Be prepared in case of emergency

The kids are back at school and it’s admin time for the year ahead.

One thing you really shouldn’t shirk is your family’s medical needs for the next 12 months.

Now’s the time to resolve outstanding 2016 medical aid issues, tweak your coverage going forward and consider top-ups such as gap cover plans that cover outstanding hospital costs and dread diseases.

It’s also a good time to get your first aid line-up sorted so that should there be an emergency, you’re as prepared as you can be.


Essential first aid box contents

  • 2 absorbent compress dressings
  • Pack of adhesive bandages (assorted sizes)
  • 1 adhesive cloth tape
  • 5 antibiotic ointment packets
  • 5 antiseptic wipe packets
  • Aspirin
  • 1 space blanket
  • 1 breathing barrier (with one-way valve)
  • 1 instant cold compress
  • 2 pair of non-latex gloves
  • 2 hydrocortisone ointment packets
  • Scissors and tweezers
  • 2 roller bandages
  • Pack of sterile gauze pads
  • Thermometer
  • 2 triangular bandages
  • Eye shield or pad
  • Duct tape
  • Safety pins
  • Soap/hand sanitiser
  • Small, waterproof flashlight or headlamp
  • Waterproof matches
  • First aid instruction booklet


Quick first aid rules
  • Keep a first aid kit at home and in your vehicles.
  • Know where kits are kept at your place of work.
  • Teach children old enough to understand where kits are kept.
  • Prepare children for medical emergencies in age-appropriate ways.
  • Check your first-aid kits every so often to make sure torch batteries work and to replace supplies that have expired or been used up.


 Medications at home

While most of us, fortunately, aren’t faced with medical emergencies on a daily basis, keeping a home supply of basic medication is hugely handy. Top up this general list with your own more specific requirements.

  • Aloe Vera gel
  • Calamine lotion
  • Anti-diarrhoea medication
  • Laxative
  • Rehydrate
  • Antacids
  • Antihistamine
  • Pain relievers, such as ibuprofen, aspirin and paracetamol
  • Hydrocortisone cream
  • Cough and cold medications



What to do if a person is choking

Image: netcare.911

Choking happens when someone’s airway suddenly gets blocked, either fully or partly, so they can’t breathe.

Mild choking: encourage them to cough

If the airway is only partly blocked, the person will usually be able to speak, cry, cough or breathe. They will usually be able to clear the blockage themselves.

Severe choking: back blows and abdominal thrusts

Where choking is severe, the person will not be able to speak, cry, cough or breathe. Without help, they will eventually become unconscious.

To help an adult or child over one year

  • Stand behind the person and slightly to one side.
  • Support their chest with one hand.
  • Lean the person forward so that the object blocking their airway will come out of their mouth, rather than moving further down.
  • Give up to five sharp blows between the person’s shoulder blades with the heel of your hand. (The heel is between the palm of your hand and your wrist).
  • Check if the blockage has cleared.
  • If not, give up to five abdominal thrusts:

Stand behind the person who is choking. Place your arms around their waist and bend them forward. Clench one fist and place it right above their belly button. Put the other hand on top of your fist and pull sharply inwards and upwards. Repeat this movement up to five times.

NB: Don’t give abdominal thrusts to babies under one year old or to pregnant women.

  • If the person’s airway is still blocked after trying back blows and abdominal thrusts, get help immediately. Call your closest medical emergency number and tell the operator the person is choking.
  • Continue with the cycles of five back blows and five abdominal thrusts until help arrives.
  • If the person loses consciousness and they’re not breathing, begin cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) with chest compressions.
Image: netcare.911

If a baby is choking

  • Lie the baby face down across or along your lap, with their head lower than their bottom.
  • Support the baby’s head from underneath by placing your thumb on one side of their jaw and one or two fingers on the other side. This is to make sure their airway is open.
  • Be careful not to press on the neck or the soft skin under the lower jaw.
  • Give up to five firm slaps to the baby’s back between their shoulder blades with the heel of your hand. (The heel is between the palm of your hand and your wrist.)
  • Pause between each blow to see if the blockage has cleared. Do not poke your fingers into the baby’s mouth unless you can see and reach the blockage, as you may push it further in.
  • If the airway is still blocked, start with chest thrusts.

Chest thrusts for babies under one year old

  • Lie the baby face up along your arm, and lay your arm along or across your lap to support it.
  • Support the back of the baby’s head by cupping the lower part of your hand.
  • Find the breastbone and place two fingers on the lower half of it.
  • Give five sharp chest thrusts (pushes) with your fingers, compressing the chest by about a third of its depth.
  • Check whether the blockage has cleared. Do not poke your fingers into the baby’s mouth unless you can see and reach the blockage, as you may push it further in.

If the baby’s airway is still blocked after three cycles of back slaps and chest thrusts, call your closest emergency service and tell them the baby is choking. Don’t leave the baby.

Continue with the cycles of back slaps and chest thrusts until help arrives. If the baby stops breathing, start CPR.


What to do if a person is drowning

  • Get help if you can do this without leaving the person.
  • Take the person out of the water.
  • Turn them onto their side to drain any water.
  • Check to see whether the person is breathing.
  • Take their pulse if you can’t tell.
  • If there is no pulse after 10 seconds, start CPR and chest compressions.
  • Continue with a cycle of 30 compressions and two breaths until the person starts breathing or emergency help arrives.


What to do if a person gets burnt

  • Stop the burning immediately
  • Put out the fire or stop the person’s contact with hot liquid, steam, or other material.
  • Help the person to ‘stop, drop and roll’ to smother the flames.
  • Remove any smouldering material from the person.
  • Remove any hot or burned clothing. If clothing sticks to the skin, cut or tear around it.
  • Remove constrictive clothing Immediately. Take off jewellery, belts and tight clothing. Burns can swell quickly.

Then take the following steps:

For minor burns

  1. Cool it down

Hold the burned skin under cool (not cold) running water or immerse in cool water for about 10 minutes until the pain subsides.

Use compresses if running water isn’t available.

  1. Protect the wound

Cover the wound with sterile, non-adhesive bandage or clean cloth.

Do not apply butter or ointments, which can cause infection!

  1. Treat the pain

Give over-the-counter pain reliever such as ibuprofen.

For severe burns

  1. Stop the burning

Immerse the area in cool water for 10 to 15 minutes. Use compresses if running water isn’t available. Don’t apply ice – it can lower the body temperature and cause further damage.

Don’t break blisters or apply butter or ointments, which can cause infection.

  1. Protect the wound

Cover it loosely with sterile, non-stick bandage and secure in place with gauze or tape.

  1. Prevent shock

Lay the person flat and elevate his/her feet about 30cm.

Elevate the burn area above heart level, if possible.

Cover the person with a coat or blanket.

  1. Go to the emergency room

The hospital will be able to test the treat the burn wound appropriately.


Be prepared
  • Enrol on a first aid course and learn CPR. The more you know the more you can help.
  • Always carry an antihistamine. If someone with you has a sudden reaction to a bee sting or a food, an antihistamine on hand can save a life.
  • Carry a few assorted plasters in your wallet or purse. Whether it’s a blister or a cut, you’ll be pleased you have one.


Alternative medical practices


With many alternative medical practices being older than conventional or standard medicine, and many stemming from different cultures and countries, it is no surprise that they are respected and used worldwide, and that many boast huge success.

A vastly diverse field that encompasses many different forms of therapies that include diet, exercise and lifestyle changes, as well as hypnosis, chiropractic adjustment, acupuncture and the use of herbs and oils, alternative medical practices can be used alongside or in place of traditional medical treatments.

The choice is highly personal and ultimately, if it works, we say use it!

Here are some of the most common alternative practices and what they aim to treat:


The best-known form of acupuncture consists of penetrating the skin with thin needles controlled by a practitioner or electrical stimulation. The needles are used to specific points in the body in the treatment of chronic pain, muscular discomfort, illness and depression.


Aromatherapy uses essential oils (concentrated extracts from the roots, leaves, seeds, or blossoms of plants) to promote healing. The oils can be inhaled, massaged into the skin or occasionally taken by mouth, and each has a specific purpose.

Ayurvedic medicine

Practitioners of Ayurvedic medicine use a variety of techniques, including herbs, massage and specialised diets, with the intent of balancing the body, mind and spirit to promote overall wellness.


Also known as hydrotherapy, balneotherapy involves the use of water for therapeutic purposes. It’s based on the idea that water benefits the skin and might treat a range of conditions from acne to pain, swelling and anxiety. Practitioners use mudpacks, douches and wraps in their treatments.


Biofeedback techniques allow people to control bodily processes that normally happen involuntarily—such as heart rate, blood pressure, muscle tension and skin temperature—in order to improve conditions including high blood pressure, headaches and chronic pain. Patients work with a biofeedback therapist to learn these relaxation techniques and mental exercises. In initial sessions, electrodes are attached to the skin to measure bodily states, but eventually the techniques can be practiced without a therapist or equipment.


Chiropractic focuses on disorders of the musculoskeletal and nervous systems, including pain in the back, neck, joints, arms, legs and head. The most common procedure performed by chiropractors is ‘spinal manipulation’ or ‘adjustment’, which is intended to restore mobility and loosen the muscles, allowing tissues to heal and pain to resolve.


Homeopathy functions in much the same way as a vaccine: It’s based on the principle of treating ‘like with like’, meaning a substance that causes adverse reactions when taken in large doses can be used—in small amounts—to treat those same symptoms. Homeopaths gather extensive background information on patients before prescribing a highly diluted substance to jumpstart the body’s natural systems of healing.


Reflexology involves applying pressure to specific areas on the feet, hands, or ears. The theory is that these points correspond to different body organs and systems and that stimulating them is believed to positively affect these organs and a person’s overall health.


Reiki is a form of energy healing based on the idea that ‘life force energy’ flows through everyone’s body. According to this philosophy, sickness and stress are indications that life force energy is low, while energy, health and happiness signify a strong life force. In a Reiki session, a practitioner seeks to ‘transfer’ life energy to the client by placing their hands lightly on the client’s body or a slight distance away from the body. The purpose is to promote relaxation, speed healing, reduce pain and generally improve the client’s wellbeing.