Fast Fixes for 10 Common (or Freak) Accidents
Shit happens. Sometimes it’s minor, but occasionally it’s serious — either way, the first few minutes after an injury are usually the most critical. You need to know what to do, remain calm and be prepared to take action. Although not every crisis requires a trip to the emergency department you should always call 000 if you feel it’s necessary. But if that’s not an option and you’re forced to take care of business on your own, here’s what to do if you…
Are Bitten by a Snake
Australia is home to 20 of the top 25 most venomous snakes in the world. Before you tremble in fear and vow to never step outside again, only 600 people are admitted to hospital each year for definite or suspected snake bites — and the news gets better. “On average over the last two decades there have been two to four deaths per year from snake bites,” says Dr Ken Winkel, Director of the Australian Venom Research Unit in the Department of Pharmacology at the University of Melbourne. The snake most likely to chomp you is the Eastern brown, as it’s found throughout mainland Australia. Amazingly, its fangs are only 2-3mm long — you might not even see the puncture wound. Much more terrifying is the rarer coastal taipan, which has the longest fangs of our venomous snakes.
Immobilise the affected area and stay still — use a splint to keep a bitten limb straight and stay calm to reduce the flow of venom.
Bitten limbs should be bandaged from toes or fingers all the way to the torso. Use as much pressure as you would for a sprained ankle. You shouldn’t be able to fit your fingers between the skin and the bandage. For a bitten torso apply firm pressure but do not restrict chest movement.
DO NOT apply a tourniquet, cut the skin around the wound or attempt to suck out the venom; all are dangerous and could lead to further damage. Equally useless are the suction devices that are included in some first-aid kits.
Electric shock refers to injuries caused by direct contact with live electrical connections — including lightning. (The term “electrocution” was first used as a portmanteau word combining “electrical execution” in the latter part of the 19th Century. It’s often misused as a synonym of electric shock, but it actually refers to circumstances of death by electrical causes.)
Since you’ll be knocked out, your job is done. You’d better hope, however, that someone around you calls 000.
If you’re not the victim, DO NOT touch the victim if he’s still touching a live electrical source. Either turn off the power to the source, or use a non-conductive material (like the sole of your shoe) to break the contact.
Have Something in Your Eye
Not stars, not onion vapour. It’s the gritty, manly stuff such as grass or dirt or shards of something that can cause tearing, headache, blurred vision, or intolerance to light. It’ll drive you to distraction until you get it out. Here’s how you do it without damaging your cornea.
DO NOT press on or rub your eye, or use your dirty finger, a cotton bud, or tweezers to try removing the foreign object. Wash your hands before attempting treatment.
Irrigate the eye by leaning your head with the affected eye down. Gently pour water from a tap, jug or sterile saline bottle onto the eye. Try holding your top eyelid out over your bottom one.
Follow up with an eye-care professional. “Even if the eye feels better, there could be some damage that isn’t immediately obvious,” says emergency doctor Doug Ross.
Come Down with a Cold or Flu
Both influenza and the common cold are contagious respiratory illnesses caused by viral infections. The flu typically comes on more suddenly than a cold, and can cause fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, body aches, headaches and fatigue. In some cases, vomiting and diarrhoea are present, but not usually in adults.
Dr Kudrath says resting and rehydrating are mainstays. It’s probably a bit late now, but get a flu jab this time next year. Only 20 percent of people get vaccinated in any one year in Australia.
Fever — the body’s natural response to an infection — creates an environment unfavourable to the replication of viruses. For a high fever (above 39C), try a dose of aspirin or ibuprofen to help control your body temperature.
Eat small amounts of nutritious food when you’re hungry, and drink plenty of clear fluids to replace electrolytes and water even if you’re not thirsty.
NOTE: Antibiotics are used to kill bacteria, not viruses, so they’re very unlikely to help as 95 percent of respiratory infections are viral.
Sprain Your Ankle
A badly sprained ankle is the most common sporting injury simply by twisting, rolling or turning a foot in such a way that it stretched the ankle ligaments beyond the normal range. “Obvious deformity is indicative of a fracture or dislocation,” Ross says.
If it’s severely sprained or deformed, make a splint. “Fold a sturdy piece of cardboard in two places and gently wrap it around the ankle,” Ross says, “or roll up two magazines and put one on either side, then tape it together with duct tape or tie it with a shirt — but not too tightly.”
DO NOT try to reset the joint.
Seek medical treatment.
For mild sprains, treat with “RICE”:
- Rest the ankle by not walking on it.
- Ice the ankle, applying the ice immediately to reduce swelling, and using it 10–20 minutes, three to four times daily.
- Compress using elastic bandages to reduce swelling of the injured ankle.
- Elevate the ankle above your heart for the first two days.
Have a Nosebleed
In the absence of other medical problems such as cancer, renal failure or a bleeding disorder, most spontaneous nosebleeds are caused by picking, even if you don’t care to admit it. “In arid or cold climates, the nasal septum gets dry and can bleed if you blow too hard or pick your nose,” says Ross.
Lean slightly forward so the blood doesn’t run down your throat.
Pinch nostrils for 5–15 minutes.
Stay calm. Anxiety increases blood flow.
If bleeding continues, apply ice to the bridge of your nose or pressure to your upper lip.
Avoid blowing your nose. Use a sterile saline to rinse. Seal in the moisture with a thin coating of Vaseline.
CAUTION: If bleeding won’t stop or you have difficulty breathing, it’s time to call 000.
Suffer a Burn
“Burns caused by grease, contact with a hot surface, fire, scalding water or even the sun should all be treated carefully to prevent infection,” says Ross.
Burns are typically described in terms of their severity:
- First degree: affects only the top layers of skin; symptoms are redness and pain.
- Second degree: reaches underlying layers of skin; symptoms include swelling and blisters.
- Third degree: destroys all layers of skin and nerves; symptoms can be black or white skin, extreme pain — or even absence of pain.
Call 000 if: you have burns to the hands, feet, face, mouth or groin; more than 1% of the body is burned (1% of the body’s surface is roughly equivalent to the size of your palm, says Ross); or you have third-degree burns.
For first-degree or small second-degree burns, run skin under cold water for 10 minutes.
Don’t put ice, butter or ointment on the burnt skin. Cool with a moist compress.
Cover loosely with sterile gauze bandage.
Do not break blisters or peel off affected skin.
You go into a pub, check out the hot girl sitting by herself and make your move. But then the hot girl’s biker boyfriend shows up in a foul mood and decides to separate you from your teeth. What do you do?
Collect tooth (or teeth). If the tooth is broken, you can’t save it, except for sentimental reasons. If it came out whole, try to reinsert it yourself within 30 minutes.
How? Glad you asked:
- Rinse it gently with water if necessary, being careful not to handle the roots.
- Use a mirror to align it, then push it back into place. (You’ll probably have to use more force than you’d expect.) Bite down on a cloth or gauze pad to hold it in place.
If you can’t reinsert the tooth, store it in milk or between your cheek and gum to prevent drying, and seek emergency medical attention.
Follow up with a dentist even if the tooth is back in place.
Lose a limb (or suffer a serious cut)
Your mother told you to keep your arms inside the car but you just wouldn’t listen, would you? If part of you ends up on the highway or anywhere else but securely attached to your torso, your first concern is to stop the bleeding. “You can live without an arm or leg, but if you haemorrhage you’ll die,” Dr Kudrath says.
AFTER CALLING 000, apply direct pressure to the wound (or just above the wound) using a clean cloth or towel.
Stay calm. The hormones released as part of the body’s fight-or-flight response to stress also increase blood flow, which you don’t want.
If the cloth soaks through, use another on top of it rather than pulling it off the wound.
If bleeding won’t stop and help is far away, apply a tourniquet just above the wound. “Tourniquets are serious,” says Kudrath. “When you put one on, you’re effectively saying, ‘I’m choosing life over limb,’ because any tissue below a tourniquet will die without blood flow.”
Collect the severed limb. Wrap it in plastic and put it in a container with ice. Don’t put it directly on ice — that could cause frostbite; nor should you try to preserve it in ice water, as that can make reattachment more difficult.
Have a Heart Attack (or think you’re having one)
It’s the end of a long, stressful day and you’re frustrated or angry or exhausted — and alone. Suddenly you feel severe chest pain that radiates to your left arm or jaw — a deep, crushing pain that gets worse with exertion. Maybe you become nauseous and feel what Dr Kudrath describes as “an impending sense of doom”.
Call 000. Yep, that’s the first step, because this isn’t one you can wriggle out of.
Having said that, there’s one thing you can do: chew — don’t swallow — an aspirin. “The most common cause of a heart attack is when plaque in the arteries rupture and blood platelets bind to the tears, forming a blood clot that stops blood flow to the heart,” says Dr Kudrath. “Chewing an aspirin disables the platelets and helps prevent further clotting.”
Don’t try to drive yourself to the hospital. Same goes if you’re a bystander wanting to help the victim. “It may seem like a waste to wait for an ambulance, but once it arrives, paramedics have the knowledge and tools to start treating you [right away],” Kudrath says.
The Australian Heart Foundation says the best way to help someone who’s having a heart attack is to call 000. Listen to the operator, who will talk you through the practical steps on how best to help.
To learn more about the symptoms and warning signs, visit heartattackfacts.org.au.
First-Aid Kit Essentials
Be prepared in case of emergency by making sure you have a proper first-aid kit. You can either buy a ready-made one or prepare your own. Here, emergency doctor Abdulla Kudrath lists the essential items to include:
- Chewable aspirin
- Thin surgical gloves made of non-latex material
- Various types and sizes of bandages (gauze dressing, Band-Aids)
- Scissors to cut bandages, seat belts or clothing
- Bottle of clean water
- Antibiotic ointment
- Antihistamine cream and pills. (For allergic reactions, EpiPen’s can be bought over the counter at a chemist. If you’re at risk you may already have been prescribed one by your doctor)
- Thermal blanket
- Peppermint lollies for hypoglycemia
- Alcohol wipes
Want to learn how to save a life in 30 minutes? Check out stjohn.org.au for their “Click to Save” online training course. It will teach you knowledge that could help save someone before the ambulance arrives.