Thursday, September 15, 2011

First-aid and how

"What will you do if your father suddenly drops down to the floor?" Looking at the blank expression on the factory workers' faces, Dr Jagdish Paralikar, puts forth his question again. We shift uncomfortably in our seats. "Check the pulse," someone says. "And show me how you will do that?" The respondent walks towards the volunteer 'patient'. "This way?" The workers cheer. Dr Paralikar shakes his head. "Wouldn't you try to wake the person up and check if he's breathing?"

Holding two fingers to his nostril, he demonstrates how you check whether a person is breathing or not. Human beings have two nostrils. And I had believed that we use both together to breathe in and breathe out. It's only when I held  my two fingers to my nostril, I realised that I breathe in more often through the left than the right. Nearly 85 per cent of humans breathe from one nostril at a time. The pattern of switching from breathing out of one nostril to the other happens in a cyclical fashion, with about four hours (depending on your body position and nasal congestion) or so between each switch typically. German nose specialist, Richard Kayser in 1895 discovered that this 'nasal cycle' was caused by the swelling of an erectile tissue swells up and blocks one nostril while in the other nostril, it contracts and opens it up for breathing. If you're normal, you will most likely be breathing in more through your left nostril. If you're diabetic, it may be more significantly, your right. So if your father drops to the floor, you will check whether he is breathing in through his left nostril.

I turn to my right towards the members of the Young Indians (Yi) wing of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) who have organised this first-aid seminar for the workers of Innovative Tyres and Tubes Ltd (a tyre-manufacturing company) at Halol (40 km from Vadodara). "Probably, we should get him (Dr Paralikar) to do one for corporates, schools, or just educated folks. I doubt how many people really know this," I tell Anish Patel, chair, Yi Vadodara. "Yes, of course. He's good."

"If a person has 105°F, there's no point of wasting your time by applying cold packs to his forehead and feet. Even a Combiflam won't work. Just take him/her to the bathroom and pour cold water over him or her for 10 minutes. The temperature will come down." Dr Paralikar repeats this thrice, while some workers take notes. They've been very attentive for these two hours, listening to causes, symptoms and first-aid treatments of injuries (internal and external), heart attacks, burns and snake-bites. They are fascinated when the doctor demonstrates how to use an Ambu resuscitation kit. And while they shy away from asking questions, they make sure they understand what is being said, for it could give them new life some day. I have had difficulty getting university students to sit still in classroom for half an hour and listen to the lecture with this kind of attention. Probably that's what education does to you, especially if you are granted one. You think you know what you should know. I realise that now. I am a journalist. I write on health. I studied biology. And I learnt about first-aid in school. I thought I knew everything there is to know about first-aid, but now I know I was wrong.

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