We have blogged before on first aid procedures that are useful to know, and our recommendations on first aid courses you can take. There are some medical occurances, however, for which a blanket first aid course just cannot prepare you, and it is in these emergency situations that the bravery and instinct of those around the person in trouble, and their actions, could determine how well that person recovers. There are certain conditions in which noticing the signs early, or performing specific procedures when they do happen, can improve the chances of a successful recovery.
We write about sepsis a lot on the Isabel Healthcare Blog, because it is an extremely dangerous disease with a sudden onset, and many people do not know how to spot it or what to do if you suspect sepsis. Identifying and getting a diagnosis of sepsis as soon as possible, before it develops into septic shock, really is a matter of life and death. Sepsis is a secondary infection of the blood, caused by an initial infection, which can be as simple as an infected paper cut. If someone around you has a primary infection you know about, or you can see an open wound or cut on their body, and they are experiencing any of the symptoms below, you should go to the emergency room and tell them you are concerned about sepsis, so that they can rule this life threatening condition in or out straight away. The symptoms can be put into a useful mnemonic, SEPSIS:
- Shivering or fever
- Extreme pain or discomfort all over the body
- Pale or discoloured skin
- Sleepiness or lethargy
- “I feel like I’m dying” is often said by those with sepsis
- Shortness of breath.
A seizure, commonly known as a fit, can range from a very short temporary absence which may even go unnoticed, to a grand mal, or tonic clonic, seizure. This larger seizure involves the person ‘seizing up’ initially and going stiff, then usually falling to the floor. Their body then shakes and jerks as their muscles contract and relax rhythmically. They may also roll their eyes back, bite their tongue or cheek, have heavy breathing or groan, and may even lose control of their bowel or bladder. Most of the time a seizure will end after a minute or two. You should still call an ambulance if this is the first time they have had a seizure. If a tonic clonic seizure lasts for longer than 5 minutes, or if someone is experiencing seizures one after the other with no time to recover, then they need emergency attention and an ambulance should be called. When someone is experiencing a tonic clonic seizure, there are some measures you can take to help them whilst you wait for emergency medical attention:
- Start a stopwatch to time how long the seizure or seizures are lasting
- Remove any potentially harmful objects in the area
- Place a cushion or something soft under their head
- If you do not know the person or that they have epilepsy, they may have an epilepsy card on them which will help you know what to do for them, so look for this
- Once jerking and shaking movements have stopped, place them in recovery position, but do not try to move or stop them whilst they are having the seizure
- Assess any other injuries they may have, such as a bitten tongue or a head injury from the fall.
There is a lot of additional information out there on how to support those with epilepsy, and it happens more than you would think, so it’s a good idea to be prepared!
Many people have heard the common myth that if you smell burnt toast, you may be having a stroke. Because strokes are an attack in any part of the brain, your sense of smell can be affected, but it isn’t thought of as a recognisable symptom. There are, however, some clear symptoms to look out for. With strokes, every second counts, as the brain is deprived of oxygen during a stroke and the sooner this can be reversed, the less damage to the brain. Again, there is a handy mnemonic, FAST, to help you remember what to look out for and also what to do:
- Face - Is their face drooping on one side?
- Arms - Ask them to raise both arms - is one falling or drifting downwards?
- Speech - When they are talking, is their speech slurred or do they sound different?
- Time - Time is of the essence, so if you spot any of these, call the emergency services immediately.
Whilst waiting for the ambulance service, try to make the person comfortable, and reassure them. Make a note of when you first noticed these symptoms, so you can tell the emergency services, as this can affect how they treat the patient. Don’t try to give them food or drink, as they may struggle with this when their muscles become affected. They should also avoid going to sleep, as this is a common symptom of a stroke and will delay them getting medical attention.
For more information on the symptoms, diagnosis and treatment on strokes, you can visit the USA National Stroke Association website.
Mental Health Crisis
It can be very disturbing to see someone, either whom you know or a complete stranger, in distress. Mental health affects everyone, and 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem every year, so it is statistically likely that you may come across someone in crisis. Crisis is defined as someone who is at breaking point, and this may manifest itself as suicidal thoughts or thoughts of self harm, psychotic episodes, mania, extreme panic attacks, or a general feeling of being out of control.
When you see someone behaving in an anti-social way, for example they seem disproportionally scared or violent, you can seek help for that person by using a crisis service. This can be taking them to an emergency room, as long as this does not endanger yourself, or calling an ambulance if you are concerned for your own or their safety in getting to the hospital on their own. Those with a history of mental health may have a crisis team around them already, so try to determine if this is the case and if they have any contact information on them. The most important thing is to try and avoid harm to yourself, the person in crisis, or anyone else around the area. There is a misconception that calling an ambulance for someone who is mentally, not physically, harmed is not a sensible option, but this definitely isn’t the case. Someone in crisis requires medical attention and an ambulance can be called.
In the case of coming across someone who is sucicidal, the best advice is to call the emergency services straight away. They have people trained to talk to people in a mental health crisis such as this and also cope with the outcomes. Whilst waiting for the emergency services, which shouldn’t be for very long at all, stay with the person and let them lead the conversation, but keep them talking. The person on the end of the phone should be able to help you with what to say and do in this situation, but help will be on its way.
If you are having mental health problems, feelings of self harm or suicide, then do not suffer alone. There are any resources out there to help you through this difficult time in your life, including a great charity called mind. The Samaritans are also a brilliant charity with a dedicated crisis phone line, allowing you to talk through your feelings with a trained listener.
Hopefully these quick tips on how to cope with a few different emergency situations have helped you feel more prepared, and next time you witness an emergency situation you may be the one in the room who knows what to do.
If you are concerned about any symptoms you or someone around you is experiencing, you can place them into the Isabel Symptom Checker and take the results with you to a healthcare professional.