If you can, run. Ditch your shoes and your phone and your purse and just run.
Wait. There’s someone on the ground needing help? Someone bleeding?
Apply direct pressure. A clean towel will be too much to hope for, so use your bare hands.
Do you have any idea how hard you should press on their wound? Probably not. According to Harvard University’s Medical School’s protocol, the right answer is you press as hard as you can for as long as you can.
This is likely to hurt the person you’re trying to help, but so what. People don’t die from pain; they die from blood loss. Tell them it will be okay. Even if you don’t think it will be.
Anyone can perform this kind of lifesaving emergency care. You can do it. I can do it. People dancing in nightclubs, kids practicing for spelling bees in elementary schools, newlyweds cheering at outdoor concerts, and grandmothers singing hymns in churches can do this. Have done this.
If pressure doesn’t stop the bleeding, make a tourniquet. Doing this right is more difficult than applying direct pressure, but you can do it if you have to. Tourniquets only work on an arm wound or a leg wound. Use a shirt, or a scarf, or a belt. An inch or two above the wound and tie it tight. Tighter than you think you have to. The National Center for Biotechnology Information says it is better to tie a tourniquet too tight than not tight enough.
You’re just trying to buy them some time until the ambulance and the EMS people get there.
Pause. Take stock of what’s happening. Let your senses catch up. Telling yourself not to panic is counterintuitive when panic is a natural response. Instead, resolve to postpone your panic. Tell yourself you’ll act rationally now, and panic later. Put your adrenaline to good use.
According to the U.S. Marine Corp., a 140-pound person of average height can carry a 200-pound 6-footer for a long while by using the proper technique. To carry someone away from danger, take ahold of their shoulders, or their shirt, or lock your arms under their shoulders, and walk backwards, dragging them out of harm’s way. Use the strength in your legs.
Get behind a wall, or a heavy door, or a piece of heavy machinery. Stay low. Shock is not just something actors talk about on medical dramas. According to the Mayo Clinic, shock is when not enough blood is getting to vital organs. You can die from shock, and so can the person you’re trying to help. Lay them down, elevate their feet, loosen any tight clothing, and keep them still.
Know that you’ve done everything you can. If you are a person who prays, do that.
And then make a promise.
From now on, you’ll make it your habit to be aware of your surroundings. To know a venue’s layout. To note where the exits are. To look at the evacuation plan posted on the wall. And to pay attention to an intuitive “twinge.” Professional personal security people call this habit “advancing.”
I once pledged to use this column to examine everyday problems and suggest solutions. Like limiting tele-marketers and identifying email scams. I did not expect to explain how to use a tourniquet, but that’s the world we live in now.