Can You Step in if Tragedy Strikes?

LEARNING HOW TO USE AN AED – Christopher Berry, l-r, administrative supervisor at Alliance Mobile Health, coaches Troy Rotarians like Don Riddell and Dennis Deveja on how to save a life in case of cardiac arrest.


You turn on the TV and it’s a never-ending litany of scores of tragedy. You might see someone fall on the ice, or choke in a restaurant, or witness a car accident. You may ask yourself: What could I have done? Emily Holstine, EMTP, of Alliance Mobile Health, told the Troy Rotary Club at their meeting last week that it is called Survivor’s Guilt.

We all hear the now common phrase: If you see something, do something. Holstine, however, points out that few of us actually step up in an emergency. She says there’s what’s called the “bystander effect” and the larger the crowd the less likely we are to step forward. “We just don’t act.”

Why not help? We have feelings of ambiguity. What about potential legal consequences if I don’t save the person? (Good Samaritan laws will save you as long as your intentions were good.) Someone in the crowd is better qualified than I am to help. “A crowd may diminish your feeling a degree of responsibility,” Holstine observes.

While you have no legal reason to act, Holstine says to remember this quote: “I always wondered why somebody didn’t help. Then I realized I was somebody.”

Start with calling 9-1-1, she advises. Don’t assume someone else has called. Tell people to call for help if you have to. Stay calm, relevant and clear when you act.

Is the person breathing, can you feel a pulse? Might be time for CPR. Today, it’s advised to do just “hands only” CPR because of some diseases that are in the blood and that you don’t want to contract. The phrase to use is NO (are they awake?), NO (Is the chest going up and down?) If you get two no answers to those questions then it is time to GO to CPR. The goal, a hundred pumps a minute in the middle of the sternum. It’s hard work, so feel free to take turns. To keep up the rhythm, you might want to try singing. “Staying Alive” works well, Holstine advises with a smile.

Okay, what if you break a rib? Holstine says that’s normal. You’re just snapping the cartilage from the bone, not breaking the bone. It’s pretty common and the person will have a better chance of living. “If they’re not breathing, you probably should go ahead with CPR.”

Now if someone drops from cardiac arrest what do you do?

Look for the AED (Automated External Defibrillator). It’s probably on the wall in a hall or a locker room, even the bathroom. Every school has them today, as do most large workplaces, and most small workplaces should too. Holstine notes that several universities studies showed that a child as young as seven or eight years of age can understand the instructions and use an AED. It comes with instructions and drawings.

Through electrodes (the sticky pads) placed on each side of a patient’s chest a processor inside the AED analyzes the victim’s heart. The machine will not shock unless it is necessary; AEDs are designed to shock only when a common cause of cardiac arrest is detected. If no shock is advised, go to CPR. The AED will tell if a shock is ever needed. If you notice obvious signs of breathing, stop CPR. Otherwise, stay with it until medical personnel arrive. Everyone should have a good first aid kit at work, in the car, at home. You never know when an accident will cause bleeding. Oh, have rubber gloves in that kit, too.

How to stop common bleeding: Apply direct pressure on the cut or wound with a clean cloth, tissue, or piece of gauze until bleeding stops. If blood soaks through the material, don’t remove it. Put more cloth or gauze on top of it and continue to apply pressure.

If the wound is on the arm or leg, raise limb above the heart, if possible, to help slow bleeding. Do not apply a tourniquet unless the bleeding is severe and not stopped with direct pressure.

See a doctor if it’s a bad wound, or if it’s an animal bite. And, get a tetanus if you haven’t had one in the past five years.