Just lie down! Advice that helped save a life
Sometimes, you end up in a situation where you think you are not doing much when in fact you are helping to save a life. When Margaret got a call from her neighbour downstairs, it was lucky she knew how to manage anaphylaxis. This is a story shared by one of our members. Even without an adrenaline injector available, Margaret used her knowledge of the ASCIA Action Plan for Anaphylaxis and helped her neighbour who was having a severe allergic reaction.
It was nearly dinner time when the phone rang and Margaret answered it. She recognised her neighbour Joy’s* voice but it was hard to understand what she was saying. Something about a reaction and swelling. Margaret went straight downstairs and when Joy opened the door, Margaret could see straightaway that she was having an allergic reaction – Joy’s eyes and lips were swollen. More importantly, Margaret could also tell that Joy’s tongue was swollen, as she couldn’t speak properly. Margaret recognised this as a sign of anaphylaxis.
“Lie down”, Margaret instructed. Joy started to object but Margaret had grandchildren who had food allergies and knew the first step of managing anaphylaxis was getting the person to lie down or sit on the ground with their legs outstretched.
“Lie down!” This time Margaret was more forceful in her instructions and Joy lay down on the floor.
Joy was able to tell Margaret that she didn't have any allergies, but had taken some new medication less than 2 hours ago and thought she was having an allergic reaction to it. Joy had tried to treat the allergic reaction by taking an antihistamine, but that didn’t help.
Margaret called triple zero and told the ambulance operator that she thought her friend was having anaphylaxis and that her tongue was swollen and she couldn’t talk properly. The ambulance operator asked if the patient was lying down. “Yes,” answered Margaret as she turned and yelled “Stay there!” as Joy attempted to get up. Joy lay back down.
The paramedics arrived within 5 minutes and gave Joy adrenaline. She was taken to hospital and Margaret went back upstairs to continue making dinner. A few hours later Margaret received another call from Joy, this time from the intensive care unit. “Thank you Margaret, you saved my life. The staff here said my blood pressure was so low when the paramedics arrived that I could have died if I stood up. Thank you.”
- You may be the only one to help when someone not known to have allergies has anaphylaxis
- Lying down or sitting on the ground with legs outstretched is an essential part of treating anaphylaxis. It’s the first action on the ASCIA action plan for anaphylaxis!
- Sometimes you need to be “bossy” with the person having anaphylaxis – they may not know that their symptoms are serious or they may not be thinking clearly.
- Antihistamines should not be used to treat anaphylaxis. It is important to give adrenaline as quickly as possible if one or more symptoms of anaphylaxis is present.
- You can make a difference even if you don’t have an adrenaline injector available. Positioning the person in a lying down position or sitting them on the ground with legs outstretched is a key step in managing anaphylaxis.
Watch the animation, How to position a patient, on our website.
*Names have been changed