x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Don't waste another minute: learn first aid

Putting off learning how to save a life could be the worst decision any of us ever make.

Six months ago tomorrow, a very dear friend died in front of me. We were at a concert with a group of mates, and he was having the time of his life. Prince had played a cracking gig and Basement Jaxx were thumping out some old classics. My friend was talking and laughing and dancing with me, and then suddenly he wasn't. He just dropped to the floor. There was no warning, no clutching of arm or chest, no cry of pain. I don't think he ever knew anything had happened. He was 37 years old.

My two friends and I were on him in seconds, yelling for an ambulance and instinctively pushing him into what we vaguely remembered from our long-ago first aid classes at school as "the recovery position", holding his head until a folded coat could be found to support him.

That's what I think we did, anyway. Apart from the small vignettes that my memory provides, those moments are a blur of fear and panic.

Other people came to help - bar staff, punters, police - and someone said he was breathing and had a heartbeat, and when the ambulance arrived I remember them starting CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation).

That could have been seconds or minutes later; even now I have no idea. What I do know is this: I was there, but I was helpless, relying on other people to act, able to do nothing useful until I clutched his hand and shouted his name as the paramedics tried to resuscitate him on the way to the field hospital.

As I was reminded that night, death is no respecter of age or class or circumstance: it could be anyone, any time, and if there's even the smallest chance that in the future I can help get someone as far as the defibrillator - their best chance of recovering a heartbeat - then I refuse to be the person who hasn't made the effort to learn how.

So the day after the funeral, in London, I took a Red Cross first aid class, and I have urged everyone I know to do the same. Our company has since arranged First Aid at Work classes for interested employees.

Being a trained first aider is one of those things I'd always meant to get around to one day, when I could find the very few hours every couple of years that it takes to learn and refresh those skills.

Better late than never, I suppose.

First aid is not a guaranteed life saver, and we will never know if it would have helped my friend. But if a child chokes on a sweet in front of you, or a family member or stranger suffers a heart attack and collapses in a mall, do you really want to shrug and hope someone else knows how to clear their airway and keep the blood circulating through their bodies, when your own quick, simple intervention might - and, of course, only might - make the difference between them walking away alive and never breathing again?

A few days after my friend died, I told someone about a recurring feeling that I continue to experience even now: that for one night, the world had given me something incredibly precious to take care of, and somehow I allowed it to slip from my grasp. I intend to make sure I'm never that careless again.

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