Who Let The Doc Out?! #003: Tips on providing effective first aid when you’re not a medical professional

first aid

First aid is the basic immediate medical assistance given to an injured or ill person until they can access professional medical attention. For many people, first aid has been the difference between life and death, and it has become increasingly evident that this is a skill that everyone should know at a basic level.

However, many people are hesitant to provide first aid as non-medical professionals, primarily because of the lack of information on how to do so.

In this article, we shall discuss the different techniques you can use as a non-medical professional to provide first aid to an injured or ill person.

How to provide first aid

When providing first aid, we usually follow the ABCDE approach, which stands for:

  • A – Airway
  • B – Breathing
  • C – Circulation
  • D – Disability
  • E – Exposure

However, the true first step of providing first aid is calling for help. Have one or two people assist you with the injured person while another calls for an ambulance. Do a quick assessment of the person to see how badly injured they are and if they are conscious. Ensure there is no danger to you or the injured person from the environment, and place them in the recovery position. After this, you can then commence the ABCDE process.

1.      Airway

Check the person’s airway – the nose and mouth – to make sure it isn’t blocked. In a person who is choking, you can first encourage them to cough the foreign object out. If this fails or the person is unable to cough, you can them perform the Heimlich maneuver to help dislodge the object.

In unconscious people, the tongue may fall back in the mouth and block the airway. To work around this, place the person on their back on a flat surface and perform a chin lift and jaw thrust maneuver. This keeps the tongue out of the way of the throat and keeps the airway patent.

2.      Breathing

Is the person breathing? You can check for this by looking at the chest for respiratory movements, or putting your finger or a mirror under their nose to check for breaths and condensation from breathing respectively.

If the person is not breathing, start rescue breaths with mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. However, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is advisable to take precautions against unnecessary exposure to infection. If medical help is nearby, the patient may do without assisted breathing for a few minutes.

3.      Circulation

This involves the movement of blood in the body. Is the patient bleeding from anywhere? If yes, try and stop the bleeding by applying pressure using a clean piece of cloth. If the bleeding is from a limb, you can apply a tourniquet.

You should also check the person’s pulse at this point. You can do this by placing your index and middle finger on the part of the neck a little to the side of their windpipe, or on the inner wrist at the point below the thumb. If there is no pulse or it is too slow (a normal pulse rate should be 60 -100 per minute), then start cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

4.      Disability

The purpose of this step is to check the person’s level of consciousness. You can do this by asking them questions to see if they can give you coherent answers. If the person is not fully responsive, try shaking them.

For an unconscious person or someone having convulsions, place them in the recovery position to keep them from choking on vomit. Also keep them away from potentially harmful things like fire and sharp objects.

5.      Exposure

The final basic step in providing first aid is to ensure the person is properly exposed. This means checking for any tightly fitting restrictive clothing that may be cutting off their breathing or circulation like a scarf or belt, or any clothing that may be concealing severe injuries.

In some cases, like burn victims, the clothing may be worsening the injuries. Remove such clothes but ensure you do not injure yourself in the process.

Special considerations

In some instances, you may need to make special considerations regarding the safety of an injured person. For example, in people with head and spine injuries, it is advisable to stabilize the neck with your hands to avoid further injury to the spine.

For people with fractures, you may need to immobilize the injured limb with an improvised splint to prevent added injury to the surrounding tissues. 

Innocent Immaculate Acan is a medical doctor and writer currently working at Adjumani Hospital. She won the Writivism Short Story Prize in 2016 and has published an illustrated children’s book titled The Pearl Trotters in Black, Yellow, Red. She was part of the 2018 class of the Young and Emerging Leaders Project.

Innocent Immaculate Acan