Surviving any disaster is bad enough; surviving it when you’re sick or injured is even worse. Yet the chance of someone in the family getting hurt during times of disasters is definitely heightened. Not only that, but there’s a greater possibility of it being a serious injury.
At the same time, hospitals and medical clinics tend to become overrun during these times. Between their normal caseload and all the people who become injured due to the disaster, just trying to get in to be seen at the emergency room is going to be a challenge. That’s assuming you can get to the hospital, which may not always be the case.
Some emergency room doctors say that the paramedics driving the ambulances save more lives than the doctors themselves do. That’s a testimony to the importance of first-aid; providing immediate treatment to patients. In serious trauma cases, stopping the bleeding and preventing the patient from going into shock is essential to their survival. That means treating the patient, before transporting them to the doctor.
However, it’s all but impossible to treat an injured person without two things: medical supplies and knowledge. You’ve got to have the right things to work with and you’ve got to know how to use them to get the results you need; hence the need for a family first-aid kit.
I’m not talking about a $19.95 first-aid kit that you can buy at your local pharmacy. That might be good for a paper cut or a skinned knee, but it’s not going to do much good for an accident with a chain saw or a gunshot wound. What we need for that is more rightly called a “trauma kit.”
You can buy trauma kits online from a number of sources. They fall into two basic categories: those which provide enough to treat one wound or those used by professionals. The ones which provide enough to treat one wound are portable, which is nice; but in a survival situation, they don’t provide enough supplies to treat several injuries. On the other hand, professional trauma kits of the type that a paramedic might have are great for treating several wounds, but they are expensive.
The other option is making your own kit. To start with, you’re going to need something large and organized to put it in. Organization is critical; you’ll want to be able to find things quickly when you need them. Some people use a small suitcase, but I like using a large fishing tackle box. The cantilevered trays with all their compartments provide an easy way to organize the little things, while the well in the bottom provides a place for the larger stuff. Dividers in some compartments can be cut out, making larger compartments out of them.
Okay, so what needs to be in that first-aid kit?
Personal Protection Equipment
While it is not actually part of the Hippocratic Oath, one of the things that Hippocrates taught was “First of all, do no harm.” This is why doctors and other medical personnel wear masks and gloves when treating patients. It’s not so much to protect themselves, but to protect the patient they are treating. At the same time, these items do help protect medical personnel from infection.
- Disposable medical masks
- Goggles or face shield
- Disposable rubber gloves – better to use sterile one; but if those are unavailable, normal ones can be worn and then cleaned with hand sanitizer
- Hand sanitizer
- CPR mask
While you don’t really need all that many tools in your first-aid kit, there are a few things that are important for the diagnosis of what’s happening to the patient, as well as their treatment
- Medical scissors – get some strong ones, as you need to be able to cut through clothing with them
- Hemostats – used for temporarily closing off arteries to prevent bleeding. They are the fastest way of accomplishing that, other than sticking your finger in the artery
- CAT tourniquet – the best type of tourniquet on the market, because it is the most likely to cut off blood flow. Avoid the cheap imitations, as they tend to break
- Fine point tweezers – for taking splinters and other debris out of wounds
- Jeweler’s eye loupe – for use with the tweezers
- Blood pressure cuff – dropping blood pressure is a sign of internal bleeding
- Blood sugar monitor – poor diet during a time of crisis can cause dropping blood sugar, which will cause people to lose cognitive ability, become dizzy, have shaking hands and even pass out
- In ear thermometer – infections will cause a rise in core body temperature
- Pulse oximeter – placed on the fingertip, this device tells pulse and blood oxygen percentage. One sign of serious COVID-19 cases is a lowering of blood oxygen percentage
- Eye cup & saline – for cleaning out foreign matter in the eye
- Nasal Pharangeal Airway – for unconscious patients who are having trouble breathing; a silicone tube that goes in through the nose and down to the throat
- Needle for chest decompression – a special needle, used for removing air from the chest cavity but outside the lungs, which has gotten in there from a sucking chest wound
- Clear plastic kitchen wrap (self-stick kind) – probably the best cohesive medical tape for use when the body needs to be wrapped, such as when there is an open abdominal wound
First-aid Supplies for Bleeding
The biggest bulk of what you need in any first-aid kit is for dealing with bleeding injuries. You’ll want several of each item, so that you’re ready to deal with multiple wounds. Don’t forget that it is usually necessary to change dressings periodically on serious wounds, as the bandage becomes dirty.
- Irrigation syringe – for flushing out wounds with water. Any water that is purified enough for drinking will work
- Alcohol and alcohol wipes – for cleaning out the wound and the area around it
- Hydrogen peroxide – an alternative for alcohol, necessary for people who are allergic to rubbing alcohol
- Clotting agent – used to stop blood flow by cauterizing the wound. The clotting agent needs to be pressed into the wound and held while it heats and cauterizes. This will be painful for the patient
- Israeli Bandage – a very effective combination bandage, wrap and pressure bandage, all in one, developed by the IDF
- Antibacterial ointment – applied to the wound to help prevent infection
- Adhesive bandages – the cloth type are better, being flexible and adhering better
- Larger bandages (2”x 3”, 4”x 6”, etc.) – for use on larger wounds. Sanitary napkins make great bandages for larger wounds
- Medical tape – both normal tape and the newer cohesive tape
- Gauze rolls – for packing wounds
- Gauze, lots of gauze – the main bandaging material. Only the gauze pad placed against the wound needs to be sterile, anything placed over that doesn’t
- Tagaderm – a clear plastic bandage film used for covering topical medicines applied to skin irritations
- Chest seal – placed over a gunshot wound to the chest, it prevents lungs from collapsing
For Broken Bones & Sprains
Broken bones are a bit different to deal with, than bleeding wounds; although it is possible for a patient to have both. While most breaks will not be compound breaks where the bone sticks thought the surface of the skin, such breaks are possible. In those cases, it will be necessary to both stop the bleeding and immobilize the break, so that the patient can be transported.
- Sam splint – a foam-coated soft aluminum strip which can be formed to make any sort of splint necessary
- Elastic bandages – both for use with the same splint and for sprains
- Combat cravat – essentially a large triangular kerchief, which makes a great sling for an arm
- Instant cold packs – to help prevent excessive swelling
You’ll also want to keep some basic over-the-counter medicines in your first-aid kit, although some people have a separate kit for that. At a minimum, it’s a good idea to have:
- Aloe vera – for treating burns
- Hydrocortisone cream – for reducing itches from rashes
- Lidocaine – a topical anesthetic cream for temporarily numbing the skin
- Benzoine – used to promote the adhesion of bandages
- Pain relievers – if someone is injured, they’re probably in pain
There are probably some items on this list which you have no idea of how to use. That’s okay; you can always learn how. In addition to that, there may be a time when someone else who is helping you, working off of your kit, who has more knowledge than you do. Better to have something you don’t know how to use, but someone else can use on your family’s behalf, than not to have it and need it.