Saving a life - safely

Keeping yourself safe on the roads is one thing.

What happens if you spot skid marks and an oil trail left by a wrecked motorcycle on the side of the road?

You see an injured rider lying a few metres from his motorbike. Instinct tells you to rush to his aid.

What you do next is critical.

While the aim is to save a life, Dr Ganesh Ramalingam, a consultant general and trauma surgeon in private practice with PanAsia Surgery Group, says that the first responder needs to be aware of his surroundings and the steps taken during this critical period.

Scene safety

Dial 995 immediately and state your location. The faster the victim is seen by medical professionals, the better the chances of survival.

If passers-by offer help, take charge by delegating duties like crowd control or stopping the bleeding.

Dangers like a busy expressway or poor visibility can hamper rescue work. Make sure there's a buffer between the traffic and you.

Stay visible by placing cones or switching on your vehicle's hazard lights to alert oncoming traffic.

Do not try moving the casualty unless he is in harm's way. Says Dr Ganesh:"Try your best to move him as a 'block'. Enlist the help of others. If you're alone, do a drag."

Not all unconscious riders need cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). Dr Ganesh says: "Only start CPR if there are no signs of life and no spontaneous breathing regardless of cracked ribs. Applying CPR for accident victims is rarely beneficial."

If the injured biker is conscious, reassure him that help is arriving.

Do not remove his helmet or move his neck unless absolutely necessary.

All bleeding should be managed with direct pressure. If possible, ask the casualty to apply direct pressure with their fingers or hand. This will give them something to do, and leave you free to get a bandage.

From Dr Ganesh's experience, the most common injuries among bikers are fractures and abrasions. The more severe cases include head and neck followed by abdomen and chest injuries.

Help prevent more injury

Better riding equipment and road safety awareness can help reduce biker injuries.

Says Dr Ganesh: "The number (of motorcycle accident victims) varies day to day, but the rainy season always brings a surge in these accidents (although it may not mean that the severity is worse).

Giving the heart a kick-start

If you need to administer CPR, it need not be at a traffic accident. Maybe the victims have suffered a heart attack. What do you do?

Step 1

Call 995 and relay your location to the paramedics.

Step 2

Give the victim a clear airway by lifting his chin and carefully tilting his head back. Ensure there's nothing lodged in the victim's mouth.

Step 3

Check vital signs by feeling for a pulse. Next, lean in to the person's mouth and check for normal breathing. Look for the "rise and fall" of the victim's chest during normal breathing. If none of these signs exist, start cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

Step 4

In the UK and US, hands-only CPR is being recommended. This means no kiss of life. Put the heel of your hand on the victim's sternum which is the spot where your ribs meet in the middle.

Step 5

Place your other hand on top and interlace the fingers. Straighten both elbows and lock them in position.

Step 6

Use your body weight to compress the victim's chest by 5cm.

Perform chest compressions at a rate of at least 100 per minute. The recommendation is to do this to the tune of Stayin' Alive by the Bee Gees, which has about 100 beats per minute.

Continue CPR till the ambulance arrives.

So much for the cavalry

My mind was racing as I parked my motorcycle and rushed to help. It was early morning and just metres behind me was a gruesome accident scene.

The damaged motorcycle was spewing petrol from its cracked fuel tank. The rider strained to get up while his pillion, a young woman, was hardly moving.

I desperately tried to recall my CPR training as I ran to the scene - less than 50m from Cathay cinema.

It had been many years since I first learnt CPR in national service. Did the "kiss" come before the chest compressions? Luckily, my life-saving skills were not required.

I could hear the woman, who was on her side, moaning in pain. I quickly realised why she couldn't move - all the skin on her palms, knees, elbows and chin were "white" and raw.

Her shorts were in tatters while her flip-flops had disintegrated. Blood was starting to emerge from her exposed flesh. Thankfully, it had been a slow fall. She said she was "okay" but found it too painful to move.

Then it struck me. In my haste to help, I had forgotten to call the ambulance.

I turned to the boyfriend who was picking up pieces of his shattered motorcycle from the road.

It seemed that his motorcycle was more important than his passenger. I put this down to shock.

I needed him to focus. So I shouted at him to call for an ambulance and to warn oncoming vehicles of the crash.

He gave a thumbs up and as soon as I saw him on his mobile phone, I refocused my attention on the woman. She sat up on her own but the passing cars were getting too close.

Not that any bothered to stop. Looking back, it's disappointing. At the time it was frustrating if not infuriating.

Moving her onto the grass verge I looked down at her feet. They were a bloody mess. Most of her toe nails were missing. It was as though somebody had put her feet into a grater.

To stop the bleeding, I tore a spare Tshirt I had in my bag into strips. Before long, the ripped pieces of shirt became soaked with blood.

I assured her that help was on the way. But when "help" arrived 10 minutes later, it wasn't what I had expected.

The "flashing" red lights - which I had mistaken for an ambulance - turned out to be a convoy of six small motorcycles, some fitted with tinted blue and red headlights.

The injured rider had called his mates instead of an ambulance. I wasn't sure if this was arrogance or shock.

Incredibly, some of them then helped the injured woman onto the passenger seat of a motorcycle. Without footwear, she moved gingerly with her hands in front of her.

The smashed motorcycle was dumped at a nearby parking lot.

My strongly worded advice about getting the injured woman some medical help was ignored by the group. I didn't get her name but I remembered she apologised for ruining my T-shirt. An apology, but no thanks.

It wasn't how helping a crash victim should go. Yet, despite the frustrations, I would still help any injured motorist.

Should my time come and I lie injured on the road, I hope there would be somebody willing to shred his T-shirt to save my life.


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