While warmth, water, and food are the top priorities in any survival situation, they are not the only things we should concentrate on. There are a number of other things that can cause us serious harm or even kill us, that aren’t included in those top survival priorities. Preparing to survive means preparing everything we need to survive, even if we don’t get any help from anyone else.
One important, but the easily overlooked area is the general area of health. This can include a lot of things, like personal hygiene, weight control, diet and physical fitness. But the one that concerns me the most is first-aid. While just about everyone has some sort of a first-aid kit in their home, few of those are adequate.
Most people buy their first aid kit at the corner pharmacy or one of the big box stores for $19.95 or so. It has some adhesive bandage strips, a small roll of gauze, some medical tape, pain relievers and a few other items. If all you’re going to have to worry about is a cut finger or a scraped knee, it’s adequate.
But that’s not all you’ve got to worry about, especially in a disaster or post-disaster scenario. Typically, medical services become overwhelmed during these times, and the difficulty in even getting to medical facilities greatly increases. Add that to the increased likelihood of an injury, either from the disaster itself or from the various tasks that survival requires, and you’ve got an excellent opportunity for some very serious problems.
With all that in mind, it really makes sense to have a good first-aid kit, as well as some basic medical knowledge. Being able to treat your own family’s wounds and injuries can go a long way towards keeping your family healthy and treating injuries of neighbors could serve to make them look favorably on you, if not feel in their debt to you.
In such a situation you’re going to need much more than that $19.95 drug store first-aid kit; you’re going to need what is known as a full trauma kit. You could buy one, but these are rather expensive. Or you could buy the various components and put your own kit together.
Start with the Case
Any first-aid kit needs to start out with a good, roomy case that’s easy to organize. When you’re dealing with a serious injury, time is critical. The last thing you want is to have to be digging around in a disorganized box of first-aid supplies, looking for what you need. It should all be laid out in an organized manner and visible to you when you open the case.
There are some actual cases which are made for this; but, once again, they’re rather expensive. What I’ve found, which works just as well, is a large fishing tackle box. I’ve used fishing tackle boxes for my first-aid kits for almost 40 years now. They’re rugged, easy to carry and with the cantilevered trays, it’s easy to organize all the small stuff in them.
When looking for a fishing tackle box to use, look for one that has a lot of trays. That gives you the most compartments that you can organize things into. The larger stuff can sit in the well at the bottom, but the smaller stuff needs to be in the trays.
I usually end up cutting out some of the dividers in the cantilevered trays, turning small compartments into medium-sized ones. That’s fairly easy to do, in a number of ways. Just make sure you don’t leave any sharp edges to scratch yourself on.
Filling the Kit
When we’re talking about trauma, we’re usually talking about two things: injuries (cuts, scrapes, puncture wounds) and broken bones. So that’s what the bulk of the kit needs to deal with. At the same time, you’ll want to be ready for some of the other problems your family might have, such as run-ins with poison ivy, a splinter in the finger and getting something in their eye.
The first thing you need to have in any first-aid kit is the necessary personal protection equipment to ensure that you don’t infect the patient or get infected by them. This means that you’ll need:
- Rubber gloves
- Anti-bacterial hand cleaner
- Medical masks (Dust masks will work in a pinch, especially if you spray them with an anti-bacterial cleaner)
- Safety glasses (Not needed if you wear glasses)
- CPR mask – For performing CPR, without direct physical contact.
These tools are useful for a variety of different problems, injuries and also for diagnosing the patient’s problems. We make this a separate category because they are durable items, which should not need to be replaced.
- Thermometer – One of the electronic in-ear ones is best
- Medical scissors – Buy good ones; the cheap ones bend when you try to cut through the seam of a pair of jeans
- Hemostats – Used for clamping off blood vessels. Only to be used if the patient is losing a lot of blood.
- Blood pressure cuff – The electronic kind is more foolproof
- Blood sugar monitor – Low blood sugar is a common problem when people are starving. Being able to check the blood sugar of people who are incoherent can be a sure indicator of what’s wrong with them
- Eye cup – For rinsing out the eyes, when there is something in them
- Sharp tweezers – For removing splinters and foreign matter from wounds
- Eye loupe (jeweler’s magnifying glass) – For use with the tweezers
This is the biggest category for your first-aid kit. You’ll want to make sure that you have enough of each item to treat several injuries. If you can, it wouldn’t hurt to have some spares sitting aside in a box, so that you can refill your kit.
- Alcohol wipes – For cleaning wounds
- Irrigation syringe – Also for cleaning wounds. Spraying water into a larger wound helps to clean out any foreign matter that might have gotten into it. Any water that is safe enough to drink, can be used with the syringe
- Antibacterial ointment – To kill bacteria and help prevent infection. All wounds should be treated with this, no matter the size
- Clotting agent – Celox or QuikClot. These are placed on or in fast-bleeding wounds to absorb blood and expedite clotting
- Butterfly closures or Steri-strips – Both of these are used to close an open wound, such as a deep cut. Closing the wound is necessary to promote clotting and healing
- Adhesive bandage strips – Your standard “band-aid.” I recommend buying the cloth ones, as they are flexible. That keeps them from coming off when you are trying to work. Cloth adhesive bandages also come specially made in configurations for knuckles and fingertips, both of which are very useful.
- Larger bandages (2”x 3” and 4”x 6”) – For larger wounds. You should have a couple of different sizes. Sanitary “maxi-pads” make great bandages. They are sterile and designed for soaking up blood
- Gauze pads – Four-inch square gauze pads are standard for absorbing blood in the medical industry. While a sterile dressing is necessary for direct contact with the patient, non-sterile gauze pads can be used on top of that. When you have a wound with lots of bleeding, this gives you a way of absorbing that blood, without using a lot of expensive bandages
- Medical tape – For use with the larger bandages. The new “cohesive” tape is much better, even though it is more expensive. The big advantage is that it sticks to itself, rather than to your skin. So it doesn’t pull off skin or hair when removing it
- Israeli Bandage – This is a combat bandage, designed for use in providing first-aid to gunshot wounds or shrapnel. Used by the Israeli army, it combines a clotting agent, bandage and pressure bandage all in one. They are available in 4” and 6” sizes.
- SWAT Tourniquet – While developed as a tourniquet, these are really great for use as a pressure bandage. The recommended way of dealing with any bleeding wound is to apply pressure. This reduces blood flow and promotes clotting.
When dealing with broken bones, you have to assess whether the bone injury is more serious or any other injury that the patient might have. A simple fracture, which does not come through the skin, can be treated directly. But in the case of a compound fracture that breaks through the skin, you may have to stop the bleeding, before you can treat the break.
- Sam Splint – While you can make a splint to hold broken bones in place out of just about anything, the Sam Splint is much easier to work with. Made of soft sheet aluminum and coated on one side with foam rubber, it is easily molded to fit the person’s body
- Ace elastic bandages – For holding the Sam Splint or any other splint in place. Can also be used to provide support for sprained joints. You need to have a variety of sizes
- Large bandana or combat cravat – Essentially a triangular piece of fabric, most often used to make a sling
Other Medical Problems
The things mentioned above will take care of a lot of situations. But there are always a few situations that don’t fit into those categories. For those, add these items:
- Instant cold packs – The kind that turns cold when you break the vial and mix the ingredients. Ideal for treating sprains or other non-bleeding injuries and helping prevent swelling
- Dental repair paste – Intended to be a temporary filling in the case of a cavity or chipped tooth
- Tegaderm – This is a transparent film, used for dressing non-bleeding injuries or for covering a dressing. It is ideal for applying over medical cream applied to a rash
- Benzoine – Used to clean the area around a wound, so that a bandage will stick. Not an absolute necessity most of the time, but when you need it, it’s handy to have
- Lidocaine – A local antiseptic that can be applied topically to a wound to reduce the pain
The list of medicines you could need is literally endless. But the problem for most of us is that we don’t know how to use those medicines correctly. Used incorrectly, any medicine is dangerous. So don’t stock any medicines in your first-aid kit that you are not absolutely sure how to use.
- Pain relievers – Aspirin, ibuprofen or acetaminophen
- Antihistamine (Benadryl) – For runny noses
- Decongestant (Sudafed) – For stuffy noses
- Anti-diarrhea medicine (Loperamide or Imodium)
- Hydrocortisone cream – For reducing itching from rashes
- Antibiotics – This one can be difficult, as you normally need a prescription for it. If you can’t get your doctor to write you a prescription for some common antibiotics, look into veterinary antibiotics. Many are the same thing, manufactured in the same factory. They are just packaged differently. Be sure to get dosage information from a good medical website and keep it with the antibiotics
- Prescription medicines – If you have any family members who regularly take medicines, make sure that you have a good supply of them. If their use of these medicines is stable, most doctors are willing to write a prescription for extras