Immerse the burned skin in cool (not cold) running water for at least 10 minutes.
- DON’T apply ice directly to a burn wound as it could cause more pain and damage.
- DON’T break blisters as this will lead to infection
- DON’T apply ointment not indicated for the treatment of burns, as this will lead to infection
- DON’T use coffee, toothpaste or butter in the first aid treatment of burns, these are old wives tales and may worsen the recovery for a patient.
This means someone has lost consciousness because their brain has temporarily not received enough blood supply. Position the person on his side in the recovery position
- DON’T let them get up too quickly
If you suspect someone has had a stroke, assess it with the FAST acronym. “‘F’ is for facial drooping, ‘A’ is for arm weakness, ‘S’ is for slurred speech or difficulty speaking and ‘T’ is for time to call the medical professionals,” Britz explains. “The sooner a stroke victim gets professional medical help, the more likely paramedics and doctors will be able to restore blood flow to the affected areas and save brain cells. Stay with the patient until help arrives.”
“Keep ER24’s emergency number, 084 124, in your cell phone and on your fridge for ease of access,” Clinton says. “Remember, it is always better to cancel the emergency services, once you’ve established the injury isn’t life-threatening than to make the call when it is too late.”
“The Contact Centre will need to know your exact location in order to ensure an ambulance arrives timeously. Provide your street address and nearest crossroad. It’s always good to confirm which province you’re in as there may be two identical street addresses in different provinces. Remember to send a runner outside to wait for the ambulance. If you live in a complex, alert your security that an ambulance will be coming.