When looking into the basics for disaster and survival preparedness, there are a few staples that cannot be ignored. Food, water, security, and First Aid are typically the big four that most specialists will agree are absolutely necessary. Secure these four things and you’ve gone a long way to ensuring your immediate, if not overall, survival. I did a post on finding water a couple of months back, and today I want to talk about another of the big four survival necessities; First Aid.
Even if you’re not looking at things from a survival point of view, First Aid supplies and knowledge are still good to have around the house. As I found out this past weekend, you never know when or how quickly you’re going to need some basic First Aid supplies and knowledge. And the last thing you want to do is get stuck running around the house holding a bloody rag over a cut while searching for the gauze, Neosporin, and tape. I found myself in just that predicament last week when I sliced open my right index finger while working on a new technique to make stone knife blades. I typically consider myself well-prepared for just about anything, but several similar incidents over the past 5 years (a couple resulting in stitches) had seriously depleted my supplies.
The topic of First Aid is so wide ranging that it’s necessary to make some generalizations and cover principles rather than specifics. With that in mind, here are some things to consider while developing a First Aid plan and supply stock.
The most important part of any First Aid kit is knowledge and understanding. The bottom line is most of us are not trained medical professionals, EMT workers, or combat medics. We may have a general and basic understanding of how to clean a cut or scrape, but that’s about it when you get down to it. The best thing to remedy this is to have a First Aid guide or reference manual in the kit itself. There is a lot of information, both good and bad, regarding First Aid that is available on the internet. A solid reference manual in hard copy form is always better than relying on a technology based solution that may or may not be available when First Aid is needed, though. Many larger First Aid kits today come with a small field manual that covers general topics like wound cleaning, bandaging, splinting broken bones, etc. There are also many available from retailers such as Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble. A good guide to First Aid can help you handle most situations effectively without causing more damage to yourself or to your patient.
An essential part of any First Aid kit is a good stock of different types of bandages. Small adhesive bandages (Band-Aids) are good enough for minor scrapes and small cuts. For larger injuries, though, more is typically needed. It’s good to have medium and large non-stick gauze pads as well as both 2” and 4” rolled gauze. The pads can be used to cover wounds while the gauze rolls provide a soft and comfortable bandage to protect the wound. This is where the surgical tape comes in handy as well to help hold the gauze closed. It’s also a good idea to have a small roll of self-adhesive wrap to cover the outside of a wound dressing. Self adhesive bandaging is often more flexible and durable than simple surgical tape and works better on areas like fingers and wrists that are more active. Finally, an assortment of elastic bandages (ACE bandages) are a must. Narrow bandages in the 3” width are good to wrap hands and wrists; 4” bandages do well for knees, elbows, and ankles; and 6” bandages are good for larger muscle areas such as shoulders and thighs. These bandages can be used to wrap sprained or dislocated joints, deep puncture and laceration dressings, and even splinted broken bones. The elastic fabric allows the bandage to provide moderate support and pressure to control swelling. Proper wrapping of a sprained joint, torn muscle or broken bone can drastically reduce the danger of further injury.
One of the biggest dangers for wounds in any situation is infection. With anything beyond a superficial scratch, infection is a concern and one that should be taken seriously since a seemingly mild infection in a wound can at times turn septic and pose a serious threat to even a healthy patient’s life. Most basic First Aid kits come with some form of topical antiseptic such as alcohol swabs. These are handy for cleaning around small scrapes and wiping down steel implements like tweezers, scissors, and clamps. For deeper wounds, though, small alcohol swabs aren’t going to cut it. Hydrogen peroxide can be used, but it breaks down over time and therefore is not a good option for long-term storage. Betadine is a commonly used form of iodine antiseptic that is effective in reducing bacterial and viral load in and around wounds. Some caution should be used with Iodine based products as they can, at times, induce an allergic reaction. Anyone who is allergic to shellfish will also be allergic to any products containing Iodine or Iodine derivatives. Hypoallergenic antiseptics such as Silver Soft are available to substitute. As with bandages, the best practice for antiseptics is to keep a variety of options. I would recommend at the least a bottle of hand sanitizer gel, at least 10-25 antiseptic wipes, and a deep cleaning antiseptic such as Betadine. It is also good to have an antibiotic ointment like Neosporin or Bacitracin to apply to bandages to further reduce the risk of infection.
- Over-the-Counter Meds
There are a few OTC meds that are good to keep on hand in First Aid kit. Ibuprofen and Acetaminophen should both be kept to help control inflammation, pain, and fever as necessary. These two medications have similar effects and can be alternated to provide better treatment when symptoms are severe. Some form of antihistamine like Benadryl (diphenhydramine) is good to control mild allergic reactions. Aspirin is also a wise choice to stock in case of chest pains. Aspirin thins the blood and can help as an immediate treatment for chest pains for those with high blood pressure and chest pains. If someone has these conditions, though, the best course of action is to seek immediate medical treatment if possible. Imodium (loperamide) is useful for controlling diarrhea. This is an important and often overlooked necessity for a First Aid kit. Most people don’t realize that for all the illnesses in the world, diarrhea is the most fatal symptom and can kill an adult within a day as a result of extreme dehydration. And finally, some form of burn treatment is also necessary. There are commercial creams that are available to treat severe burns as well as aloe based gels and ointments for the treatment of minor burns and/or sunburn. As with all medications, be sure to read the labels carefully for all warnings and dosage guidelines.
Some First Aid emergencies require the use of certain tools to treat the injury or illness. It’s a good idea to have a pair of clean, sharp-nose tweezers in the kit for the removal of splinters and debris from wounds. A pair of surgical shears is handy for cutting bandages and tape as needed. A small, unopened Exacto knife or surgical scalpel is also good to have in case the edges of a cut need to be trimmed or to help in the removal of deeply embedded splinters, shrapnel, and debris. A thermometer, preferably one that does not require batteries, is also good to have in order to diagnose fevers accurately and monitor patient body temperature for signs of infection or shock. A small flashlight with a bright LED light is also helpful, especially in the removal of splinters. **NOTE** With any tool that will be used around an open wound, the mouth, eyes, etc. it is vital to first disinfect them with some sort of antiseptic to prevent introduction of infection.
I recommend every family should have at least one First Aid kit for the house to handle the incidental day to day stuff and another that is set aside and reserved for true emergencies. It’s a good idea to have at least a travel kit in the car to handle anything that may happen on the road too. As a parent of young kids and a very accident prone individual myself, I really don’t think you can have too much in the way of First Aid supplies. Also, periodically take out the home kit and do an inventory to make sure you’re stocked on the essentials. First Aid supplies are typically used a little at the time and need periodic replenishment.
These are just a few basics that every First Aid kit should have. I will go into detail in later posts about each of these and expand on some of the less used equipment that is good to have stocked for the true disaster readiness kit that extends beyond simple First Aid. These basics will meet the general needs for most households, though, and there are plenty of retail options for kits that come complete with everything I’ve listed here and more.