A shocking new advert by St John Ambulance, titled ‘Helpless’, details a man’s fight and eventual recovery from cancer. The emotional advert feels as though it’s bringing hope to the many people who suffer from, or know someone who has cancer. However, the advert has a sinister twist. As the cancer survivor tucks into a burger, he begins to choke and while waiting for an ambulance, dies. The written message at the end of the advert is: ‘First Aid could help prevent 140,000 deaths per year. The same number of people that die from cancer.’ This statistic may come as a shock to many people. So if you’re in a situation that requires first aid, would you know what to do?
In the workplace, there’s usually a person with first aid qualifications available in case of emergency, but if there’s an emergency in the home, at a party, or in a public place, you’re not guaranteed the security of a first aider on hand. Learning simple first aid procedures can help you react with confidence and perhaps save a life in the process. Responses to heart attacks, choking, and severe allergic reactions are all things which can be learned on a first aid course, as well as how to deal with major or minor cuts, scrapes or bruises – something people with children have to deal with on a near daily basis!
So if an adult is choking what do you do?
First, determine if the obstruction is minor or severe. If it’s minor, encourage the person to keep coughing, and remove any obvious obstruction from the mouth. Do NOT put your fingers in the person’s throat – this can further obstruct the person’s throat, making the choking even worse.
For severe choking where the person cannot breathe or speak, up to five back blows should be given between the shoulder blades, with the person leaning forward. If this fails, abdominal thrusts (also known as the Heimlich Maneuver) should be used. This is performed in a standing position with the person who is choking leaning slightly forward so that the object comes out of their mouth. Make one hand into a fist and place the fist just above their belly button. Use the other hand to push the fist in and up in one swift movement, hopefully to force the obstruction out. Abdominal thrusts can be performed up to five times. If this fails, an ambulance should be called and alternating rounds of back blows and abdominal thrusts should be continued until the ambulance arrives.
This article is of course no substitute for proper first aid training and more detailed descriptions of what to do when an adult is choking, and other first aid advice, can be found on the NHS website. You can also obtain a free pocket-sized guide to first aid from St John Ambulance by texting HELP to 84025.