First Aid

  • You’re talking with the man who’s painting your house. Suddenly, you hear a crash on the street. You rush over and find an injured driver.
  • You’re making tea for a sick friend. You aren’t used to her kettle, and accidentally pour boiling water on your hand instead of into the teacup.
  • You’re at a business lunch. Your marketing guy stops talking mid-sentence. He points at his throat. Next thing you know, he’s starting to turn blue.

What can you do, and what should you not do, in these acute medical situations? In the more serious cases, you should call 911. But that isn’t the only thing, and in some cases it isn’t even the first thing you should do to help. Use common sense and your best judgment to determine the first aid to provide. Every situation is different, but some basic principles apply:

Remain calm so you can think carefully and act swiftly.

Do no harm. For example, moving a patient with a head or neck injury might cause permanent paralysis. Let trained medical personnel handle this when they arrive.

Summon medical help e.g., call 9-1-1, or, if the problem is less critical and it’s not after hours, call your doctor [Note: Village Health is open 24/7 and there’s always a doctor on staff].

Obtain basic information to pass on to medical personnel. You might be the last person able to obtain this information if a patient loses consciousness.

Ask the patient what happened. This may be extremely helpful to the EMT’s and doctors who’ll be treating the patient. For example, in the case of ingested medications or street drugs, knowing what drugs were taken, how much, are essential parts of the medical history. In the case of chest pain, the type of pain (e.g. sharp, burning or squeezing), the location on the chest and other symptoms will be needed by the doctor to determine the diagnosis and treatment.

Ask the patient if he or she has allergies to medications, particularly severe ones, or has major medical condition such as heart disease or diabetes. If already unconscious, carefully look for a medic alert bracelet or necklace with this information.

If bleeding, apply direct, firm pressure to the injured area area – preferably with the protection of gloves or cloths/towels. Avoid tourniquets unless the bleeding is severe and direct pressure has failed. The goal is to prevent shock and further injury. Protect your hands and any open cuts you may have from the patient’s blood.

If limbs are broken, they should be splinted with makeshift items such as cardboard and clothing items and safety pins. If the fractures are open (compound fracture), the wound should be bandaged or at least covered with sterile gauze prior to transport. Do not try to pop the bone edges back under the skin as this could introduce infective material into a serious wound.

Gently reassure the patient that help is on the way and that you’ll relay the information you’ve learned to the EMT’s.

Some situations require special training, such as the patient who is not breathing or has lost pulses (CPR). This is often available through community courses [] and is highly recommended — especially if you have a loved one with serious medical problems. General information on a variety of first aid techniques for specific situations will give you the knowledge to, for example, treat for shock, snakebites, eye injuries, frostbite and many others (American College of Emergency Physicians-sponsored site) Note that all information there is for general informational purposes and should not be viewed as a substitute for the advice of a physician.


More specialized first aid skills

Recognizing a stroke – A stroke is an emergency for the brain just like a heart attack is an emergency for the heart. Here are some clues that a person may be having a stroke:

  • Loss of ability to walk properly
  • Any loss of coordination of the arms or legs such as inability to write one’s name or tie one’s shoe
  • Confusion — especially if the onset is rapid
  • Slurred or garbled speech
  • Drooping of one side of the face
  • Weakness or numbness in one side of the body
  • Any loss of vision
  • Headache that’s unusually severe – especially if it came on instantly

CPR. Cardio-pulmonary resuscitation helps keep the heart pumping blood and the lungs breathing until EMTs arrive.

AED. Automatic External Defibrillators are small machines available in public places like airports, schools, sports arenas, and shopping malls. An AED helps ordinary people like you save a person in cardiac arrest or other dangerous heart rhythm. You simply apply the AED to the chest, and the device assesses whether the patient needs an electric shock. If yes, it walks you through the steps and it delivers a shock to the patient. This buys times for the patient until the medical professionals arrive.

It is beyond the scope of this article to address all emergency medical issues, but we hope this information helps you see that a bystander can play a valuable role in bringing people in our Village back to health when acute medical conditions arise.

For topic-specific information, check out the American College of Emergency Physicians-sponsored site.

Further first aid information is available at’s section on First Aid.

Note that all outside links are for general informational purposes and should not substitute for the advice of a physician.