How to Save a Life

It was a normal working day. I had just stepped in the door following my usual lunch-time dash to Sainsbury’s when Kirsten burst in, asking if anyone was a first-aider.

And so, I abandoned my sarnie and Mulberry and assisted a man who had a small seizure right outside the door of our Fifth Ring Aberdeen office.

Ian asked me to write a blog about this incident after it happened, but I do not want to write just about saving a life, but rather how to save a life.

The first-aid knowledge I have obtained from the National Pool Lifeguarding Qualification and my mother, who has dedicated all of her adult life to the caring profession, has been - and continues to be – invaluable to everyday life.

At Fifth Ring we have staff who are qualified in first-aid, but what happens if they are not around? Is there anything an untrained person can do to help using simple common sense?

Of course, I can’t provide you advice on what to do in a situation, but I believe that everyone should have basic training in first-aid and I would urge all of you reading this to consider undertaking a basic first aid course. It really can save a life.

Here is my basic first-aid toolkit that I use. [N.B. These words are my own and are adapted from, but not necessarily the opinions of, the Institute of Qualified Lifeguards].

Bleeding nose – These are usually more of a nuisance than a danger. Sit casualty down with their head held forward, apply pressure to soft tissue on both sides of nose, hold this pressure for 10 minutes and then allow the circulation to return to normal. You can try again for another 10 minutes if bleeding continues but if it persists, get medical help or transfer the casualty to hospital.

Insect stings and bites – Use a plastic card to remove the sting, brushing out and away from the skin, apply cold compress and summon medical aid if the pain or swelling persists.

Fainting – Long periods in a hot stuffy atmosphere, fatigue or illness can cause people to feel dizzy and lead to collapse. If on the ground, try raising their legs and make sure they are breathing. If they don’t come round quickly, place them in the recovery position and summon medical aid.

Choking – Encourage coughing, if no improvement, give up to five back slaps. If no improvement, give five abdominal thrusts. If the obstruction is still not relieved, continue alternating five back slaps with five abdominal thrusts. If the casualty becomes unconscious or falls to the ground, call an ambulance.

Burns – Send the casualty straight to hospital if: they are a child; the burn is the full depth of their skin; burns extend around a limb; burns cover the feet, hands, face or genitals; burns cover an area greater than the size of the palm of their hand; or you are unsure about the extent of a burn. Otherwise, immerse the affected area in very cold running water for 10 minutes then cover with a sterile, dry dressing, held in place with a lightly applied bandage. Do not use creams, oils or lotions and do not burst blisters.

Heart attack – Immediately call an ambulance, place the patient in a half-sitting, half-lying position if conscious, and reassure them. Signs of a heart attack may be complaint of tight pain in the centre of the chest, which may spread to the arms, throat and back.

Epilepsy – Occurs when the normal brain activity is suddenly disrupted and it is marked by the tendency to seizure. They may only require observation and understanding; do not restrain the casualty and move them only if they are in danger of injury. Allow casualty to rest quietly following the attack, in the recovery position. Seek medical help if; there is any injury; if the attack lasts for more than five minutes; if the attack repeated without consciousness being regained; or if the seizure is unusual for that person.

More information: St Andrew’s First Aid Course

It was a normal date night. My boyfriend, Marcus, and I were in merry spirits after a meal out at our favourite Indian. I never knew how thankful I would be for the ASIST (Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training) knowledge my mother, a Suicide First-Aider, had passed onto me the previous week. That night, I talked a young person down from a jumping off a bridge and helped them get to a safe place.

Government statistics show less than 200 people were killed on Scotland’s roads in 2012 whilst Choose Life reported 762 Scottish deaths by suicide in that same year. I am not preaching a ‘quick fix’ to painful and sometimes disabling mental disorders, nor appointing myself as an expert, but I want to share some qualified knowledge that has helped me, and may well help you, save a life.

There are three phases to the Suicide Intervention Model according to ASIST Suicide First Aid (N.B. These words are my own and are adapted from, but not necessarily the opinions of, the NHS), these are:

“Step one – you say we need to talk” - the lyrics of The Fray’s How to Save a Life could not be more accurate here. If you notice behaviour change in a colleague/friend/family member ask them if they are OK. If you suspect risk of suicide ask the really difficult question: ‘Are you thinking about taking your own life?’ – this is the connecting stage. Too many people are at risk and just last week it was reported the NHS are focusing on ways to change the way suicide is talked about in Scotland.

“Lay down a list of what is wrong” – this lyric of the song would make a great care advice. Ask why they are putting themselves at risk, listen to and understand their reasons.

“How to save a life” – give them reasons to live! Remind them there are people who care and organisations to contact for help and support. Agree to commit to a safeplan.

The Fray conclude “Had I known how to save a life” and it is one statement in the song that hopefully doesn’t allude to this blog. I hope you already knew, or do know now, that often little things – ‘Are you OK?’, an ambulance call, a nose pinch – really can go some way in how to save a life. Choose Life.