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13 Things Paramedics Want You to Know

From on-the-job secrets to knowing how to handle heart emergencies, here's everything paramedics want you to know about their profession.

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13 things paramedic ambulancePhoto: Shutterstock

Let ambulances pass you, but obey the rules of the road

On the highway, pull over to the right if possible, but don’t stop your vehicle on the shoulder—it’s generally illegal to do so, and emergency vehicles may need to use it to get around traffic.

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13 things paramedics in actionPhoto: Shutterstock

Don’t call them ambulance drivers

Paramedics can perform a number of life-saving procedures, including defibrillations and intubations, often in dangerous environments. “We bring the emergency room to the patient,” says Darryl Wilton, president of the Ontario Paramedic Association.

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13 things paramedics CPRPhoto: Shutterstock

Real CPR isn’t like it is in the movies

Performing chest compressions properly (with pressure to a depth of five centimetres for adults) sometimes cracks ribs. But it’s worth learning—it can triple a patient’s chances of survival.

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13 things paramedic AEDPhoto: Shutterstock

CPR is more important than you think


Using an automatic external defib­rillator (AED) or performing CPR within three to five minutes of cardiac arrest, before paramedics arrive, can make all the difference. “Survival rates go down by 10 per cent for every minute the patient doesn’t get CPR or defibrillation,” Wilton says.

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13 things paramedics AED closeupPhoto: Shutterstock

AEDs are simple to operate

A voice prompts and diagrams coach you through the process. Encourage your workplace to invest $1,500 to $2,500 for one, and to send employees for CPR and defib­rillation training.

Read up on these cardiologist-approved heart health tips.

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13 things paramedics medicaidPhoto: Shutterstock

If you have a health condition (such as allergies), always have crucial information accessible to first responders

Ideally, you would have a MedicAlert bracelet or on a printed list of medications posted by the front door. “When we enter and exit your home we’ll be sure to find it,” Wilton says.

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Being faced with gruesome injur­ies can take its toll

Among emergency-­service workers, paramedics were found to have the highest rates of suicidal thoughts, according to one 2018 Canadian study.

Don’t miss the story of the retired paramedic helping first-responders cope with PTSD.

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13 things paramedic lonely elderlyPhoto: Shutterstock

The work isn’t all adrenaline

Paramedics sometimes respond to elderly people who call 911 because they’re lonely and depressed. “Often that call is the first time they’ve reached out,” Wilton says. “We have a community paramedicine program to align them with home care and community groups.”

Find out how singing can turn lonely seniors into best friends.

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13 things paramedic call 911Photo: Shutterstock

When in doubt, don’t hesitate to call 911

If the dispatcher or emergency responders think your condition can wait until you can see your family doctor, they’ll tell you. A true medical emergency usually involves chest pain, choking, difficulty speaking or breathing, numbness, sudden intense pain, broken bones, severe bleeding, burns or a suicide threat.

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13 things paramedic car crashPhoto: Shutterstock

A car crash that’s anything more than a fender bender merits a 911 call

Endorphins triggered by shock can mask pain, and symptoms of concussion or injuries like whiplash may take days to appear.

Here’s what you must do within 10 minutes after a car accident.

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Calling an ambulance won’t guarantee you a shorter wait time in the ER

Cases are triaged by urgency, not how you got in the door.

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13 things paramedics heart attack aspirinPhoto: Shutterstock

If you think you’re having a heart attack, the first thing you should do after calling 911 is chew two Aspirin

The medication is an anti-platelet agent that stops the clot in your artery from getting any worse.

Learn the silent signs of a heart attack.

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13 things paramedic phone GPSPhoto: Shutterstock

If you’re in a remote area, use your phone to figure out your GPS coordinates.

In iOS, use the Compass app, or in Google Maps, press and hold an area to make a red pin appear. You’ll see the coordinates in the search box at the top. “Every day, 911 dispatchers get calls from people who don’t know where they are,” Wilton says. “Tracking down your exact location can take up valuable minutes in an emergency.”

Memorize these health symptoms you should never ignore.

Originally Published in Reader's Digest Canada