6 min read

Rub Some Dirt on It: W/I First Aid

Photo by milan degraeve on Unsplash

We made it out the other side of the most terrifying election in living memory, and we won. You should rightly be celebrating, and I hope that continues through today. Come Monday, though, remember that there is so much work to be done, and there is so much to prepare for: Trump can wreck a lot on his way out; climate change will not stop for a blue president; and now that the fascists got a taste for blood, they won't be going anywhere until they've gotten their teeth kicked in. So let's take some time, take a few deep, restful breaths, and look ahead.

I grew up around medical professionals of one sort or another. My father is a paramedic/firefighter, and my mother worked in a small-town doctor’s office. With that kind of expertise at home, there wasn’t a lot that we couldn’t treat ourselves—usually with my father saying to “rub some dirt on it and walk it off.” I’ve probably absorbed less knowledge than I think, but I do stand somewhere north of your average joe when it comes to first aid. However, there is a vast difference between layman knowledge and true medical expertise, so before we get into the preps I want to urge you again to turn to your community. Your greatest asset when injured or ill is going to be a partner, a friend, or a neighbor with some professional experience. The situations that we may face in the coming days, months, and certainly years, will make you glad to have formed a community of diverse backgrounds. However, if it's you alone in the wilderness or up against the wall, these are some basic preps to keep you alive.

First Aid Kits

An absolutely essential part of any prepper’s kit, whatever and wherever it may be. I stock an overflowing duffel bag of medical supplies at home, a medium-sized first aid kit in my car, and a smaller (but still robust) kit in my bugout bag. Kits come in all these sizes and more, and in a number of different types. As you move forward in your prepping journey, you'll eventually want this sort of multiplicity.

Home kit: When your bathroom or kitchen becomes your ER, you'll want to have more than just what's behind the bathroom mirror. This 228-piece kit is at a great price point and it’s got a good bit of what you want in a pinch (but a little light on what you will need in a real emergency). I wholeheartedly recommend you supplement this kit with a couple boxes of gauze, medical tape, and make sure that you’ve got a bottle of rubbing alcohol, iodine, and hydrogen peroxide handy to start. Tourniquets and splints should be on your shopping list soon.

Car kit: Let's roll with it and say this is your ambulance pack. It's meant to get you from the battlefield to the hospital. This 135-piece trauma kit is stocked with a tourniquet, compression bandage, and splint. In addition, it has a flashlight, knife, and paracord bracelet (ubiquitous among most prepper kits). With all these items, you’re stocked well enough to nearly consider this a bugout bag in itself. Keep it hidden in your glove box and drive safely.

EDC kit: There are options for a small kit that you can keep on your person in most situations. The M2 150-piece kit is sleek enough to stow in whatever bag you’re walking around with that day, and robust enough to help in an emergency. Your other option is smaller, DIY, but kinda fun:

  • Buy and eat a tin of Altoids.
  • Add 3-4 regular bandages.
  • Add 3-4 butterfly bandages.
  • Add several alcohol wipes (individually wrapped).
  • Throw in one of those hotel-type sewing kits (you know, with the paper backing, three types of thread and a needle. Or make one yourself.).
  • Include a few aspirin, benadryl, etc. Some folks say to baggy these up, but I don’t see why. You should have this tin packed tight (add bandages/alcohol pads if you’ve still got room) and you’re not going to confuse them for some other kind of pill.

Treating Wounds

I could speak at length about treating the enormous variety of wounds possibly sustained in an emergency situation, but that will be a subject for another day. For now, I’ll address a few of the most common types of emergency-incurred injuries, and those which you will be most capable to treat. These are cuts/scrapes, burns, and fractures.

  • Cuts/scrapes
  1. Put pressure on the injury with a clean cloth or compress for three to fifteen minutes, or until bleeding stops.
  2. Cut away any clothing around the wound/remove risk factors for infection.
  3. Wash the surrounding area thoroughly with soap and water or an antiseptic.
  4. Flush the wound with saline solution or distilled water. A squeeze bottle is preferable because you want to force the fluid over the wound to debride it, but not so forceful that you break clotting.
  5. Let the wound air-dry. Expose to sunlight if possible. If not possible, apply an antibiotic ointment such as Polysporin and cover the wound with a breathable layer of gauze before covering with a bandage.

These steps will ensure you’ve controlled bleeding and mitigated potential for infection without assistance. If you can’t control the bleeding, that is your priority. Continue to apply pressure with a compress, dress the wound with a clean cloth or gauze, then wrap and secure the wound and seek assistance. We will get to tourniquets and compression bandages at a later date.

  • First and Second-degree burns
  1. Run the burn under cold or cool water until the pain subsides.
  2. If the burn is small, wrap loosely with gauze.
  3. If skin breaks or blisters rupture, lightly apply antibiotic ointment.

Anything worse than a small (<10% of the body) burn, or one which turns the skin black or white, needs to be treated by a medical professional. Risk of infection is extremely high. Cover with clean gauze and be sure to keep yourself warm in the meantime.

  • Fractures
  1. Stop bleeding if any by following directions above.
  2. Immobilize the injured area. Utilize a splint if you have one, if not, use an excess of cloth or bandages and a stick, rolled up newspaper, etc. Be sure to fasten the splint at the joint above and below the injury. A sling can be fashioned from a bandana or t-shirt if you suffer a collarbone or arm fracture.
  3. Treat swelling with cold packs or ice if available.

If you suspect a fracture or break on your legs and you have to keep mobile, follow the directions above to the best of your ability, and assist yourself by fashioning a crutch if possible. Be wary, as fractures and breaks can lead to arterial bleeds, and can be deadly.

Treating Illness

Traditionally, preppers will stockpile their necessary meds and purchase fish antibiotics as a store against the apocalypse. I don’t recommend that you do either. Rationing meds to achieve a stockpile is dangerous for a number of reasons, and you sick now won’t help sick you later. Using fish antibiotics wouldn’t be as ludicrous as it sounds on its face if it weren’t for the fact that fish medication is not regulated by the FDA, so you can’t trust that what’s on the bottle is what’s inside. That’s a dangerous gamble made worse by the increasing resilience of bacteria against common antibiotics. This itself is exacerbated by overprescription and patients not completing their prescribed course of antibiotics—like when preppers stockpile their meds. So don’t do it.

This leaves you with OTC medications, which I suggest you do stockpile. Aspirin, cold meds, Pepto-Bismol (in pill form, easier to store), and allergy meds will be important to keep around. Remember that traditional illnesses like the common cold, the flu—and COVID-19—are viruses, and thus wouldn’t flinch at your fish tetracycline even if you had it. This means that you will largely be fighting symptoms if you’re on your own. Your best bet is to rest, stay hydrated, and stay warm. Fighting a high fever or intense vomiting/diarrhea are extremely important in a survival situation, as both will dehydrate you with a quickness and fever will lead to poor decision-making. If you’re concerned that your condition is not improving and you worry about the stability of your situation, leave. Leave while you have the strength. Find help. A simple illness that would hardly keep you home from work today can kill you stone dead in a scenario without access to water or food.

A solid first aid kit and the knowledge of how to treat common wounds and illnesses (and knowing your limitations) can take you a long way, but not always the whole way. A lot of what happens to the body is healed by the body, and what isn’t healed by the body usually requires some help you aren’t capable of performing yourself. When this pandemic ends it will be important for you to look into hands-on training, and your local Red Cross or Department of Public Health likely has courses available. One way or another, I have to beat that drum again: community is your best bet when it comes to injury and illness. Make friends, take classes, help each other. There’s not much of a reason to be prepared for the future if it’s only you.