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Managing Medical Emergencies

By David Pekema

While working in the architecture studio on the Berkeley campus, I witnessed my fair share of horrific X-Acto-related mishaps. My personal favorite was the girl who confused her index finger with a mackerel and filleted it down to the first knuckle. Between her screaming

, my nearly vomiting, and her boyfriend wetting himself, the situation was frantic to say the least. Fortunately, a cool-headed grad student—who had witnessed her fair share of bandsaw gaffes—came to the rescue. After washing out the wound in a nearby drinking fountain and receiving 13 stitches at the local Doctors on Duty, the girl was right back in the studio in time to finish her final project.

In this time of duress, I was about as useless as one of Lindsay Lohan’s rehab stints. There’s just something about a little blood that turns even the bravest of us into whimpering maniacs. But no matter how much you knock on wood, emergencies are bound to happen. By remaining calm and keeping the following ten tips in mind, we hope you'll be better equipped to handle the occasional crisis. If you're really eager to become an emergency hero, you might even try signing up for a first aid class, which are usually available to the public at community colleges, fire stations, and hospitals.

1. Take Charge and Give Direct Orders

Dealing with an emergency is a group undertaking. People are needed to fetch bandages, console the victim, and contact emergency services. The only way this traumatic situation can play out smoothly is if someone takes charge and gives detailed directions to other willing helpers. For instance, instead of saying something like, “somebody call 911,” say “John, call 911.” We simultaneously eliminate confusion and reduce emergency response time. If you start freaking out when the you know what hits the fan, you can do more harm than good. If others are more prepared to take action, you can best help the situation by stepping aside and letting the sane people handle it.

2. Saving a Tooth

Knocking out a tooth does not condemn you to a lifetime of looking like a hockey player. If a tooth is dislodged, place it in a glass of milk and immediately visit your dentist or the emergency room. Don’t freak out and try to stick it back in the socket; you’ll likely just swallow it or choke.

3. Use Caution When Moving a Victim

Never move someone suffering from a potential neck or spine injury. The nerves, synapses, and other sciencey parts of this area are extremely delicate, and one wrong move can magnify any damage that’s already been done. Click here for additional spinal injury tips.

4. Creatively Make Splints and Slings

If a friend of yours suffers a shoulder injury, don’t hesitate to give them the shirt off your back. It can easily be fashioned into a sling to support the injured arm. I often use this strategy on dates (with little success), trying to get to second base. All that’s needed to create a splint for someone with an injured leg or arm is a stiff object and something to affix it to the injured limb. A bike pump and inner tube will suffice on a bike ride, and an umbrella and belt will work if you slip in the rain. Most of my injuries are a direct result of my bicycling hobby. Here are more cycling safety tips.

5. Tourniquets Aren’t a Smart Idea

In almost all cases, a tourniquet is not needed to stop bleeding. If done incorrectly, they can do much more harm than good. Applying direct, constant pressure to the wound and elevating it above the heart should be sufficient until you can reach a medical professional. Ten other useless—or even dangerous—first aid myths.

6. Vomiting Is Never a Good Sign

If someone suffers any kind of injury, especially to the head, and vomits afterward, something isn’t right. They may have a concussion, or worse. Visit an emergency room immediately. Other signals that something more serious than a concussion is going on include severe headache, stiff neck, and low breathing rate.

7. Burn Baby Burn

It’s all too easy to burn oneself while cooking or having sex next to the stove. If so, immediately run the burnt appendage under cold water and apply pressure using an ice compress. But don’t keep the ice on too long or apply it directly to the skin or you’ll get an ice burn on top of the boiling water burn. If you don’t get it under water in the first few seconds, all is lost and you’ll likely have to amputate (ok maybe not, but there is a much higher chance of scarring). And, by the way: never pop any blisters.

8. Get it Checked Out

Going three weeks before having a broken wrist diagnosed last year turned me into a bit of a hypochondriac. Now, whenever something seems a little off, I head over to my doctor. Physicians don’t mind diagnosing false alarms, and it’s much better to catch a problem in the early stages. Now I just need to regain the full use of my wrist. Here are some tips on choosing between visiting urgent care and the emergency room.

9. Dial 9-1-1

Even if it’s a short drive to the emergency room, calling 911 may be a better option. Paramedics will start treatment immediately, and they can legally drive like they're in San Francisco Rush. Keep these tips in mind when dialing 911, and realize that calling on a cell phone is different than with a landline. Speaking of important phone numbers, adding the contact ICE (In Case of Emergency) to your cell phones and setting the number to your emergency contact allows a stranger or medical professional to alert a loved one if you’re in an accident.

10. Keep Insurance in Mind

It may be difficult the keep track of in case of an emergency, but bringing along the appropriate insurance and prescription cards simplifies what can easily turn into a red tape nightmare. In addition, knowing where your insurance is accepted can drastically affect how much your mishap ends up costing. Click here for additional info on emergency room costs.

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