As part of Cabin Crew training we learn about aviation health and medicine and advanced first aid. This is usually a week to 10 days training – but what do we actually learn about and how does it differ from first aid on the ground?
Working at Altitude
One of the first things we learn is about working at altitude and the effect it has on the body – the body thinks it is working on a mountain and the pressure causes the body to work 3 times harder. We also deal with swelling and bloating and the effects of dehydration. We have to consider potential risks to personal health and the effects of fatigue, sickness and stress combines with altitude.
Here we discover what cabin pressure does to the body – air and gas in the body expand and can cause pain in the sinuses, ears and abdomen as well as the lungs and teeth. People who have lung disease or heart disease may suffer more than most. We learn about oxygen and how it is used as supplemental oxygen to patients who may be at risk and also about the oxygen systems fitted onboard the aircraft for passengers and crew. We need to know how to use them in case of decompression (loss of cabin pressure) and also how to spot the signs of hypoxia (lack of oxygen) in people, as this could be the first signs of a slow decompression and is life threatening in just seconds, an immediate oxygen supply is crucial.
Role of the First Aider
Our role in first aid is to assess, diagnose, observe and identify in any medical emergency or first aid matter. We need to prevent the condition deteriorating and promote recovery. We work as a team with one person assessing, one collecting medical equipment, one reporting to the senior crew member and another supporting the assessor.
General First Aid
Just some of the things we learn to diagnose and treat are:
- Asthma, shock and choking
- Heart attack and stroke
- Stress and allergic reactions
- Gastro-intestinal issues
- Epilepsy and diabetes
- Hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia
- Burns, wounds, fractures and tissue injuries
- Dehydration, hyperventilation, airsickness and nose bleeds
CPR and Defibrillation
The most serious part of the course is learning how to deal with someone who is unconscious and apply the DRS ABCD procedure adapting to whether to the patient is unconscious and breathing or not breathing. Firstly we need to check for danger in our surroundings and try to get a response from the patient by shaking and shouting before sending for help. Next, is to check the airway, breathing and circulation and if appropriate start CPR. We learn how to conduct CPR to a passenger who is seated or in an aircraft aisle, which can be challenging to traditional CPR as well as how to perform CPR on an adult, infant and child. The final D stands for defibrillation, if we need to restart the heart. Almost all aircraft are required to carry a defibrillator and we are fully trained to use them.
We carry a number of first aid kits on the aircraft to cover most day to day medical issues. We have a further large first aid kit with medicines and we need to know which medications to administer and what dosage. This could be something as simple as an aspirin for a headache to applying an epi-pen for anaphylactic shock. This kit also has items related to childbirth, fractures and serious injury/sickness as well as a side that can only be used by medical professionals. We also have a kit to aid resuscitation.
Travel and Crew Health
As we often travel worldwide we need to know the risks of tropical diseases and take common sense precautions to avoid getting sick on our travels. Also we learn about sleep physiology and how to try and stay healthy and cope with the effects of jetlag. Hygiene is extremely important as well as food safety.
The first aid skills learnt by Cabin Crew are necessary as we need to deal promptly with any medical situation that occurs on board from air sickness to a heart attack. There may not be a medical professional onboard but if the condition is serious we may ask for assistance. Serious medical emergencies are thankfully quite rare and the most common things we see are ear pain, stomach problems, fainting and nose bleeds. Every once in a while you will have a medical emergency so it is important to know exactly what to do and once you learn these skills you have them for life.