Your health
By Michael Warren 

A teenager loses control of his bike, falls and cuts his arm severely. Someone calls for help. But the young man could actually bleed to death before an ambulance arrives if no one nearby is qualified to apply even the simplest first aid to stem the flow of blood from an injured artery. 

You do not have to be a doctor or nurse to understand how to apply pressure to an arm to stop bleeding or how to help a child who’s fallen into a backyard pool. Indeed, first-aid classes are available in most towns and usually at a very reasonable cost. Such an investment is particularly worthwhile when you consider that the ability to render first aid in an emergency — and perhaps save a life — could be the most valuable thing you learn throughout your entire life. 

If you’ve never considered taking a first-aid class, contact the American Red Cross, your local YMCA or even your personal physician; first-aid classes will be available somewhere in your area. 

It could be a good idea to make first-aid classes a family affair. A certain amount of comfort can be gained from the knowledge that, if you fall sick or need immediate help, someone else in your home is qualified to assist you. 

In addition to first-aid training, programs often teach peripheral skills, such as how to remain calm in an emergency, how to incorporate the help of bystanders, how to summon professional help quickly and how, in general, to assume the leadership role on a temporary basis. 

Not many years ago, people (including doctors and nurses) were afraid to stop at the scene of an accident, because they could be held liable for any negative results from the first aid they might render. Today, there are “good Samaritan” laws that protect medical professionals and others from such liability, if their intent was to provide help in such an emergency. 

There are other advantages to taking a first-aid class. Once exposed to the basic concepts, you may well be motivated to learn advanced techniques. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility that you could be tempted to pursue a new career — to become an emergency medical technician or a paramedic. 

I have to admit I am a bit of a nag, as far as first-aid training is concerned. Why? As a doctor, I’ve witnessed so many incidents when a life could have been saved or an injured patient could have suffered less, if someone — just one person in a crowd of curious bystanders — had been able to help, to apply the techniques that he or she had learned at first-aid class. 

Dr. Michael M. Warren is Ashbel Smith Professor of Surgery in the division of urology at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.