For outdoor enthusiasts, medical emergencies come in all shapes and sizes. The most common ones are broken bones, burns and cuts and scrapes. Because these situations are part of life outdoors, every outdoorsman should be equipped to handle them at all times.
Not every medical emergency can be completely treated in the field. Often, all you can do is perform first aid as a temporary fix and then transport the patient to an emergency medical facility. In some cases, you end up treating the most life-threatening situations the best you can and calling for professionals to come in and rescue the victim via helicopter. That means you not only need to be able to perform the first aid, but you must also be able to call for help. A reliable communication system should be as much a part of your outdoor gear as the first aid kit.
A good first aid kit will have injury-specific components separated into compartments that are labeled, so the first responder doesn’t have to search for what’s needed. While there are some great ready-made kits available on the market (see sidebar), you don’t have to spend big bucks to put together a complete first-aid kit. The following three-part kit was assembled for just $tk and stows nicely in a few zip-closure baggies.
What You Need:
- Splint material. This can be a SAM splint, an inflatable splint, or rigid splints made of wood, plastic or other material.
- A triangular bandage and safety pins to serve as a sling.
- Gauze roller bandages
- Elastic roller bandage
What To Do:
- Stop the bleeding with direct pressure.
- Check for a pulse below the fracture. Watch for a color change, which will indicate a loss of circulation. If the circulation is cut off, the limb might develop gangrene and require amputation.
- Check the victim for other injuries, and treat as necessary.
- Apply splints to all fractures before moving the victim. Prepared splints are great–if you have them–but if not you can to improvise. Use the elastic or gauze roller bandage to secure splints along the broken bone. Tie them to the limb in such a way that they don’t reduce circulation, but they’re tight enough to keep the bone from shifting. If the break involves a joint, the splint must be secured to the limb both above and below the joint, to keep the joint from moving.
What You Need**:
- Aloe vera gel
What To Do**:
Remove any jewelry in case of swelling and begin the cooling process by flooding the area with cool (not cold) water to help reduce the heat injury. Use ice only on small burns, and even then isolate the ice from the injury with a thin layer of gauze.
Look for blistering or charring, to determine severity. If the burn involves the feet, hands, face or genital area, call 9-1-1 or transport the victim immediately to a medical facility.
- First-degree burns are superficial, involving only the top layer of skin, causing redness and local pain. Apply aloe vera gel to the burn area and administer anti-inflammatory drugs for pain relief and to hasten healing.
- Second-degree burns affect several layers of skin and can become infected more easily than first-degree burns. Flood the injury to remove heat then trim away loose skin with scissors. Leave small blisters intact; if they are opened it can lead to infection. Apply aloe vera gel. Cover injury with non-adherent dressing (change dressing once a day).
- Third-degree burns appear black and charred, with some areas that are dry and white. Due to nerve damage, there may be little or no pain, but medical intervention will be required and scarring will result. Treat same as second-degree burns. Watch for shock, and treat if necessary. Evacuate to a medical facility as soon as possible. Cut &
What You Need:
- Same materials as burn kit, plus:
- An****tibacterial ointment (ask your doctor for his recommendation)
What To Do:
- Stop the bleeding by applying direct pressure to the wound, applying indirect pressure at pressure points or elevating the injury to reduce circulation to the wound.
- If dirt or debris becomes embedded in the wound, the site must be scrubbed vigorously to remove all foreign material. Scrub and flush the wound with saline solution or water. Use tweezers, if necessary, to pick out debris.
- After the bleeding is under control and the wound is clean, apply a thin layer of aloe vera gel or antibiotic ointment to help reduce inflammation and speed healing.
- Dress the wound with a sterile compress held in place by gauze roller bandages to prevent contamination, which could lead to infection and possible blood poisoning.
- For a deep or wide cut, flush the wound thoroughly with clean water. Use an alcohol wipe to clean the skin adjacent to the injury (being careful not to get it into the wound), and then draw the sides of the cut close with butterfly bandages to help prevent infection, to speed healing and to reduce scarring. Place the bandages close enough together to seal the laceration tightly.
Quick Tip: If you spend a lot time in remote country, away from the instant response of an ambulance crew, you should consider taking a first aid course. Check with your local fire and ambulance department for information about courses in your area.
If you’re willing to spend the money on pre-made first-aid kits, Adventure Medical Kits (adventuremedicalkits.com) offers comprehensive first aid kits that are compartmentalized according to the type of injury being treated. But this is only a beginning. Each individual should add to the kit special medications or other health-related items before going into the backcountry. I have added to my kit: sunscreen, insect repellent, water purification tablets, Neosporin and Arnica cream (for treatment of bruises). Periodically take inventory of the kit(s) and replace items that are out of date.