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Updated 23 July 2014

Dealing with an emergency

No one wants to imagine having to deal with emergencies. But you can be a lifesaver if you know what to do and are able to help.

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No one wants to imagine having to deal with emergencies. But you can be a lifesaver if you know what to do and are able to help.

Emergencies need quick action, not panic. It sounds like a cliché, but remaining calm is the key to acting sensibly and with confidence. The person in need of help will need your assurance, and sensing your own anxiety and panic will only increase his/her distress.

Don’t wait for an emergency before you refer to these pages. Prepare yourself now by studying this information and, better still, attend a first aid course. The information given here is not meant to replace practical training that is given on a first-aid course. Contact St John's Ambulance, the Red Cross or other first aid training organisations for courses in your area. If you have taken a course previously, make sure your skills are up-to-date. Make sure that your childminder knows first aid. Again, don’t wait until it is too late.

Post emergency telephone numbers next to all phones in your home and office and save them on your cell phone. Important numbers to keep are of an emergency service, fire department, nearest hospital, the poison information centre and your GP. Know the shortest route to hospital.

Any family member with a serious medical condition, such as a heart condition, epilepsy, diabetes or a drug allergy, should wear a MedicAlert tag or carry a card. This will ensure that proper care can be given. MedicAlert identification can be obtained at your pharmacy or doctor. List any serious medical conditions family members may have and keep the list handy. Teach your children how to call emergency numbers, and tell them to show the list to emergency medical personnel.

Keep a well-stocked first aid kit at home and in your car.

There is a wide spectrum of conditions that can be considered emergencies. Many may turn out not to be as serious as initially suspected, but if in doubt, it is better to react promptly now, than have regrets later.

Dealing with accidents and injuries

  • Stay calm, sum up the situation quickly and act fast.
  • Before you act, adopt the SAFE approach. Shout for assistance, Approach with care, Free the victim from dangers, and Evaluate the victim. Protect yourself and the injured person from danger or further injury. Look out for hazards such as oncoming traffic and fire. If you cannot reach the person without putting yourself in great danger, leave him or her and call the emergency services immediately. Remember that you will not be able to help anyone if you become a victim yourself.
  • Do not move the person unless there is imminent danger such as a fire. If the person must be moved, there should preferably be someone controlling the neck and head to keep them in alignment, and at least two other people on either side of the person to lift him without moving the spine.
  • Get help. Call out for someone to phone for emergency assistance.
  • Check for breathing.
  • Prioritise problems. Remember that the most obvious injury is not necessarily the most serious. Deal with the most life-threatening problems (such as blocked airway and excessive bleeding) first.
  • Check to see if the person is wearing a MedicAlert tag or other medical identification.
  • Loosen tight clothing and cover the person to keep him or her warm.
  • If there are no suspected back and neck injuries and breathing is normal, move the person into the recovery position.
  • In the case of serious injury or shock, don't give anything to eat or drink.

When to call an ambulance
Calling for an ambulance is generally the fastest way to reach a hospital. A private car may be an alternative option, but only if the hospital is very close by.

In case of poisoning, contact the poison control centre immediately as emergency steps need to be taken before leaving for the hospital.

Call an ambulance if:

  • You don't know what to do or are uncertain of the severity of the injury
  • Someone is unconscious or struggling to breathe
  • You suspect a back or neck injury
  • Someone may be having a heart attack
  • A person is seriously injured
  • A small child is injured, unless you have another adult with you who can drive
  • There is serious bleeding that you cannot stop

When you call an ambulance, state clearly:

  • The site of the emergency (include names of cross streets, if possible)
  • What happened to the victim and the victim’s condition
  • The number of the people injured
  • The age of the victim
  • Your name and contact telephone number
  • Any first aid currently being given

Do not hang up until the operator tells you to. This way you'll be sure that you have given all the necessary information.

Car accident scene
Follow these steps:

  • Make the area safe. Protect yourself and the injured person from further injury and ask someone to alert oncoming traffic. This person should stand at least 50 metres from the accident scene and preferably use a torch at night. Turn on the hazard lights of all the vehicles on the scene.
  • If you suspect a head, back or neck injury, do not move the victim unless he is in imminent danger or you need to perform CPR. Support injured limbs when moving the person.
  • Do not go near a crashed car or try to rescue someone if the car has damaged a power pole and wires are down. You could put your own life at risk.
  • Turn off the ignition of the crashed vehicle.
  • Call the emergency services.
  • Warn people not to smoke as there may be petrol on the road.
  • Ask the driver how many passengers were in the car, especially small children, who may be trapped or may have been flung out of the car.
  • Do not touch blood without latex gloves.
  • If an injured person is wearing a helmet, don't remove it unless you need to perform CPR. You must, however, open the visor of the helmet and loosen the chinstrap.
  • If someone is trapped inside a vehicle, stay with him until help arrives.
  • If an unconscious person is trapped in the car, clear the airway of blood or vomit, and lift the jaw, making sure that you do not move the neck. Give mouth-to-mouth breathing if possible but do not perform external cardiac massage until the person has been removed from the car.
  • Stop bleeding by applying and maintaining firm pressure to the wounds.
  • Cover victims with a blanket or jacket until help arrives.

National medical emergency numbers:
112 on a cellular phone
10177 National medical emergency number for ambulance services
082 911 Netcare
084 124 ER24

(Danie and Ilse Pauw, Health24)
 

 
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