10 Lifesaving Skills Everyone Should Know
There are many dangers that lurk in the world around us; fortunately, basic knowledge, common sense, and not panicking can ensure you come out on top of most emergency situations. Check out the skills below to know how to wisely react if and when you’re ever put to the test. (See also: 6 Items You Might Have Forgotten in Your Emergency Kit)
Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) methods have changed a bit over the years, but the three basic CPR actions are to check for unresponsiveness and call 911, begin chest compressions if the victim is not breathing normally, and tilt the victim's head back and give two one-second breaths through the victim’s mouth. The pattern is 30 chest compressions, then two breaths, and continue the pattern until the victim begins to breathe or help arrives.
2. The Heimlich Maneuver
If an adult is choking and cannot breathe, the Heimlich maneuver can dislodge the foreign body responsible for the victim choking. The Heimlich Institute recommends this technique: from behind, wrap your arms around the back of the victim and form a fist below the victim’s ribcage but above his belly button. Grasp your fist with the other hand and press into the victim’s upper abdomen with a quick upper thrust and continue until the foreign object is expelled. Seek training for infant and child Heimlich techniques, as they are less intuitive than the adult method and can do more harm than good if not done correctly.
3. Preventing Hypothermia
Hypothermia is when a body’s core temperature drops to the point where normal muscular and cerebral functions are impaired. People might be suffering from hypothermia if they start to shiver uncontrollably, lose coordination, become drowsy, or notice a slower breathing or heart rate. Treat hypothermia by bringing victims inside out of cold weather, removing any wet clothing, and wrapping them in blankets or a sleeping bag. Give them warm fluids without caffeine or alcohol to help stabilize their temperature.
4. Using an AED
Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs) are popping up in schools, malls, and even businesses these days. Proper use of an AED can provide life-saving intervention if someone is experiencing cardiac arrhythmias that lead to cardiac arrest. Proper training is required to use an AED, so contact your local Red Cross to get certified.
5. Controlling Bleeding
Just like ice won’t form on form on a flowing river, blood will not coagulate when flowing freely. Apply pressure to the wound, preferably with sterile gauze, but a towel or T-shirt will work in a pinch. If you can, elevate the wound above the heart.
6. Providing Aspirin for Heart Attacks and Strokes
In addition to regular pain relief, aspirin is recommended by the FDA to help treat mini-strokes and heart attacks. Aspirin’s properties as an anti-inflammatory and a blood thinner help more blood get through the large clots that lead to heart attacks. After calling 911, instruct someone you suspect of having a heart attack or stroke to chew and swallow a standard 325 mg dose of aspirin. Two warnings: check to make sure aspirin won’t interact negatively with other medications, and if you're providing aspirin to a stranger, you may want to check your state's Good Samaritan laws to make sure you can't be held accountable for trying to help save a life.
7. Escape from a Sinking Car
10% of all drowning deaths can be attributed to not being able to escape a submerged car. You only have a second or two to try and open the door before most of the door is below the water level. If that doesn’t work, try to open the window; even if you can’t exit through the window, once enough water has entered the car to equalize the pressure, you will be able to open the door and swim to the water’s surface. The most important skill in this situation is the ability to remain calm.
8. Exit a Burning Building
Try to have an escape plan for any building you enter. Every hotel room, government building, and most office buildings have publicly posted emergency exit maps. If there is a fire, check to see if a door feels hot before opening, and never use an elevator during a fire emergency, as it may get stuck or take you to a floor engulfed by flames. You may have to crawl to avoid smoke inhalation, which is often more deadly than the fire itself.
9. Help With a Severe Allergic Reaction
If someone appears to be having a severe allergic reaction, call 911 immediately, then try and talk to the person, asking them if they’ve ever had that reaction before and if they possibly have an EpiPen (a spring-loaded shot of epinephrine). If the victim has an EpiPen but cannot self-administer, you will need to give the shot; instructions should be printed on the outside. Be prepared to also provide CPR if necessary.
10. Properly React to a Snakebite
If you’re bitten by a snake you think may be venomous, get away from the snake, remain calm, and immobilize the bitten arm or leg to slow the poison from spreading throughout your body. Then call 911, remove any jewelry before swelling starts, and try to position yourself so the bitten extremity is below the heart. Don’t try to use a tourniquet, apply ice, or cut the wound to suck out the poison; these methods don't work and can do more harm than help. Especially do not try to capture the snake, but instead try to remember its size and coloration.
Keep in mind that Red Cross CPR/First Aid/AED training can help you gain knowledge and the confidence to use these skills; the certification also looks great on a resume. Stay safe, and remember to keep your wits about you.