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Only an hour to save this life

Wed, 06/04/2016 - 12:21

If you’ve spent any time on Indian roads, chances are you’ve seen an accident. Why, there is one every 4 minutes. So many that they are hard to escape – and I’m not saying that as a prophet of doom. 

Here’s the scene. You’re walking along a (non-existent) pavement, singing your favourite tune or cursing the heat of the day, when you notice a gathering crowd. You crane your neck to take a peek. A person lies sprawled on the ground. Maybe a pool of blood, maybe nothing so gory. Several people are talking at once. Each assigns a different cause for the accident – the age of the victim, the careless perpetrator, the shoddy road, the broken traffic lights, the flawed traffic flow, the recklessly parked vehicles, the poorly regulated licensing, the police, the politicians….the list is practically endless. Finally, somebody remembers to call for an ambulance.

Let him pass - the first 60 minutes is critical.

But what shall we do with the victim meanwhile? We have an innate sense of hospitality within us that tell us that we have to do something to make this person more comfortable. Maybe sit him up? How undignified to be sprawled that way. Remove his helmet? It’s such a hot day after all. Give him a drink of water?  Invigorating water should bring him back to his senses again. The reality is that in every beating Indian heart lies an urge to be courteous, helpful, neighbourly. 

As an onlooker yourself, you have some choices:
Do nothing. Just walk away. Who wants the hassle of hospitals, police, blood and death? 
Do something, even if you’re not sure what to do. Since when did not knowing what to do, stop us?!
Do the right thing. Maybe you will, after reading the information below.

Here’s a ten point checklist that will help you know what to do.

  1. Check that it is safe to approach the accident victim. Be aware of the traffic that might continue to flow around you.

  2. Get beside the patient and talk to him or her. Reassure him.

  3. To move or not to move?
    Ideally leave the victim where you found him. Move him only if:

    • He can confirm that there is no pain in the neck or along the length of the back and you feel he needs to be moved to a safer spot (but follow the cautions below.

    • The patient is not breathing and you are able to administer CPR or place him in a recovery position. (CPR or Cardio-Pulmonary Resuscitation is a life saving technique useful in emergencies where a person’s heartbeat or breathing has stopped.)

    • Put away forever all bad cinema images of an accident victim being carried spider fashion, a man to each limb, and shoved into an auto or dragged to the nearest shaded area. Spinal injuries are common amongst road accident victims and manhandling the patient can cause death or life altering injuries. Moving must be minimal and the victim must be carried well supported, like a log.

  4. Equally importantly, do not remove the helmet unless the victim does so himself. The exceptions are if he is vomiting, is severely head injured or is completely unconscious. In such a case, if possible, find one person to hold and stabilise the patient while you gently remove the helmet.

  5. If bleeding, stem the blood flow with anything you can find…a dupatta, a handkerchief, anything. Avoid tying it around the wound. If the person is conscious, ask him to hold the pad there firmly. It gives him something to focus on.

  6. Don’t give him anything to drink or eat. There exists a serious choking hazard.

  7. Do not try and remove any foreign objects from bleeding wounds. Place pads around the object.

  8. If you can identify a fracture, stabilise that limb. Tie a broken arm to the torso or the broken leg to an intact leg. A dupatta again is an exceedingly useful tool at times like this. Use a makeshift splint if available.

  9. Stay calm and reassure the patient.

  10. Stay calm and reassure the patient. (I did promise you a 10 point checklist.)

CPR - easy and effective, if done right.

The first hour after the crash is crucial. If the accident victim is taken to the right facilities in the right manner within those sixty minutes, there is a high chance of survival. If you feel more confident, you can even administer CPR and place the patient in recovery position while waiting for help to arrive.

Indian roads and road users need much changing, but while we are waiting for that help to arrive, there are simple things we can do. The Good Samaritan Guidelines issued by the government ensures protection for those helping an accident victim. The guidelines state that you need to answer no intrusive questions, there is no compulsion to be a witness and the police cannot inflict lengthy legal procedures upon you. You can walk away from the scene of the crash at any point that you choose. But first, do what you can. Your little can go a long way.

Want to know more?

Know your rights. Look here for the Good Samaritan guidelines issued by the government of India. Want a version in plain English? Look here.

If you would like to learn CPR, look here for a YouTube Tutorial.

Nothing beats learning from a trained tutor. The St. John’s Ambulance network hold workshops across the country. There might be other local resources  available in your area. See Alert-We Care and Survival Instincts if you’re in Chennai. 

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