‘Never Too Early For First Aid Training!’ Dr Shubhangi Tambwekar, Pathologist & First Aid Trainer

First aid training can equip you to save precious lives, and doesn't require a science background, says Dr Shubhangi. #WorldFirstAidDay


“I think everybody can save lives and it is never too early to start!” – Dr. Shubhangi Tambwekar, pathologist and first aid trainer, says about first aid training which anyone and everyone can take. She tells us about the importance of first aid, for #WorldFirstAidDay on 10th September.

Do you know what to do when you come upon a road accident? Or how to help someone who has been electrocuted? Do you know what immediate steps to take when your child has a heat stroke, a bee or wasp bite? Not many Indians do. So often when there’s an accident there are scores of bystanders who disappear when action has to be taken. However, simple first aid training can lead to you saving someone’s life .

The tragic passing away of Cyrus Mistry and Jehangir Pandole and the severe injury of other passengers in a car accident on August 4, 2022, once again brings to focus Indian road safety and the importance of first aid.

Dr. Shubhangi Tambwekar, a pathologist by profession and her husband started The Arundhati Foundation after losing their daughter, the young and vibrant Arundhati in Vellore in a gruesome road accident in September 2014. The grief and pain of the loss culminated into building an organisation that teaches Indians about road safety and their civic responsibilities.

On the occasion of World First Aid Day,  she tells us more about the ‘golden hour’ and the importance of first aid in saving lives, and the role of first responders at the site of an accident. She explains this with reference to road accidents, but the same principles can be used for any kind of accident.

Dr. Shubhangi has always been passionate about the importance of first aid from an early age, around 6-7 years when she used to accompany her mother who was also a doctor, to the Red Cross Society where she gave first aid training. She was her mother’s handy assistant and this left a deep impact on her about the importance of first aid.

The importance of first aid and the ‘golden hour’

Dr. Shubhangi breaks down and simplifies key concepts for people wary of taking up first aid training or for those who are not even aware that such a thing exists. She further explains that one doesn’t need a science background to do first aid training. There are simple techniques that anyone can learn including your house help and even children, who can be trained to help in domestic accidents.

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“First aid is the immediate medical attention that can be given to the injured person at the place it has occurred; if it occurs at home, then you give first aid there, if it occurs at the workplace, you give first aid at the workplace, if it is occurring in a factory, you keep it there, if it is occurring on the road, you’ll give first aid on the road. So that is a preliminary help which an injured person receives at the site, where the injury has occurred.”

When a person is injured, the first hour of the incident is the most crucial in saving their life.

“If proper first aid is received in the first one hour after the accident, which we call the golden hour, around 20-29% of lives can be saved, which is a very significant number.” One can imagine just how many lives can be saved and families  protected from devastating losses by just giving simple first aid to the injured.

First aid training – The 3 Ps, and the ABCs

The 3 Ps are:

  • First P is aim to preserve life.
  • The second P is to prevent escalation of injury or further injury.
  • And the third P is to promote recovery. 

The ABCs are:

  • A stands for Arrest Bleeding,
  • B is to keep the person Breathing.
  • C is for Cardiorespiratory resuscitation or CPR.

“You can also provide pain relief, and if the person is unconscious, you have to protect the unconscious,” she says. This can include immobilising something broken with a handy cloth like a duppata, and getting the area of the accident cordoned off is possible, enlisting the help of others around. “If the person is conscious, please call the emergency number,” she says. “Inform the family and let them know that professional help is on the way. This can be very comforting to the injured as well as to their loved ones.“

According to her, having a bit of courage and humanity, with some leadership qualities helps a lot in such a situation, but to be trained in first aid and being at a real accident site are very different. It has been found that only about 40% are actually able to give help in a calamity, for a variety of reasons. “That’s why the base of people who are trained in first aid should increase,” she adds.

How to do this? Some easy ways are by equipping more schools to give high quality first aid training by calling in doctors, and making first aid training courses compulsory at the workplace. She adds, “Your local Red Cross Society is the best place for this, or St. John Ambulance and even local hospitals that often offer this training.”

Who is a first responder? What is the role of a first responder in an accident?

Dr Shubhangi says, “The cardinal rule of giving first aid is to do no harm, so if you can’t help at least don’t do any harm.”

A first responder is any person who arrives first on the scene of an incident and gives help. The help can be of any kind. it can be giving emergency first aid or even cordoning off the area to protect the injured person, shifting the injured person safely, to calling 100 (police) or 108 (ambulance). She states, “Instead of taking gory pictures of the injured or site of accident, a person can make better use of her phone at the site, and use it to call for help.”

“A first responder should be able to stay calm, and should ensure his or her own safety,” she proclaims. “You’re in the middle of the road, you go where the traffic is coming and going and all those things. If you put your life in danger, you’re only going to add to one more casualty and not going to do anything about helping the person. If you are unable to tolerate the sight of blood etc., you can take over getting the secondary response (getting the ambulance, helping to cordon off the area, etc.) organised. ”

One of the most important roles of a first responder, however, is to activate the emergency response system at the scene. That is to call the police, ambulance and/or nearby hospital.

Indian red tape and why people stay away from helping

Another important factor as to why people hesitate to offer help is that many do not want to get involved in legal red tape. It is almost as if one is punished for coming forward and helping someone by making them run around police stations and courtrooms.

The Arundhati Foundation has partnered with Save Life Foundation in a lot of initiatives and lobbied heavily for the Good Samaritan Act to make the lives of first responders and helpers easier, where they can just do their civic duty and leave, and not get buried in red tape.

Indians often live in denial about the dangers around us

When it comes to matters of road safety, the first thing Dr. Shubhangi says is, “I cannot stress the importance of wearing seat belts, whether you’re sitting in front or behind…Seat belts save lives. But people here are so reluctant to wear seat belts in the driver’s seat itself.”

When it comes to road accidents, the statistics are disheartening. “Around 17 people die every hour in India on our roads, that is roughly 400 people lose their life in road accidents per day.” Dr. Shubhangi puts these numbers into context for us, explaining just how devastating the issue is in India. “If you want to visualise it, think of an aeroplane crashing every single day. One aeroplane crashing, once in a while, because so many lives are lost instantly becomes a huge, huge, ‘news item’, right? That is exactly what is happening on our roads. Everyday.”

And these are just the reported numbers she explains, highlighting that many cases go unreported or misreported in India.

Freak accidents can happen anywhere, but it seems a lot of Indians remain apathetic to the dangers around or think that it will never happen to them. There is a lack of awareness of the dangers around us. A person is often labelled paranoid, overcautious, fearful, or too negative if they wish to take extra precautions to keep their family safe.

“It is the general apathy that we have as Indians. ‘Arey ho jayega’, ‘kar lenge’, ‘kuch nahi hota’!” she says. “Another is that people don’t respect themselves. They don’t respect others. I think you have to respect human life, only then we will be more careful. Is it because there are too many of us?” For this general apathy, ‘bindass’ attitude, and lack of respect for human life may cost someone their life.

The importance of first aid training starting early

One can imagine just how many lives can be saved and families protected from devastating losses by just giving simple first aid to the injured. It is important to make children aware about first aid from an early age and make them confident first responders. Yes, even children can be first responders.

“A kid may not know everything but a should definitely know one or two things. First, accidents can happen at home, so how to take care of themselves and other people. Second, emergency contact numbers. Third, some neighbours on your floor whom you can trust, whom the child can go to and ring the bell anytime and say please come home. Mama is not well Papa is not well, I have this problem. Train the child that way. You have housing societies. Can’t you get together? Can you empower the children like this?” asks Dr. Shubhangi.

“I think everybody can save lives and it is never too early to start.. Your child can become a first responder by activating the emergency response system. Either call the police or call a neighbour who is old enough to activate it. That’s the least thing you can do. No?”

Dr. Shubhangi signs off with this important message on World First Aid Day, to encourage all to get trained. “My one message is that life is precious. Accidents can occur anywhere and first aid saves lives, so please get trained.”

First aid is the first and most vital assistance given to a casualty or sick person and knowing first aid can save your life and the life of your family members. Sign up for a class today and empower yourself. Here’s what should be in your first aid kit at home.

“The biggest problem with our system is that there is no proper investigation system as to how the accident happened in order to learn from that. Forget the blaming, but if we have to save lives, we have to learn from how things have happened,” Dr Shubhangi points out. “Now you have to have an audit. Why did it happen? How did it happen? Only then can we improve the system. It’s been eight years since my daughter died and I don’t have closure today. I don’t know how it happened. I don’t know who’s to blame. I don’t know what anyone could have done differently. I don’t have any closure. That is what makes it more painful.”

Learning first aid and ensuring it is taught widely could go a long way in saving valuable lives, and preventing this kind of loss and grief. Think about it.

Images source: The Arundhati Foundation and Tutye from Getty Images Free for Canva Pro

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