FEATURE: My chance to learn St John Ambulance’s life-saving skills after London Marathon collapse

Nick administers a breath of air into the dummy's lungs

Nick administers a breath of air into the dummy's lungs - Credit: Archant

AFTER collapsing while running the London Marathon in April and requiring treatment by volunteers from St John Ambulance, reporter Nick Gill visited the life-saving charity’s Hertfordshire headquarters in Stevenage last week for a first aid course.

St John Ambulance instructor Mick Mills demonstrates how to do CPR

St John Ambulance instructor Mick Mills demonstrates how to do CPR - Credit: Archant

Waking up in a tent not knowing how you got there and being unable to move is a scary feeling.

Regaining my consciousness, my first thought when I looked up and saw paramedics milling around me was ‘am I going to die?’

Perhaps a melodramatic response given that I was able to breathe and was aware of my surroundings, but one that felt very real at the time.

Later I was told that I had collapsed after about 17.5-miles from heat exhaustion and dehydration, and at first my temperature hovered around the 40C mark – three degrees above the norm – which seemed plausible given I was covered in ice packs but recall feeling ridiculously hot.

I don’t remember falling down or the moment help arrived in the form of St John Ambulance volunteers, but I do know that without their care things could have been very different.

As it was, hospital treatment wasn’t required as my body slowly cooled, rehydrated and recovered, and after a few hours I was able to board the sweeper bus which picks up runners unable to complete the 26.2-mile course and takes everyone to the finish line to collect their belongings.

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Reflecting on the experience, while disappointed that I had not finished the marathon after eight months of training, the overwhelming feeling has been of relief that it wasn’t more serious and gratefulness to those who provided such wonderful care when I needed it most.

It also got me thinking about the valuable service St John provide, and when I was offered the chance to learn those skills on a first aid course I had no hesitation in accepting.

Our trainer for the day was Mick Mills, who learnt first aid as a young cadet before volunteering for St John in 1994 – prompted by his son joining the cadets himself. He’s been involved ever since.

I was joined by eight other people for the two-hour essential first aid course for adults at the charitable organisation’s Hertfordshire headquarters in Argle Way, as we were all given an introduction into how to deal with emergency situations.

After assessing potential dangers of someone who was unresponsive but able to breath, through role-play everyone had the chance to put someone in the recovery position using a step-by-step procedure.

Then the manikins came out as we got to grips with cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), pressing down on a dummy’s chest 30 times to the rhythm of the Bee Gee’s Stayin’ Alive, followed by two ‘mouth-to-mouth’ breaths. Never mind their breath, I was gasping after repeating the cycle and my hand was quite tender from repeatedly pressing down.

Mick also explained how to spot signs of a heart attack and showed us how to correctly bandage someone up who is bleeding badly.

The other topic we covered was choking, where I learnt that you’re only meant to give someone a thump on the back if they can’t speak.

Mick relayed a story where a child had a 5p coin stuck in their throat but when the mother hit them on the back to dislodge the coin, it resulted in it turning in position and blocking the airway.

Although only two hours in length, the course has taught and reinforced so many life-saving skills that perhaps in the back of your mind you’re aware of, but until now would never have the confidence to use.

The shocking fact that annually up to 140,000 people die in situations where they could have been saved with first aid says it all, and I will forever be grateful to the St John Ambulance volunteers who ensured I wasn’t added to that terrible statistic.

Highlighting their skills and the important process of passing them on is the least I can do.