Editor’s Note: The first-aid techniques described in this article are not comprehensive and do not include every detail of the Stop the Bleed training.
A few summers ago I was sitting in a movie theater with my younger brother when I saw someone several rows down get up during the previews and walk to one of the emergency exits.
My brother, barely 16, was watching, too. He grabbed my arm, squeezed it tightly and gave me a panicked look as the person opened the door and leaned out, as if they were reaching for something. I knew what my brother was thinking, because I was thinking it, too.
On July 20, 2012, a gunman did something similar at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. A dozen people died and 70 people were injured that night. Together with our parents, we watched the details unfold on the news the morning after.
But in the movie theater I was in, in 2016, the person shut the door and returned to their seat empty handed. Our panic was for nothing, but I couldn’t help but wonder how I’d react in that situation. Would I be able to help my brother or someone else if they were injured?
May is National Stop the Bleed Month, where individuals of all walks of life are encouraged to learn how to stop life-threatening bleeding. On Friday, I learned how to do this.
Athletic trainers with Frye Regional Medical Center have made it their goal to teach as many people as they can how to perform these lifesaving measures in our community. So far, teachers, business leaders and scout leaders are among those who’ve received the training locally over the last several months.
Everyday people learning how to Stop the Bleed is important. We never know when we might find ourselves in a situation where someone is critically injured, whether that be at a car accident scene or during an active shooter situation.
Uncontrolled bleeding is the number one cause of preventable death from trauma, and victims can die due to uncontrolled bleeding within five to 10 minutes, according to bleedingcontrol.org, Stop the Bleed’s website.
Stop the Bleed is a national initiative supported by the American College of Surgeons, National Security Council and others to train the general public on the basic techniques of bleeding control. This initiative began after the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in December 2012.
On Friday, Special Agent Rick Hetzel and Primary Interior Medic Justin Heinrich with N.C. State Bureau of Investigation did an advanced trauma first-aid training for medical professionals at Lenoir-Rhyne University.
Frye’s Lisa Barron, who primarily works as an athletic trainer with students at Hickory High School, is particularly passionate about this training. She’s the one who went over the basics and patiently answered my questions on Friday as the medical professionals were wrapping up their training.
Caring for a bleeding wound sounds simple. Most people know to apply pressure until the bleeding stops. Sometimes a trip to the emergency room is needed. But certain injuries, like gunshot wounds, need extra care.
Using a dummy leg with a fake gunshot wound, Barron showed me that when a bullet enters the body, it doesn’t create a clear path. As one SBI agent described, it expands and the small hole we see on the outside isn’t what it looks like on the inside.
Sticking my finger into the fake wound, I could feel the empty space where the foam was cut to simulate ripped flesh. This is a wound that needs packing and possibly a tourniquet.
If there’s a trauma first-aid kit nearby, this kit will contain medical gloves, gauze and a tourniquet. Barron said more and more public places are starting to have these available on the wall like they would an AED or fire extinguisher. If that kit isn’t nearby, you’re encouraged to use whatever cloth you can get your hands on to pack the wound and apply pressure.
How much is needed to pack a wound? That just depends. This fake gunshot wound needed several feet of what looked like one-ply toilet paper stuffed inside.
Life-threatening bleeding from a limb could require a tourniquet.
Tourniquets are tied 2 to 3 inches above the bleeding site away from a joint. I wanted to know what this might look and feel like, so I asked Barron to put one on my arm.
One thing the training stresses is how tight a tourniquet must be in order to work properly. While this is painful, it’s necessary to save the injured person’s life.
On my right arm, Barron did not tie the tourniquet anywhere near as tight as it should be. After slipping the tourniquet around my arm and pulling it tight, there’s a crank used to continue tightening. Barron cranked mine once.
Just one crank feels like getting your blood pressure taken. It feels like that moment right before the pressure on your arm is released when the cuff is at its tightest. It’s that part of getting your blood pressure taken that’s uncomfortable, maybe even painful, but that discomfort lasts for just a few seconds as your blood pressure is read.
Barron said in order to stop the blood flow in my arm, she’d need to crank it five or six more times.
If you find yourself in a real active shooter situation, the first step is to ensure your own safety before helping someone else, because you can’t help someone if you’re also injured. Next, you call 911 as you locate the bleeding injury and find a way to stop the bleeding while you wait for help to arrive.
Sadly, we live in a world where we can’t exactly ignore the acts of violence happening in other places and think “That wouldn’t happen here.” It has happened here, like in the parking lot of McCroskey’s in 2017 and outside The Vault in 2018, and it could happen again.
Training like this is more important than ever. It’s just as essential as basic first aid and learning CPR. While I pray I never have to apply this training to real life, I’m glad I know how to Stop the Bleed.