Lucy Mangan on first aid and common sense

Lucy Managan on first aid and common sense

Confident that you'd cope should a child-related catastrophe strike? Lucy Mangan wasn't, that's why she hot-footed it to a first aid course

Lucy Managan first aid common sense

 All mothers – yes, all – are catastrophists. We spend our lives anticipating the worst and moving to avoid it, all the while knowing that accidents – what with them being accidents an’ all – still can, and do, happen.

‘Why don’t you,’ said my husband, wearying of my constant fretting aloud one evening, ‘at least arm yourself against events? Maybe go on a first aid course or something? Then at least you’d know what to do in an emergency. At the moment, you’d panic and try to run in 14 different directions at once while he expired in front of you. Go and learn something. Take control.’

So I did. I went on a British Red Cross first aid course. 

The first thing we learned – on a plastic baby that was, disconcertingly, the weight and wieldiness of a real one when I’d been expecting Barbie-doll lightness – was what to do with a baby who is choking (possibly every new mother’s greatest fear, after the one about forgetting you now have a child and accidentally leaving them in a shop).

You hold them face-down along your thigh, head lower than bum, and hit them up to five times between the shoulder blades with the heel of your hand. If the back blows don’t dislodge the object, use chest thrusts: turn them over and push sharply downwards with two fingers in the middle of the chest, just below the nipples, another five times.

Repeat until the little bugger does the decent thing and coughs up the blockage.

Call an ambulance if they don’t. What struck me most was that almost all of the things we were told to do on said course were really just common sense – the sort of things you would naturally do if you had your wits about you. But of course the last thing you are likely to have, as your child is shaking with febrile convulsions or bleeding from the kind of wound that a cartoon-festooned plaster and kiss from mummy won’t heal, is your wits about you.

‘What we’re trying to do,’ says our kind and lovely instructor Tracey, ‘is give you the confidence to go with what would be your instincts if all was calm.

Put pressure on a wound that’s bleeding heavily – probably a bit more than you would want to; get a burn under cool running water for at least ten minutes; clear a space around anyone having a seizure to protect them from injury, and put something under their head if it’s a hard surface; try to establish what, how much and when a child swallowed something toxic, and call an ambulance.’ Ok, so it all sounds fairly obvious.

That said, there are a few myths to dispel. Don’t put butter or toothpaste on a burn – just cover it in cling film after the ten minutes under water. Don’t steam a child with croup – it doesn’t help and risks scalds. Don’t put anything in the mouth of someone having a seizure. Don’t shake an unresponsive baby – tap their foot and call their name. And if and when you call an ambulance, the operator will tell you what to do. 

I am the catastrophist’s catastrophist, but by the end of the session I felt, as my husband said, armed. Confidence is a good companion. You don’t need to be alone.


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