ABC’s Of Saving Someone’s Life

Medical emergencies can happen at any time and require leadership and poise to address them. However, it is often difficult to decide if something is even an emergency, let alone figure out how to address it. As an EMT, I’m trained to recognize them, but most people are not. Being able to recognize a medical emergency can save a life and it should be something that all men can do. Can you? Try this example.

EMTLet’s say that your buddy falls off a two story roof. Falling from that high can definitely injure him, but the severity depends on several factors.
You run up to your friend and ask if he is okay. You see that he is not bleeding anywhere and that he seems to be talking to you normally, but notice a gurgling sound along with his breaths. He tells you that his chest hurts because that is what took the brunt of the force, but not to worry about the gurgling because it happens to him sometimes. He tells you he is fine and just wants to sleep it off. What do you do? Is this an emergency?

To answer this question, emergency healthcare providers use an initial assessment checklist, one that is easy to remember and useful for everybody. It’s as simple as ABC.

A – Airway

The first thing to check is the airway. Does the patient have an obstruction in their mouth or throat? This is fairly simple to check. If the patient is having no difficulty talking to you, their airway is clear. If they are having difficulty, they will usually tell you or give the universal sign for choking. If they are unconscious, look into their mouth. If you see nothing, chances are that it is clear. Does your friend in our scenario have an obstructed airway? No, because he is talking to you normally. He passes the first step.

B – Breathing

Next, you want to check the breathing. Check if the patient is breathing normally and adequately. Can the patient not catch their breath? Are they breathing at a very low rate? Is their breathing strained and/or wheezy? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, it is an emergency. The best way to know if a person’s breathing is not normal is to ask them. If they say their breathing is not normal, it is most likely an indication of an underlying problem. If they can’t answer, then you know there is a problem. Does your friend in our scenario have problems with his breathing? Yes. He sounds like he is gurgling every time he breathes. This could indicate fluid buildup in the lungs, which can cause severe problems. He hit his chest very hard and possibly damaged his lungs. While he may say this happens to him sometimes, it is always safer to assume that an abnormality is caused by recent trauma. Get him to an emergency room or call 911.

C – Circulation

Finally, check their blood circulation. Is the patient’s blood flowing normally and adequately? Just as breathing takes in oxygen, your circulatory system transports it throughout the body. Its failure could easily mean death. For this, there are three things to check for: profuse bleeding, skin color/temperature/condition, and pulse. Major blood loss can be fatal, but is usually easy to spot. A bad or nonexistent pulse can also lead to death, but can easily be checked in the neck and wrist. As for the skin, you want to check if it is abnormal in any way. Are they profusely sweating on a cold day? Are they as cold as ice in the middle of summer? Are they abnormally dry? These are all indicative of circulation problems and should be addressed. As for your friend, he does not appear to have any circulation issues. He had a pulse, had no major bleeding, and had normal skin.

Mental Status

Okay, so I lied. There is one more thing to check for. Is the patient’s brain working correctly? For this, you want to ask four questions: What is your name? Where are we/you? What day is it today? (Or any question that can assess if they have a bearing on time) What happened/what is the problem? If the patient can correctly answer these questions, with no confusion, their mental status is normal. If not, there may be a problem that needs to be addressed. Unconsciousness is an automatic failure and requires immediate help. Unconsciousness is very concerning and usually indicates that there is a serious problem with the body.

While this checklist is not the be-all end-all checklist of determining emergencies, it is a quick and easy one to help you in your decision making. If you are close to someone who has needed emergency care for a disease such as cancer or from having a stroke, make sure you know how to use a medical alert device in case you can’t get to the phone. If you or someone else fails one of these tests on the list, get help immediately. Lastly, trust your instincts and call 911 if something just isn’t right.

1 Comment

  1. Sam DrexlerApril 30, 2015

    Thanks for simplifying the process for dealing with potential emergency situations. The ABC method is a great mnemonic.

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