Your First Aid Matters

For every story you have heard (or possibly be involved in) that a Doctor, Paramedic, Nurse, Rescue Crew, STARS crew, etc have been thanked for saving a life - there is a First Aider or Bystander or Family Member/Friend that should also be recognized.

Your first aid matters.

In rural, remote, and wilderness settings everyone knows that if you are forced to call for help you will be waiting for a long time. Sometimes hours. What happens in the space of time between an injury/illness and the transfer of care into the hands of a paramedic team or hospital staff is critical. In fact, without the care and attention of bystanders, sometimes a person may not survive at all. This is a sobering amount of pressure in some cases, but it does remind me that my presence and my efforts do actually matter.

Equally, not every injury/illness needs to go to a Doctor or Hospital. Every child who has been nursed back to health by vigilant parents, every wound that has healed without a trip to the Emergency Room, and every minor injury that is nursed back to health at home can be attributed to a general knowledge of First Aid. You might call it parenting though. We are quick to underestimate and undermine all the things we do to help someone and diminish the importance of the first aid you provide. When in fact good first aid, and the ability to nurse someone back to health at home, is what helps to reduce the overcrowding of emergency rooms and medical clinics for minor emergencies.

I am in no way discouraging the visit to an emergency room or medical clinic for something that is making you nervous, worsening, unfamiliar to you, or otherwise outside of your ability to understand or treat. In fact, too many people stubbornly delay Emergency Room trips and quite often end up far worse than if they would have come in sooner. But I am reminding all of us that it is within our common sense and general capabilities to do a bit of healing at home or on our adventures. It is our job to treat the symptoms. If the symptoms are not improving then the next step is to seek medical attention. It is not your job to diagnose (nor is it accurate to use Google) and it is certainly not your job to perform surgery so that might be a good time to go immediately!

In the meantime, the next time you are in a position to help someone, remember that all the small things, the compassionate things, matter. Be a good person. Engage your “patient” in some decisions. Trust your gut instinct. And don’t get overwhelmed with the things that you cannot fix.

• You cannot fix a broken leg – but you can make the person more comfortable.
• You cannot stop a heart attack – but you can acknowledge they need help and make them comfortable until help arrives (therefore reducing stress on the heart!) and knowingly be prepared to CPR if it results in that.
• You cannot put their flesh surgically back together – but you can put pressure on the bleeding and cover/bandage things so it all stays together.
• You cannot control the fact that their allergic reaction is worsening – but you can try to assist them with their EpiPen if that is what they need or find Benadryl as a temporary solution.
• You cannot heal a concussion – but you can evaluate the symptoms and provide comfort for those symptoms, perhaps even taking them to a hospital.
• You cannot stop a seizure – but you can try to identify why they are having one and keep their body safe while it is convulsing.

For all the times you have been in a position that you were overwhelmed or wondering what you are missing, focus on the things you can improve/change. Keep them warm. Keep them comfortable. Offer suggestions on self-soothing. Stop the bleeding. Keep their mind calm. Seek help. Truthfully, first aid is actually quite simple and basic…it’s the situation and the chaos that are what makes things feel impossible. And for every time someone has told me they “couldn’t do anything” I find dozens of examples of what they did do that did help the person they were caring for.

Your first aid matters. Never diminish the bystander who stopped and offered help, for without them the story might have ended much differently.