Q&A's about First Aid emergencies

Linda Buys, author of The illustrated South African first aid manual.
Linda Buys, author of The illustrated South African first aid manual.

Linda Buys, the author of The Illustrated South African First Aid Manual, is a qualified nurse with 19 years in the profession, mostly in health settings. She also owned a First Aid Training Company for 4 years, focusing predominantly on the training of first aiders in industrial settings.

She now resides on a small farm in New Zealand with her husband and three daughters.

Q&A with Linda Buys:

1. What are the most common first aid emergencies in South Africa?

When you search online for statistics it is easy to find the most common causes of injury-related mortality rates, but I could not find any statistics related to the most common first aid emergencies not leading to death in South Africa.

In my experience I would say that the most common first aid emergencies are (in order of importance), unintentional injuries like minor cuts and lacerations, foreign objects in fingers and feet, muscle sprains, strains and cramps, low blood sugar emergencies, burn wounds, chemicals or foreign objects in the eye, poisoning of some sorts  and asthma attacks.

These are the kind of injuries we deal with on a day-to-day basis.

Read: The doctor's way to treat a minor burn

2. Has the nature of first aid emergencies changed over the last decade, and if so how?

There have been changes in certain groups. Children and young people for example are physically much less active than before. This means that they are less at risk of injuring themselves, but unfortunately this inactivity can cause its own set of chronic problems.

As a result of occupational health legislation, which has increased the focus on the prevention of injuries, there has been a decline in injuries among employees in industrial settings.

3. Do you have any unusual first aid tips, like a ‘boereraat’, that actually work and are medically sound?

There are two "boererate" that I believe really work, as we as a family have used them many times with success. Colloidal silver spray works wonders on all cuts, burns (after initial treatment with Burnshield), for eye injuries, eye infections, throat 'burns', and  tonsillitis.

And Vicks works for earache, a "deaf" feeling in the ear, and to help remove ear wax, or to smother insects in the ear. And with regards to burn wounds, the best tip I can give is the sooner you start to rinse the area with cold water, the better the outcome will be.

Read: How to treat burns with a first aid kit

4. When does an emergency tip over from being manageable yourself with first aid to becoming something a medical person should handle? Please give an example of seemingly harmless ‘emergencies’ that need to be treated by a medical professional.

To know at what stage one should seek medical help can be quite challenging. I would suggest that the moment you feel inadequate and insecure when treating a patient, you can always make a phone call to a medical officer, even if it is just your pharmacist or your doctor's consulting rooms, for advice.

There are some seemingly harmless emergencies that require professional medical attention because of the risk of complications:

  • Burns on the hands and feet that can cause contractures if not properly treated.
  • Bumps on the head as there is a risk of brain injury.
  • Chemical burns, that do not look severe straight away, but worsen with time.
  • Chemical spills into the eye, that do not only need to be rinsed for at least 20 minutes, but always need urgent medical attention (from an eye clinic if possible) after rinsing, to prevent permanent scarring of the cornea.

5. What’s the most dramatic emergency you have ever had to deal with?

As an Occupational Health Nurse, I dealt with first aid emergencies on a daily basis (almost all caused by human error):

  • There was a guy standing on a stack of crates, working with a grinder on the roof, when the stack collapsed, and while he was falling, the grinder cut the main artery in his groin.
  • Then there was the lady who turned an urn with boiling water over onto herself.
  • I also remember the guy who got a static epileptic seizure inside a public toilet, somehow manoeuvring his neck under the door. We found him in a coma lying with his head outside the door and his body inside the toilet cubicle. The fire brigade had to cut the door to get him out.
  • Or the guy who walked past a huge shed door, when the door came off its rails and fell right on top of him.
  • But the most dramatic emergency happened to a cleaner who had just finished cleaning the outside of a huge tank with some form of acid. Rather than climbing down the ladder, he decided it would be much more fun to slide down the tank. He did manage to make a fast descent, but in the process the acid on the surface of the tank ate away most of his pants and most of the skin on a very tender spot. He was yelling all the way from the tank to the clinic.


Read: First aid in the workplace

6. What would you pack in your emergency kit if you went on a road trip across South Africa, and why?

The most important things in my first aid kit are a First Aid Book with instructions, an asthma pump (not for own use but in case some stranger might need it), colloidal silver spray and Vicks (for reasons explained above), Burnshield,  and some "second skin". Then of course all the rest, like the bandages, plasters and splints.

7. We think the book would be a great cellphone app – any chance of this ever happening?

I think so too. I think this is a decision for Struik Lifestyle (an imprint of Penguin Random House SA) to make.

Read more:

First aid for gunshot wounds

First aid for bluebottle stings

First aid for heat exhaustion

Image supplied

Illustrations © James Berrangé/Penguin Random House (Pty) Ltd 2015

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