HOW TO HANDLE AN EMERGENCY SITUATION
Updated: Oct 17, 2021
I’m driving down the road early in the morning on my way to teach at the college. On my right is the barbershop, on my left is the laundromat next to the CVS pharmacy. Coming out of the laundromat was a random couple, and the man was walking like he was drunk. My first thought was “Well…sigh”. But he kept walking funny; past his wife, past the parking lot, and he stumbled out into the street. Then he just dropped like a stone. It was then obvious that he was NOT drunk; this was the walk of a man losing consciousness – fast. His wife screamed and ran towards him. A stroke? A seizure? A heart attack? The point was, he went down like an anchor being dropped into the sea. IN THE MIDDLE OF THE STREET. I put on my turn signal and pulled over. I called 911 as I ran towards him.
What would you do if you were in this situation? Would you even know? Do you have the ability to jump in and help, or would you be reduced to being a passive bystander?
As luck would have it, another good Samaritan drove up as soon as I got to the man. He turned his car sideways, blocking traffic from hitting the unconscious stranger -- and me. I had taken the dumb risk of placing myself between the body and oncoming traffic, hoping the commotion would be enough to keep any car from running over us both. It was a brave move – and also a dumb and uneducated one. It had been years since I had taken a CPR/BLS (basic life support) class, and therefore I didn’t have the well-trained instincts I assumed I would. I was unsure. I didn’t feel confident enough to truly take control of the situation. I knew only what I could remember, which was from a long time ago. I was fuzzy on the details. And although I did stop and I helped, I could have done a much better job of it.
I knew enough to check his pulse and breathing. He had a weak and thready pulse, but he was breathing at a steady rate. I took off my soft coat and propped it up under his head—it was gnashed and bloody from hitting the concrete pavement so hard when he passed out. I figured if he went into a seizure, banging his head on the road even more would just make it worse, and I figured he didn’t have a cervical fracture (since I saw him fall with my own eyes). Had I not known how he fell to the ground, or if he had gotten hit by a car or suffered some other similar trauma, I would have stabilized his neck instead.
His wife was crying and kept calling his name. I alternated between repeatedly taking his pulse, trying to wake him up with a stern “SIR! SIR?” and reassuring his distraught wife, “I’ve called 911. They’re on their way. He is breathing. His heart is beating. It’s going to be okay. I’m here for you. We’re going to get him taken care of. It’s going to be okay.”
I didn’t exactly know who this royal “we” were to which I was referring; and I didn’t know what else to do. I didn’t have anything else up my sleeve besides to keep taking his pulse. I guess when I said “we” I meant the paramedics. But I kept repeating “We’re going to take care of him. It’s going to be okay” to his wife. It seemed to help her, anyway.
At some point, I noticed that several well-meaning people had gathered around, suggesting different things, “Clean the blood off his head!” “Sit him up!” “Give him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation!” but I was the only one touching him. Up close. They all looked to me since I was the one taking control of the situation. But honestly, I felt like an imposter. I didn’t know enough to be in charge of this. However, I happened to know more than anyone else around us, so I was the leader by defacto. I said a few stupid cliché things that you hear on a tv show, like “Stand back! Give him room!” but I knew they were empty commands. Give him room for what? To lay there? Such nonsense. I said these phrases moreso to make the people around us feel better than to actually help this unconscious man. He was still breathing. His heart was still beating. His bloody head wasn’t swelling. He wasn’t going into a seizure. It was a complete mystery what was wrong or what else to do.
STEP ONE: ASSESS THE AREA
In an emergency like this, the very first thing you need to do is check the area for safety before barreling into it like a rogue cannon. Unlike my actions in the above scenario, it is better if you DON’T run out into a busy street. You’re not going to help anyone if you get hit by a car. Don’t give the paramedics TWO people to take care of rather than just one. The gentleman who used his car to block traffic was more helpful.
STEP TWO: CALL 911
Okay, so I did get this one right. At the time I ran towards him, I was alone. If there had already been someone else on the scene, I could have told them to call 911, but since I had my phone on me anyway, it was the best recourse.
Don’t just shout for “someone” to call 911. What ends up happening is that everyone thinks everyone else is going to call, and nobody ends up calling. Look directly at a specific person – even point straight at them – and say “YOU! Call 911!” or you might have to give more specific directions since onlookers have a tendency to freeze under pressure. “YOU! Do you have a phone? Call 911!” or “YOU! Go into the laundromat and call 911!”
STEP THREE: CHECK FOR CONSCIOUSNESS
This is why I kept shouting “SIR? SIR!” You might ask, why call 911 before checking for consciousness? This is because I witnessed firsthand the man falling out onto the pavement. It is entirely up to the context of the situation. However, when in doubt, call 911 as soon as possible. Paramedics would rather show up to a conscious misunderstanding than to a dead man because they weren’t called soon enough.
STEP FOUR: CHECK FOR PULSE AND BREATHING
Don’t use the wrist like a nurse does in a doctor’s office. Use the carotid artery (the neck – think where a vampire would bite). This is an emergency and you need to know quickly if the heart is pumping out blood or not. Check for breathing by looking at the chest and noticing if it is moving up and down. If the person seems to be gasping for breath, this doesn’t count as normal breathing. The total time you should take is under 10 seconds. If you can’t find a pulse or breath within 10 seconds, it’s best to move on to the next step.
STEP FIVE: SEND FOR AN AED (Automated External Defibrillator)
You could also do this if/when you tell someone to call 911. In the above scenario, we were in front of a laundromat and a CVS. Maybe not the laundromat, but the CVS probably had an AED. Just like when commanding someone to call 911, be specific – look at a particular person in the eyes and say “YOU – go into the CVS and tell them to get their AED! NOW!”
It is always okay to call for an AED. It is programmed not to shock someone who doesn’t need it. It is better to be safe than sorry! At least you will have it handy and within reach in case things take a turn for the worse.
That being said, it is important that you know how to use an AED correctly. Most modern CPR classes include training on the AED as well. Be sure to check the course description that any CPR or BLS training class you take does cover its use.
Please note: this blog is NOT a substitute for actual CPR training. PLEASE go find a class! It only takes a couple of hours of your time. Someone’s life may depend on it!