The Underrated First Aid Skills Test

Torrance Grey

Image: Carol Yepes / Moment / Getty Images

About This Quiz

Like you, we love trivia of all kinds: history, geography, entertainment ... But there's one topic that could, literally, save a life someday. It is, of course, first aid. 

If you haven't taken a refresher course through your local fire department or Red Cross lately, the words "first aid" might bring up images of Band-Aids and a splash of disinfectant from a spray can, but it's so much more than that. Today, thanks to new technology, someone who's never worked in the medical field can restart a a person's heart with a defibrillator. Or they could take the (slightly) old-fashioned route of CPR. In a case of choking, they might use the Heimlich maneuver, only with us since 1974. 

If you're truly interested, a detailed first-aid manual can teach you to assess altered mental status, catch the early signs of diabetic ketoacidosis and treat "avulsions" and "degloving injuries." (Warning: photos of the latter are not for the faint of heart). Such knowledge, combined with practice of the techniques, could make you the hero of the hour someday. 

Having said that, of course, we have to remind you that first aid can be risky business. Always call 911 first, and when in doubt about a proper procedure, wait for the pros (unless the patient isn't breathing or doesn't have a pulse, in which case do your best). And while every attempt has been made to ensure that this quiz is factually accurate, we're not doctors here or EMTs. So if this is truly an interest you want to pursue, you're advised to find a first-aid/CPR course in your area. 

What do most experts consider the first rule of first aid?

The reasoning behind this is simple, and not rooted in selfishness or cowardice: It's that you can't help anyone if you're injured yourself (at least, not very effectively). "First do no harm" is the beginning of the Hippocratic Oath, and good advice as well.

If you like to be prepared for medical emergencies, you might carry a first-aid ___.

Perhaps you own a first-aid kit, or more than one. It's a good idea to have one for your home, one at your workplace (hopefully your employer has this covered already) and one for your car, if you drive.

What is an important consideration that people forget about their first-aid kit?

Your first-aid kit doesn't have to be waterproof, (though if it's kept on a boat, this is a good idea). But you should check it periodically to make sure that the medications haven't expired, that the bandages are still intact inside their sealed overwrap, and so on.

Which organization takes the lead in first-aid training for non-professionals?

The Red Cross is an international group perhaps best known for maintaining blood banks and organizing volunteer blood donation, but it has several other functions. Need to Know Dept: In the Muslim world, the Red Cross is called the Red Crescent.

What is another word for "heartbeat"?

It's more common in first aid to hear about a patient's "pulse" than their "heartbeat." This is because the former word implies the rate at which the patient's heart is beating, measured in beats per minute. "Heartbeat" is a simpler term referring to the simple fact that the patient's heart is, in fact, beating.

What is the name for a person's nose/mouth, windpipe and lungs, collectively?

An important part of emergency medicine is dealing with the airway. While there's little a first-aid provider in the field can do to affect the function of the lungs, the upper parts are far more accessible.

Anyone who provides first aid at the scene of an accident or injury is called a/an _____.

"First responder" is the catch-all term here. Often they are some kind of public-safety worker, like an EMT. But there's also such a thing as a "civilian first responder." If you've learned about first aid, and provide help at an emergency scene, then this describes you.

What is the common term for blockage of the airway?

This is the word you'll most often hear about a blockage, or about choking. One of most important practices in first aid is clearing an obstruction of the airway.

The "ABC" of first aid stands for airway, breathing, and what?

If a patient is non-responsive, you should check that their airway isn't blocked, then that they are breathing and that their heart is beating. These three things are critical to saving a life. Most other medical issues can wait. (Sidebar: although "H" for "heartbeat" would make more sense, using "circulation" creates the useful "ABC" mnemonic).

"CPR" stands for "cardiopulmonary" what?

"Resuscitation" is a word generally meaning "revival"; nowadays, it's almost exclusively used in medicine. The "cardio" and "pulmonary" parts of this portmanteau word refer to the heart and the lungs, respectively.

What is NOT a part of CPR?

There are other circumstances in which you might palpate for signs of a broken bone or internal injury. However, once you've established that the patient doesn't have a pulse, checking for those injuries is a secondary concern.

While the term "circulation" refers mostly to the heartbeat, what else is a life-threatening circulatory issue?

You might not think of bleeding as a circulatory issue, but when a person loses a lot of blood, there just isn't enough to go around in the rest of the circulatory system, blood pressure drops and vital organs probably aren't getting the oxygen they need. So controlling bleeding is nearly as important as getting the heart restarted.

True or false: Rapid breaths, as deep as possible, provide your body with the oxygen it needs in an emergency.

The problem here is that when you flood your body with oxygen, carbon dioxide levels fall. It's actually carbon dioxide to which oxygen attaches on red blood cells, in order to be carried to tissues throughout the body, so you can see the problem! For ideal oxygenation of your brain and other tissues, try to breathe normally — not abnormally deep nor rapidly.

Hypothetical: Your friend says that her left arm and leg feel numb, and when she says it, the left side of her mouth doesn't seem to move much. What is the likely issue?

Your friend needs to get to a hospital, and fast! These are classic signs of stroke, which if caught within about an hour, is well-treated ... but if not, can have serious long-term effects.

A normal respiration rate falls into what range?

This is for an adult, mind you ... children breathe a bit faster, because their metabolism is faster in general. Beyond 24 breaths per minute, in an adult, is getting into the range we might consider hyperventilation.

A "sprain" is a ... ?

Ankles are common places for sprains, and can be confused with the milder "twisted ankle." The rule of thumb is if you can walk on it, it's just a twisted ankle; if you can't put weight on it, it's a sprain.

True or false: You don't need to be a medical professional to restart a heart with a defibrillation (AED) system.

We live in amazing times -- a "civilian" can restart a heart using a machine! With adequate advance training, of course. Certain people who work with the public get AED (automatic external defibrillation) training, like security personnel at airports and stadiums.

Excessive electrical activity in the brain is commonly known as what?

There are different kinds of seizure; some are quite subtle. However, even in a dramatic seizure, it's a myth that you need to stick something in the person's mouth to prevent them from swallowing their tongue. That only happens in a small fraction of seizures.

Under which of these conditions should a person with a suspected spinal-cord injury be moved?

While it's prudent not to move someone with a suspected spinal injury, saving their life comes first! A detailed first-aid guide will have guidelines for moving the patient under those conditions: often it involves two people and the "logrolling" technique.

What is a normal pulse rate for an adult?

This is typical for an adult at rest. But don't forget, emergency scenes are frightening and stimulating, so higher heart rates are a possibility. We wouldn't assume someone has a medical issue if they are awake and aware during an emergency and their heart rate is at, say, 115. In fact, an abnormally low pulse would probably be a worse sign.

What is another term for "rescue breathing"?

"Mouth-to-mouth" refers, obviously, to how the rescue breathing takes places, or the positioning of the rescuer to the patient. Intubation is another way that EMTs help patients start breathing again, but this requires equipment and training that average folks don't have.

Before starting rescue breathing, you should do what?

Because the nose and mouth collaborate in the breathing process, it's necessary to pinch the nostrils shut to keep the air you're supplying from simply flowing out through the nose. With the nostrils shut, most of your breath will make it into a patient's lungs.

Where is the cervical spine?

Why is this important in first aid? Because cervical spine injuries can result in the most severe form of paralysis; that is, the higher the injury, the greater the area of the body that is paralyzed. That's why patients are so often immobilized in a cervical collar before transport to a hospital, and why people providing first aid should be very aware of the possibility of cervical spine injury.

Under what circumstances would you use the Heimlich maneuver?

This is one of the first life-saving techniques that many of us learned. It involves approaching a choking person from behind, knotting your hands under the ribcage, and making a forceful upward compression to dislodge the food. Fun fact: Henry Heimlich, who pioneered the technique, used it at age 96 to save the life of a fellow resident at his nursing home. He was a rock star!

True or false: No one has ever successfully done a Heimlich maneuver on himself/herself.

Incredibly, the Heimlich maneuver can be done by a person who begins choking on their food while eating alone. (At least, most choking involves food. If you're choking on a TV remote, psychiatric intervention might be needed). The technique involves a self-administered abdominal thrust, or for even more power, flinging oneself onto the upper edge of a chair.

"Hypoxia" is the medical condition caused by lack of what?

Hypoxia isn't painful or unpleasant at first: It manifests as giddiness and lightheadedness. However, if not corrected, it can lead to loss of consciousness and death. Or tissue damage, if corrected, but not in a timely fashion.

Someone with an altered level of consciousness might have which of these conditions?

Many medical issues change a person's awareness of their surroundings and their ability to communicate. Additions to the three items above are shock, head trauma, severe depression, very low blood sugar ... and the list goes on.

Hypothetical: A person is unconscious on the ground, not breathing, and has a weak, thready pulse. What do you do?

Of course they're not going to be fine on their own — they're not breathing! However, they don't need chest compressions, despite the weak pulse. Compressions are only for when the heart has stopped.

If you have placed a patient in the "recovery position," how are they positioned?

Why on the side? Because this keeps the tongue out of the throat and is the best way to clear any regurgitated stomach contents. This position is only for a patient who shows no sign of spinal injury and is out of immediate danger (i.e., where the "ABCs" are concerned).

Which of these issues would a ski-hiker be likely to face?

Hypothermia is cold beyond what the body can correct through thermoregulation. Weird Science Dept: An unusual side effect is "paradoxical undressing." Sometimes, in the throes of hypothermia, the hypothalamus creates a burst of body heat to compensate. The person feels hot, and strips off their clothes despite being outside in the snow (usually there's a bit of altered thinking going on by this point). Needless to say, this can muddle investigations into the death.

A transient ischemic attack is a milder version of what medical event?

A "TIA" can be fairly mild; some patients don't even realize they've just had one. From a first-aid standpoint, the key is to be able to recognize one, in order to refer a patient to a doctor for follow-up. Signs include vision problems, slurred speech and confusion.

A person who carries an epinephrine auto-injector has what condition?

Allergies are often an inconvenience, not a threat to life itself. But allergies causing anaphylactic shock — swelling of tissues including the airway — are an exception. If someone in the late stages of anaphylaxis cannot help himself, look for his auto-injector, often called an "Epi-Pen" (a trade name).

Stabilizing an injured limb by securing it to something rigid is called what?

A "splint" is a medical device created specifically for this purpose. However, in the field, you might end up splinting someone's limb to a board or a ski ... even, in the case of a leg, to the uninjured leg.

Which of these emergency procedures is NOT recommended for the "civilian" first responder at the scene?

A field tracheotomy means making a hole in someone's throat and inserting an improvised breathing tube, like a straw or the ink tube of a pen, beneath an obstruction and into the airway. Experts say that it almost never works when done by an untrained person in the field, and furthermore, the risk of hitting an artery is great. It's recommended to try to clear the obstruction by any other means.

OK, what *do* the Bee Gees and CPR have in common?

Just a little '70s humor for you! Staying (excuse us, "stayin' ") alive is the point of cardiopulmonary resuscitation. If you chose "Night Fever," sorry, but CPR is of no use for an elevated body temperature.

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