Nothing can prepare you for that heart-in-mouth feeling you get, when you see a loved one in struggling to catch their breath, out cold or in distress, but first aid can train you to respond in life and death situations, rather than becoming overwhelmed by the panic.
Fi O'Meara, a physiotherapist from Cork, is still reeling from the fright she endured just a few short weeks ago when her two-year-old son, Corin, began to choke.
"We were just at home one evening, about to sit down to a pasta dinner and there were little pieces of bacon in it, which we had chopped up," Fi explains. "We didn't notice that one little piece in Corin's dinner had a bit of the bacon fat still on it. He was really hungry and guzzling away and the next thing he looked up at us with just total panic in his eyes, and no sound at all coming from him."
"We have experienced him coughing or gagging on something before, where you hear he can cough but this was just pure silence."
"I just grabbed him out of his seat, semi-stood him up and gave him a very quick Heimlich manoeuvre with pressure in just above his belly button," she says. "It was so effective; it just popped straight out onto the table. The whole thing probably only took about eight seconds from start to finish, but we got a huge fright. You could feel the adrenaline pumping afterwards."
"Corin of course didn't notice it at all; he even went to try and pick the piece on bacon up again and put it in his mouth!" Fi laughs. "He just continued eating his food as if nothing had happened, but both myself and his dad were really shook after it."
As a former lifeguard, Fi had a good knowledge of first aid and has always been keen that everyone around her son would have some basic training.
"When we first got a baby sitter for Corin, he was 10 months old and it was our neighbour next door who is 18. When she came in to babysit, I was showing her where everything was and the one thing I remember showing her was, at that stage, the back slap, which then progresses for the older ones into the Heimlich. I'm sure she was really scared at me showing her, but it's the one thing I just think is so important."
"With everything else there is a bit of time," Fi explains. "You can call someone or wait for an ambulance, but with a choking episode, you really have to know what to do. I have worked in a children's hospital before, so you see the horror stories of what can happen. It really shows how some basic first aid is just so beneficial."
Siobhan Butler is a former nurse, who set up firstaidforeveryone.ie and runs courses in family first aid training.
"We started First Aid For Everyone in 2009," Siobhan explains. "I had been nursing for the previous 25 years and the last 10 were in casualty, so I had seen the importance of first aid first hand."
The first course Siobhan taught was at the request of a number of mothers, one of whom had herself been saved while choking on a piece of steak in a restaurant, by a stranger who had first aid training. After this course, word of mouth spread and the demand for the family-centred courses has grown rapidly in the last five years.
"Choking is a massive issue," Siobhan explains. "You only have a four-minute window if someone is choking, and for a lot of people, the first instinct is to leave and get help, or panic."
"When a child's heart stops, generally something has gone wrong with the respiratory system unless they have a previous condition," Siobhan says. "As an adult, you can go into cardiac arrest because of stress or a lack of exercise, but generally with children, they've either drowned, or it's a blind cord strangulation, anaphylaxis or choking.
"It's really important that you get in there fast and do two minutes of CPR, and there is a very good chance that you might get them back that way, as opposed to panicking and doing nothing. So this is what we teach."
Two years ago, Siobhan's knowledge came in handy when her eight-year-old son, Cian, had a seizure and banged his head.
"I heard a bang in the bathroom at about five in the afternoon, and when I went in my son was having a full seizure and he had a massive head injury," Siobhan explains. "After all the classes I had done telling people to stay calm, and my years of nursing, it is different when it's your own child."
"I got a terrible fright," Siobhan admits. "He was a terrible pale colour. We phoned an ambulance and they were fantastic on the phone. He was admitted for investigation and also due to the head injury. Six months later, on Christmas Eve, he had another seizure in front of my husband and other three children. I was much calmer this time and lay on the floor with Cian rubbing his hand until he came around and thankfully he hasn't had any further seizures."
Siobhan believes that first aid training is a basic necessity for everyone, but especially parents.
"First aid situations come when you least expect them and usually without any prior warning. You just need to know what to do," she says. "So really, every parent should have at least a basic knowledge of first aid and I know that now from personal experience too. Everything with first aid is awareness, because there is very often no time for anything else."
According to a recent survey by GloHealth, 70pc of Irish people admit that their lack of first aid training is leaving them unable to help someone in an emergency situation. Yet despite this, 67pc of Irish people have not completed a first aid course in the last five years.
GP Dr Conor Fitzgerald says that first aid is a matter of life and death. "First aid knowledge is important for everyone to know, on the spot thinking, and responding quickly and effectively when faced with an emergency situation - such as heart attacks, choking, drowning or electrocution - means the difference between life and death," Dr Fitzgerald said. "Often lives can be, and have been, saved because a trained first aider has been able to help the injured person before medical help arrives."
GloHealth offers free first aid training for mums and dads when customers choose their Family & Kids' Health Package or Family Protection Package. For more information, please visit GloHealth.ie
You have approximately four minutes before the victim loses consciousness. For adults and children over one years of age:
1. Encourage the victim to cough
2. Back slaps: Deliver five hard slaps to the person’s back with the heel of your hand between the shoulder blades, checking after each slap if the obstruction has been dislodged.
3. The Heimlich Manoeuvre: Stand behind the person, put your fist above their belly button and grab it with your other hand. Pull in sharply, inwards and upwards exerting pressure on the bottom of the diaphragm up to five times. If after three cycles of backslaps followed by the Heimlich, the object has still not been removed get someone to call an ambulance and continue to process until it arrives.
For babies under the age of one:
1. Lay the baby face down along your forearm, with their head low.
2. Give up to five back slaps between the shoulder blades with the heel of your hand. Check their mouth quickly after each one and remove any obvious obstruction.
3. If the obstruction is still present turn the baby onto their back and give up to five chest thrusts, using 2 fingers in the middle of the chest, pushing inwards and upwards. Check the mouth quickly after each one.
If the obstruction does not clear after three cycles of back slaps and chest thrusts, dial 999 (or 112) for an ambulance.