Following Simon Sheikh’s frightening collapse on Q&A this week, there have been suggestions that the panelist closest to him, Opposition MP Sophie Mirabella, did not do enough to help. Certainly the footage looks galling from where we sit now – and I don’t really want to go on record defending Liberal MPs, especially Mirabella – but a lot of people placed in her situation would do the very same thing. Okay, maybe they wouldn’t look quite so disgusted by the person who has taken ill, but still, many people don’t know how to recognise signs of distress or what to do about it.
I had a work colleague who once fainted in a very serious way – it was so serious because she was standing up at the time, so she fell over an armchair and head-first into the fireplace, where she got a nasty cut on the head. Don’t ask why we had a fireplace and armchairs at work, that’s not important. Anyway, she was fine after a trip to the hospital for some stitches, thank you for asking. Now, I’m no doctor, but after that episode I sent myself on a few first aid courses, so with the benefit of having nearly paid attention to those and a basic command of Google, here’s a slightly more constructive take on this whole mess:
How do you recognise someone is about to faint and how do you help them if they do?
Fainting can be relatively harmless but losing consciousness for any amount of time should be treated seriously. It is easy for the person to injure their head or choke and their fainting may indicate something more serious, such as a seizure or a stroke. Until the symptoms are relieved and the cause is known, treat it as urgent.
Fainting is normally caused by physical or emotional stress and the warning signs are exaggerated symptoms of this – the person may experience nausea, anxiety, sweating, and paleness of the face (hard to spot under TV make-up) as the faint comes on. Dizziness and light-headedness are almost always experienced, followed by a few seconds of unconsciousness. Sheikh had been recovering from an illness and it was most likely the combination of this and the pressure of being on television that caused him to faint, but heat and a reaction to medication are also common causes.
Briefly, make them comfortable – and if they’re not swiftly back to normal, call an ambulance.
Fainting is normally very brief and, as was the case with Simon Sheikh, they’re normally starting to come round by the time that anyone else has realised that they truly have passed out. As they regain consciousness, you need to make them comfortable so that they do not faint again. The best action here is to lie them down and, preferably, to elevate their legs to help blood flow back into their brain. Sheikh’s seemingly immediate recovery was encouraging but the Q&A staff really should not have made him stand up straight away, frankly it’s surprising he didn’t faint again. On the other hand, he is probably glad that no one lay him down and moved his legs about on live television. Once the person is lying down, loosen any restrictive clothing (luckily Sheikh isn’t a politician so he was sporting that relaxed, top shirt-button undone look) and try to keep them calm. Full recovery from fainting normally takes a couple of minutes longer than regaining consciousness and the person may feel anxious or unwell during this time.
Fainting can be the first sign of a serious health problem. If you detect any of the following, call an ambulance immediately.
* Trouble breathing (if still unconscious, try rolling the person onto their side and attempting to clear their airway)
* Abnormal pulse or heart palpitations
* Slurred speech
* Difficulty moving their arms or face
* Loss of balance or coordination
* Chest pains
* If the person is pregnant or has an existing medical problem, e.g., a heart condition
Again, in summary, make them comfortable and if they’re not swiftly back to normal, call an ambulance. Other than that, take a first aid course! I hope that Sophie Mirabella takes one. Poor Simon Sheikh goes to show that this kind of thing can happen to anyone, anywhere, and the best thing to do is to be prepared.