Here are the ten most frequently asked questions in a first aid course. You will be surprised!
- Can I be sued for doing first aid?
The short answer is yes, you can be sued for doing first aid on someone. However, the likelihood of that happening is very low. In British Columbia, we have the Good Samaritan Act. There are similar acts in every province, but I will speak to the one in BC as that is where we do most of our first aid training.
Basically, the Good Samaritan Act says that, if you do your best to help a person, no harm will come to you. The Good Samaritan Act prevents people from the possibility of getting sued for making mistakes performing first aid. This Act ensures that even a person with basic first aid skills can help at the scene of an accident.
It is important to note that there are a couple caveats to this. The first is in regards to leaving the scene of an accident. In legal terms, it is perfectly okay to walk by (or drive by) the scene of an accident without stopping to help in every province except for Quebec. What is not okay is stopping at the scene of an accident to assist and then leaving. This could potentially make the injured person’s situation worse. In Quebec, the Good Samaritan Act is slightly different and you would need to stop at the scene of an accident.
The other case in which you would be legally liable is in the case of significant gross negligence – such as doing something that you have not been trained to do or is beyond the scope of rational care. An example sometimes given in first aid courses is a stopping to help a person who has choked and is unconscious on the ground. Instead of clearing the airway with chest compressions, perhaps the first aider chose to do a tracheotomy because they saw it once on Grey’s Anatomy. This would be an extreme reaction to the situation and would likely cause more harm.
- How can I be confident that I am doing the right thing?
At the end of the day, your level of confidence will correspond with your level of training and how you were trained. As first aid is a physical skill, it is very important to practice, which is why we spend the majority of our first aid courses doing hands-on skill practice or realistic emergency scenarios.
- Can I kill a person with CPR?
When you look at CPR being done, especially when you’re seeing it for the first time, it can be very graphic. Consider that someone is pressing down on your chest more than 6 cm – of course that is going to cause some damage! It is reasonable to think that you are going to hurt a person.
What we need to keep in mind though is that this person is not breathing. The best case scenario is that they are not breathing and have a pulse. The worst case scenario is that they are breathing and they do not have a pulse.
So yes, doing compressions on someone can hurt, but anyone on the receiving end of CPR is either already clinically dead (no pulse), or in a situation where they may die very soon. A heart will stop beating after 4-7 minutes without oxygen. Performing effective CPR will pump the heart, which will keep the patient’s blood oxygenated.
One of the more recent scientific changes in basic CPR protocol was the elimination of the pulse check. Prior to this elimination, instructors often told students in courses that if you compress on a beating heart you can kill a person. Well, it turns out that after significant scientific review, this is not actually the case. In addition, the research indicated that people are not very good at checking pulses, and that the time it took would often decrease the effectiveness of CPR.
So now we do CPR on anyone who is unconscious and not breathing, and the injuries that person may sustain from CPR are much preferable than the alternative.
- Will I break ribs when I do CPR?
Rib fractures can occur when doing CPR chest compressions. It does not happen all the time, in all situations, and is not necessarily something the first aider is trying to do. As long as the person doing CPR is compressing one half to one third of the person’s chest depth (or at least 2 inches on an adult), the CPR is effective. Cracked bones are injuries that can heal within a few weeks. If you hear cracking while you are giving compressions, make sure your hands are in the correct position and continue compressing.
- What if I don’t have a first aid kit at the scene of an accident?
Not having a first aid kit handy in an emergency is a very common occurrence. There are plenty of things you can use to improvise, depending on the emergency – check out this blog post to learn more!
- What is the success rate of CPR?
CPR, especially if administered immediately after cardiac arrest, can double or triple a person’s chance of survival. About 90% of people who experience an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest die.
What can we do to increase the rate of survival? If the first-aider is able to respond immediately, call 911, and apply an AED (Automated External Defibrillator) within one minute of the cardiac arrest, the chance of survival can be up to 90%! This chance goes down about 10% every minute that goes by without an AED.
This is why having an AED accessible in busy public locations (like airports, malls and government buildings) is so important.
- What is the medical condition when a person smells burnt toast?
Smelling burnt toast (or rubber) is a symptom linked to brain tumors, and can be a symptom of a stroke or seizure as well. The medical term for imaginary odours is ‘phantosmia’. Regardless of what is causing olfactory hallucinations, it is important to call 911 and give first aid for the signs and symptoms you are seeing.
- Why is my first aid certificate valid for 3 years?
In Canada, all certificates used to be valid for 2 years, then one first-aid agency switched to 3 years and the rest had to follow suit to maintain their market share.
Most certifying agencies (like the Canadian Red Cross, St. John Ambulance, Heart & Stroke Foundation & WorkSafeBC) now have 3 year certifications. Although there is no science to indicate that a person can remember their first aid skills for that long, it is the agreed upon length of certification for each of these agencies.
Frequent first aid training and CPR training can improve performance of first-aiders as well as outcomes for injured people. Certain occupations (like nurses and lifeguards) often require recertifications to be completed every year.
- If I’m alone at the scene of an accident, what is more important – calling 911 or helping the person?
If you are alone with an adult and they are not breathing it is best to leave an call 911. If you are alone with a child or infant and they are not breathing give them one minute of CPR then go call 911
- What should I have in my first aid kit?
The following items are very important to have in your first aid kit:
1. CPR Pocket Mask with a one-way valve to protect yourself.
2. Vinyl or Nitrile Gloves – at least two pairs. Do not use latex as it can cause an allergic reaction.
3. Sterile gauze of various sizes (2″x2″, 3″x3″, 4″x4″) for cleaning and treating small wounds.
4. Large pressure dressing or abdominal pads for treating major bleeding.
5. Bandages of various sizes, including fingertip, knuckle, and butterfly. If possible, it is best to use a cloth bandage as they tend to breathe better.
6. Simple Wrap™, also known as Coban™ or Sensi Wrap™. This is an amazing no-stick product that can allow the first-aider to quickly bandage a small or larger wound without the use of scissors or tape
7. Bandage scissors – preferably stainless steel. They will cost a bit more but last for a long time and can be cleaned.
8. Instant cold packs for treatment of anything that causes swelling. Make sure to get a non-toxic cold pack, as some instant cold packs can have corrosive or poisonous chemicals.
9. Mylar blankets for treatment of shock or hypothermia. Mylar is cost effective, can retain up to 80% of a person’s body heat, waterproof, and visible from a distance.