No Band-aid Approaches
Think about what you would do in an emergency – if your child fell out of a tree and was unconscious, had trouble breathing after a bee stung her, or crashed her bike and had a serious gash in her leg. Would you call 9-1-1?
“That sounds easy, but I’ve had many parents describe that in an emergency they were so nervous they dialed 4-1-1 instead,” says Mary Taddie, a chapter director of health and safety at the American Red Cross. How do you get past the panic so that you can take life-saving action? First- aid experts nationwide recommend getting some firsthand training in first-aid and CPR/rescue breathing.
The first five minutes are crucial in an emergency, explains Taddie, who works with the Red Cross of Massachusetts Bay. Even under the best conditions, emergency medical services could take as long as 10 minutes to reach you. With the right training, “you could really make a difference,” Taddie says. “It’ll make you act instead of running out the door.”
The operator you reach when you dial 9-1-1 will be able to talk you through some basic procedures, but you’ll feel better if you have your own information to rely on. “The more you know, the calmer you are,” says Joelle Mast, M.D., chief medical officer at Blythedale Children’s Hospital in Valhalla, N.Y. And that will help your child be calm. “Taking a couple of deep breaths and trying to assess the situation is always important,” Mast says.
One essential thing for parents to learn is what medical professionals call “basic life support.”
“In a serious situation, the most important thing to look at is ABC,” Mast says. That means Airway, Breathing and Circulation, the first things you learn to check during CPR (cardio-pulmonary resuscitation) training. But where kids are concerned, experts say the “rescue breathing” portion of this training is the most important to master, since heart attacks are rare in children.
You should also know how to:
- stop bleeding (apply pressure and elevate),
- treat minor cuts,
- keep wounds clean,
- treat minor burns (don’t apply ointment, just rinse with cold water),
- recognize other emergencies (a life-threatening allergic reaction, concussion, frostbite, heat stroke, etc.) so that you know to seek help immediately in those situations, and
- perform techniques such as the Heimlich maneuver, which can stop someone from choking to death.
Mast’s own daughter used the Heimlich maneuver at age 10 to save her younger sister’s life, she says. But in her practice, Mast once saw a child who died while choking on a grape because no one with this young girl at the time knew what to do.
These are the first-aid basics that all parents should know, but if you have the time and the inclination, don’t stop there. Jeffrey Upperman, M.D., director of trauma at Childrens Hospital Los Angeles, says parents should learn as much as they can.
One thing that Upperman believes all families should pay more attention to is communication. “All of us walk around with cell phones, but none of us walk around with lists of important people to notify or call,” he says. Remedy this by creating laminated cards with lists of important phone numbers – and give one to everyone in your family.
At the Red Cross
An excellent resource for first-aid training is your local American Red Cross chapter, where you’ll find classes in first-aid, adult CPR, infant and child CPR, and various combinations of these.
And, yes, people who take the courses actually do use what they’ve learned to save lives. “We get thank you’s all the time,” says Taddie.
An Ounce of Prevention
Few medical experts will even discuss first-aid without first bending your ear about the importance of prevention.
“Most emergencies come from accidents, so preventing accidents is really the key,” says Joelle Mast, M.D., chief medical officer at Blythedale Children’s Hospital in Valhalla, N.Y.
And the most important accident-prevention rule is to “pay attention.”
“Small children should never be left alone,” says Jeffrey Upperman, M.D., director of trauma at Childrens Hospital Los Angeles.
Upperman, Mast and other experts recommend learning about common risks to children and childproofing your home and the homes of relatives and friends where your kids spend time.
Among their recommendations:
• Make sure cribs, highchairs, strollers and other baby equipment you are using meet current safety standards.
• Use the appropriate child safety seats, boosters and seatbelts in your car and make sure they are installed and worn correctly.
• Evaluate your home at the level of your child, looking for exposed outlets, accessible medications, cleaning products, sharp objects and other hazards.
• Install a fence around pools, and watch out for other water hazards like tubs, buckets and toilets if you have a toddler. A small child can drown in just an inch of water.
• Teach your child to wear helmets and other sports safety gear, and set a good example by wearing yours.
– Christina Elston
- American Red Cross – redcross.org – Check in here to find your local chapter, with information on first-aid, CPR and combination courses in your community.
- Emergency Care For You – emergencycareforyou.org – Click the “Emergency Manual” tab on the homepage of this site from the American College of Emergency Physicians for advice on everything from performing CPR to disaster preparedness and vital medical forms.
- Home Safety Council – homesafetycouncil.org – Find complete lists of home safety tips for families with kids of all ages, along with research and other vital information on staying safe in your own home.
- Safe Kids USA – safekids.org – This national network of organizations is dedicated to preventing unintentional childhood injury, and offers injury prevention information and events like child safety seat checkups.