Accidents on the road are terrible! Just thinking about them makes one uncomfortable. They cause pain, suffering, financial losses, and sometimes even death. Road accidents often happen due to careless driving or human error, while sometimes they occur due to bad infrastructure or unfavourable weather. As per a recent report from National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), India records about 4.5 lakh accidents annually. Nearly 1.5 lakh road users lost their lives in these accidents, with another 4.5 lakh injured. These are huge numbers, and a sizable percentage of those 1.5 lakh lost human lives could probably have been saved had proper first aid been administered to the victims in time. While administering first aid is essential, sometimes, handling an accident victim improperly does more harm than good. First-aid by itself is a vast topic if one wishes to take a deep dive, and proper training is required before one can administer it like a professional. That being said, certain dos and don’ts can be followed to ensure you are not causing any damage to the victim unwittingly. In this article, we will see what these dos and don’ts are. Whether you have suffered an accident yourself or have simply witnessed a mishap as a bystander, the guidelines below will equip you with the basics of what to do and, more importantly, what not to.
First aid - things you should do
Firstly, if you have been involved in an accident and have taken an impact, check yourself for injuries and bleeding first. When you meet with an accident, you might experience a sudden adrenaline rush, which significantly increases your tolerance to pain. This means that you might not even fully know that you are hurt and might still make normal movements without any sensation of pain. You must check yourself thoroughly for any cuts or bruises and feel your body parts for any pain or injury by dabbing on them with your hands. If you are fine and notice other victims around you, call the ambulance and police immediately before attending to others. If you are stuck in or under a vehicle or have fallen into a pit, call loudly for help. Make your presence heard so that help can arrive as early as possible. While making noise is necessary when you are stuck in your mind, try to stay calm, as you will need to conserve energy and make quick decisions while help arrives.
If you are not involved in the accident and have merely witnessed it, make sure you first have a good look at the scene of the accident. Don’t rush at the first victim you come across. First, make sure that you do whatever it takes to mitigate the chances of accident and injury to other road users around the accident scene. Alert those around you to the apparent hazards, and prevent the situation from worsening.
Next, look around, identify the victims and attend to the ones who appear the most severely injured. Check for the ones bleeding from the head, nose, or any vital body areas, including from around organs. If they are conscious and can speak, they are presumably in better condition than those who are unconscious or unable to speak. Attend the latter ones first. Your priority should be to get the bleeding to stop, especially if the injury is to a critical part of the body (e.g. head). Use a cloth or a first aid kit, use cotton to apply pressure on the wound gently and suppress the bleeding. A cloth, cotton or bandage works much better than your hands. Using a tourniquet to stop profuse bleeding from a limb is advisable, but only if you correctly perform the procedure. If the victim is bleeding from the mouth or is vomiting blood, turn them to their side, so they do not choke in their own vomit. Move on to the next victim only once you have stabilised the one you are attending to. If more people are at the scene, request them to help out the others.
If the victim is unconscious, check for a pulse and check if they are breathing. Try to keep them conscious by sprinkling some water on their face. Keep speaking to them, and comfort them so that they stay awake. You can ask them questions, so they keep responding to you.
If you have identified a bone injury on the victim, where they complain of a lack of movement in a body part, swelling, splinters protruding out of the flesh, or a visible breakage, do not ever try to move a body part that has sustained damage. Trying to move a broken bone or putting it back ‘in place’ is extremely dangerous and may even cause death in some cases. Your job is to prevent any movement of the broken body part and minimise damage before the victim is presented to a paramedic. Mild support as a temporary cast can be provided to a body part by wrapping a thick cloth around it, but never try to move a damaged body part unless the person is a trained medical practitioner.
If the victim is not breathing, try to check if something obstructs the airway. You might have to check the victim’s mouth for any obstruction. Use your fingers to remove the obstruction and then check if the person can breathe. There might be a case where you would probably need to perform CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation). Do this only if you are trained to do so. Alternatively, you can ask others at the scene if anyone is trained in performing CPR and ask them to help you.
Suppose the weather is hot, and the victim is dressed in protective or heavy clothing, which obstructs the flow of air to the body. In that case, you can gently unbutton the jacket or other parts of clothing that might make the victim uncomfortable. This will allow for a free flow of air and comfort the victim to some extent.
On the flip side, some accident victims often go into shock, and this causes them to feel cold. It is, therefore, essential to communicate with the victim and act in line with what makes them comfortable. If the victim feels cold and shivering, try to keep them warm. Cover them with a jacket or with whatever means are available.
First aid - things you should not do
As mentioned earlier, if you are involved in an accident, do not try to help others unless you are sure that you are fine and have not sustained any severe injuries.
If the victim is wearing a helmet and you notice bleeding from the head, do not try to remove the helmet. There is a good chance that the helmet is helping block the bleeding and keeping the skull in place. Also, in cases of neck injuries, the helmet provides some support and trying to remove it might cause irreparable damage to the neck, which is a susceptible area.
During accidents, people tend to prop the neck of the victim up, where they sometimes even try to make them sit up. Now, while a thin layer of cushion under the head is OK to comfort the victim, propping the head up overly blocks the airway and causes difficulty for the victim to breathe. Don't try to prop the victim’s head up or make them sit, especially if you are not a trained paramedic. Wait for medical help to arrive and let the paramedics take care of such victims. Similarly, if you find something pierced or lodged in any part of the body, do not try to remove it. The person will start bleeding profusely if the object is removed.
Do not move the victim if you suspect a neck or spinal injury. Let them be in the position they are in. Just keep speaking to them and try to keep them awake. You will know if their neck or spine is in an abnormal position.
Do not feed the victims any food or pour water into their mouth unless they explicitly ask for it and appear fit to consume it. If the victim is breathing correctly, can speak, and asks for water, you can probably allow a small sip or two at a time. If the victim isn’t explicitly asking for water, pouring it in might end up choking them.
Do not allow too many bystanders to huddle around the victim, as it creates a sense of claustrophobia and panic. Ask people to stand at a distance and ensure that the victim is in an airy environment.
However, morally binding it may appear at the moment, do not perform CPR on the victim if you are not trained for the procedure. You might end up causing more harm than good to the victim by doing such a thing.
To sum it up, be calm, keep your wits about the situation, co-operate, coordinate, call for help immediately and do the best you can to help the victims till help arrives.