We all hope it will never happen to us, but unfortunately accidents and traumatic events are a reality.

Knowing how to react in times of trouble can sometimes mean the difference between life and death.

What to do if someone has overdosed

If you suspect someone may have overdosed, immediately call for real help, real fast on 084 124. “Be sure to convey as much information as you can, including the location, the individual's condition, and the substance they may have overdosed on,” says Brian Allchin, ER24 branch manager of Pretoria and Midstream. “Quick medical assistance can be crucial in saving a life.”

Common signs of drug overdose include:

  • Unconsciousness or extreme confusion.
  • Slow or irregular breathing.
  • Bluish or pale skin, lips, or fingertips.
  • Vomiting or gurgling sounds.
  • Seizures or muscle twitches.

While waiting for emergency responders, try to keep the person calm and reassure them help is on the way. Make sure they are lying on their side to ensure their airway remains open. Never leave someone alone if you think they have overdosed, especially if they are unconscious. “Monitor their breathing and condition closely,” says Brian. “If their breathing stops, be prepared to perform CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) if you are trained to do so.” Do not try to force the person to vomit, as this could worsen the situation. “Remember, every second counts and your quick actions can make all the difference,” says Brian. “By recognising the symptoms of a drug overdose, calling ER24 on 084 124 for emergency medical assistance, and staying with the person until help arrives, you can play a crucial role in saving a life.”

What to do if someone threatens suicide

Looking out for a friend or loved one is an important part of preventing suicides. In South Africa there are 23 suicides a day recorded and 230 serious attempts. If someone you care about is struggling with suicidal thoughts, avoid dismissing their feelings or telling them to ‘snap out of it.’ “Suicidal thoughts are a sign of intense emotional distress,” says Tammy Dicks, Trauma Support Co-Ordinator ER24. “It's essential to validate the sufferer’s emotions and to take their pain seriously.”

Focus on being an empathetic and non-judgmental listener. Encourage them to share their thoughts, without giving advice or offering solutions. Do not debate whether suicide is right or wrong, or whether their feelings are good or bad. Instead, get involved. Become available. Show interest and support and do not be sworn to secrecy.
If the person reveals a detailed plan for harming themselves, seek professional help immediately. “Offer to assist them in finding a therapist, counsellor, or psychiatrist who can provide the appropriate treatment and support,” says Tammy. “If they are in immediate danger of hurting themselves, call 084 124 or get them to the nearest Mediclinic Emergency Centre.” Remember, the crisis is not over once the immediate risk is gone. “Maintain regular contact with the person to let them know you care,” says Tammy. “Staying connected can provide a vital lifeline.”

What to do at a car accident scene

If you drive regularly, chances are you have either witnessed a motor vehicle accident or been on the scene of a crash or fender bender. While it is easy to panic, or choose not to get involved, your assistance could make a significant difference to the victims of the collision. Stop, stay calm, keep a clear head, and take a few deep breaths. This is the single most important thing you can do. Emotions often run high at the scene of an accident and remaining cool, calm, and collected could save lives.

Assess the scene from all angles before proceeding. Figure out if anything, such as oncoming traffic, broken powerlines, oil slicks and fire, will affect your ability to deal with the victims safely.

Ascertain the nature and extent of injuries sustained by the people involved. Call ER24 on 084 124 for emergency medical assistance if necessary, and while waiting for help to arrive, ensure airways are clear and assess breathing. If necessary, perform CPR. For heavy bleeding, use gauze or sterile dressings to apply direct pressure. “If you know nothing about first aid, don't do anything that might aggravate an injury,” says Brian. “Rather keep the person calm and assure them help is on the way.”

Never move an injured person unless you must get them to a safer place. They could have broken bones or internal injuries that could be made worse with movement. If there are children at the scene, ensure they are supervised and comforted. Unless you are obliged to go for help, remain at the scene until police or emergency services say you can leave.