Would You Know What To Do? How To Be A Cycling First Responder
CYCLING WEEKLY|September 23, 2021
It’s every cyclist’s nightmare: someone in your group has crashed and it looks serious. How do you provide urgent, potentially life-saving assistance? Chris Marshall-Bell finds out
Chris Marshall-Bell

Would you know what to do if you were out riding and a ride mate crashed heavily or suddenly fell ill? It’s a scenario we all hope we’ll never confront, but cycling involves speed, open roads and hazards, and puts strain on the body’s cardiovascular system, so it will never be without danger. Even so, a little preparation can make a big difference.

Danish footballer Christian Eriksen’s cardiac arrest while playing in the Euro 2020 tournament this summer was a stark reminder of how a first responder’s actions can be the difference between life and death. It’s arguably even more important among us cyclists, as we’re often in remote locations miles away from professional emergency help.

In this feature, we have collated advice from experts across various emergency-medicine fields to give you straightforward tips on how to respond swiftly and effectively to emergencies ranging from nasty-looking road rash, to concussion, to cardiac arrest. The better equipped we all are to deal with these situations, the more chance we all have of happier outcomes.

Making the scene safe

The first thing to do in an emergency situation is to assess the scene and determine if it is a safe place to perform first-response skills. Watch out for any hazards such as traffi, steep drops or water, before assessing the affected person’s signs and symptoms. If possible, gather information on their medical history – do they suffer from asthma or have an allergy or any other underlying conditions?

CARDIAC CRISIS

Any cyclist who has a heart condition, be it an abnormal heart rhythm or a history of cardiac problems, is strongly advised to seek “individualised guidance from a specialist or a GP as to what they can and can’t do,” urges Joanne Whitmore, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation. No matter a person’s physical fitness, anyone can suffer a cardiac arrest – literally, the heart-stopping as the result of an electrical fault. This is to be distinguished from a heart attack, when a blockage in a cardiac artery impedes the flow of blood to the heart, which leads to chest pain and can progress to a cardiac arrest.

SPOT THE SIGNS Heart attack can be indicated by the onset of chest pain that may radiate to the neck, shoulders, arms and even the teeth; the feeling of heaviness; pain that feels like indigestion; shortness of breath; sweating; pale, cold and clammy skin; feeling sick.

WHAT TO DO The responder should follow the ABC guidelines (see sidebar overleaf), first checking the airways, then for breathing, then for circulation, calling 999 asap. If the person is not breathing or has no pulse, you should start chest compressions. Whitmore advises: “Don’t worry about potentially breaking a few ribs – if you do nothing, they may die. The emphasis is on chest compressions and delivering rescue breaths if you feel comfortable in doing so.”

GOLDEN RULE “The most important thing anyone can do is call 999 straight away,” says Whitmore. “If you suspect a cardiac arrest, don’t wait.”

BREATHING PROBLEMS

Breathing issues limit performance and can be worrisome. “A lot of elite athletes have asthma, so having breathing issues doesn’t have to take away the enjoyment of the sport,” says James Hull, a consultant respiratory physician at the Institute of Sport, Exercise and Health. However, episodes can be acute and result in the need for urgent medical help.

SPOT THE SIGNS “If you hear loud wheezing, noise from the upper part of the airways, a tightening throat or tickle in a throat, you need to consider medical assistance,” says Hull. The person’s skin may also appear pale, and they may lean forward, indicating an imminent collapse.”

WHAT TO DO Sit them in a safe location and loosen tight clothing. Find out if they have asthma, allergies and if they take any medication. Help the person use their inhaler if required.

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