Before doing so, immobilize the head as much as possible using rolled up shirts, blankets or towels and check for neck and back injuries. Ask the injured person his or her name, time of day and what happened. If he or she answers the questions well, inquire further.
• Ask the victim to wiggle fingers and toes. If any motion is difficult or impossible the spine may be injured.
• Gently squeeze the injured person’s fingers and toes. Tingling or numbness may indicate a spinal injury.
• Beginning at the top of the neck, touch each of the victim’s Vertebrae applying moderate pressure and continue down to the bottom of the back. If the victim reports pain with any touches, the spine might be injured.
Keep in mind that a painful injury elsewhere on the body could distract the victim from responding accurately. In that case, you might need to rely on a secondary indicator – just as you would if the victim were unconscious, unable to reliably answer your initial questions or under the influence of drugs or alcohol. To check this secondary indicator, press lightly on one fingernail on each hand and one toenail on each foot. The pink coloring should temporarily disappear and return within two seconds of the release of pressure. If it takes longer, it may indicate poor circulation resulting from a spinal injury.
If you suspect a spinal cord injury, wait for medical professionals to move the patient. But when a more immediate danger is present, such as fire or an icy river, you and others around you should move the person to safety.
Begin by appointing a leader. The leader should hold the victim’s head and neck perfectly still and direct rescuers in transporting the victim to safety.
Additional rescuers should be placed strategically on the victim’s sides along the chest, waist, pelvis and legs, depending on how many helpers are present, to keep the body straight.
The group should lift, move and lower the body in unison as directed by the leader. This is critical to avoid bending or twisting the injured person’s body, especially around the head, neck and back. If you can, find and use a makeshift stretcher, such as a door or other rigid surface.
Many head and spinal injuries result from auto accidents, rollerblading or bicycling, falls from high places or hard blows in contact sports. To avoid becoming the victim, take proper precautions by driving safely and defensively, wearing seatbelts properly, wearing appropriate helmets and pads and taking general care on ladders, trampolines and rooftops.
As with other injuries and illnesses, prevention is the best cure. But when prevention fails, a little knowledge can help you overcome your fear of helping others – and make a lifetime of difference.
This article is intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice or opinion on any patient-specific facts or circumstances. If you experience a medical emergency, please call 9-1-1 immediately and consult your healthcare provider. Do not attempt to treat yourself, your child or anyone else without proper medical supervision.
Schauer is the manager of Medical Services and Education at Mercy Air Service.