Thursday, June 21, 2012

First Aid Techniques for Saving Lives

(Personal note: I'm sorry this post is a day late. I've been making routine trips to Urgent Care these past  few days, so finding time to write has been hard. But here it is!)

Today's post will give you the basic guidelines for some life-saving techniques. After all, who hasn't wanted to be a hero?

CPR: Or, How To Get the Lifeguard to Kiss You

We've all heard a corny "mouth-to-mouth" pick-up line before. CPR has been a comedy goldmine for many years. But what is it and how does it work?

CPR stands for Cardio-Pulmonary Resuscitation. In normal-people speak, CPR is how we restart (resuscitate) someone's heart (cardio) and lungs (pulmonary). Think of the heart and lungs like a Swiss watch. Normally, the heart beats at a steady pace and the lungs inflate and deflate without us thinking about them. Every minute of every day that you've been alive, your heart and lungs have been there for you.

If only ALL watches were so reliable...
But what happens if you forget to keep your mouth closed while diving into the swimming pool? Your lungs fill with water and everything stalls. CPR manually pumps the heart and, when combined with rescue breathing, keeps oxygen and blood flowing throughout the body. It restarts your organs, causing you to spit up the chlorinated water. And hopefully, if your hero was good-looking, then you've got a nice story to tell as well.

When and How to Do It

There are signs to look for before administering CPR on someone. For instance,

This student does not need CPR. He is sleeping.
CPR is used on anyone whose heart has stopped beating, whether from heart attack, drowning, or smoke inhalation. First, check to see if they're breathing and if their pulse is normal. If they're not, you've got to act quick. If they are, then they're probably sleeping like the student above, and CPR is unnecessary.

Second, call for help. You're probably not a doctor or paramedic, so it's good to get someone there who is.

Third, start chest compressions. This will keep the person's heart beating, which is a priority. Lace your fingers together and put the heels of your hands against the center of the victim's chest. Press down through your elbows, hard, and wait for their chest to rise before pushing down again.

They say that 100 beats per minute is the best rhythm for CPR. Ironically, the Bee Gee's song, Stayin' Alive, is also 100 beats per minute. So hum a little disco to yourself to keep the right pace.

If you're not comfortable giving mouth-to-mouth, or you're not properly trained to do so, continue steady chest compressions until help arrives.

And it's as simple as that. Congratulations, hero, you might have just helped save a life.


In the heat of the moment, you might be tempted to push too hard. CPR has been linked to rib injuries, espcially in the elderly. Some bruises are a small price to pay for returning from the dead, but still, be mindful of just how hard you're pressing.

The Heimlich Maneuver: Or, The Bear-Hug of Life

The Heimlich Maneuver is another popular first aid technique. Although it's not made fun of as much as CPR, there's still some comedy to be found. For instance, the Heimlich Maneuver helps someone who is choking by forcing the object out of their throat. The irony here is that it's hard to say "heimlich" in a German accent without spitting.

Unlike CPR which can be used in a variety of circumstances where the heart has stopped, the Heimlich Maneuver is only used when someone has an object in their windpipe and cannot breathe.

How You Do It

First, check to see if the person is coughing. If they are, that means their airway isn't completely blocked and they could correct the problem themselves. If they're not, position yourself behind the choking victim. It would be nice of you to tell them what you're doing before the next part, or else they might get some funny ideas.

Second, make a fist with one hand and place it between their belly-button and their ribcage. Cover that fist with your other hand. You should now be hugging them from behind. See why that introduction was important?

"Hello! I'll be the one saving your life today."
Third, in one swift movement, press your first inward and upward into their gut. Don't be afraid to lift them off the ground a bit if that's what it takes. For the victim, this can be an incredibly painful procedure, so it's best to get it done as quickly as possible.

Continue the sharp pulls to the stomach until the object in the throat has become dislodged. Take a break after every five compressions to check the person's mouth - if the object is visible, pulling it out would be better than squeezing them again.

What you've done is you've squeezed (squozen?) the choking victim's diapgrahm - it's a shelf of muscle in the gut that controls deep breathing. By pressing into it, you force air through the lungs and up the windpipe. If you'd prefer an analogy: the windpipe is a straw and the lodged object is a spitball. Only by putting enough air pressure behind that wad of paper will it fly out.


Just like with CPR, the Heimlich Maneuver can be very damaging. Aside from inducing vomiting, the maneuver can also crack ribs and bruise internal organs.Always have a choking victim go to the hospital after the administration of the Heimlich Maneuver.

Get Certified, Be a Hero

Nothing makes you feel quite as cool as having a card in your wallet that says, "I know how to save lives." Even though that's not what a certificate of first aid actually says, spending some time learning these techniques from officials could very well mean the difference between life and death. If you're curious where you can take first aid classes in your neighborhood, check out the Red Cross website.


  1. Personally I think every child should learn first aid in School. Its a skill that really isn't taken seriously enough.

  2. The American Red Cross no longer teaches/recommends the Heimlich as the first treatment response for choking. Instead they say first do a series of backblows. If that doesn't remove the obstruction, proceed with abdominal thrusts (aka the Heimlich). Here's a Red Cross training poster from last year:

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