Knowing when to call for help when your child gets hurt or ill

Will a four-hour first aid course make me useful in a family crisis?


How many times has this happened? You wake in the night to a child crying with a temperature. You check for a rash, you gauge their responses as best you can. You wish you knew more. Should you call the doctor or not?

The next day your eight-year-old stunt rider rolls into the kitchen, bleeding from a cut to the head he suffered after attempting to jump over his two sisters on his BMX from a ramp he fashioned out of lino and pieces of discarded plyboard.

You examine the size of the gash and wish you had more than a dusty Band Aid and a bottle of Calpol in the emergency box. Again you wonder. Do you need to head to casualty and spend six hours there to be told he needs only a steri-strip?

Worse, your child collapses, unconscious, and you don’t know why. In a blind panic you ring for an ambulance, are assured one will be with you in a matter of minutes and you should try to remain calm while you wait.

But what can you do to help your child while you wait? How can you be expected to be calm if you feel helpless?
Paediatric course

To remedy that fear I attended a paediatric first aid course being offered by the Irish Red Cross. In advance I was told the four main modules to be covered by the four-hour basic course were: an introduction to paediatric first aid; CPR and choking in infants and children; treating burns and ingestion of poison; and dealing with medical conditions specific to infants.

Fantastic. Although my own two are no longer infants, dealing with their ailments when they were that age had frightened me more than anything else. I was looking forward to learning how to be at least partly capable in the face of the next illness or accident assault they would make on me. For once, I might be able to help.

Unfortunately, the course I attended was under-subscribed. Myself and Marie Scott, a former Naval Service member and mother of two girls, who seemed determined to show me up by having a fair idea what she was doing from the start, were the only two to report for duty with Kevin O’Donnell, a veteran volunteer with the Red Cross and a commercial first aid instructor.

“Only two,” he lamented, “Ah well, we’ll crash on. We’ll probably get through everything far quicker than we usually do.”

There he was wrong. Probably the only major flaw in the course is that it tries to cover more than is feasible in a mere four hours. We spent so much time getting to grips with treating burns, recognising the different types of burns, removing blockages obstructing airways, and performing CPR on infants and children, that we didn’t get to discuss particular illnesses kids and infants are prone to. By that, I mean febrile convulsions, mumps and recognising symptoms of meningitis.

In reality, to cover the whole content we would have needed at least a full day.

However, I can now be called on to offer help in certain emergencies. I know never to apply soap or fat to a burn, and that I should allow a burn to blister and not puncture that blister. I can recognise the difference between a partial and total obstruction when a child is choking. I can perform a couple of moves (back blows and abdominal thrusts) to remove the offending blockage.

I also know, and this I think is crucial, that those thrusts and blows need to be pretty vigorous. There’s no point in worrying about bruising or a potential broken rib when the alternative might be the child’s death. You have to be careful and deliberate, but also confident in what you’re doing. All this O’Donnell got across to us in a succinct and entertaining manner.

Dialling 999
I also brought up my fear of phoning the ambulance service. How sick or injured should a child be before you dial 999? The health service is struggling, no parent wants to waste valuable, life-critical services for what might turn out to be a splinter in a finger.

His words: “You’re never wrong to call an ambulance. A parent knows when their child really is sick. If the thought crosses your mind that you may have to call emergency services, the chances are the situation is serious. Don’t be afraid, call for help.

“Be detailed and accurate in providing your information to the operator, and in the time you’re waiting, use the skills you’ve learned to make the child comfortable. It’s our job to help, so let us do that.”