Teaching Little Johnny/Janey How to Save Lives. The Realistic Version.

A few days ago, I saw a post about an online First Aid course. Upon completion of the program, which has no minimum age requirement, ‘students’ will be awarded a First Aid certificate.

The doctor in me freaked out. Big time. Especially when mothers are signing their children up, in the mistaken belief that Little Johnny / Little Janey can learn how to save lives in the real world after sitting in front of the computer screen for a few hours.

In this technological age, we can do most things online, ranging from controlling your lighting on remote to killing people. But to learn First Aid online?

99% of emergency life-saving skills are practical in nature. The theory is simple enough. Here it is, in a nutshell:

D = Danger. Ensuring that the casualty and First Aider are safe.

R = Response. Is the casualty responding to voice and/or touch?

A = Airway. Is there a blockage? Can you clear it?

B = Breathing. Is casualty breathing clearly?

C = Circulation. Is there a pulse? Is the beating? Is there major hemorrhage from somewhere?

It’s known as DR ABC. It’s easy enough to teach children. I am all for children learning First Aid, but in the real world, and with practical, hands-on experience and a lot of drilling. My fourteen-year-old daughter ran a First Aid course for children, and 75% of the course is getting kids to actually do things. Because much of of First Aid is confidence and drill, not theory. I have taught First Aid courses to clever adults, and many of them – well versed in the theory – froze in a simulated scenario.

So how realistic it is to expect an 8 year old to be proficient First Aider? Imagine this scenario. As you are crossing the road with your child, a car knocks you down on a lonely stretch of road and the drives off. The impact of the car shatters your thigh bone, and the fragments pierces your femoral artery. You fall to the ground, hitting your head and you lose consciousness. Your head wound starts bleeding profusely. The fall also causes you to choke on your tongue.

Following DR ABC to the letter, Little Johnny should drag your inert body away from the road, out of danger. He should then check on your response, clear your airway to resume your breathing, before making a judgment call to stem arterial flow from your thigh rather than the dramatic blood loss from the head wound. Seriously, even if your little darling is a superhuman being, can an eight year old realistically do all these?

I, for one, would prefer to teach my Little Janey life-saving skills in the real world. I would teach her to be safe first and foremost. In the scenario above, she should leave the casualty behind and get herself away from the road. There is not much point in having two dead bodies. Little Janey should learn to walk facing the traffic and flag the next car down for help in the safest possible manner instead of sacrificing her own life trying to drag a dead-weight adult off the danger zone, a futile task in most cases.

How realistic is it to expect an eight year old to be able to clear blocked airways? I was in an airplane recently when a fellow passenger choked on a piece of meat. A panicked call went out for a doctor on board to identify himself to the flight attendant. By the time I reached the casualty, another doctor was already there, performing the Heimlich manouvre.   The doctor was an Australian male, with burly forearms locked tightly around the casualty, trying to dislodge the small piece of meat using the standard protocol. Without much success. I took the decision to put the casualty in a head-lower position – with the help of three men – before using a metal spoon to pry open the casualty’s jaw and retrieve that piece of meat. I could not have managed this on my own, and neither could your eight-year-old superhumanbeing child.

So please, dear parents, be realistic. And teach your children real life-saving skills. Teach your child how to get help. A survey of 757 parents which was carried out by Mumsnet, the UK’s largest Internet community for parents, showed a woefully small number of children actually know how to dial for help. Teach your child how to call the emergency number from a locked smartphone, give your address coherently and describe the incident as accurately and as succinctly as possible. Drill your child regularly. Constantly raise his awareness when it comes to safety. Because when it comes to children, this is what actually saves lives, not theoretical First Aid courses.


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