How to save a life: 6 new things I learned about first aid

I recently went on a three day First Aid at Work course. It was intense and often uncomfortable but I learned a few things about first aid that I hadn’t encountered in previous training. I felt that I had to communicate these because I want everyone to know about them. So please read on – it could help you save a life.

The aims of first aid are to:

  • Preserve life
  • Prevent worsening
  • Promote recovery

I already knew about emergency first aid procedures such as CPR, the recovery position, treatment for shock and burns. Here are 6  important things I learnt this time around:

Defibrillators are brilliant and easy to use. Known as AEDs (Automatic External Defibrillators), they are small portable devices which are used in cases of cardiac arrest. CPR is performed while another person brings the defibrillator. The device talks you through what to do, analyses the patient’s heart rhythm and tells you whether to administer a shock. Don’t touch the patient while they’re being shocked! AEDs have become more widespread in the UK; I’m sure they weren’t mentioned when I did an Emergency First Aid course a few years ago. They are expensive pieces of kit but like with all technology they will become more affordable over time. I envision every UK household having their own AEDs in the future.

Do not free a patient who is trapped by something that’s crushing them – unless they’ve been there for under 15 minutes. Crushing injuries may cut off circulation to parts of the body. This means that toxins build up, instead of being processed in the small amounts that our bodies usually handle. Releasing the pressure will release the toxins too and can quickly prove fatal. If you don’t know how long the patient has been trapped, assume it’s for longer than 15 minutes. Wait for the ambulance. This also applies to the use of tourniquets (a readymade or improvised device used in first aid to control bleeding from an arm or leg, where the bleeding doesn’t respond to pressure). Once the tourniquet is on, don’t loosen it – the hospital will deal with it.

People with severe allergies should carry two adrenaline autoinjectors, for the treatment of anaphylaxis. I had heard of EpiPens, but these are just one brand name. They work by taking off the cap or safety catch and jamming the pen into the middle of the outer thigh. The first aider can help the patient use an autoinjector but is not supposed to actually administer it without consent. Also, like with asthma inhalers, no one should use anyone else’s autoinjector. You should advise someone who’s treated their allergic reaction with an autoinjector to go into hospital, even they appear to have recovered, as there is a risk of further reactions occurring.

If you suspect someone has been poisoned, do not induce vomiting. Poisons are substances which can be harmful if absorbed, injected, inhaled or ingested in sufficient amounts. Stands to reason that they can also cause damage if you try to get them out of the body. And if someone has been unlucky enough to swallow cleaning products, do not give them water! Water will make these products expand and foam, with terrible consequences. Please also be aware of ‘coin’ or ‘button’ lithium batteries; these are tempting to children and are very dangerous if swallowed. Any suspected poisoning should go to hospital, with any packaging of what they may have taken.

A patient with knocked out teeth should ideally store their teeth in saliva until arriving at the emergency dentist. I was informed that teeth can actually be reattached in some cases! While you’re waiting to see the dentist, the tooth can be put back in its socket and held in place by biting down on a wad of fabric, or for multiple teeth it may be more practical to store them inside the lower lip (as long as the patient doesn’t swallow them!). Or, the teeth can be stored in milk. Definitely not in a can of fizzy drink because this might dissolve the teeth.

When someone is suffering from hypothermia (when the internal body temperature drops too low) they should not be suddenly warmed up. This could ultimately cause cardiac arrest. Do not give them a hot drink or alcohol! By contrast, if someone is suffering from heat exhaustion they should be cooled down quickly, or their condition can deteriorate into heat stroke. For both hypothermia and heat exhaustion, you need to call an ambulance, or get someone else to do this while you’re treating the patient.

The most useful piece of advice of all is that any first aid is better than none. The worst thing you can do, is to do nothing.

NHS first aid advice

St John Ambulance first aid advice

Red Cross first aid advice

Heath and Safety Executive (HSE) – first aid at work

13 thoughts on “How to save a life: 6 new things I learned about first aid”

  1. We do ours every three years and although it’s aimed at peadiatric care – it’s relevant to anyone. It’s so important to know the basics. The tooth thing for example (you can place it in water too to keep clean) may have saved many teeth if more people know about it. Great post.

    1. Thanks! 🙂
      First aid is not just for designated first aiders, it’s useful for all kinds of situations. The best thing was seeing the defibrillator in action, it’s a great bit of technology.

  2. This is so awesome! I did the taster with St John’s Ambulance around the beginning of last year but couldn’t make it for the Full First Aid Training (most likely the one to end up in Fist Aid tbh). Love this Post, thank you so much for sharing what you learned with us. I guess it’ll also help you to remember more by sharing as well ?xx

    1. Thanks so much Laura!
      You’re right – by writing it down, I’m helping myself to remember. I just really wanted other people to know about these things.

    1. Thanks! 🙂
      Some of the info I had no idea about, so I wanted to let others know too. I think knowing first aid helps me feel prepared for incidents, I’m the kind of person who likes to prepare for anything 😉

    1. Thanks! First aid is not exactly pleasant to learn but it’s definitely useful to know.

  3. I did a similar course years ago in another country. It was slightly different, but it gave some confidence. I think my certificate is not valid anymore though, it lasts just a few years and then I’d have to renew it but I didn’t.

    1. Yes, first aiders (in the UK at least) should do refresher training every 3 years.

Leave a Reply