How to Save Your Own Life

How a chair, rocks, aspirin, and a scarf can keep you alive in 12 do-or-die emergencies.

By Pamela F. Gallin | MD from Reader's Digest | June 2008

We’ve all heard the miracle stories: The Boy Scout who survived for four days in the mountains of North Carolina. The Montana couple who fought off a bear. The guy in Utah who cut off his arm to free himself from under a fallen boulder. You’ve probably read many stories like this in Reader’s Digest (like the one on page 102 about a couple stranded in the snow) and wondered what you’d do in the same situation, but you always assumed freak accidents would never happen to you.

And you’d be wrong. While your odds of having a heart attack are much higher than finding yourself in most of these scenarios, strange things happen every day. For example, almost 2.5 million people called poison centers for help in 2006. In 2004, 112,000 people died of injuries from falls, drownings, and other accidents. In 2006, search-and-rescue rangers in our national parks responded to nearly 4,000 calls, more than a third of them for people who were also sick or injured. Every year, around 3,000 succumb to choking.

Another 400 are struck by lightning, and 67 of those die from it. How do you keep yourself out of the statistics?

Besides calling 911, here’s what to do in 12 life-threatening emergencies when no one’s around to help.