On being that person in the crowd

One of the heroic stories coming out of the tragic and horrific shootings in Tucson, Arizona, this past weekend is that of Daniel Hernandez. Hernandez is a 20-year-old intern with U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords’ office. He’d been on the job less than a week, but, immediately after the initial shots were fired, and perhaps before the gunfire had even ceased, he ran to Giffords’ side, lifting her head to make it easier for her to breathe and using his bare hands to lessen the flow of blood from the single gunshot wound to her head. Employees from the nearby Safeway grocery store brought out clean smocks from the meat department in which to temporarily wrap Giffords’ wound. Hernandez kept Giffords awake and alert as possible by interacting with her and urging her to squeeze his hand to help with the pain. She apparently stayed conscious and responsive until the paramedics arrived. The actions of Hernandez and the others at the scene may have contributed significantly to what, so far, sounds like a very promising recovery story for Giffords.

Now, Hernandez had apparently received some training in nursing and phlebotomy in high school, but he’s not a medical professional. Most of what he did for the severely wounded woman laying outside that supermarket was pulled from his recollection of basic first aid and common sense, plus the simple human compassion to just stay close to Giffords and make sure she knew help was on the way and she wasn’t alone. It makes me wonder: Would I be as cool-headed and smart in a similar situation? I’d certainly like to think so, and I know for sure I could provide compassion and support and a hand to hold, but my last first aid training was about eight years ago. I struggle now to remember exactly how many chest compressions to give after each breath in CPR (is it eight? 10?), and haven’t they sort of changed the CPR guidelines, too?

In any case, it’s made me consider refreshing my first aid training. Not because I anticipate having to intervene heroically in an emergency situation anytime soon, but because I’d feel more comfortable knowing, if I were put into a situation like that, I’d have something besides compassion to contribute. I would, as the American Heart Association puts it, rather be a lifesaver than a bystander. Plus, it’s not a big time commitment — most first aid courses take less than a day. Seems worth it to me to potentially help save someone’s life or limbs. If you’re like me and are interested in getting initial first aid training or refreshing your skills, here are some ideas for how to proceed:

  • Some employers (Promega is one) make first aid/CPR courses available to employees on a periodic basis. Ask your supervisor or human resources representative if there is an opportunity for workplace training.
  • Find a course near you. Community colleges, fire departments, ambulance services and hospitals often offer first aid training to the public. The American Red Cross has a page where you can enter your zip code and find applicable courses within a given radius. Same with the American Heart Association. Some courses are even available in a web-based format, meaning you could do them from the comfort of your home.
  • Review online first-aid how-to videos, like this series from the British Red Cross.

First aid and basic emergency training is something that’s easy for many of us to overlook. We’re busy and we probably can’t imagine we’d ever have an opportunity to jump into an emergency situation and help save someone’s life or prevent further injury. I’m sure most of us would hope never to be put into that situation.

But, look at it this way. Imagine you were the one requiring emergency care. Imagine you were Gabrielle Giffords. Wouldn’t you hope, as you lay there on the ground, injured and unsure of what just happened, that there would be someone in the crowd who would come to your side, lift your head so you could breathe, put pressure on the wound in your head, hold your hand, keep you awake and assure you over and over again that help was on the way?

I’d certainly hope so. And that’s why I need to make sure I can BE that person in the crowd, too.

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Caroline Sober

Caroline is a senior software developer at Promega. She’s not a scientist, so if you hear her talking about DNA purification or pipetting or current issues in bioprivacy, she’s totally faking it and you should tell her to hush. She is, however, passionate about building useful software, the interactions between people and technology in general, and how social media is changing the conversation between companies and customers. She lives in Madison with her husband, daughter, and 110-pound dog.

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