Reflective Journal

Assessing Basic Vital Signs
Assessing vital signs ("vitals") is a key component of good first aid. It consists of taking a series of simple measurements that provide data about a body's functioning. These measurements can help reveal how sick or hurt a patient is and, when taken over time, whether he is getting better or worse. While the full meaning of these measurements might elude the lay provider, a carefully documented series of vitals can be very helpful to the health-care professionals who will eventually take over the care of an injured person.
Vital signs can be helpful even to first aid providers with limited medical training. Sets of vitals that are outside normal ranges typically indicate the need for some treatment or possible evacuation to a higher level of care. As an example: Anxiety, elevated heart rate, elevated respiratory rate and pale, cool, clammy skin may indicate shock, a potentially life-threatening medical condition. Shock is relatively easy to address, but it can go unnoticed if vitals aren't monitored. Vital signs that move increasingly further from their normal range over time may indicate an even more urgent need for evacuation.

A strong heartbeat is required to ensure an adequate supply of oxygenated blood to the body's tissues. To assess the pulse in an unconscious person (V, P or U on the AVPU scale), use the carotid artery in the neck. Place two of your fingers gently on the patient's trachea and slide them laterally. Do not reach across the trachea (use the near side), and do not try to assess on both sides of the neck at once.
You should feel the pulse in the carotid artery right next to the trachea. In a conscious patient (A on the AVPU scale), it is best to find the radial pulse on the wrist; this is less invasive.
Checking the radial pulse is less invasive when the patient is concious. To find the radial pulse, place two of your fingers where the base of the patient's thumb meets his wrist. The pulse will most...