Saturday is World First Aid Day. There is a pressing need for more people to be trained in saving lives during emergencies, doctors tell Subha J. Rao

Karthika, 40, (name changed) had a cardiac arrest and was being rushed to hospital in an autorickshaw when she collapsed. Her husband panicked but soon remembered seeing a cardiac massage being performed on someone. He repeated it on his wife. Within minutes she was revived. Today, she leads an active life.

“All because her husband had some exposure to first aid,” points out M.N. Sivakumar, head, critical care, KMCH, Coimbatore

So many people succumb to cardiac arrests because they have no access to first aid, say doctors. “And, with the growing incidence of cardio-vascular diseases, it is high time knowledge of first aid is made mandatory,” says Dr. Sivakumar. Not just heart attacks, in any kind of medical emergency outside of a health facility, the first responders are usually non-medical people — bystanders, classmates, colleagues… They must be in a position to provide initial treatment and prevent the situation from worsening till medical help arrives, say doctors.

Narendra Rungta, president, Indian Society of Critical Care Medicine (ISCCM), says they frequently conduct free training programmes for hospital staff, paramedical staff and the public on dealing with emergencies. “For instance, we teach the public how to transport a victim to hospital and how to give first aid.”

The solution, doctors say, is to make first aid and Basic Life Support (BLS) training mandatory in the academic curriculum. BLS is a set of 10 instructions, followed internationally, that empowers people to help during an emergency till someone qualified comes along. Dr. Narendra says ISCCM has been recommending this to the Government for a long time, because “awareness about first aid is disastrously low” in our country. The Indian Red Cross Society also frequently conducts training programmes. However, a veteran in the field says the need of the hour is continual training, because there is a good chance that a person might have forgotten what was taught a decade ago. “There must be regular practical and theory-based training,” he says.

Ashok Hariharan, director, intensive care unit, KG Hospital, still recalls the case of a young boy who died after drowning in a swimming pool. “There is a good chance he would have survived had someone there known first aid,” says Dr. Ashok. He is part of a team that visits schools and corporates to offer free training in first aid as part of the hospital’s corporate social responsibility initiative.

Many countries have installed Automated External Defibrillators (AED) in public places. These enable anyone who knows how to use the machine to help those in distress. “We need more AEDs in our country. Most importantly, they need to be in designated areas, with sign posts leading to them,” says Dr. Ashok. “Every minute wasted after a cardiac arrest reduces the chances of saving the person by six per cent. A delay of 10 minutes can prove fatal,” he adds.

Dos and don'ts

Accidents

If someone is unconscious after an accident or fall, take care of the neck area. Use whatever is available to immobilise the neck. If you don’t transport the person carefully, a minor injury can turn into a major one.

When removing the helmet of an accident victim, take care to support the head, neck and trunk. Otherwise, you could cause great damage.

Snake bite

Do not make an incision around the bite.

Do not tie a tourniquet.

Poison

If someone has consumed poison or is unconscious, do not offer salted water or any liquid. The victim might aspirate and die.

Check the scene

Before stepping in to help, check to see if the scene is safe. This especially holds good in cases of electrocution, riots or attacks.

AED and the city

In May 2012, Dr. Ravindra Bhat, 48, of Ganga Hospital collapsed at the Coimbatore Railway Station following cardiac arrest. His death triggered a chain reaction. His colleague at Ganga and then project chairman of Rotary Club of Coimbatore, S. Balavenkatasubramaniam, came up with the ‘Save A Life’ project. The club tied up with Philips India to set up 10 AEDs in places where people gather in numbers. So far, one each has been set up in the railway station, airport and the court, three in the bus stands at Gandhipuram (mofussil), Singanallur and Ukkadam and two in an old age home, says K. Balasubramaniyan, project coordinator, Save A Life.

Home remedies

First aid begins at home, especially for minor injuries or conditions, says Rajam Murali, a specialist in herbal medicine

For burns suffered in the kitchen, wash the area in cold water and then apply butter on it

For knife cuts, wash the wound and apply ice. This will aid clotting. Then, fill the wound with some talcum powder or besan

For painful mouth ulcers, add crystal salt to warm water and gargle. You can also chew tender neem leaves or about 10 leaves of manathakkali keerai

For rashes on the skin, wash the area with a mixture of turmeric and tender coconut water

For indigestion-related headaches, boil jeeragam (cumin) in water, and drink

If you feel faint after a walk in the sun, drink a glass of water mixed with the juice of a small piece of ginger, a tablespoon of lime juice, and some salt and sugar