After a disaster of any kind, you or someone else may be critically injured. If medical services are slowed or unavailable, a minor injury could lead to death. Even if you are not injured in the initial disaster, the aftermath and exposure to the elements and the disaster zone can easily endanger your life.
In this blog, I will examine seven of the primary first aid skills you absolutely should know and three extras you should consider learning. While this video cannot cover all the range of possibilities, nor go too far in-depth with the exact and full procedures, it will provide you with a basis of understanding you can build upon with further studies. Let’s learn to save some lives…
Bleeding to death can happen very quickly. If the hemorrhaging isn’t stopped, a person can bleed to death in just five minutes. And if their injuries are severe, this timeline may be even shorter. Apply firm, direct pressure on the wound using a clean cloth or sterile dressing until the bleeding stops. If a sanitary material isn’t available, use whatever you can get– a t-shirt, scarf, cloth napkin. Elevate the wound and support the injured area above the level of the heart while applying pressure. Maintain the pressure until bleeding stops. If an artery or vein has been severed, a tourniquet may be necessary, and survival will depend on more advanced medical treatment.
The high mental and physical stress of disasters can lead to strain or damage to the body that may require cardiopulmonary resuscitation. CPR should be performed on anyone whose heart has stopped, so you will want to determine if there is a pulse first of all. CPR is performed to provide chest compressions and rescue breaths when the heart is not pumping at its normal pace. There are several online courses now available for CPR and AED– automated external defibrillator, so there is no excuse for not knowing this essential of first aid skills. Take an afternoon and learn this skill. If the time ever arrives where you need the skill, you won’t be left desperately searching for help from others, and you might just save someone’s life.
In the same category as CPR, learning how to check for choking and provide assistance is one of the most common forms of emergency aid you can render. If someone is choking, they may clutch their throat or chest while gasping for air. They won’t be able to speak to tell you what is wrong, so you have to act quickly. Stand behind them and bend them forward before giving them five firm blows between the shoulder blades to try and dislodge whatever is choking them. If they are unconscious, check their mouth and the back of their throat for any obstructions. Roll them on their stomach and attempt the back blows.
If this doesn’t work, you need to try the Heimlich maneuver. Place your arms around the choking person from behind, and pull upwards and inwards on the abdomen below the rib cage. This movement’s pressure can force out whatever is blocking the airway, allowing the patient to breathe again. If you are choking and cannot get help, try the abdominal thrusts on yourself. Throw your abdomen at the solar plexus into the back of a chair or counter. Don’t hold back, as you will only have seconds to free your airway.
Hyperthermia is when the body is overheating, and the body’s temperature-regulating system cannot handle the environmental heat. It may not seem too probable, but it is highly likely after a disaster, during warm weather. The fact is that we live in temperature-controlled environments, and we are usually poorly hydrated. When that all goes south because of a disaster, the threat of hyperthermia increases dramatically. Only a change in environment, rehydration, and external cooling efforts, such as cool water or ice packs on the skin, can reverse hyperthermia. It is essential to recognize the signs of it, as they are very subtle. Dizziness, weakness, confusion, nausea, extreme thirst, accelerated pulse, coordination issues, cramps, fainting, or a headache are all symptoms but may not all occur all at once. Cooling the person is essential to survival. Get them into the shade, apply cool water, damp cloths, or ice under the arms, on the wrists, the elbow, and the crotch and forehead. Ensure that the person immediately starts drinking cool fluids. Electrolyte fuels are the best. Soak them in a cool body of water. Get them cooled down fast.
The opposite of exposure to too much heat is hypothermia or exposure to too much cold. Some of the symptoms are similar, like confusion, exhaustion, loss of consciousness, and shallow breathing. Other hypothermia signs include numb extremities, a drop in body temperature, shivering, and bright red or bluish skin. Here you want to bring the person’s body temperature back up slowly. Get the person out of the elements and indoors. Remove any wet clothing, and wrap the person in blankets or dry clothing. Warm the person’s trunk first, as warming the extremities first may cause shock. Do not submerge the person in warm or hot water, as this can cause heart arrhythmia. The key is a slow but progressive application of heat. If available, provide them with warm but not hot liquids. Keep the person warm until symptoms have passed.
Revive a Drowned Person
Roll the person onto their stomach and try to push on their back gently and push from the lower back up to the shoulder blades. The old remedy was to tie a person stomach down over a horse and force the horse to trot rapidly in a circle. It sounds crazy, but the up and down pumping on the abdomen encouraged water to flow out of the lungs. A big person can gently jump or jog in place with a person flung over their shoulder to accomplish a similar initial treatment and allow water to flow from the lungs. If CPR is necessary, turn the drowning person’s head to the side, allowing any water to drain from their mouth and nose. Turn their head back to the center, and begin mouth-to-mouth and CPR if there is no pulse. Mouth-to-mouth is one of those essential skills learned in CPR training. The drowning victim isn’t completely safe once they start to breathe, choke, and spit up water. The first 48 hours after a drowning incident can be the most dangerous. Complications resulting from water exposure—pneumonia, infection, heart failure—can occur during this time.
Treat a Burn
Burns are tricky, but effective early treatment will reduce long-term damage or further trauma. The first thing to do is to stop the burning process. Submerging or running cool, not cold, water over the burn area for at least five minutes is the first thing to do. Do not let the person shiver, as this can kick into gear the body’s natural temperature-regulating processes and could warm the area you are trying to cool. Remove all jewelry and clothing around the burn area, especially before any swelling occurs. Application of aloe vera, burn creams, or topical antimicrobial ointments are all good to treat and cool the area. Do not apply butter or oil, as older generations have recommended. This adds cooking oil to the fire. Also, do not apply ice or break any blisters. Cover the area lightly with a sterile gauze bandage or cotton cloth. Have the burn victim continue to drink plenty of water. If a clean environment can be maintained, using wet dressings can aid the healing process over several days.
The Bonus Three
The first seven emergency procedures touched upon here will get you through many of the most common injuries. If you don’t have one already, consider an excellent hard copy field medicine book like the Survival Medicine Handbook. Suppose secondary care isn’t a possibility because of an extended period of disaster. In that case, you will be glad to have it to reference for the thousands of other medical complications you could encounter. As a prepper, you may want to take your initial first-aid treatment a step further, so I have three more first aid skills you may want to consider to broaden your capabilities.
Splinting & Bone Setting
You may not ever have the skills necessary to set a bone, and you wouldn’t want to if secondary care is at all possible; however, you should know how to splint and isolate a broken or potentially broken bone. To make a splint, you will need one or two rigid pieces to run the length of the injury. This can be a stick, rolled-up newspaper, a board, or even a rolled-up towel. You will need to fasten the splint in place. To do this, wrap the limb between the two braces with shoelaces, rope, strips of cloth, even duct tape so long as it doesn’t make contact with clothing or skin. You will want the splint on the joint above and below the injury. Once the splint is in place, check it periodically through the first few hours to note any signs of decreased blood circulation like tinges of blue, swelling, or paleness. If you notice any of these, your splint may be too tight, or one of your ties may be inhibiting arterial flow. Loosen and adjust the splint. Making and using a splint is not something you want to do for the first time in a crisis. To be adequately prepared, practice this skill a couple of times.
Deliver a Baby
If you can see the baby’s head and no advanced medical care is available, you may need to spring into action to deliver the child. Realize that women have been giving birth for thousands of years, so you are more or less a guide in this procedure. Remind the mother to breathe. You will need clean cloths, like sheets, shirts or towels. You will need hand sanitizer or soap and water, shoelaces or string, clean scissors, or a sharp knife. Do not try to pull out the child or the umbilical cord. As much as possible, you want the mother and child to do the work of delivery.
Put down any clean cloth, even newspaper. Lie the mother down with her knees up. Sanitize your hands and up your arms. Encourage the mother to breathe and push, but only until you see the child’s head emerge. Cradle the baby’s head, and as the shoulders clear, the rest of the body will soon and quickly follow. If at all possible, you want a medical professional to cut the cord. If this isn’t possible, tie the cord in two places with your ties approximately four and eight inches from the baby. Cut in the center. Clear the baby’s air passages by wiping down from the forehead to the chin. If the baby does not breathe, gently pat her feet. If that doesn’t work, you may have to blow a few very gentle breaths into the baby’s mouth. Wrap the baby in a warm cloth and encourage the mother to breastfeed immediately. The sucking of the child will further clear the child’s passages and will encourage the mother to dispel the placenta. Let this occur naturally. If you have even a little preparation possible, the skin-on-skin contact between the mother and child has been statistically proven to promote health during these early initial minutes.
Suture a Wound
Finally, and more likely needed but often overlooked, knowing how to suture a wound is one of the best skills you can learn. Also, it’s a smart idea to have suture needles, thread, and equipment in your pepper’s first aid kit. Suture practice kits are available for under forty dollars, and I will link to a decent one in the comments below. Knowing various sutures and how to sew up various-sized wounds is a skill you cannot do effectively without practice. When your mind is racing, and your hands are shaking in the moments after a disaster, even a little practice ahead of time will result in your better effectiveness. In many disasters, bleeding out or deep wounds becoming infected are two of the leading causes of death. Knowing how to suture a wound will tremendously increase your and other people’s odds of survival.
There you have ten of the most critical first aid skills that you will, hopefully, never have to use. These are cursory looks at them, but I do encourage you to pick one and explore further. As a prepper, you cannot rely on learning the skill at the moment the need becomes critical. As you know, even a little forethought and preparation will pay off for you in the long run. When disasters of any kind strike, our bodies, and our health are in jeopardy. Learn what you need now. Practice a suture or two. Take a CPR course. Understand the early symptoms of various afflictions and the treatments for them. Ensure there is a good, easy to follow, medical book in your prepper supplies and read ahead.
Have you ever had to perform emergency aid? What was the critical thing you are glad you knew?
As always, please stay safe out there.