Sunday, February 25, 2007

Be Prepared

“Be Prepared... the meaning of the motto is that a scout must prepare himself by previous thinking out and practicing how to act on any accident or emergency so that he is never taken by surprise.”

-Sir Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the Boy Scouts (emphasis mine)

First, story time. I had a bit of an interesting experience on Thursday night. I walked into a dorm on campus that night to study with a friend, turned the corner, and saw a female lying unconscious face up on the floor with a rather large pool of blood behind her head. Which isn't exactly something you see every day.

Took a few seconds to get my brain up to speed on what exactly was going on; in the space of half an hour I'd gone from eating some wings with the guys to being faced with a potentially life-threatening situation. It wasn't, fortunately, but I'm getting ahead of myself. So after I get up to speed, I double checked to make sure that my friend had called 911 (she had.) Think for a split second that I really wish I had some latex gloves right now. Push that thought out of my head and get down on the floor, lift her head up slightly and feel around to try and determine the extent of the bleeding, while asking a bystander to go get me some paper towels or something to stop the bleeding, and trying to get the now semi-conscious girl's (whose name I found in a few seconds was Jennifer) friend to calm down before she puts Jennifer into shock.

Fortunately, the bleeding wasn't nearly as extensive as I had originally thought; the way Jennifer had fallen the blood had splattered outward considerably. My first thought was that it looked like someone had hit her a few times on the back of the head with a baseball bat. The paper towels get there, so I stick a few on the back of her head and apply pressure where I can tell it's bleeding. By this time (only about a minute after arriving there), Jennifer has fully woken up, so now I had to worry about keeping her calm, which was not small task because she was underage and had been drinking. Heavily. Fortunately, by this time her friend had calmed down and was talking with her, which helped out considerably.

Of course, since I was using paper towels (not the best choice) they soaked through rather quickly, so I had to keep layering them on. As a bit of a funny aside, somebody who lived there had grabbed a first aid kit (good) and was handing me gauze squares. Unfortunately, the squares were only about an inch by an inch (bad). I just ask him, calmly, if he had anything bigger (he didn't.) But inside I'm thinking, "Jesus Christ, don't you see my hands/arms and the floor?!? I don't think this tiny piece of gauze is going to do much!!"

In any case, like I said earlier, I wasn't particularly worried about the bleeding once I got a feel for the wound, so I was far more worried about keeping Jennifer from going into shock. I mainly focused on keeping her aware and calm (I know, kind of a duh thing to say, but it's harder than it sounds when you're doing it for real. Which is the point of this post. Which I'm getting to.) Anyway, just basically kept asking her simple questions and making conversation. By 4-5 minutes after I had arrived, an ISU PD officer had shown up, and within another couple of minutes the EMTs had gotten there, at which point I went to the bathroom to spend another 5 minutes washing the blood off my hands. Head wounds bleed. A lot.

So I said I had a point. The point is best summed up in the Baden-Powell quote at the top of the page. If you are truly going to be prepared, you can't just go through the training. Training is important, yes, and if you don't at least know basic first aid skills and CPR, you should take a course or two. But training alone won't get you through a situation. There were at least two bystanders that I know knew what to do. But they didn't, at least not initially. I did. I'm not going to try and play this up to be some huge deal; it's not. Obviously, it wasn't much of a life threatening situation. But I only found that out after I got my hands bloody and investigated to find out just how bad things were. If, say, it had been an arterial wound instead of a head wound, and say I had froze up for another 20 seconds, or I hadn't been there and the bystanders I mentioned above had frozen up for that 20 seconds, that could be the difference between life and death. You have to run through things in your head before hand, play out scenarios, so you know exactly how you are going to react and don't have to think about it. If you are taken by surprise, you will freeze up for that 20 seconds (or more), and as I've shown, that can be the difference between life and death.

It is a process that never stops, either. You always need to be reevaluating and rethinking things. For example, with this most recent case, I've thought about a couple of things. First, I'm going to start carrying a pair of latex gloves on me, so I'm never put in the uncomfortable situation of getting someone else's blood all over my hands. Also, I needed to do a better job of taking charge of the situation. The friend was introducing too much stress into the situation; I should have just asked someone to take care of her and get her calmed down instead of trying to do it myself. Finally, I found that I needed to be better prepared to make small talk with the victim. I didn't take the opportunity to find out anything more about what exactly happened, and I was finding that I was having to force myself to talk to her, which shouldn't happen. Like I said, always something to learn.

This isn't just something to do with basic first aid, either. All sorts of contingencies need to be planned for. LW over at Blackfive's place has done a good job over the past week detailing disaster preparedness, an area I'll be the first to admit I am piss-poor prepared for. Here's a summary. Just a quick, by no means comprehensive list of things I've thought about: natural disaster (tornadoes/T-storms being the biggest threat where I live, although flooding depending on the topography), a large scale terrorist attack, fire, mugging attempt, car crash (both being involved in one and coming across one), heart attack, shooting incident, leg injury with myself (how do I get help if I'm alone and can't walk)...the list could go on and on. The point is that you need to always be actively thinking about and preparing for these incidents so you are able to act and respond effectively.

And just so we're clear, hitting 70 doesn't clear you from responsibility for this. Those senior citizens seemed to be pretty prepared to act and defend themselves appropriately. Are you?

I'll let RAH have the last word:

"A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects."
-Lazarus Long, Time Enough For Love