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When seconds count

6 steps to take when facing a medical emergency.

Article Author: Johnny Woodhouse

Article Date:

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Carrie Bradshaw, protagonist of the much-loved “Sex and the City” TV series, knows her way around a designer shoe store but apparently isn’t as well-versed in what steps to take when someone is experiencing a medical emergency.

Spoiler alert

In the premiere of “And Just Like That,” a reboot of the original hit HBO show, Bradshaw comes home to her iconic Manhattan brownstone to find her main squeeze, “Mr. Big,” collapsed in the bathroom from an apparent heart attack.

He’s conscious but unable to speak and on the verge of cardiac arrest. In this moment, Bradshaw’s mind appears to go blank.

Instead of calling 911, her first – and basically only – reaction is to cradle Big in her arms as he takes his final breaths.

While dramatic in nature, the scene as written casts Bradshaw as possibly the world’s worst caregiver.

What should she – or anyone for that matter – have done when confronted with a medical emergency of that magnitude? Here are the six steps an expert recommended you take in an emergency.

1. Make a crucial call

Kate Barrier, MD, an emergency medicine physician and medical director of Baptist and Wolfson Children’s Emergency Center at Oakleaf, said it’s important to act fast when you suspect someone is having a serious medical episode.

“The first step is to call 911 because you don’t want to delay any form of emergency medical intervention,” she said. “Once you have made that initial call for help, you can take additional steps like making the person comfortable and helping him or her remain calm.”

Dr. Barrier said 911 operators are trained to assess the situation and assist callers until paramedics arrive.

2. Minimize movement

As a general rule, try not to move the person unless he or she is in immediate danger of further harm. It’s best to wait for first responders.

3. Administer meds

Find out if the person is taking any prescribed medications that could alleviate some of the symptoms he or she is experiencing.

Earlier in the TV show, it was mentioned that Big was taking nitroglycerin to treat chest pain due to a history of heart problems dating back years. Each minute after a heart attack, more heart tissue deteriorates or dies. The same happens after a stroke, aneurysm, or other serious medical events. In theory, Carrie could have helped Big chew and swallow a tablet of nitroglycerin, which improves blood flow to the heart, or an aspirin, which helps prevent blood from clotting.

But before administering any type of medication, consult with the 911 operator and always check to make sure the person doesn’t have any drug allergies, Dr. Barrier cautioned.

4. Start chest compressions

After a person goes into cardiac arrest, immediately start what’s known as hands-only cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) by pressing hard and fast on the center of the chest. This alone can double or triple a person’s chance of survival when their heart stops beating.

5. Find an AED

An automated external defibrillator (AED) is designed to be used by nonmedical personnel to shock the heart back into a normal rhythm. Formal training in the device is not required and AEDs can be found in most public areas like sports venues, malls, airports, schools and community centers.

6. Seek diagnostic testing

According to eagle-eyed viewers, Carrie Bradshaw lived within eight minutes of the nearest hospital. Had she called 911 right away, paramedics may have been able to resuscitate Big with defibrillation, administer emergency medications and perform additional diagnostic tests, including X-rays, computed tomography (CT) scans and an electrocardiogram (EKG).

“Getting that first EKG in the field is very important because it helps us determine how to treat any heart problems that are detected, including a blocked artery,” said Dr. Barrier. “Many medical emergencies are treatable when diagnosed quickly, so we definitely want to intervene as soon as possible.”

In short, Dr. Barrier recommended bringing in the experts, even when you think a person doesn't need it or it’s too late.

“We would much rather have someone call 911 if they think they are or someone else is having an episode than to see that same person a day later and find damage that we could have treated much earlier.”

In a life-threatening emergency, don’t delay care. Call 911 right away. Baptist Health and Wolfson Children’s Hospital have Emergency Centers located throughout Northeast Florida. Click here to view current wait times and find a location near you.

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