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My usual ride to the university each morning involves surfing through radio channels while I am half asleep. But this last Friday was different. I witnessed a traffic accident that jerked me out of my slumber and onto the road.

We had crossed the Khaliq-uz-Zaman Road ahead of the Pearl Continental signal when I noticed a bottleneck of traffic.

As we drove past it, I saw a bike fallen on the road and a crowd of around 15 to 20 onlookers. Right next to the bike was a middle-aged man lying on his stomach, bleeding from his head.

I felt a rush of adrenaline. I am a medical student, but this was the first time it felt like someone’s life actually depended on my actions. I buttoned up my white lab coat and got out of the car to respond to the motorcyclist who had been in a Road Traffic Accident (RTA).

As soon as I walked into the crowd, the first thing I asked was if anyone had called an ambulance. After two people said that they had made calls, I proceeded towards the casualty. I sat beside him to check if he was conscious and breathing. I called out to him.

He was drowsy but conscious.

I asked the bystanders what happened. According to the crowd, it was a case of hit and run.

The motorcyclist had collided with a car and slipped along with his bike. Unfortunately, like most bikers in this city, he was not wearing a helmet which resulted in the apparent head injury.

Meanwhile, I identified the source of bleeding on the motorcyclist’s head and asked bystanders for a cloth. With the cloth, I applied pressure to the wound to control the bleeding. At the same time, I kept reassuring the gentleman that an ambulance was on its way.

Unaware of his surroundings, he seemed exasperated and tried to get up every few seconds.

A first aid workshop in IBA, organised by the First Response Initiative of Pakistan, for students to learn basic trauma-intervention skills –– Photo: FRIP
A first aid workshop in IBA, organised by the First Response Initiative of Pakistan, for students to learn basic trauma-intervention skills –– Photo: FRIP

I told him he had been in an accident and that he needed to lie straight and not move as it could aggravate the injury. Even though onlookers insisted on turning him around, I decided not to move him, as I feared movement may cause spinal injury.

At the same time, to my surprise, a traffic policeman intervened and started arguing with me to shift the injured man into a rickshaw and take him to the hospital. He was persistent, apparently, because he wanted to manage the traffic better. I stood my ground, insisting on waiting for the ambulance.

Despite my best efforts, the policeman tried to pick up the injured man, until the crowd stopped him. Fortunately, the ambulance arrived within moments, and the man was shifted to the vehicle and taken to a hospital.

The episode made me realise the significance of first aid training and how important it is to apply skills in an emergency situation. This particular event was also a reminder of the absolute need for wearing helmets. Head injuries can be avoided simply by wearing a helmet.

What was most alarming was that the city’s traffic police appeared totally oblivious to first aid and response in RTAs. They need to be aware of the importance of the crucial minutes right after an accident and how their mishandling can aggravate the injury, cause paralysis, if not death, in a casualty. If untrained, they should instead call for help and divert the traffic rather than interfering and worsening the casualty’s condition.

In the United States, a basic hands-on training through Basic Life Support certification or completion of several hours of first aid training, varying from state to state, is a minimal requirement for police and security officers.

As a result of this, on Nov 25, 2016 two New Jersey police officers performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) on an unconscious 80-year-old man, and succeeded in reviving him till the paramedics arrived.

Students being taught how to intervene in case of a road accident –– Photo: FRIP
Students being taught how to intervene in case of a road accident –– Photo: FRIP

In Pakistan, the National Highway and Motorway Police have been trained in this regard. In April 2014, the First Response Initiative of Pakistan conducted a First Responder and Emergency Trauma Care session for 32 police instructors from three police training centres in Sindh. The course material was given to the instructors who were required to replicate the training for all police trainees. A year later, sessions under First Aid Responder Course were held in Islamabad.

However, we are yet to see traffic policemen responding to the emergency situations in the field. According to Pakistan Red Crescent-Sindh, on Oct 6, 2016 Sindh Traffic Police signed a Memorandum of Understanding with them to serve as First Aid Responders in emergency situations.

However, no follow up reports are available on the implementation of these courses. As imperative as it is to learn these basic lifesaving skills, frequent revision and knowledge of the up-to-date techniques is also vital. Thus, review workshops and courses need to be scheduled accordingly after the first basic hands-on training session.

I urge everyone reading this to learn first aid skills. There needs to be training for people on a wide scale, from schools, hospitals, universities to corporations. I would suggest starting at home: ask your family and friends to focus on prevention.

My intervention that day earned me a lot of respect from the crowd but the reality is that the state, which is responsible for public services, should take up its duties.

One way to do that is to equip police officers with these basic skills. They are deputed on the roads day and night and their training in these matters could literally save someone's life.

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