Medical Emergencies: What You Should Do
Linda and her husband Dave, both long-time patients of mine, were getting ready to host an afternoon of what they called “football, food, and friends.”
But in the midst of the preparations, Dave began having chest pains. Linda suggested he lie down while she finished the preparations.
But Dave’s chest pains became worse. Lucky for him, Linda knew what to do. While she called 911, she told her husband to chew and swallow a whole, adult size (326 mg) uncoated aspirin.
Within minutes, the paramedics arrived. They eased Dave into the ambulance, and raced to the hospital, where doctors found that he had suffered a mild heart attack. Dave was treated and went home the next day, shaken, but in good shape.
That was four years ago. Today, Dave is fine, and Linda is still grateful she spent time learning what do in medical emergencies.
As I’m sure you know, not all of these stories have happy endings. “I still get cold chills thinking about what could have happened to Dave if I hadn’t been ready,” Linda told me not long ago.
“If you hadn’t told me about the aspirin trick during one of Dave’s appointments, who knows what would have happened.”
What about you? Do you know how to deal with medical emergencies, things like heart attacks, strokes, burns, cuts, choking?
If not, print out this article and secure it in a prominent place, like inside your medicine cabinet, so you can refer to it, if necessary.
Heart Attack: In addition to chewing a full-strength, uncoated aspirin, here’s another way to temporarily reduce the effect of a heart attack—force yourself to cough while waiting for the ambulance. This has a similar effect to CPR.
Another tip: If you’re alone, call 911 and then open the door to your home so paramedics can enter easily. If it’s locked, they cannot enter without the police providing access. Delays can be fatal.
Stroke: Every 45 seconds, someone in this country has a stroke, which is a blockage or rupture in one or more of the blood vessels providing the brain with oxygen and nutrients. Stroke symptoms include:
- Dizziness or balance problems
- Numbness on one side of the body or face
- Weakness in a leg, arm, or hand on one side of the body
- Loss of vision or dimness, especially in only one eye
- Extremely painful headache
Stroke symptoms usually occur suddenly. Asking the 3 questions below can help you tell whether someone is having a stroke.
- Ask the person to smile. (Look for drooping on one side of the face.)
- Ask the individual to raise both arms. (Look for weakness on one side of the body.)
- Ask him or her to repeat a simple sentence, such as “I like to read.” (Listen for slurred speech.)
If the person has difficulty responding to any of these requests, call 911 right away.
Quick action can save a life or help prevent disabling brain damage. And there are medications that help with recovery from a stroke, but they must be given to the patient within hours of the event.
Choking: It’s worth learning the Heimlich maneuver in case someone gets food or an object gets stuck in their windpipe and can’t breathe.
The first step is to hit the individual on the back, between the shoulder blades with the heel of one hand a few times, to dislodge the object.
NOTE: If the individual has a partial obstruction and can still talk or cough, DO NOT hit them on the back. You could force the object further into the windpipe. Also, do not use this technique on children or on a fragile individual.
If slapping on the back fails, the Heimlich maneuver is the next step. This involves wrapping your arms around the choking person from behind at a level just above the belly button and beneath the breastbone.
Make a fist with one hand, grasp that wrist with your other hand, and tuck your thumbs in. Push in and upward against the abdomen five times in rapid succession. Repeat if the victim does not cough up the object.
Check with your local Red Cross to see if their first-aid classes teach the Heimlich maneuver. It’s not difficult to learn, but practicing on a mannequin is helpful.
When someone is choking, every second counts. So please learn how to do this before you need it.
Cuts: First, stop the bleeding by holding a clean cloth on the wound and applying steady pressure for 10–20 minutes or elevating the cut above the head, if possible. If there’s a great deal of blood or if applying pressure doesn’t work, call 911.
If you get the bleeding under control, then clean the wound with ordinary soap and water. Disinfect a pair of tweezers with rubbing alcohol, then use them to remove any foreign material.
Be gentle. You don’t want to force dirt or bacteria deeper into the body. Cover with a bandage after applying triple antibiotic ointment. If none’s available, raw, organic honey is an excellent substitute.
Burns: For minor burns, soak or run cool (not icy) water over the burned area for ten to twenty minutes. Apply a thin layer of raw, organic honey or pure, food-grade aloe vera to the burned area, then cover loosely with non-adhesive sterile gauze or plastic wrap. (If you use plastic wrap, discard the outermost layer of the roll and use the next layer, which should be nearly sterile.) DO NOT use ice or cotton balls, which can stick to the wound and leave fibers behind.
For deep or extensive burns—larger than 3 inches in diameter, for example—go to the emergency room or call 911. This type of wound requires professional treatment.
Impalement: In this situation, DO NOT try to remove the object. Call 911 immediately and keep the person still until the paramedics arrive. If you absolutely must move the person, do so as gently as possible to prevent blood loss.
Being prepared for emergencies means you’ll know what to do before and after calling 911. Take my word for it—these kinds of emergencies don’t just happen to “other people.” So be prepared. It can make the difference between life and death.
Last Updated: August 16, 2018
Originally Published: October 8, 2014