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As farmers head back to the field, an all-consuming push to plant may prepare the seedbed for a new crop of medical emergencies.

Farming consistently ranks as one of the most hazardous U.S. occupations. When a medical emergency arises on the farm, the risks increase in direct proportion to the distance to a rural hospital. Rural areas also may lack volunteer First Responder teams to help at the scene.

According to a 2006 five-state survey of patients in small and isolated rural areas, 25% reported travel times greater than 30 to 40 minutes for cardiopulmonary resuscitation services and 44 to 50 minutes for critical care.

Being prepared for an emergency means family members need to update their first aid training.

“We're as concerned about medical care in the first 10 minutes as the 10 hours afterwards,” says Charlotte Halvorson, an RN who is a trainer for the National Education Center for Ag Safety, Peosta, Iowa.

Families also may consider purchasing state-of-the-art home-use medical products to get emergency aid under way before medical professionals arrive.

Sudden cardiac arrest

Every year, more than 300,000 Americans suffer a sudden cardiac arrest, triggered by an irregular heart rhythm. As a result, the heart is unable to adequately pump blood to the body or brain.

An automated external defibrillator (AED) is a computerized medical device that analyzes heart rhythm and delivers a shock, if needed, to get the person back into a normal rhythm. (Not all cardiovascular emergencies are caused by ventricular fibrillation.) Simple voice commands and text are provided.


Once the AED is turned on, a rescuer is prompted to apply two electrode pads provided with the device to the patient's chest. If no shock is needed, CPR instructions will be spoken.

Most AEDs are located in public buildings and offices. However, nearly 80% of all sudden cardiac arrests occur at home.

Kay and Mike Winn, Rich Square, North Carolina, purchased a Phillips AED last year. “We have a family health history,” Kay says. “After our CPR class last year, we talked about it. We live so far out, it would be difficult to do adequate chest compressions for so long. It's an expensive device, but no more than a big flat screen TV. Which matters more?”

The American Heart Association has a Heartsaver AED course integrating CPR and AED training. Although AEDs are proven lifesavers, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recommended tighter regulation aimed at curbing design and manufacturing flaws leading to recalls. Maintenance, including replacing batteries and pads, is key to reliable operation.

Critical care emergencies

An emergency instruction device (EID) features verbal and text instructions for specific trauma categories – from bee stings to CPR. FirstVoice EID's step-by-step instructions are based on guidelines from the American Heart Association, American Red Cross, and Department of Homeland Security.

“People need to prepare for the unexpected,” says Paula Wickham, Think Safe, Inc., Cedar Rapids, Iowa. “Our products reduce stress and panic during emergency first aid situations.”

One of the company's latest products is the FirstVoice ResQr app, an interactive first aid software compatible with any iPhone or iPod touch with a 2.0 operating system.

Managing diabetes

Studies show that people with diabetes who measure blood glucose levels at home are more successful managing their disease.

The FDA has specific guidelines for glucose meters that allow for up to 20% variability. Consumer Reports suggests choosing a model that's easy to use will help ensure more accurate readings. Here are more tips.

• Compare your results with your lab results.

• Follow manufacturer's directions on proper use and cleaning.

• Use only test strips designed for your meter.

• Test from your fingertip, if you think your glucose is low.

• Wash your hands with soap and warm water and towel dry.

• Brace your finger.

• Squeeze gently for one drop of blood.

Some new models allow results to be transferred to a computer for easy e-mailing to a doctor. Check with your insurance company for coverage on the meter and test strips.

Controlling blood pressure

According to some estimates, only about one third of people with high blood pressure have it under control. Checking it at home is key to managing hypertension. Take the monitor to your doctor's office once annually, and follow these tips for accurate readings:

• Take two or three readings, one minute apart, while resting in a seated position.

• Support your arm, with upper arm at heart level, and place your feet flat on the floor.

• Take readings at the same time daily (avoid early mornings).

Farm first aid

The most basic level of emergency care is a first aid kit. Many kits cannot handle traumatic farm injuries. The Farm First Aid Kit, created by the National Education Center for Agricultural Safety in Peosta, Iowa, offers $85 worth of supplies for $40, including adhesive strip bandages, eye patch, eye wash solution, elastic bandages, finger splint, gauze wrap, ice pack, isothermal blanket, latex gloves, trauma shears, splinter forceps, triangle bandage, CPR face shield, and more.

“Our basic first aid kit is in the open pantry closet inside the back door, close to a labeled drawers with chemical ice packs and ACE bandages,” Kay Winn says. “My hope is every cent we spend on rescue or survival equipment will be unnecessary. The expense is minor in relation to the peace of mind.”

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