Written by: Mutshidzi Kwinda
In 2016, two months after my cancer diagnosis, I had to go through 10 cycles of radiation therapy in an attempt to shrink my tumor. Halfway through the treatment, my skin around the affected area started to peel off and ultimately created a large map of an open wound. This incident was, by far, my first severe experience with burns and wounds. And although the treatment itself did not hurt at all, the after-effects were rather unbearable.
In the world that we live in now, where anything can happen to anyone at any time, it is important to stay cautious and ready to tackle challenges of all kinds and forms. Which is why, when it comes to medical emergencies, basic first-aid skills are a must for everyone to learn and know by heart. Learning these skills, can one day, preserve and/or save a life.
In any situation, the first thing you need to do when you arrive at the scene is to calm down and ensure your safety as well as the safety of the person you are going to help.
1. Stop bleeding
Whenever blood is involved, always make sure that you put on gloves (especially if you are helping someone else). This precaution is necessary to avoid blood transmissible diseases.
- Apply direct pressure to the wound.
- While calling or sending someone for help, place the casualty at rest and apply a clean cloth (or dressing followed by a bandage if available) on the wound.
- If the bleeding wound is on the limb, ensure that the knot of the bandage is directly on top of the opening of the wound – this will help minimize the bleeding (NB: Ensure that the bandage is not too tight).
- Elevate the limb with a sling (or any available and suitable clothing) to ease blood circulation.
- NB: If there is an embedded object stuck on the injured area, DON’T removes it. Only apply pressure around it. And in cases where bleeding is severe, if the bandage is soaked with blood, don’t remove it, apply another one on top.
2.1. Thermal burns.
Causes: Open flames, contact with hot objects, steam, and hot liquids.
- Cool down the burnt area with water (make sure you don’t cool it too much) and cover the burn loosely with a clean, dry, and non-sticky cloth while you send for medical help.
- NB: If there are any blisters, do not squeeze or break them.
If your clothes catch on fire, do not run. Running will add oxygen to the flames which will make it worse. Instead, stop and standstill. You can also drop on the floor and/or roll.
2.2. Chemical burns.
Causes: Chemical agents such as an acid or corrosive powder.
According to the Ambuvival training solutions learner’s guide, chemical burns are always serious. This is because as soon as the chemical touches the surface of the skin, it continues to burn until the chemical is removed from the skin.
- First thing after ensuring that the scene is safe for you and the casualty, call or send for help.
- With a large quantity of water, immediately flush the affected area for at least 20 minutes. (If it is a dry powder, first brush it out with a clean dry cloth before flushing the area).
- While flushing the area and waiting or sending for help, remove the casualty’s contaminated clothing and jewelry.
- After flushing the affected area, you can cover it with a moist dressing or a clean moist cloth until you get medical help.
2.3. Electrical burns.
Electrical burns can also be severe. Depending on the “type of the current, the voltage, the area of the body exposed, as well as the duration of the current.” Although you don’t need to know all this information, it is important to understand that all types of electrical burns are critical and should be attended with caution.
- Make sure that the electric sockets are all off. If possible, you can also turn off the main switch or the whole power grid. If it is not possible (i.e. the scene is not safe to enter), call the ambulance immediately and explain to them what the situation looks like.
- If the scene is safe, remove the casualty from the source of electricity and assess responsiveness while waiting for the ambulance.
- If there are injuries or open wounds (aka entry and exit wounds), use a clean dry cloth (or dressings if you have one) and tape it in position.
- Perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and do the primary survey if the casualty is not responsive.
2.4. Radiation burns.
Causes: Radiant energy from radioactive materials, sun, radiotherapy, x-rays, and welder’s arc flash. The following points only apply to sunburns.
- Use cool water to sponge the burnt area or use a clean cloth soaked in water to cover it.
- If you have any sunburn lotion or cream, apply it to the area (pat dry first). *Make sure to read the label for directions and cautionary measures.
- If there are blisters, don’t squeeze or break them.
- For major sunburn, call or send for medical help while you cool down the affected area. NB: Do not apply lotions or ointments for major burns.
For other radiation burns such as radiotherapy for cancer treatment, inform your oncologist or private doctor and ask them to prescribe medications to help you manage the pain and the burns.
Things you must not do to any kind of burn.
Do not pull away clothes that are stuck on the wound. And when choosing dressings, don’t use adhesive ones.
Do not use things like toothpaste, soap, butter, or any oily products on the wound.
Never touch the burnt area with your hands.
When cooling down the wound or burnt area, don’t overdo it.
Ambuvival training solutions. First-aid learner reference guide. Level 3. August 2018. pg 59-63.