Keep Calm: What to do in a medical emergency before paramedics arrive

Lauren Clark learns the proper way to do hands-only CPR. Paramedics suggest only using chest compressions until professionals arrive.

When an emergency happens, it can be easy to panic. But there are simple steps you can use to make sure you're prepared before paramedics arrive. Above all, attempt to be calm and collected, and follow any instructions a 9-1-1 dispatcher may give you.

Stopping Bleeding

When someone is bleeding profusely, it's all about applying pressure.

"Typically pressure is about three to five minuets in duration," said Peder Humlen-Ahearn, Deputy Chief of Ada County Paramedics. "And by that time, your body has had enough time to build its own clotting factors to slow the bleeding or stop it."

He also suggests using a glean cloth or gauze around the wound.

Heart Attack

Seconds matter when it comes to responding to a heart attack, says Humlen-Ahearn. There's a few signs that can point to someone having a heart attack too.

"They typically have chest pain, pressure, tightness or discomfort," said Humlen-Ahearn. "It feels like someone is sitting on their chest, or they are having pain in their chest that's not relieved by stopping the exercise or activity that they were doing."

Humlen-Ahearn says above all--listen to what dispatchers are instructing you to do via the phone. But if you have some on hand, they may direct you to give the person Asprin---4x81mg tablets which is 324 mg for baby Asprin or 1 adult Aspirin at 325mg.


Several signs may point to someone suffering a stroke.

"When a person experiences a stroke, they might have a headache, blurred vision, difficulty moving, paralysis on one side or the other, globalized weakness. Inability to form a sentence, inability to talk coherently," said Humlen-Ahearn.

If you are suspecting a stroke, there are some simple tasks you can ask them to do, says Humlen-Ahearn:

1. First, ask them to smile. Look for symmetry in the face, making sure that there's not one side that's different than the other.

2. Then, instruct them to put their arms out like "superman", making sure you don't see any kind of drifting arm movement.

3. Finally, see if they can say a simple phrase like "Mary had a little lamb." If they have difficulty, the chances of a stroke are much higher.

In all cases, be sure to call 9-1-1 immediately for extra help. It's also important to not give them any medication, food or water. Also, try to figure out if that person is diabetic. Humlen-Ahearn says some of these symptoms can also mimic low blood sugar.

Proper CPR

You see it in movies, TV shows, and health class. But the technique you might remember-- mouth-to-mouth with chest compressions-- is now changing.

"The biggest change for bystanders now is the implementation of what's called hands only CPR," said Humlen-Ahearn. "And that's where the positioning is still correct, but if you are unable to arouse an individual and you can't tell if they are breathing that you initiate chest compressions--and only do chest compressions until paramedics and firefighters arrive."

Humlen-Ahearn suggests going in 2 inches deep, clasping your hands and pumping to the beat of the "Imperial Death March" by Starwars.

He stresses that every second counts when it comes to applying CPR, and that action is always better than inaction.


It can be an alarming sight to see a family member, friend or bystander start chocking. Humlen-Ahearn says you'll often see someone grab at their neck, unable to make any sounds.

With adults, that's when you should do what's called the Heimlich Manuever.

1. First, stand behind the person, putting one foot between theirs for balance.

2. Then, measure from where the ribs come together and navel. In between those two areas take your fist with the thumb on the inside. Take your other hand and put it across.

3. As hard as you can, push in and up on the person until the object becomes dislodged.

For an infant, there's a different process.

"In babies that are small, you can put them on the wrist, you rest them on your arm and and you do the backtap while their head is down," said Humlen-Ahearn. "You use the gravity to have the object fall out with a little bit of pressure."

Regardless of any medical emergency, Humlen-Ahearn urges everyone to follow all instructions from dispatch, and answer all of their questions fully.

"Dispatch is a crucial element of the first responder system, they are our eyes and ears before we get on the scene," he said.

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