This information could save your life

Emergency phone sign

I don’t often get on my soapbox and rant about things, but today I am. It’s about urban legends, specifically the ones that claim to contain information which can save lives, or at least protect you from some kind of harm. It completely floors me why people aren’t wiser to urban legends by now. Some people repeatedly forward every one that comes their way, either by email, or on Facebook or other social networks, and it doesn’t seem to matter how many times you point them to sites like snopes or hoax-slayer, they continue to forward things without checking them out first. Sometimes I think they just enjoy the drama of the story but often I’m sure they genuinely believe they are being helpful by passing them on.

If you take nothing else away from this post, please at least consider these things…

1) Just because it states that the information has been provided by, or endorsed by, the American Heart Association, or a cancer research society, or the police, or the fire department, or any other authoritative body, it doesn’t mean it has.

2) Just because it states that the information has already been verified on snopes or hoax-slayer, it doesn’t mean it has.

3) Just because it states that it is definitely true because it happened to the author’s best friend’s secretary, it doesn’t mean it did.

Often people will say something like “I don’t know if this is true, but I’m forwarding it just in case, it can’t hurt”. Oh yes, it most certainly can hurt! Not only can some of the advice in these messages make things worse, but while people are following those suggestions, they are not doing what they actually should be doing. Here are a few examples of ones that I have seen going around

THE CLAIM – IF YOU HAVE A HEART ATTACK WHEN YOU’RE ON YOUR OWN, YOU CAN INCREASE YOUR CHANCES OF SURVIVAL BY COUGHING VIGOROUSLY AND REPEATEDLY. The information states that coughing will keep the blood circulating and help the heart regain normal rhythm. This is dangerous advice. It is true that there is a certain type of cardiac crisis where coughing, under proper professional medical guidance, can help, but attempting to treat yourself this way when you suspect you are having a heart attack can in fact make things much worse, and of course if people believe this information then they may delay phoning the emergency services, thinking they can stabilise themselves first. Don’t do it. For some real information on heart attacks, see hereΒ (a British site) or hereΒ (a US site).

THE CLAIM – ONE OF THE MOST EFFECTIVE WAYS TO TREAT A BURN IS TO COVER IT WITH FLOUR. No it isn’t, the most effective way to treat a burn is to cool it down. Most people are aware now that the old wives tale about treating a burn with butter or oil is wrong, but they are willing to believe that flour will do the trick instead. Covering a burn in flour will likely make it worse because it will trap the heat in there, allowing it to continue causing damage. There is another variation which claims that burns can be treated with raw egg white, this too is wrong, and this also carries with it the added slight risk of introducing salmonella to an open wound. For some real information on burns, see here (a British site) or here (a US site).

THE CLAIM – DRINKING FOUR GLASSES OF WATER AT THE BEGINNING OF EACH DAY WILL CURE VARIOUS DISEASES, INCLUDING CANCER. That’s right, not simply prevent, but cure. Seriously? People believe this? Apparently so. I don’t need to spell it out here, the risk is that some people could choose this method over proper treatment.

THE CLAIM – IF SOMEONE HAS A STROKE, YOU SHOULD PRICK ALL THEIR FINGERS WITH A STERILISED NEEDLE AND RELEASE A PEA SIZED AMOUNT OF BLOOD FROM EACH FINGER AS THIS WILL HELP CEREBRAL BLOOD FLOW. No it won’t. The main risk here is that people may delay seeking medical attention in order to do this first, and with a stroke, any slight delay can have huge consequences. For some real information on strokes, see here (a British site) or here (a US site).

THE CLAIM – KEYING YOUR PIN INTO AN ATM / CASHPOINT MACHINE IN REVERSE WILL SUMMON THE POLICE, SO YOU SHOULD DO THIS IF YOU ARE BEING ROBBED AT AN ATM MACHINE. Wrong. There was some technology developed a while ago to enable this function, but it was never taken on by the banks. The risk here is that somebody may try to apprehend a robber to stop them fleeing the scene, in the belief that the police will show up soon. They won’t.

THE CLAIM – DIALING #677 or #77 (OR ANY OTHER VERSIONS) FROM YOUR CELL/MOBILE PHONE FROM ANYWHERE WILL CALL THE POLICE. There is no universal number that will call the police wherever you are in the world. Some of the numbers touted will work in certain countries, or in certain States or provinces, but I repeat, there is NO number that works everywhere. So if you need the emergency services, just use the main emergency number for the country or area you are in. The risk here is obvious.

There are many more. So please, if any of these type of claims pass your way, don’t believe them or forward them on without checking them out first. And if you’re not able to verify whether the information is correct or not, then err on the side of caution and don’t believe it or forward it on;Β wrong information can do more harm than no information, and THAT my friends is information that can save your life.

photo credit: hambox via photopin cc

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65 responses to “This information could save your life

  1. YEAH!

    And while you’re at it, stop forwarding chain mails and emails with pictures of cats in. These things might also save your life – I estimate I’m only 126.2 cat emails away from a milk-fuelled killing spree with a spatula.

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  2. Wow, I hadn’t heard of any of these. How scary to think misinformation like this circulates. As for putting flour or raw eggs on burns? Both make me shake my head and wave my arms in horror as I shout, “No, don’t do it!”

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  3. I’m sure I saw one of these recently on the internet, the one about survivng a heart attack on your own. Didn’t bother reading it, though. Listen, I’ve seen the film, Blood Work, and I know the only person in the world who can survive a heart attack whilst alone, is Clint Eastwood. (If you haven’t seen this film, don’t worry, no spoilers, this happens at the beginning.)
    But anyway, who’dathunkit? Vanessa-Jane Chapman, one woman public service advice bureau. I especially like the one about inputting your PIN in reverse whilst being robbed. I doubt I could even remember my PIN under those circumstances, never mind be of clear mind enough to reverse it!

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    • I don’t think I’ve seen Blood Work, I must!

      Yes, I think that was one of the reasons that the banks didn’t want to take on this reverse PIN technology, people have enough trouble remembering their PINs at the best of times, but trying to remember it in reverse when you’re under the stress of being robbed is kind of crazy! Just let them have the money and don’t try to outsmart them at the time I say!

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  4. Well said. It’s really bad to think some people might follow wrong advice and it cost them with their life. Thanks for sharing.

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  5. Now I remember why I got off facebook. The things people will believe is just stagering. Defies logic. It’s sad to think how many people out there grasp at straws. What happened to good old common sense? Thanks for posting πŸ™‚

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    • I know, it’s annoying isn’t it! When I see one posted on Facebook, every time I patiently look it up on Snopes and then post the link underneath, I’m nice and diplomatic about it, I don’t try to ridicule the person, but I figure even if they’re not interested in knowing the truth, someone else who saw what they posted might see the snopes link and it might at least stop them passing the story on any further!

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  6. I love your rants…this was an important one!

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  7. I’m always amazed at the things otherwise intelligent, common-sensical people will fall for. I hadn’t heard any of these before, but kudos to you for setting the record straight!

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    • I know, that’s what floors me, they’re often people who seem perfectly intelligent and rational in general and yet they don’t question these stories, even though they have no doubt heard about urban legends and know that dubious tales have been circulating for years!

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  8. Great getting this out there. People are gullible and when something appear authentic, it’s taken as gospel. Great idea for a post.
    I’ll tell you another urban legend. Don’t put FLOUR (duh) on your burn, put BUTTERon it. Sad but true yet that was in the O-L-D days. Even as a kid I knew I was born with a different chip because I KNEW this was WRONG but I was the kid…

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    • Yes, that’s the thing, some of the stories refer to scientific studies, or authoritative bodies, and people just believe that it must be true! Yes, I mentioned the old butter tale, let’s put fat on a burn and fry it some more!

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  9. Dear Vanessa-Jane,

    I have forwarded your blog to all my fiends, I mean friends, but I have to admit that I haven’t checked your facts to see if they are true facts and just things that you have passed on, so i told them. my friends and fiends, that I don’t know if this blog is true but I’m passing it on to them just in case it might be. Do you think I did the right thing?

    A loyal but confused Vanessa-Jane Chapman blog reader and fan.

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  10. Amen. Well said, Vanessa.

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  11. I’ve never seen any of these claims, Vanessa, but if I do, now I know to ignore them! Flour on a burn does not seem like a good idea!

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    • Ah well I’m pretty sure you would have figured out that they were to be ignored, even if you hadn’t read my post! It’s interesting reading the origins of some of these stories on snopes or hoax-slayer, often they start out from some small piece of factual information which then gets taken completely out of context, or applied to completely different situations, you know, kind of like the press do quite often!

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  12. I love this.. I’m surprised that you never mentioned the one we suffer from the most here… the famous Microsoft warning about the latest virus to hit the air… verified by all the virus check software in the world… “if you get an email containing …x… do not open the attachment as you hard drive will melt your screen will explode and your fingers will become attached to your keyboard”… a quick hoax-slayer check proves it’s a hoax… yet I will receive this from 10 different “friends” asking me to pass it on to all on my address book… I’m told that many students start these to see how fast it takes to circulate a country before being returned to them by one of their “friends”…
    The flour and oil on a burn .. if the skin is hot enough you might end up with a good scone or something…
    The pin number sure doesn’t work..my pin put in backwards or forwards is exactly the same.. but they are welcome to steal my overdraft if they so wish…
    It just seems so funny how gullible some people are… having a heart attack, I’m told, is so painful that the chances of remembering an email at the time of having an attack is probably pretty slim..
    However the signs of a stroke being eminent I do like..these signs if noticed tell one to get the person to a hospital as fast as you can it could save their lives…

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    • Oh well the computer virus warnings would be a whole separate post in itself! Any emails that end with “Forward this on to everyone you know” is generally not good!

      Hopefully in emergency situations, most people’s first instinct is to call the police or ambulance or whatever is needed, but you only need one person to insist on following what they had read in a dubious email to turn a bad situation much worse!

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  13. Oh, Love it! I gotta pull you up on one of those, though. There is in fact a universal number you can ring from a GSM mobile phone in any country that uses GSM and that is 112. It will always call the emergency services number in that country. And it even works if you only have signal from a carrier other than your own because it should be a free call. It’s usually printed in the phone’s user guide. It’s also the only number combination you can type that will unlock your keypad. πŸ™‚
    Another one I’ve given up correcting people on is the Money bags calendar, where the claim is that this month has 5 Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays or something and it only happens every 800 years and if you share this you will get lots of money because the Chinese said so. Firstly it’s not hard to understand the Gregorian Calendar (not Chinese) we all use has only 14 combinations (7 days for any given date and another 7 for Feb 29 so they are going to occur somewhat more frequently that every 800-odd years!

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    • Well that’s true 112 is pretty close, but still not EVERYWHERE πŸ˜‰ But yes, if the urban legenders used that instead of some of the other numbers they tout around that some girl called Lauren supposedly used and it prevented her from being attacked, then they would be misleading a whole lot less people. As far as I’m aware, in the UK at least, calling our main emergency number here, 999, from a cell/mobile phone will always go over whichever network is available where you are, irrespective of what network you are on, so even if it looks like your phone has no signal, it will probably still work (I didn’t put that in my post though because I haven’t properly checked that out yet!).

      Yes! The money bags calender, I have lost count of how many times I have said to people “No, every month with 31 days that starts on a Friday has 5 Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays in it! And that happens a lot more often than once every 823 years!” But are they grateful for us setting them straight? No!

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  14. Interesting post, Vanessa! Most of these weird spams I hadn’t heard of – I had about the heart attack one. As for putting flour on a burn. God! That’s crazy. The only thing that can help a burn is water, cool water…

    I don’t understand why some folk are so intent on screwing others over. 😦

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  15. I’m so glad someone has the gumption to stand up and say this, Vanessa! This problem is especially bad on the Facebooks of social media, but it’s been around since word-of-mouth, I guess. The current teenage generation (millennials, I think they’re calling them) are so meme-oriented, I sometimes fear they don’t know how to communicate outside the Internet.

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  16. I have a older brother (who cross my fingers is almost re-trained), a really really old cousin, and a helpful sister-in-law that cannot be convinced to check stuff out and to stop passing this junk on. One just looks at the pretty pictures and “wants to share” (whoever creates those sappy/preachy things has way too much time on their hands). One never reads, just forwards.
    Please! Put brain in gear: read and think! (Sorry – must leave and go toss forwarded junk out of inbox
    Nice post!

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    • Thank you. I know, it’s like they read “Please forward this on” and just do without thinking about it! I’m trying to get the message across here that it isn’t harmless, yes, some of the urban legends are harmless in themselves, but forwarding any of them just encourages the producers of them to do more! Some of them contain such dangerous information, it’s shocking!

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  17. Good for you for posting this! Snopes is my “go to” web site for checking all sketchy things out. More people should know about it.

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  18. I figured you would touch a lot of nerves here, Vanessa. On a different, but related note, my pet peeve…wait, I’m not sure you can call it a pet, I HATE it…are these posts on Facebook: pick a cause, any cause. Suggested causes: supporting our troops, finding a cure for cancer, ending child abuse. You express your support for this cause and then you say, “Please post this as your status for just 1 hour. I’ll bet 99% of you won’t.” Aarghhh. But they certainly have me pegged. I’m a 99 percenter.
    I know what you mean about seemingly intelligent and rational people believing garbage they read on the Internet or get in an email. The only way I can explain it is that I think some people like to believe they are in possession of some secret knowledge not available to the average person. .During the 2008 presidential campaign, people would say to me “You know Barack Obama is a Muslim, right?” (As if that would have been simply horrifying, anyway, right?) And I would say, “Uh, did you see that in an email?”

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    • Oh yes, I HATE those cause status things too! The implication with them is that if you don’t post it on your status then that means you don’t care that people are dying of cancer, or whatever the cause is! I always think – no, don’t tell me what method I have to use to express whether or not I care about an issue!

      Yes I think you’re right about the secret knowledge! When people post those urban legends on Facebook for instance, others come in with comments like “OMG, I had no idea about that! Thanks so much for sharing!” and I think the poster must get a buzz out of those comments! It’s like gossip isn’t it, people love to be the person in the know who can pass the information on. When I was reading up about the various legends for this post, the one about the bank PIN made me laugh because somebody pointed out that why would the banks go to all the trouble and financial investment of setting up a security system to protect their customers, but then not bother to tell their customers about it? It’s so true isn’t it, but people just don’t think like that!

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  19. I haven’t been sent any of these. Or maybe I have. I have a habit of automatically deleting anything that says “Read and Share!”

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  20. I am amazed that anyone would follow these suggestions, but I guess it’s an example of people always searching for the quick fix. Thanks for sharing!

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  21. I’ve determined the only fun stuff is that which might endanger your life…….I’m gonna try the bacon overdose….

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  22. I’ve never heard any of those claims. (Why doesn’t anyone email me this stuff?! Does no one care about me?!) But good to know, should I be crazy enough to be tempted to believe any of that nonsense.

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    • I used to get these things quite often on email, but now it’s much more on Facebook that I see them. Sometimes I think I annoy or upset people by posting a link to Snopes under the thing they have posted, but I feel strongly about the risks associated with some of these, so I will continue to do it!

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      • Keep fighting the good fight, Vanessa! I once had a friend post something ridiculous on Facebook, and I responded, that just isn’t true–look it up. She said, I can’t bother with searching. So I sent her a link to Snopes, and she said she wasn’t interested in reading it. I was like, WTH? What is wrong with you? Do they just do it for the drama? To see what kind of response it will provoke? I am mystified. And this is a “real” friend, as opposed to the Facebook variety of friend.
        At the moment in the U.S., the big topic is gun control, which naturally makes its way onto Facebook. A few of my friends are constantly posting “the sky is falling” kind of stuff, and I go…No, that really isn’t true. Sigh. One way to take this is that to some people, the facts don’t matter. It’s how you feel about it that matters. I always thought how you feel about something can be changed, based on fact.

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      • Yea. Good call! I received an email once saying not to forward such emails or the cutesy kinds that are sappy “for my special friends” or whatever, especially when they say to pass along to 10 more special friends, because it’s just a way for spamming companies to harvest more email addresses. I don’t know if THAT’s true, but I still don’t pass those ridiculous things along.

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  23. Hi Vanessa! It’s good to be back in your world with your humorous, informative take on things. Thanks for looking out for us here – I can never stomach this ‘information’ that sneaks into our email in box. I often wonder what people (whose jobs involve some form of deception) dream about.
    Hope you’ve been well these last several weeks xx

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  24. Well done. Glad to see that you have picked up the ball.

    Another caution I might give is do not trust the NHS.

    They had in the past tried to tell me I had a heart attack when I didn’t, they gave my wife birth control pills when she was 38 that clearly stated “not for women over 35”, and when I had a stroke they denied me the crucial CT scan or MRI to determine if I did or didn’t have a stroke.

    I went to my own doctor in the states and they confirmed 1) there was nothing wrong with my heart, I never had a heart attack. 2) I DID have a stroke.

    Moral of the story – the NHS doctors are to tied into budget cuts to deliver real medical care. Always get a second opinion when they tell you ANYTHING including that there’s nothing wrong with you.

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  25. You can’t trust anyone these days, can you?
    Except for Vanessa-Jane Chapman, of course!
    Great post, young lady!

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  26. Hey ‘Nessa how are you, I was just thinking of you and you blog and looked you up. Both my bro and my dad have had heart attacks and the one thing you don’t want to do is increase the risk of dislodging a clot. An asprin however could well improve your chances.

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    • Oh hey you! Funnily enough, I was just thinking about you this morning and thinking I should email you to see how you are. Yes, I contemplated mentioning aspirin in my post, but then decided I would stay away from actually dispensing specific medical advice! That’s why I provided some links instead. We should catch up soon…

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  27. I did not know any of these. The human race is gullible.

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    • We can all be gullible at times, I know I certainly can! But it’s the way some people seem to repeatedly fall for the same type of things that gets me; it’s ok to be gullible as long as you learn from it!

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