Be prepared. What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear that phrase? If you asked a large number of people that question, the answer would most likely vary considerably from person to person. Some may think of self-defense skills. Others would contemplate preparing for the future through schooling. Another person might consider preparing for unforeseeable events such as natural disasters, or financial strife. It used to be that when I heard the words "be prepared", I immediately thought of all of the things I needed purchase or save to be ready in case something happened to me or my family. Money, first-aid, 72 hour kits, food storage . . . it wasn't until recently that I realized that I didn't have the most critical thing needed when it comes to being prepared; knowledge.
This enlightenment didn't come easily. It took being a witness to a fatal car accident to recognize that I had been looking in the wrong direction.
My husband and I were traveling home to visit our families, a trip we often looked forward to on Saturday mornings. This particular morning it was raining, but the weather didn't concern us. We had driven the same stretch of highway dozens of times before. We were being cautious, however, because we did know how hazardous this canyon could become, especially for people who might be unfamiliar with its windy terrain. As we were driving along, we were passed by a couple of cars that seemed to be competing for the lead down the canyon. They both passed us illegally at a high rate of speed, and one of them was barely able to make it back into our lane in time to avoid a head on collision. When they did get back in the lane, my husband flashed his lights at them in an attempt to show his disapproval of their careless driving. We then decided it would be best if we stayed back a bit, especially since the cars continued to race down the canyon, passing each other back and forth. Soon, the cars we were following were several car lengths ahead of us, and it wasn't long before we began to chitchat and munch on our gas station snacks, engrossed by our Saturday morning jaunt. Suddenly my husband yelled out "wreck, wreck!" jolting me out of my blissful trance. I barely had time to look up to see a full-sized truck that was two cars ahead of us plowing through a smaller car that had swerved into our lane. The crazy drivers had passed illegally on a blind corner, forcing the driver of the smaller car to swerve out of their way, right into our lane. The driver of the truck didn't even have time to break. The impact of the collision was so great that it forced the back end of the truck up into the air, then slamming it back down again. After what seemed to be forever, the two cars screeched along the highway, snarled and mangled together. When they finally came to a halt, I couldn't believe what I had just witnessed. Emotion overwhelmed me, and I immediately starting sobbing and screaming. After trying to calm me for a moment, my husband told me to stay in the car, and then jumped out to go and help. After a minute I regained my composure, and wondered if I should get out and help. But as I watched others assist those involved in the accident, I realized I didn't have the skills or the resources necessary to help. I didn't have a first-aid kit, or even a blanket. And even if I had a first-aid kit, I wouldn't have known how to use it. At one time I was certified to perform first-aid and CPR, but that was several years ago. I hadn't taken the time to maintain my certification. I just sat there feeling powerless, horrified, and most of all, unprepared.
This was a rude awakening for me. You might consider putting yourself in this situation. Would you know what to do if someone needed medical assistance? What if a friend or family member suddenly started choking or stopped breathing-- could they rely on you to save their life?
Luckily, in my case, there were people on the scene that were more prepared than I was. They knew what to do to help. All I could do was watch as they assisted the two survivors of the accident, springing into action without a second thought. If they hadn't been there, and I had been all alone, my panic and inadequacy would have lessened the chance of survival for those involved. From this experience, I came to realize that I needed to learn what to do when this situation arose again.
Where to start?
One place to start is by gathering information. There is a large amount of information out there on first-aid, CPR, and emergency preparedness in general. I have found many sources on both first-aid and CPR that have been helpful to me. One in particular is the SAS Essential Survival Guide. The first-aid section of this book is really handy. It has simple illustrations and instructions on how to handle a variety of health situations. The guide also covers many other aspects of preparedness.
Having the necessary supplies in a health emergency is also very important. If you don't have a first-aid kit, or an emergency kit for when you're out on the road, get one! You never know when something is going to happen, whether it's a break-down or a car accident. You don't get any warning before these types of things happen, so prepare yourself!
Probably the most important place of all to start is in your head. Think about what preparedness means to you, then ask yourself, "Am I prepared in every area of my life?'' Then take another look at your preparedness checklist. Okay, maybe you do have a first-aid kit, a 72-hour kit and some extra money for an unexpected emergency. But do you have the knowledge to use these tools effectively? Without knowledge, all of the material things we have gathered together to "prepare" ourselves are useless. I overlooked knowledge when going down my personal preparedness checklist, and it could have cost someone their life.