Nobody ever expects a crisis.

Last Friday we were walking to the local Sainsburys when we saw the tell – tale gaggle of gawping onlookers and people crouching around something on the floor, with others taking photos on their phones or standing around and looking shocked. Sure enough, an old man was lying on the paving slabs next to his walker and a still-smouldering cigarette whilst a pair of Sainsburys employees were phoning for an ambulance. I walked up and asked if anyone was a first aider, noting that he’d been put in a semi-recovery position. He was breathing shallowly, with a strong pulse. A couple of blokes wearing Sainsburys tops, a woman wearing a black dress and a very excitable army cadet nodded back.

Mrs Astronomer gave me a look of “well, off you go again”. To my relief a first response car wasnt that far away as the old man was in pretty bad shape; as I knelt down to try and adjust his recovery position, the Sainsburys first aiders left me to it, the woman in the black dress suddenly vansished, and the excitable army cadet decided to help by promptly fainting and breaking his own arm. (Once I’d imobalised his arm, I basically ignored him). Worse, a knot of onlookers was pressing in to have a good look at the free street theatre. Finally, I snapped and drew myself up.
“Look – Unless any of you are first aiders or a doctor, CLEAR OFF!” I hollered, in my best parade-ground voice. Looking surprised, they did, one man muttering “…rude” under his breath as he did so. Still, it gave me a bit more room to look after the poor chap. He was out cold, with horribly inflamed legs (once he came round he was complaining of terrible chest pains as well). I’m not a doctor, but this was waving the “not good” flag. Once the paramedic turned up (a no-nonsense man called Dan) I was thankfully relegated to a somewhat more supportive role – passing him things from his bag, comforting the old man of no fixed abode who was starting to come around, and helping the poor old boy piss in a bag because he’d taken his tumble at just the wrong point in the bladder cycle.

Now I don’t know if you’ve ever helped a tramp piss in a bag, but it’s not as glamorous as it sounds.

It always seems to happen around me – accidents happen. I’m always coming across smashed up cars in ditches, or motorcyclists who’ve come off their bikes, clipped cyclists, or people who’re having a seizure in the middle of a small market town… And I’ve come to the conclusion that First Aid lessons are, hands down, one of the most useful things you can ever possibly learn. You WILL end up using it at some point. I probably end up using it seriously about two to three times per year, and treating minor cuts and scrapes far more regularly than that. This blog isn’t about how I’m such a bally hero or anything so self inflationary, just… You never know what’s going to hit you.

Be prepared when it does.

Life has a very funny way of throwing random incidents at you when you least expect it, and 90% of people just don’t know how to deal with it. It makes me quite cross – in fact, it makes me bloody furious. It only requires a small investment of your time, and one day it might help somebody, well, not die. It’s kind of a big deal. It infuriates me when people stand and gawp, taking photos on their phones, instead of doing something useful!

So, assuming you know nothing about first aid, what can you do?

First, don’t bloody panic. It’s infectious in a way you wouldn’t believe, which is bad news when you have somebody in the equation who could really use a calm pair of hands. At the same time, calmness works wonders. Once you’ve stopped panicking, call for an ambulance and put them on speakerphone, because being hands free is extremely useful. Trust me on that last point. Listen to the operator’s directions. They deal with this several times a day and know exactly what they’re talking about.

Check for hazards to yourself before you rush in. No point adding to the number of casualties.

If you’ve got to triage more than one casualty, as a rule of thumb DEAL WITH THE QUIET ONES FIRST. If somebody’s screaming blue bloody murder, they’ve got a good set of lungs on them and they’re not about to drop dead. The casualty who is unconscious in the corner and white as a sheet, however, just might.

Put them in the recovery position. Whatever the ailment, it’s usually a good place to start.

If there’s no pulse and they’re not breathing, give CPR a punt. Even if you’ve not been trained, if you’re the only person there, or if everyone else is being bloody useless and panicking, it’s all on you and the odds of your getting it wrong by giving it a try is smaller than the odds of you getting it wrong by doing nothing at all. (True story: when my father was a young man, he saved his best friend’s life after he came off his motorbike by just giving CPR a go. He was the only person around and just copied what he’d seen on TV. It worked, and his friend lived). If you have to start CPR, the only time it’s okay to stop is when a paramedic or doctor tells you to, or when you collapse from physical exhaustion. It is very hard to keep it up for more than a minute. Swap out with somebody.

If you don’t have to do CPR, find out the casualties’ first name. Repeat it as often as you can. Your first name is literally the most comforting sound you can hear; whilst you do that, hold their hand. That last bit really makes a difference.

Don’t give the casualty anything to eat or drink; it really messes them up if they need an operation later.

Never underestimate the power of a good, loud clear voice for getting people to do what they’re told.

Finally, now you’ve read this, don’t take first aid lessons from a random blogger on the internet. I am not a first aid instructor. Go find somebody who is and book yourself on their course. Do it via work. Get a certificate and hang it in your downstairs loo. You WILL have to use it at some point, and when you do you may help save somebody’s life. And when you do see a casualty, don’t gawp. Go help.

Still not convinced? Well, if you don’t, it may be one day be somebody you love whom you could have saved.

And you couldn’t.