An Off-Beat but Valuable Present

Clif Cleaveland, MD
5 December 2005

Consider an up-to-date first aid manual as a holiday or birthday gift for family and friends. Encourage the recipient to read the manual thoroughly and then place it in a readily accessible spot where personal emergency supplies are stored. Encourage the recipient to take a basic cardiac resuscitation (CPR) course and, if such is available, formal instruction in first aid.

In past years, many of us learned our first aid skills in Boy Scout and Girl Scout programs. In the competition with sports and other after school activities, fewer children have access to scouting opportunities. Most high school and college students with whom I talk have had no formal training in first aid.

I purchased three standard first aid manuals to evaluate for this column. The most venerable is The American Red Cross First Aid and Safety Handbook. Published in 1992 by Little Brown and Company, this paperback (ISBN 0-316-73646-5) sells for $17.95. It is the largest of the three at 7 ½ x 9 ¼ inches. Its 304 pages are organized into an introductory section that deals with basic first aid. This is followed by an alphabetical arrangement of common injuries and illnesses. An "emergency action" section follows and covers such topics as CPR, treatment of choking, and removal of fishhooks that are embedded in skin.

The Red Cross manual devotes its final 90 pages to a review of household safety, fire prevention and escape, disaster survival, and brief descriptions of sports and hiking injuries. This manual has the best descriptions of the three of management of out-of-hospital childbirth. Illustrations are adequate. Key information is highlighted. Information relevant to children is marked with a blue bear. The manual is due for updating.

The American Medical Association Handbook of First Aid and Emergency Care was published by Random House in a revised 2000 paperback edition (ISBN 0-375-75486-5) that sells for $16.95. It measures a handier 5 ½ x 8 ¼ inches and contains 336 pages. Its first part covers emergency planning, household safety, first aid techniques and emergency procedures. The second part uses an alphabetical arrangement of injuries and illnesses. Illustrations are sparse. The special strength of this manual is its 63 page section devoted to sports injuries. This is the preferred manual for weekend athletes and anyone coaching sports teams for children. The first page provides space for listing emergency numbers. A chart for important medical data for family members is placed at the end of the text.

My nomination for "best buy" is the American College of Emergency Physicians First Aid Manual. Published in 2004 by DK Publishing Incorporated, this paperback (ISBN 0-7566-01959) has the same measurements as the AMA manual, includes 280 pages, and costs $15. Its sections are color-coded beginning with essential rescue and treatment methods, materials for a home first aid kit, and basic lifesaving procedures. Subsequent sections provide more detailed descriptions of diagnosis and treatment of various injuries and illnesses arranged by organ systems: respiratory, circulatory, nervous system, bones and joints, etc. Separate sections deal with wounds and bleeding, environmental injuries, and embedded foreign objects. The strength of this manual rests with its excellent illustrations, both photographs and full color drawings. Key information is highlighted in boxes. A glance at any section provides an immediate overview of what needs to be done. The book has one minor failing in its lack of an organized form for emergency numbers and a chart for personal and family health information. This can easily be written on the inside covers.

CPR recommendations have been altered recently. Thus none of the three manuals describe the newest recommendation for thirty chest compressions alternating with two rescue breaths. This is a minor failing.

None of us ever plan to find ourselves in an emergency situation that involves a sudden illness or accident. Careful reading of any one of the above three first aid books will provide basic information on careful, prompt management of common mishaps until emergency medical service personnel can respond. Buy one for yourself and another for your cherished ones.