The importance of first aid

red_cross.gifA little over half an hour ago, I was walking home down Seventh Avenue after doing some errands. As I neared the supermarket, I saw a small crowd gathered around what appeared to be a person lying face down on the sidewalk in a pool of blood. I stopped and asked if I could help out. Someone was on the phone to 911, another told me the elderly woman had just tripped on the sidewalk and fallen face first down to the ground. I told her I was certified in first aid and asked if I could assist her. I sent someone into the supermarket for a first aid kid. I asked her name, her age, her address. She didn't want help, she said, she wanted to walk home. She said she was fine.

But she wasn't. Emily was 81 and she was alone. She was bleeding all over the place, but from where? A cut on her head? Her nose? I asked her to stay with me and we talked about her routine of getting groceries, about what she'd bought. Anytime she realized we were waiting for the ambulance, she tried to get up and said she just wanted to go home. So I asked her to sit with me and tell me about her weekend, and how she was managing in the hot weather. People brought out ice packs from the gym, water and paper towels from the market. I'd put on the gloves from the first aid kit, and cleaned her up a bit, but mostly I just talked to her and held her hand.

Two doctors happened by which made her nervous again. They tried to check her out a bit and we got her sitting up and then moved to a bench, only because she kept trying to stand on her own. We really wanted her to stay where she was. Finally after ten minutes the ambulance arrived (outrageous really, as St. Vincent's is only two blocks north!) and I was able to talk to the EMTs and they took over. I picked up my bags and walked home, hoping that Emily would accept their help, wondering if I should have stayed to take her home.

It's kind of crazy, I was certified in first aid and CPR for years back in the eighties and early nineties and never used it once. I got re-certified a little over a month ago and it sounds weird to say, but I'm happy I was able to use it. I'm happy I was able to arrive in the crowd and know what to do. Walking home, I realized being certified isn't necessarily about providing the aid. I didn't stop the bleeding, though it subsided on its own. I didn't try to examine her. This was in part because she refused my help initially but also because I knew the ambulance would be along soon. Mostly it was about providing comfort to someone in a difficult situation, helping them feel ok, and letting them know they weren't alone. The certification gave me the confidence to do that: to kneel on the sidewalk, holding an old woman's hand, and to help make those scary few minutes hopefully just a little bit better.

If you're not certified in first aid, I can't recommend it strongly enough. It takes four hours of your time at your local Red Cross and with what you'll learn, maybe you'll be able to assist someone like Emily one day.