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Safety and first aid tips for parents

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A Life. A Finger. A Pea Up a Nose by Sarah Hunstead
A Life. A Finger. A Pea up a Nose by Sarah Hunstead

Aussie parents need to ditch their “it won’t happen to us” mentality towards child injury and learn CPR, according to paediatric emergency nurse and author Sarah Hunstead.

She says that as a society we have an “it’ll be right” attitude that’s keeping us from learning first aid and knowing what to do in an emergency. 

Sarah is author of A life. A finger. A pea up a nose: A practical guide to baby and child first aid, and founder of CPR Kids, a Sydney-based organisation teaching first aid skills to parents.

With 15 years’ experience in paediatric emergency nursing and a determination to share her life-saving knowledge with others, Sarah founded CPR Kids in 2012. 

Becoming a mother reinforced how valuable her professional experience was – if her girls were sick or injured, she knew just what to do. By teaching other parents and carers vital first aid and CPR skills, Sarah gives them the knowledge and confidence to help a child in an emergency.

Sarah holds a Master of Clinical Practice, and has worked in various roles in paediatric emergency departments in Sydney and Melbourne, including nurse unit manager and clinical nurse specialist.  

Sarah says parents often bury their head in the sand, thinking tragedy will never happen to them.

“First aid can often be associated with a long, boring class that teaches nothing relevant, just how to bandage a wound and practice a bit of CPR. 

“A good first aid trainer will always make the training fun and relevant, and this was my aim with the book. It doesn’t replace hands on training, the book aims to complement and add on to what you learn in a first aid class. 

“When we talk to parents to ask them why they haven’t learned first aid, the most common response we get is ‘I can’t find the time’. 

“We need to make it a priority, and that’s why we encourage parents to bring their children to our First Aid classes.”

First Aid classes shouldn’t just teach you skills, they should give you knowledge and most importantly, confidence to use the skills and knowledge in an emergency.
Sarah Hunstead

Making a difference

Sarah says she was motivated to write the book because of the number of times as a paediatric nurse that she has seen effective first aid given by a sick or injured child’s carer have a positive impact on the child’s outcome. 

“Conversely, I have also seen where the outcome for a child may have been very different if the person caring for the child had known what to do in the minutes before the ambulance arrived. 

“In the opening chapter of my book I talk about a little boy who survived drowning, because his mum knew what to do. She saved his life.”

Sarah recalls two incidents in particular where parent intervention had a radical effect on the outcome for children.

“This little 18-month-old girl was playing with a toy. Her father had just brewed a fresh cup of coffee, and placed it up high, out of reach, on the mantelpiece of their fireplace. 

“The little girl threw her toy into the air, hitting the coffee cup. The hot coffee tipped all over her. 

“Mum knew what to do. She immediately removed her daughter’s clothing, and ran into the bathroom where she ran cold water directly over her burned areas for over 30 minutes, while keeping her unburned areas warm with blankets and mum’s body heat. 

“After cooling, paramedics took her via ambulance to the hospital. She had burned 20% of her body, and was expected to need skin grafts.

Surprisingly, she was sent home just days later with dressings to her burns, no operations needed. 

“The burns surgeon said to mum that it was her quick thinking with cooling the burn that saved her daughter’s skin. She has healed without a scar.”

Sarah also tells of a boy who came to the emergency department after drowning in his backyard. 

“He had fallen into a water feature. When mum pulled him out he was blue and not breathing,” Sarah says. 

“She immediately started CPR, and screamed out to neighbours who called an ambulance. 

“His heart was stopped for over an hour before he took his first breath in the resuscitation room of the emergency department. 

“He had a long recovery in intensive care, but today he is a normal little boy – he made a complete recovery, and the primary factor was his mum starting CPR quickly, and keeping going.’

CPR and First Aid

The Australian Resuscitation Council recommends you learn CPR every year, and first aid every three years. 

While learning the first aid skills is important, Sarah urges parents to also gain confidence by doing hands on first aid courses. 

“First Aid classes shouldn’t just teach you skills, they should give you knowledge and most importantly, confidence to use the skills and knowledge in an emergency. 

“Being able to do the ‘hands-on’ part of a first aid course is imperative, you learn so much more, and have the opportunity to learn the why, not just the how. 

“When it comes to kids, it should always be about, prevention, recognition and response to illness and injury, not just response.”

Common injuries

One of the most common injuries that parents of under-fives should be prepared for is falls.

“Falls are the most common cause of hospitalisation in children under 5 (once they begin to walk),” Sarah says.

“Falls can result in bumps, bruises, head injuries, lacerations and even broken bones. 

“Burns are another common injury in under fives, as well as poisoning. They are so curious at this age, and can’t distinguish between something tasty and something harmful!”

When it comes to illnesses in the under five age groups, being able to recognise early if a child is having breathing difficulties is incredibly important. 

“It is always concerning if you have a lethargic, floppy child who is refusing to drink and has less wet nappies than usual,” Sarah says.

Parent health

The book includes a list of contacts and resources and concludes with a chapter for parents.

The chapter recognises the challenges for parents as children pass through illness or various stages with incessant crying, whingeing or clinginess and the resulting rollercoaster of sleeplessness this can present for parents.

“To be the best parent we can be, we need to make sure we are ok,” Sarah says.

“I know that I parent badly when I am feeling terrible, both physically and emotionally.

“It is so important that if we aren’t looking after ourselves, that we ask for help. There is no shame in that, we are not superhuman. “

What Sarah Hunstead says every parent needs to know

  • Learn CPR. It’s a not-negotiable skill that EVERY parent and carers MUST have.
  • If your child is burned, always cool the burned area under cool running tap water for 20 minutes, and seek medical help. Children burn at lower temperatures in a shorter amount of time than adults. 
  • Never, ever let your children out of your sight around water. It only takes 30 seconds and 5cm of water for a child to drown.
  • Chop up the grapes, and sausages too. Sit them down to eat and supervise.  A child can choke on anything smaller than a D-size battery, reduce the risk.
  • Look at your child, not just the number on the thermometer. Know the signs and symptoms to be concerned about if your child is unwell.
  • Trust your instinct. Always seek medical help if you are worried about your child.

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