Myths and truth about first aid

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When Oksana Lukyantseva from Kyiv saw a man having an epileptic seizure, she did what she had once heard was right: she laid him on his side, put a jacket under his head, and put a wooden stick between his teeth to prevent him from swallowing or biting his tongue.

When the epileptic seizure ended, the ambulance arrived, and even though everything was fine with the man, Lukyantseva later found out that she had actually acted wrong. She made a common mistake that could have done a lot of harm.

According to Fedir Serdiuk, the founder of the first aid course training program FAST, while attempting to unclench a person’s jaw and put a spoon or a pencil in their mouth during an epileptic seizure, there is a risk of causing painful dental trauma or tearing the jaw ligaments.

The worst thing that can happen to a person during a seizure is that they can slightly bite their tongue, but this never leads to fatal consequences, Serdiuk explained during a “First, Do No Harm” lecture on first aid.

He said there are many myths popular among Ukrainians regarding first aid, and people need to learn more about the topic.

In Kyiv, an ambulance usually takes up to 20 minutes to arrive, but every minute matters: If someone’s heart stops, they will have only about five minutes to be saved, and only three minutes if they are suffering from major blood loss.

In less critical cases, the first hour, the so-called “golden hour,” is critical. During this time, an injured person’s body functions can still be largely unimpaired, and it is possible to maintain them in a stable state. However, a first-aid giver has to know what to do during this first hour.

According to Kyiv’s latest official statistics for 2014-2015, some 70 percent of car accident casualties occurred due to improper first aid being given by bystanders, while 20 percent of the deaths occurred because it took people too long to call an ambulance, according to Oleksandr Komashko, head of the advisory and information department of the Center for Emergency Medical Care and Disaster Medicine.

Another common first aid myth says that applying an emergency tourniquet to stop bleeding after a major limb injury for too long can cause gangrene and lead to amputation. Tatyana Nagornaya, who attended the FAST training course, found out that this is nothing but a myth.

“We were on an island, and our friend hurt his leg. Peroxide didn’t stop the heavy bleeding. We had to apply a tourniquet. An hour later we took it off, and the bleeding had stopped,” Nagornaya said, adding that her friend’s leg was fine as well.

A survey of wounded people who required tourniquets was performed at the 10th Combat Support Hospital, U.S. Army Task Force North in Baghdad, Iraq, over seven months in 2006. Patients were evaluated for tourniquet use, limb outcome, and morbidity. As many as 232 patients had 428 tourniquets applied to injured limbs, and none of the limbs was lost or suffered lasting impairment.

First aid course knowledge can come in handy even if there isn’t a serious accident, Serdiuk says. The most common case is when someone starts choking on a piece of food. For many, the most obvious move it to pound the person on their back. Well, don’t: In this case, the foreign object may only descend lower, blocking the respiratory tract.

The easiest way is to tell the person to cough and thus to clear the blockage. However, when choking is severe, and the person can’t speak or breathe, the right thing to do is to apply strong pressure to their abdomen, a procedure called the Heimlich maneuver.

Another popular mistake mentioned by Serdiuk is applying foam or spray medicines immediately to burns. These, or any other oily remedies, cause heat to go deeper into the tissues, increasing the severity of the injury, he said.

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