While this can be a life-threatening condition, there are ways to mitigate the damage if you believe someone has flail chest:
If you are not the patient, practice universal precautions and wear personal protective equipment, if available. Be sure that whatever caused the injury to the patient is no longer a threat to them—or you.
If the 911 operator gives instructions, follow those instructions and ignore the remainder of the steps outlined here. If you cannot call 911, get the patient to emergency medical help as soon as possible.
Stabilize the Flail Chest
Use a pillow to put pressure on the flail segment. Holding the flail segment in place keeps it from moving in the opposite direction of the surrounding muscle and bone. Stabilizing the area will reduce the chances of damage to the heart, lungs, and surrounding tissues.
If a pillow is not available, almost anything soft will do. Roll up a jacket or a blanket. If there is absolutely nothing available, have the patient lie on the affected side of the chest to discourage it from moving.
Brace for the Pain
Regardless of how a flail chest is treated, it is going to hurt—probably worse than anything you or the injured individual has ever encountered. Over-the-counter pain medications aren’t going to do much for this level of pain, and stronger painkillers aren’t a good idea until emergency medical help is available to provide the full range of emergency treatment.
Try to remain as calm as possible and provide assurance that help is on the way.