The do’s and don’ts of six emergencies

Emergencies can happen anywhere – in a shopping centre, on the street, at a social function or in your own home. ER24 has put together this handy list of the do’s and don’ts of how to respond.


Stand behind the person and wrap your arms around their waist. (If it is a child, kneel down behind them). Make a fist with one hand and position it just above the person’s bellybutton. Grab your fist with your other hand and press hard into the abdomen, as if you are trying to lift the person up. Repeat until the obstruction is dislodged, or the person loses consciousness.

  • DON’T just hit them on the back. This can worsen the situation by forcing the food back into the windpipe.


This means someone has lost consciousness because their brain has temporarily not received enough blood supply. Position the person on his side in the recovery position.

  • DON’T let them get up too quickly.


Always protect yourself against blood and body fluids of others with a barrier such as gloves. Assess where the blood is coming from, and remove clothing only if necessary and appropriate. Adequate direct pressure for at least 3 – 5 minutes is the most effective way to stop bleeding.

If you can’t find a clean, bulky pad for compression, put strong, heavy pressure on the wound with the palm of your hand.

  • DON’T apply a tourniquet (belt, scarf or backpack cord wound tightly just above the injury) unless the bleeding is profuse. Keeping a tourniquet on for too long can result in permanent nerve and muscle injury, but may be the only solution to save a life.
  • DON’T remove a foreign body that is causing bleeding. Rather apply padding on either side of the object.


Remove hot or burnt clothing from the victim. If clothing sticks to the skin, DON’T pull it off. Remove all jewellery and belts as burns can swell quickly.

Immerse the burned skin in cool (not cold) running water for at least 10 minutes.

  • DON’T apply ice directly to a burn wound as it could cause more pain and damage.
  • DON’T break blisters as this will lead to infection.
  • DON’T apply ointment not indicated for the treatment of burns, as this will lead to infection.
  • DON’T use coffee, toothpaste or butter in the first aid treatment of burns, these are old wives tales and may worsen the recovery for a patient.


If you suspect someone has had a stroke, assess it with the FAST acronym. “‘F’ is for facial drooping, ‘A’ is for arm weakness, ‘S’ is for slurred speech or difficulty speaking and ‘T’ is for time to call the medical professionals,” Britz explains. “The sooner a stroke victim gets professional medical help, the more likely paramedics and doctors will be able to restore blood flow to the affected areas and save brain cells. Stay with the patient until help arrives.”

The Contact Centre will need to know your exact location in order to ensure an ambulance arrives timeously. Provide your street address and nearest cross road. It’s always good to confirm which province you’re in as there may be two identical street addresses in different provinces. Remember to send a runner outside to wait for the ambulance. If you live in a complex, alert your security that an ambulance will be coming.

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Keep ER24’s emergency number in your cell phone and on your fridge for ease of access.

Remember, it is always better to cancel the emergency services, once you’ve established the injury isn’t life-threatening than to make the call when it is too late.

Chest pains

If you think someone is having a heart attack, immediate action could save their life. Although there are many causes of chest pains, including acid reflux and anxiety, it is crucial to take the symptoms seriously.

A heart attack is a sudden interruption of the blood supply to part of the heart muscle. The heart is still sending blood to the body, and the person remains conscious and is still breathing. The patient very often experiences sudden onset of acute, unresolving, severe chest pain, central in nature which may radiate to the arm or neck. The patient may also present with nausea, and have cool, clammy greyish in colour skin.

  • DON’T wait to see if the symptoms subside.
  • DON’T let the person walk around.
  • DON’T lie the person down flat on the floor if they are still conscious as this makes it harder to breathe. A semi seated position with their head and shoulders supported is best if conscious.

Cardiac arrest occurs when the heart suddenly stops pumping blood around the body. Someone who’s having a cardiac arrest will suddenly lose consciousness and will stop breathing, or stop breathing normally. Unless immediately treated by cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), this leads to death within minutes.

“Most people know to do mouth-to-mouth straight away, but you don’t always have to use mouth-to-mouth resuscitation,” says Clinton. “Chest-only compressions can be just as effective.”

To carry out hands-only CPR:

  • Position the person’s head with their chin up, supine (on their back) preferably on a hard, flat surface.
  • Place the heel of your hand on the breastbone at the centre of the person’s chest.
  • Place your other hand on top of your first hand and interlock your fingers.
  • Using your body weight (not just arms), press straight down by 5-6 cm on their chest.
  • Try to do 100 to 120 compressions per minute.

Continue until the ambulance arrives.