10 Ways to Save a Life (and Be a Hero)

No Medical Equipment Needed

superhero family
You, too, can be a hero if you know how to save a life. Robert Daly / Getty Images

You, too, can be a hero. With a little help that is.

I'm not suggesting that you should plan to be a hero. It's not like you should wear your bikini briefs on the outside of your morphsuit and don a cape, but a little preparation wouldn't hurt.

No real hero ever sets out to be one. I mean, there are those who want to look heroic and might try hard to act the part. They're not heroes. The real heroes either put their own lives on the line to save another--sacrifice of the highest order--or do something outside their expertise in the heat of the moment to save a life.

I've heard folks refer to paramedics and EMT's as heroes. Some certainly are. I've known those (plenty, actually) who've set their own safety aside to help a stranger. Most of the time, though, we mitigate the dangers of the street through careful action and situational awareness. Even though it looks like we might be putting ourselves at risk, the risk is usually minimal.

The other way people become heroes is through acting outside their expertise to save lives. EMT's and paramedics save lives all the time. It's what we're trained to do. It might seem incredible, but we live for that stuff. We aren't being heroic when we bring someone back from the dead or help a child breathe easier. We are giddy with excitement at the chance to use the skills we spend so much time learning and so little time exercising.

We prepare for the worst case scenario. When it happens: we high-five each other, flip the lights on and rush to the call for help.

You can sort of do the same thing without all that pesky training. Just knowing what to do in an emergency makes you look decisive and commanding. Depending on whom you're trying to impress, you could get a date. Read on for ways to save lives--and alleviate suffering--without any special equipment and very little training.

Push Hard. Push Fast.

woman doing CPR on a man
CPR is the most important first aid technique. Ruth Jenkinson / Getty Images

CPR will always (at least as far in the future as I dare predict) be the definitive life-saving procedure. It's been around almost as long as Disneyland and has even been performed there.

If you want to save a life, this is the quintessential way to do it. It's not a guarantee (medically, there is no such thing) but it is amazing to be pushing on someone's chest that you know was dead just moments before and have them wake up. Don't be upset if they don't remember you later--unless it's your mom. Most of the time, folks don't remember the details around that time when their heart stopped and the nice lady at the beach started it up again.

I seriously, highly, mightily and as superfluously as possible encourage you to be trained in CPR tomorrow (today if there's time). In case you're staring at a lifeless form lying on his or her back right now and there's no time for a proper class: push hard on the middle of the chest as hard as you can to the beat of Stayin' Alive by the BeeGees. Sing it if you have to.

Deliver a Baby

Baby boy
Don't just save lives--start them. Rod Brouhard

Don't just save a life, bring it into the world!

The beauty of this one is that most of the time, you don't really do anything. I mean, in the vast majority of cases, the baby's coming out whether you help or not. All you have to do is not drop junior onto the nasty floor of the bus and you are truly a hero.

Fair warning: this one is messy.

Stop the Bleeding

One sure way to die is to let all your lifeforce (blood) leak out. Want to save a life? Plug the hole.

It's really that simple, by the way. There's a hole where blood is coming out--so you plug it with a clean cloth. It's under pressure in there, which means you have to push hard to prevent leaking. And hold it for a long time, like 20 minutes. You have to wait for the blood to get all gunky and stick in place.

Believe it or not, it's possible to die from a nosebleed. You think you're helping your elderly neighbor keep blood off the carpet, but in reality, you've saved a life!

If plugging the hole doesn't really work, you have a chance to really shine. Here you go; it's time to use a tourniquet.

Put on a Tourniquet

applying a tourniquet
Tourniquets are better than they used to be. Marco Di Lauro / Getty Images

Every once in a while, you have to go the extra mile if you want to be a hero. Unless you're going to run into the burning building to save the family cat (not recommended) or slide out onto the ice to pull a kid from the frozen lake (also not recommended), you'll have to find another way.

When bleeding is really bad and plugging the hole just isn't cutting it, you can take it a step further: a tourniquet. It used to be really frowned upon by the medical community when anybody other than a combat medic put on a tourniquet, but we've learned some things recently.

If done right, a tourniquet might actually save a life (and it looks really cool).

Whether done right or wrong, it probably won't hurt anyone as long as they get medical help right away.

Mouth to Mouth

woman preparing to give man mouth to mouth
One hand on the forehead and another on the chin to tilt the head back, pinch the nose and open the mouth. The Image Bank / Getty Images

Just like everything else, medical procedures go in and out of vogue. This one has almost disappeared thanks to Hands Only CPR.

Well, that and hepatitis C.

Don't be counting mouth to mouth down and out just yet. It's a valuable tool for folks who are breathing, but have a pulse (a still-beating heart). These are folks who don't need CPR but could borrow a few breaths. Heroin comes to mind. If you have a friend who is lying there not breathing with a needle in her arm, dripping with sweat and pupils that look like dots, chances are she needs a bit of mouth to mouth or it's curtains for sure.

Naloxone is also a good bet. Look around. Depending on where you live, it might be available for free and be sitting on her nightstand. A quick shot of that will wake her right up.

Folks who've nearly drowned can also use mouth to mouth. Important point: If you're not sure that they still have a beating heart, then just skip right to the CPR part.

Roll 'Em Over

woman putting man into recovery position
Roll them on their sides to help them not choke. Gary Ombler / Getty Images

Best friend bubble over at the Halloween party? If he's got a mouthful of puke, you can help him live to party another day by rolling him on his side and clearing out the vomit.

Don't you just love the word, "vomit"?

This one also requires a call for help. While you're waiting for the not-so-heroic paramedics to arrive, you can save the day by moving all the chips and clam dip out of the way. And the air can go in and out some more.

The Heimlich Maneuver

heimlich maneuver
For older kids and adults, it's the Heimlich maneuver. Steve Gorton/Getty Images

Disclaimer: I was once contacted by Dr. Heimlich's son (more than once, actually) and he pointed out that the Heimlich maneuver doesn't have a lot of evidence to support that it really works.

He's kind of angry about it.

I agree with him about the sketchy research, but "save a choking patient" just doesn't sound as cool. Everybody knows what the Heimlich maneuver is, even if they don't know how to do it.

The truth is: when it comes to choking, all bets are off. Get the offending sirloin out of your date's airway any way that you can. Back blows (hitting someone on the back when he's choking) were out of favor for a while, but they're...wait for it...back now.

I crack myself up.

Give a Shot of Epinephrine

Automatic injector syringes are used to administer epinephrine to victims of anaphylaxis. © 2005 GSM

I know I said there was "no medical equipment needed," but this doesn't count. You're not expected to bring this particular drug to the party. This one is supplied by the dying patient.
She just might not be able to administer it to herself.

That's where you come in.

Epinephrine is a wonder drug for severe allergies. When somebody's throat is closing up because nobody told her there were walnuts in the appetizer, you want to be the one who knows how to use her epi-pen. You might even impress her, if you act before she goes completely unconscious. Otherwise, she probably won't remember a thing.

Pour a Glass of Orange Juice

Orange Juice
Orange juice is perfect for diabetics. Alex and Laila / Getty Images

Got a friend with diabetes? Next time he starts drooling at his desk and seems to be muttering nonsense: give him sugar. Orange juice is a great option. It has plenty of sugar and won't clump together in his throat like plain, white, granulated sugar will. That would choke him to death.

And the Heimlich won't do squat for that.

Diabetes is a condition that leads to really high sugar in the blood when it's not treated. It sounds weird to give that guy sugar, but once people start getting treated for their diabetes, low blood sugar is much more common--and more deadly.

So, orange juice and hold the vodka. Once your buddy stops drooling on his desk, he'll thank you.

Call 911

An ambulance responding
There's no shame in calling for help.

Okay, I know: this one sounds a little anti-climactic. The idea is to be the lifesaver, not call them.

Trust me.

You be the one who takes command of the situation. When the rest of the crowd is gasping at the carnage in front of them, calmly pull out your cell phone and ring up the local emergency services. Announce it with something confident, like, "Don't worry, folks. I'm calling the authorities."

It's not as easy as it sounds, especially with that cell phone. You're probably going to talk to more than one person and likely at more than one call center. You'll answer the same questions several times. If you expect it and don't get frustrated, you'll still look heroic and commanding. That should be enough to impress.

On the other hand, if you start crying or screaming into the phone, you'll look less than in charge and you might not get help very fast.

Continue Reading