Cramming First Aid

It was a gorgeous Sunday on the Kenyan coast. The sun was shining and it was hot, maybe around 29-30 degrees, and I was looking forward to our one day of the week devoted to doing very little. I had started the book Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari earlier in the week and I was hooked. I just had to keep reading. Also another very important thing that is always on my Sunday to-do list is balancing out my tan. The sheer number of hours that I have spent snorkelling with my face down in the water means that my back and my butt are an entirely different race to the front half of my body. Which isn’t so ideal. So on Sundays I lie determinedly face up in the slightly feeble hope that by spending a couple of hours with my belly in the sun it will become the same colour as the parts of me that now must have had hundreds of hours of sun exposure… that works right?

Anyway, I was just about to start slathering on my suncream (or as I like to call it ‘The Basting Process’) when Cam said that we would be going over to Des’s house to sort out some marketing stuff for the project.

“Oh okay cool,” I said. That’s not a problem. There are many hours in the day for roasting oneself. So we walked over to Des’s house and got to work. We were working on the content of a newsletter that needed to be sent out to a huge list of contacts that Des had saved in his email folders. Tilda, Cam’s mum, had recently got her masters in creative writing so was really the perfect person to ask for help when editing. However, she was leaving at 3pm so we needed to use her expertise before it disappeared.

We worked through the content of the newsletter for a good couple of hours, staring at the words ‘expedition’ and ‘lagoon’ until they didn’t seem like words to me anymore. Eventually though we reached a point where we were all happy with it and, as much as I hate editing, it really was much better than it had been before. Tilda was fantastically helpful.

Then came the least fun job of all. On the current Ocean’s Alive website (that’s the name of the organisation that runs the project) there is a button that optimistically says ‘Sign up for our newsletter here!’. The only issue being that there is no newsletter for people to sign up for, which is why we had spent so much time putting one together. Now this button must have existed for some time because when Des showed us the folder of all the people who had clicked there were about five hundred of them. Each of the emails said something like this:

New newsletter sign up! From:

I assumed that there must be some database with all of the emails in it. There must be an CSV file or an Excel spreadsheet that had all of the information we needed in one place, so that we could just pop that into a mailing list and Bob’s your Uncle we can send the newsletter to all of them. I called the guy who runs the website and asked him if there was a list or a database he could send me.

“No,” he said gruffly through the crackly phone line, “We were going to do it on a one by one basis so that every person that signed up just got sent it straight away.”

“Wait so there’s not accumulative list of all the people who’ve signed up?” I asked and could feel the frustration edging into my tone.

“No there isn’t.” He replied.

“Okay, thanks for your help,” I said weakly and hung up the phone. That would mean that every email address would need to be manually copied from Des’s email account and pasted into a Word Document that could then be uploaded and used as a contact list. All five hundred of them. Joy of joys.

So that was the next job needing to be done. I just put in my earphones and got clicking. Luckily once I’d developed a bit of a system it didn’t take very long, it was just extremely tedious. I got to the first hundred or so before my eyes became too square to keep going, I’m not very good at staring at screens for long periods of time and we’d been using Des’s laptop all morning.

“Is it alright if I just have a quick splash in the pool?” I asked Des, trying to blink the blue light out of my eyes.

“Oh yeah of course – go ahead,” he said. I took this to mean ‘Yes of course you can spend twenty minutes sun-bathing in the pool with your book’ because after all it was a Sunday. I put on my suncream and lay down across the steps of the pool so that I could keep the book dry and my body wet to prevent it from expiring in the heat.

I was about fifteen minutes in when Simon, our dive master and now instructor, showed up to help us with our diving qualifications. I greeted him from my horizontal position and finished my chapter before swimming over to say hello properly.

“Hi Simon, how are you doing?” I said.

“I’m good. Are you ready to do your Emergency First Response?” He asked.

“Oh so ready,” I replied.

“Well your work isn’t waterproof.” He said with a smile.

“Of course,” I said with a laugh and I hopped out of the water, embarrassed about how lazy I must have seemed lounging around in the pool (it was just so lovely I couldn’t help myself). I wrapped myself up in a towel to dry off as quickly as possible while Simon pulled a rather official looking envelope out that had my First Aid Manual inside. I was expecting him to give me the book so I could peruse it for the next few days before we saw him again but he said,

“See how much you can get through. When the sun goes down we’ll see how much you managed,” I looked down at the book and then up at him again, not sure if he was joking or not.

“What, sorry?” I asked.

“The Emergency First Response is made up of three parts: the book, the exam and practical scenarios. The book is in two sections; the first is Primary Care, so stabilising someone who isn’t breathing, performing CPR and rescue breaths etc, and then Secondary Care which is more like First Aid so that once the person is stabilised you can attend to any wounds or injuries they may have,” Simon paused and looked at me, waiting for my confirmation to keep going. I nodded.

“Then there’s an exam, but it’s multiple choice and really easy so don’t worry, and then we’ll get one of these guys to pretend to be dead in various situations so that you can try out your new skills. Any questions?” I shook my head, waving goodbye to my blissfully empty Sunday.

“There you go!” He handed me the book and walked back over to where the others were sitting, leaving me to go find a quiet corner to wade through the manual. It was slow and boring work, and sometimes teeth-grindingly repetitive, but I ploughed on. From where I sat I could see the others sitting in the shade or swimming in the pool, drinking tea and chatting. I put my head down and kept reading.

I had a break for lunch and then excused myself to continue working steadily through each page. At about 4pm everyone left to go for a snorkel,

“Do you want to come?” Yael asked, looking over my shoulder at the proper method of treating spinal shock injuries.

“Oh I really, really do.” I paused, looking out into the gorgeously blue water, “But I don’t think I can,” I said, sighing at the stack of pages that I still needed to get through. And so everyone, Cam, Yael, Des, Tilda and Simon, all went off into the sea for a snorkel. I could feel the pull of it almost like a tangible tug, so I moved my chair to have my back facing the water.

Everyone came back from their snorkel and I was still going.

“I’m so excited to lie down with absolutely nothing to do,” Yael said, grinning, “Oh you don’t mind if I borrow Sapiens, do you?” I glared at her.

“Go for it. I sure as hell won’t be reading it,”

“Have fun!” She said brightly and went to go lie on a sun lounger with her book. Eventually, by some sheer miracle, I reached the end of the manual.

“Simon!” I called out, “I’m done,”

“Really?” He asked, “That was quick,”

“Was it though, was it really? I’ve been doing it for hours,” I said with a slightly manic laugh.

“Okay then time for your exam,” He laid out the question paper and I sped through it, my brain still switched to ‘Fast Mode’. It helped that the questions were very basic and multiple choice. When I finished I put it down in front of him to mark.

“Well done,” he said a few minutes later, “You got 96%,”

“Swot,” Des called out, having overheard Simon as he was walking past. I chuckled, just so relieved to be nearly done.

But not done just yet. We had to do the scenarios. We did them first just talking them through and then we recruited Yael to be my dummy. This was one of the examples:

“So, you’ve walked in through the kitchen door and this is what you see,” he pointed to a drawing of a woman lying face down in front of a stove that was billowing out some kind of gas. By her limp fingers lay a frying pan and a spatula in a little pool of grease. “Your mum has been making you lunch and KABOOM something goes wrong. What do you do?”

“Firstly I’d check the area for dangers to me. So I’d make sure all the gas was turned off on the stove and then I’d make sure that any fires were put out. Once the fires are out I’d open a window to clear the smoke and move the frying pan out of the way in case someone trips over it,” I glanced up at Simon for confirmation that this was correct. He nodded. It helped that he had jotted down some notes next to the photo, but I wasn’t about to say anything.

“Then I’d approach her and say ‘Mum, mum are you okay. Can you hear me?’ And if she doesn’t respond I’d tap her collarbone (I don’t know why this was what the manual recommended but they were very insistent that it was the best way to determine someone’s responsiveness). Does she respond?”

“Let’s say she doesn’t respond,”

“Okay then I’d then roll her over onto her back, using a log roll to protect her neck, so that I can check if she’s breathing. Is she breathing?”

“Wait, wait you forgot to ask permission,” Simon said, “You always have to ask permission otherwise they can sue you.”

“But this is my mum,” I said, “Surely I can assume -”

“Uh, uh, uh. Practice it anyway,”

“Alright. I’d say, ‘Hi my name is Flora and I am an Emergency First Responder, can I please help you?’ But because she’s unresponsive I would assume she says yes, because this is implied consent. Then I’d log-roll her over, open her airways and check for breathing. Is she breathing?”


“So I call emergency services and tell them everything that happened. Then I give her two long, slow rescue breaths and begin chest compressions. I do 30 of them, followed by two breaths and then another 30, aiming to do the compressions at a rate of 100-120 per minute. I keep that going until the ambulance arrives,”

“And if she starts breathing?”

“I stop CPR and check her for injuries. If she seems okay I’ll put her in the recovery position and monitor her but if she has injured herself I’ll leave her in place and treat those as required.” I look up at Simon to see if I’ve missed anything.

“Well done. I think you got it all,” he said. “Now let’s get Yael,”

Yael kindly pretended to be unconscious in a variety of different situations to allow me to practice my new First Aid and Emergency Rescue knowledge.

We tried not to laugh, but it was quite difficult, especially when Simon recommended fishing a drowning Yael out of a swimming pool using one of those cleaning nets on the end of a stick. But after practicing the scenarios, finally I was done. Simon signed my exam, we filled out some forms and I was qualified. I thanked Simon and he left, leaving me to finally go in the sea for my snorkel.

And whilst it was not the way I had originally hoped to spend my Sunday, it actually feels really cool to know what to do in an emergency. I really think that these are skills are something that everyone should have.

You never know when something could go wrong and you really can make the difference between saving or losing a life.

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