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That terrifying moment when someone collapses

A friend told me the other day how her husband was sitting at the table and said he wasn’t feeling very well. Before she could reply he had collapsed, knocking over a chair next to him in his fall to the ground. There he lay unconscious but breathing.

Panic can easily set in; many of us may have attended various first aid courses throughout our lives, but when an emergency occurs much of that can go straight out of one’s head. If the person you are dealing with is also a close relation or friend, then emotion sets in as well and it can be very difficult indeed to deal properly with the incident in a cool and efficient manner.

When there is an emergency, getting help is of course key and nearly everyone these days has a mobile or landline to summon the emergency services through 999 or get advice from the NHS’s non emergency help line 111.

After that, if the person remains collapsed on the ground or floor, there are a number of steps to take to ensure you do the best for the casualty before professional help arrives.


Britain’s leading first aid charity St John Ambulance suggests following DRAB. This stands for:


First, check that the person is not in any immediate danger from where they have fallen. If it is in a public place, then call on others to help direct traffic or pedestrians around the area.

Call at the person, ask them if they can hear you, or instruct them to open their eyes or tell you their name. Gently shake their shoulders. If they respond, check for severe bleeding and other injuries but also check their breathing. Any problems with breathing, see below.

If the person does not respond, tilt their head back slightly; or put one hand on their forehead and, using two fingers, lift the chin gently. This is all to help open the airway.

If you can’t detect any breathing, then it is important to start CPR quickly…this stands for cardiopulmonary resuscitation.  Use both hands, one on top of the other, to push down firmly in the centre of the chest, pushing down about 5cms with each thrust. For people our age, think just under 2 inches…quite a big push but remember you are possibly saving a life; this is no time to be feeble.

Ideally get right over the person and push with your arms straight, using your own body weight to help with the push.

Push down twice a second. There is recently a trend to recommend doing CPR to the timing of the Bee Gees Staying Alive song…singing it to yourself Staying Alive, Staying Alive. If you get tired, hand over to someone else, it is important to keep going. 

If the person is breathing, then they need to be turned into the recovery position until help arrives. This means turning them onto their side, lifting the chin forward to open the airway.

Why not attend a short first aid course?

My friend’s husband had a minor problem and is now fine; but as we age sadly we are more likely to encounter health issues among the people we spend time with.

It is so important at least to be able to deal with the basics and there are lots of basic and refresher courses available.

Online videos and information sites on the web can be useful, but the very best way is to learn hands on from a professional. This will really help you remember what to do in a panic situation.

St John Ambulance run lots of courses including an Essential First Aid course. These are held all over the country and cost around £25 (around £30 with VAT) and cover the following:

  • Communication and casualty care
  • Looking after yourself and the casualty
  • Adult resuscitation
  • Treatment of choking in adults
  • Treatment of severe bleeding and chest pains
  • Treatment of an unconscious casualty.

The course lasts about two hours and quite a few of the courses also offer an additional defibrillator demonstration.

Find out more here.


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