When an emergency happens around you, your first reaction may be fear that you don’t know how to help. Don’t worry — there are several things you can do, even if untrained, to help the situation. Here are some actions for several types of situations you may encounter:
Help the person lie flat on their back and elevate their legs. Also instruct them to squeeze their hands together or to cross their legs and squeeze tightly. This will help get blood flowing back to the brain, which will improve their symptoms. If the person has chest pain or difficulty breathing in addition to feeling faint, instead call 911 immediately, and refer to the heart attack section below.
If someone’s airway is completely blocked (they won’t be able to speak at all), bend them at the waist and give them five blows to the back between the shoulder blades (don’t be gentle in this situation). If this doesn’t work, position yourself behind the person, place your balled fists just above the navel, and pull in and up. For a video of how this looks, please visit CR.org/choking.
Do not try to stop someone from seizing as this can be dangerous for both of you. Instead, help the person get on the floor and protect their head from hitting anything. When seizing has ended, turn the person on their side, which is considered the “recovery position.” A person’s tongue can become limp after a seizure, so being on their side helps them breathe better.
If someone is injured and bleeding heavily, apply your palm to the wound and apply as much pressure as possible. If this doesn’t help the blood flow, you may need to use a tourniquet, which can be made with a belt, scarf, bungee cord, etc. Place it about two inches above the wound and tighten until the bleeding stops or slows significantly.
The best thing you can do if you notice signs of a stroke is to call 911 immediately. Key signs of a stroke are facial drooping, arm limpness, and slurred speech.
If you see signs of a heart attack, which can be chest pain as well as jaw pain, shortness of breath, and nausea, call 911 immediately. In the meantime, have them sit down and not exert any energy. If you have aspirin, give them a 325 mg dose, which should be chewed to accelerate absorption into the bloodstream.
If someone’s heart stops beating and they are unresponsive, start CPR immediately and call 911 on speaker phone (the emergency dispatcher can instruct you on what to do in addition to sending help). Chest compressions should be done at the rhythm of “Staying Alive” by the Bee Gees, as the song is about 100 beats per minute. Compressions should be about 2 inches deep and you should come up fully with each compression. If there is an AED nearby that someone else can get, have them do so while you continue CPR. SFG completes CPR training every two years and we recommend it to anyone who is interested in formal training. Visit the American Heart Association and the Red Cross for course schedules.