Three patients arrive at the first aid tent at the same time:
- A hysterical child with a lollipop stuck in their ear, accompanied by very impatient and distressed parents;
- A middle-aged woman with chest pain and nausea who looks very pale;
- And an elderly man with a sprained ankle who is in a lot of pain.
Which patient do you think should be treated first?
- The child
- The woman
- The elderly man
Option 1: The child
Incorrect. Although the child is upset, their condition is not life-threatening. While the child and their parents are being tended to, the middle-aged woman could be suffering a heart attack.
Perhaps you chose this option because you feel sorry for the child, or because you want to avoid being criticised or getting into an argument with the parents. That’s understandable, but in a medical emergency it is important to put aside attitudes and feelings which may prevent you from thinking critically.
Option 2: The woman
Correct. That’s right, you have used a critical and conscious approach to prioritising patients. Although she is not crying or elderly, and she is in less pain than the other two patients, the woman’s symptoms suggest that she may be at greater risk of a life-threatening condition, so she requires immediate treatment.
Option 3: The elderly man
Incorrect. Although the elderly man is in pain, his condition is not life-threatening. While the elderly man is being tended to, the middle-aged woman could be suffering a heart attack.
Perhaps you chose this option because you feel that the elderly should be highly respected in society, and you didn’t want to keep him waiting in that painful condition. While that’s understandable, in a medical emergency it is important to put aside feelings, beliefs, and values which may prevent you from thinking critically.