While some of us had to take health classes in high school where we learned CPR and how to stop someone from choking, would you be able to do that now? What about in another health crisis? You should always call 911 in a medical emergency, but we’re here to help you figure out what to do until the EMS shows up.
Valley chatted with Theo Waksmunski, a registered nurse and clinical educator at Mount Nittany Medical Hospital, to help you get in the know.
If somebody is having a seizure
Contrary to popular belief, seizures don’t only happen to people with epilepsy. In fact, a seizure can happen due to abnormally high or low blood sugar levels or even high blood pressure.
What are the signs: Uncontrollable muscle spasms and frothing at the mouth are what people recognize as a seizure, as well as falling suddenly or random eye movements.
What to do: “Protect them from hurting themselves,” says Waksmunski. “Move things away from them so they don’t smack into them.”
During a seizure, the patient doesn’t have control over their body, so some people are afraid they’ll bite their tongue – but no matter what, do not put your fingers in their mouth.
“They’ll bite them off,” says Waksmunski.
If somebody stopped breathing
Having a shortness of breath is okay as long as it’s after physical exertion; otherwise, it’s cause for alarm. People can stop breathing when they have a heart attack, are anemic (have a low red blood cell count), or have a serious allergic reaction.
What are the signs: Blue lips, fingers and fingernails, as well as the individual’s chest moving in an unusual way while they’re breathing are huge signs.
What to do: You don’t need to give CPR as long as the person still has a pulse.
“If they stopped breathing, you want to open their airway and breathe for them,” says Waksmunski. “If you find them with no pulse, give 30 compressions then open airway and give two breaths.”
If somebody has alcohol poisoning
Alcohol poisoning is caused when somebody drinks too much alcohol and can lead to a coma or death.
What are the signs: Irregular breathing, vomiting, seizures and passing out, among other things.
What to do: “It depends on how much alcohol they’ve had and what kind of shape they’re in,” says Waksmunski. “If they’re unresponsive, call 911 and monitor their airway. If it’s someone who’s intoxicated but not unresponsive, try putting them to bed.”
One of the most important things you can do in any medical emergency is stay with your friend.
“Frequently what we see happening here is friends will be out and the person will drop and they’ll keep walking, and that gives them issues like hypothermia or someone could attack them,” says Waksmunski.
Remember, even if you help a person in an emergency and they’ve come out of it, you should still get them to a hospital.
Photo by Jacob Skoglund