The Importance of Knowing First Aid

No one is completely protected from spontaneous events like strokes, cardiac arrest, or accidents in general. This fact alone makes it extremely important that everyone should be required to have a basic understanding of how to react in a situation to save someone’s life before it's too late. Regardless of if you want to be a doctor or not, a CPR and First Aid certificate are never bad to consider.

Many people are afraid to perform first-aid because they fear that they will do more harm to the person than good. However, in Canada, there is a law called the “Good Samaritan Act” which protects people from any liabilities caused by their actions. It was put in place for the purpose of encouraging people to do what they can to help someone in an emergency. What is important to remember is that if the situation will threaten or endanger your own life, the responder is not obligated to step up and it would be better for a professional to handle it. For instance, if there is a fire in the area, it would be best to keep yourself safe first.

This blog post will only summarize the very basic principles of general First Aid procedures, as there are many different issues that need to be addressed differently, with proper steps and factors to consider.


You’re eating lunch at school with your friends, and you tell a really funny joke that makes the whole table laugh with uncontrollable laughter. Suddenly, one of your friends accidentally takes a bite of food at the wrong time and starts coughing super hard and grabs their throat with their hands in panic, not being able to breathe. What do you do?

The first step is to gain consent and ask the person “Can I help you?” It may seem ridiculous to ask since the person is clearly in distress, however, permission is necessary since the person is conscious. If they are unconscious, however, consent is implied and asking permission is not needed. The next step is to encourage the person to keep coughing if they can speak. In many cases, the object tends to leave the airway by the force of the cough itself. If this does not work, quickly proceed to perform the Heimlich Maneuver. This is when you alternate between 5 back blows and 5 abdominal thrusts. Place one arm across the chest, bend the person forward and use the bottom of your hand to essentially hit their back in between their shoulder blade, five times. After the back blows, take both of your arms and place your fists above the person’s belly button and push upwards on their abdomen. Do this five times as well, and alternate between these movements until the object is removed from the throat. If the choking still persists, call 911.

Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR)

While choking is just one of the possible First-Aid scenarios that can occur whilst a person is conscious, CPR is the go-to procedure for anyone that is unconscious regardless of what happened to them. CPR is not a permanent solution, it only buys time for someone by circulating the blood to the brain and the body.

Firstly, when you approach a person that is lying on the ground, assess your surroundings. Repeat this saying while you circle around the person observing any hazards: “no fire, no wire, no gas, no glass, no drugs, no thugs” If you see any of these mentioned, it is best that you stay out of any harm’s way. If none of these are present, continue the assessment. The first and most important step is to call 911 to make sure that help is called for as soon as possible. Next, check the ABCs, which stand for airway, breathing, and circulation. To check if the airway is clear, tilt the head back so that their tongue does not block the airway. B is for breathing, so in that position try and hear for their breath, and observe any changes in their stomach to see if their abdomen is moving up and down. The last step is to check for a pulse, take the person’s wrist, palm up and use two fingers to go down their thumb and feel for a heartbeat in their forearm.

If all of these signs are present, it is a great sign and you are ready to begin CPR. If you have another person with you, this will be easier as several rounds of CPR may need to be performed and it can get tiring. If there is any possible access to a defibrillator, make sure you get that as well, and instructions are provided in the kit. To perform the chest compressions, take your hands and place one on top of the other, and press down with the bottom of your palms just below the sternum. Keep thrusting to the tune of “Stayin’ Alive” for about 30 seconds. This follow-up step is not absolutely necessary, but it will definitely help. If there is someone else with you, keep the compressions going while you tilt their airway back and do mouth-to-mouth resuscitation by blowing air into the airway. This can also be done with a thin cloth/film over the person’s mouth. Keep doing 30-second rounds of CPR until the ambulance arrives.

While this is just an outline of common first-aid issues, it is highly encouraged to take a CPR course that is always offered in recreation centres, and many other municipal locations. These certification courses will provide in-depth training for many other issues like bleeding, poisoning, and broken bones. At the end of the day, you surely would wish that if something happened to you, you wouldn’t want everyone to be clueless!

About the Writer: Iffah Shaikh is currently in her first year at McMaster University, enrolled in the Bachelor of Health Sciences program. She lives in Cambridge, ON, but grew up in Oakville and Milton. She aspires to go to medical school, and become an ER doctor or a specialist of some sort in the future. Her past-times are going outside and playing sports or bike riding, watching Netflix, reading books, and making videos and memes of her friends. Some new hobbies she wants to try include trying out new makeup looks, cooking new dishes, and drawing.

Ontario Youth Medical Society is a student-led, non-profit organization focused on educating youth and making a difference in medicine.