Keep Calm and Carry On: Treating Victims of a Stroke
I am pretty sure nobody leaves their home in the morning praying to be the first responder in a crisis situation, but this does not mean you should not be prepared to handle it. Take it from someone who is more accident prone than Simone Smith is endearingly hilarious, you want to know a thing or two about first aid before venturing out into the world. So, whether you are treating a scraped knee or something a lot more serious, you want to remember one very important thing; to keep calm and carry on. The last thing you want to do is further upset the victim and appear unable to deal with the situation, at hand.
Some injuries are easier to spot, the treatment is apparent and easily implemented but other times the injuries are a little more insidious. There is nothing more insidious or dangerous than a stroke, especially when it has been projected to become the most common cause of death worldwide, in the coming years. With 90% of stroke sufferers being over the age of 65, would you know how to spot the signs of a stroke? Whether it were a complete stranger, your spouse or a member of your family, would you be able to assist the victim until emergency services arrived?
Keep calm and read on.
The Five Signs of a Stroke
- Weakness - loss of strength in extremities or sudden numbness in face
- Trouble Speaking - sudden confusion, trouble forming or understanding words
- Vision Problems - blurred or shaky vision, even if temporary
- Headache - sudden headache or severe localized pain in one, or both, temples
- Dizziness - sudden loss of balance, especially when combined with any of above symptoms
Somethings You Should Know
I have gone through several first aid certification courses in my twenty-six years, my parents were both huge supporters of having as much information to deal with a crisis as humanly possible. So, when we both showed a natural talent for competitive swimming, the logical next step for them was to enroll me in lifeguard/instructor training. I am armed to the teeth with first aid certificates, while my head is packed full of hundreds of scenarios I could be called upon to use the information I have learned.
There are a few things you should know about a stroke (known also as cerebrovascular accident or CVA), so you have some understanding of what causes one. A stroke is classified as a condition which occurs when blood vessels delivering oxygen-rich blood to the brain rupture and part of the brain does not receive proper blood flow, it requires to continue functioning. Once the nerve cells are deprived of oxygen they die within minutes, often the reason the effects of a stroke are permanent; brain cells are not replaced.
Here are some of the most common signs and symptoms related to strokes:
- One commonly experiences extreme weakness, numbness or paralysis in the face, arms or legs on one side of the body
- One may express vision problems, such as blurred vision, decreased vision, especially in one eye
- One may have trouble speaking or understanding simple questions or commands
- One may express having a severe, sudden or unexplainable headache, one may also complain of a quick localized stabbing pain leaving them dizzy
- If the brain is affected by lack of oxygen it may cause the sufferers eyes to deviate; the pupils will become unequal in size and be non-reactive to light
Now, there is only so much you can do for someone suffering from a stroke, you are not a medical professional and therefore will not be performing brain surgery at the local park. The first aid for someone suffering from a stroke is very limited and often times is supportive care until the emergency services arrives on scene. There are many people who believe this is not classified as first aid and therefore not as important- do not make this same mistake. Creating a calming presence while collecting crucial medical information to pass to the paramedics, upon their arrival, is extremely important.
Keeping Calm and Carrying On
No matter the emergent situation you happen to find yourself in, there are two very important first steps to remember. One, you should always remember to stay calm as to not further upset the victim (this may limit the chances of them going into shock) and two, you should always call 911, alerting emergency services. Please, do not be arrogant enough to believe you are solely able to handle the situation or you know what is best, a situation can progress quickly out of your control and you may not be given a second chance to right your prior misjudgement.
So, here are some things to remember if you find yourself in the situation where you are dealing with someone suffering from a stroke.
- Call 911, or, if you are unable to, have a bystander call for you
- If you have been trained in CPR, check and monitor the sufferers airway, breathing and circulation. The breathing should remain even and methodical whereas the skin should remain pinky, and be quick to recover the colour after depression.
- Lay the person down with their head or shoulder slightly elevated; this will reduce blood pressure to the brain. The key is to make them more comfortable, so try using something soft to lay their head on, i.e. an article of clothing or emptied purse.
- If the person becomes unresponsive but remain breathing, roll them on their left side with their chin slightly extended. This will keep the persons airway open and allow vomit to drain from their mouth, freely.
- You must never give someone suffering from a stroke something to eat or drink! You have no way of knowing if their throat muscles have been affected by the stroke and has impeded their ability to swallow.
- Try to engage the person in a conversation, remembering to reassure them help is on the way. You should use this time to collect medical and personal information on them, such as 'has this happened before' 'is there someone I should call' 'are you on any medication' etc
I was a lifeguard and swimming instructor for nearly ten years and have been first responder to several emergent situations, both in and out of the pool environment. The most important part of being a first responder is your ability to remain calm (at least outwardly) and remaining even-toned while you are tending to your victim. Whether they are a small child or an elderly person or any person of any age between, chances are they are scared enough without the added help, from a nervous and overreactive rescuer.
Remember to speak with a clear and even-tone. Learn their name and consistently refer to them by it, especially if you are speaking to someone around them. Keep them informed of what you are doing, whether it be laying them on their side or checking their pulse; you must never lay your hands on someone without their permission. Cover them with something to keep them warm, the effects of shock will often drop their body temperature causing them to shiver uncontrollably.
But, in any case, when dealing with emergency situation or simply removing a splinter from a tearful child, all you need to remember is to 'keep calm and carry on'.