The dos and don'ts of basic first aid

Seeing the terrible injuries people suffered in the Christchurch earthquake made me wonder if I'd know what to do if I was ever in an emergency situation where people were getting hurt. It's been a long time since I did a first-aid course and I think it's time to brush up on my skills. You never know when they could help you to save a life.

  • Do use pressure to stop bleeding.
  • Don't breathe on an open wound.
  • Do wash a minor wound with water and mild soap to clean it, and apply antibacterial ointment and a clean bandage that won't stick to it.
  • Don't try to clean a major wound.
  • Do look to see if there are foreign objects in the wound (eg, glass) but do not pull it out - seek medical help.
  • Don't push exposed body parts back in. Cover them with clean material until medical help arrives.
  • Do get urgent medical attention if the cut won't stop bleeding and you think it may need stitches.
  • Do establish whether it's broken by looking for a deformity, swelling and an inability to move the limb normally.
  • Don't delay calling 111 if the patient is in severe pain or if the bone has broken through the skin.
  • Don't move the limb unnecessarily, but do support it (eg, put an arm in a sling).
  • Do gently flood the burnt area with cool, running water.
  • Don't use very cold water or ice.
  • Do use cool, clean fluid like soft drink or beer if there is no water.
  • Don't put creams or ointment on the burn, or break any blisters.
  • Don't try to pull off any clothing stuck to the skin.
  • Do cover the burn with plastic wrap or a clean dressing to keep it sterile.
  • Don't hesitate to call an ambulance if the person is in significant pain or badly injured. Also get urgent help if the burn affects the eyes.
  • Do make sure you are not putting yourself in danger, and that the electricity is switched off.
  • Don't approach somebody who is still connected to the electricity source (eg, someone who is touching a live electrical cable or powerline.)
  • Do put them on their back and start CPR if they are unconscious and not breathing. If they're unconscious but breathing, lie them on their side.
  • Do check for signs of life - look to see whether the person is breathing, moving or responsive.
  • Don't waste time - start CPR as soon as possible. Put the patient on their back and push on their chest hard and fast 30 times, trying to do two pushes every second.
  • Do make sure your arms are straight and you are pushing in the middle of their chest.
  • Do stop after 30 compressions to tilt back their head, pinch their nose and blow twice into their mouth. Then do 30 more compressions until help arrives.
  • Do look for signs of poisoning, like burns in and around the mouth, an altered state of consciousness, abdominalpain and nausea, or vomiting.
  • Don't induce vomiting.
  • Do phone the National Poisons Centre on 0800 764 766 for advice.
  • Don't give the patient anything to drink unless the poisons centre or qualified medical staff tell you to.
  • Do place them on their side if they are unconscious.
If someone is choking, you need to act quickly - choking can cut off oxygen to the brain and be fatal. Recommended action is:
  • Use the heel of your hand to give the person five blows on their back between their shoulder blades.
  • Then give them five abdominal thrusts (also known as the Heimlich manoeuvre). This is performed by standing behind them, wrapping your arms around their waist and tipping them slightly forward. Make a fist with one hand and place it on their abdomen just above their navel. Then grasp the fist with your other hand and press hard with a quick, upward thrust, as if you're trying to lift them up.
  • After five abdominal thrusts repeat the five back blows and so on until whatever's making them choke is dislodged.
Emergency first-aid treatment for babies and children can be different to that for adults. For example, CPR on babies should be done using two fingers, not two hands. Check specific guidelines for infants and children.

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