Monday, 15 August 2011

First Aid

It had been 15+ years since I'd taken a First Aid course, but I recently enrolled and found my knowledge woefully out of date.

Last week, I took the Comprehensive First Aid course offered by the Red Cross in Invercargill. It was 12 hours of nonstop instruction, scenarios, practice and testing - plus a few laughs thrown in for good measure. The course took place over 1 1/2 days and was held in their Gala Street location.

Jayne McAllister, Red Cross Training Coordinator for Invercargill, ably led the course. Rarely do I find an instructor who has all the answers. But for every question she fielded from us, she provided the latest information and research along with personal stories and experience. In short, she knew her stuff. Her passion and skill for teaching others to act intelligently in emergency situations was obvious, and I felt fortunate that she was our instructor. She was also training a new instructor, Andrea, in the process.

So how has First Aid changed in 15 years? Well, for one thing the Heimlich maneuver is out. In the event of someone choking, this was a method of abdominal thrusts to help expel the object. However, such thrusts can lead to abdominal injuries, fractured ribs and damage to the xiphoid process (which can break off and puncture your diaphragm). Instead, we were taught to do chest thrusts. These are safer and easier to do especially if you are helping someone who is very big around the middle.

CPR used to entail different combinations of compressions and breaths for adults, children and infants. These combinations were really hard to remember (I had completely forgotten them after 15 years), so it's been streamlined - 30 compressions and 2 breaths for all ages.

This course also covered the use of a community defibrillator or AED. I'm sure these never existed 15 years ago for ordinary folks like you and me.

But how does it work? Apparently, these machines, which are about the size of a purse or handbag, are designed for public use in the case of a person whose heart has gone into fibrillation. This means the heart has appeared to stop but is actually quivering and can't get back onto its normal rhythm. A defibrillator will stop this quivering in an attempt to get the heart to re-set itself and begin pumping blood again.

What I didn't know was that these lifesaving machines are foolproof. They have a recorded voice that talks you through the process of how to apply the leads to the person's chest. The machine senses what is happening with the heart and won't proceed with an electrical charge unless it detects fibrillation. So thankfully, it's not up to the first aider to make that decision. However, a first aider will still need to give compressions and breaths in between shocks, but the machine instructs you when to start and stop. As mentioned in the Otautau News & Views, our community defibrillator is located at the Fire Station.

If you would like more information on First Aid, go to the Red Cross website and sign up for a course. St John also offer courses and online practice video scenarios.

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