I have taught a yearly boy scout first aid class for years. It’s a hard class because the things I really need them to learn are boring. All the exciting hands-on parts of the class are not necessary or as necessary.
With that in mind, the best thing I can recommend is getting a really good first aid book and a well stocked first aid kit. When I say good first aid book, I mean one that gives you clear information that you can find very quickly. Most emergencies you will encounter can be solved by calling 911 or other emergency services. You will not be required to provide treatment except in those rare instances you can’t access those services. It may never happen in your lifetime so remembering every little detail of first aid is going to be hard. This is where your first aid book comes into service.
However, there are some situations that will require treatment before help arrives. It is these situations that I feel having a strong understanding of first aid is vital.
The first is learning the symptoms of a heart attack. The problem with this is that there are not universal symptoms but they used to teach that. You still see the 5 main symptoms (or whatever number of that particular author) but you can have one person who as all 5 symptoms and the next who has none. Because of this, some people will not seek treatment. If they survive, they have irreparable damage to their heart. Abdominal or chest pain that makes it hard to breath should be the signal to seek help. Symptoms that come on suddenly (some say the symptoms feel like flu symptoms). Better to find out you aren’t having a heart attack at the doctor’s office.
CPR is the next skill I believe people desperately need. These days the American Heart Association has simplified the process so much that there is no excuse not to learn.
This is my favorite video to show the scouts because it is fun and we remember fun easier than we remember work.
After that, I would take time to think about the different ways you can stop bleeding. Knowing that you can use a diaper, or maxi pad, or towel, or a shirt in place of gauze and band-aids will make a stressful situation less stressful. In some cases, you don’t even have to worry if the item is sterile – very severe bleeding just requires something to stem the bleeding. (Honestly, an infection vs bleeding to death is not really a discussion.)
Other topics I find important to learn when it comes to first aid – the importance of hydration, how to cool someone when they are overly hot, how to warm someone when they are overly cold (in this case, it is important to note that wet is not good for getting warm), how to identify and treat shock.
The other thing is to learn what illnesses and disabilities those you spend your time with have. If you have someone who is diabetic or epileptic or has a severe allergy, then those are topics I would learn about. They are good topics anyway, but important to know how to treat if you are more likely to be near someone who may develop problems.
I, also, want to share that silence is not strong. It is important that people know you have a medical problem. You don’t have to share all your day to day issues or go on and on about each and every medical problem you have every day. I’m talking about letting the people around you know that you may need medical treatment and why. Life alert bracelets and necklaces are great for emergencies but they don’t really allow those who are around you to learn about first aid for you.
The other thing I want to stress is that learning first aid is not a one time thing. The more you become familiar with the information, the easier it is to help during an emergency. The reason first aid certification expires is not because the information changes that fast (or at all sometimes), it’s to help you move that information from the fact part of your brain into the instinct part of your brain. Like any skill, the more you learn and practice, the more automatic it becomes. When you can rely on your skills, the less stressful the situation becomes.