I have experienced a variety of injuries during my time in the outdoors, the most serious being when I almost cut my entire thumb off while cutting fire wood on a fishing trip when I was in college. I was camping in a wilderness area surrounding Tuttle Creek Reservoir, and I was over 20 miles from the nearest hospital. What was worse is that we had hiked 3 miles through a dense hardwood forest from my vehicle, and if it weren’t for a fisherman my girlfriend flagged down who took us in his boat right to the parking area where the car was, I might not have my left thumb today.
We rushed to the hospital in Manhattan, Kansas where I underwent three hours of surgery to sew everything back together, including veins, nerves, and whatever else is in there. It is interesting to look at the scar and see the damage I did with that hatchet, and to see how the veins take a different course around my thumb than the ones on my right thumb. I was lucky; my only problem all these years later is that there is a bone chip in there that sometimes gets lodged under a tendon, and it is very painful until I can get it worked out from underneath the tendon.
Whether you are a hunter who ventures for miles into the wilderness, a day hiker, a camper, a fisherman, or whatever it is that you choose to do in the outdoors, having a first aid kit is an essential item that should not be overlooked. In my articles I always mention having a first aid kit, but I have never written about what should be in that kit.
There are many first aid kits available, and as many variations as there are kits. You can also easily put one together of your own. In order to know what should be in that kit depends on a few factors:
· The number of people participating
· Where are you going for your wilderness trip
· How long will you be away on your trip
· Do you have any special-needs people on the trip
· How far are you from medical assistance
Since I am by myself most of the time I venture into the outdoors, I am going to write about the minimal things you should have for just yourself in a first aid kit. Of course I always keep in mind the size and weight of a first aid kit, and I never duplicate anything that I might have in something else, like my survival kit. Here are the basics:
· Basic bandages of various sizes for blisters and small cuts, include butterfly bandages
· Gauze bandages (2” x 2” and 4” x 4”)
· Sealed alcohol swabs
· Medical Tape
· Needle and thread – yes, you may need to stitch something up, it’s not that bad
· Antibacterial ointment
· Any personal medications
· Razor blade
· Safety Pins – 4 large pins for creating a sling from a piece of clothing
While that seems like a long list, it all fits into a pretty small package and is light weight. As I mentioned before, there are a ton of kits available to purchase, or you can make one on your own pretty easily. I have several first aid kits, simply because I participate in several different types of outdoor activities and I need different kits for different things. It’s also a good idea to keep a first aid kit in your vehicle, boat, ATV, saddle bag, or whatever you might use to travel around.
Once you have a first aid kit, it is very important to know what it contains and how to use each item in the kit. It is equally important to have some basic understanding of first aid principles so you know what to do in case of a significant injury. I am not a doctor, but I can give some general advice.
First, check if the injured person is in any danger, or will put you into a dangerous position by helping them. Avoid moving a person with unknown injuries, unless there is a greater danger in leaving them where he or she is. If necessary, make the area safe, but put your own safety first. Do not move anyone with a suspected neck or spinal injury, unless difficulties in breathing make this necessary.
Check Breathing Check that the airway is open and the person is breathing. A person who is unconscious has no control over their muscles; therefore, their tongue is the single most common cause of an airway obstruction. The airway can be cleared by simply using the head-tilt/chin-lift technique. This action pulls the tongue away from the air passage in the throat.
Bleeding Stop any bleeding. All types of external bleeding, such as open wounds, are treated in the same way:
· Squeeze together the sides of the wound. Apply direct pressure to the wound with your fingers, or preferably a sterile dressing. In an emergency, an article of clean clothing will do.
· Lie the person down.
· Lift the wounded part above the level of the heart. This slows the bleeding.
· Bandage the wound firmly but take care not to cut off the circulation to the area. If you suspect that an injury may have caused internal bleeding, the most important thing you can do is to prevent shock from occurring. Urgent medical attention is necessary.
Shock Shock is a condition of general body weakness, and is present in all cases of accidents, to varying degrees. The shocked person may feel weak, faint, giddy, anxious or restless. Keep the person warm and quiet and give all the reassurance you can. I know I went into total shock when I almost cut my thumb off and blood was squirting far away from my body. I immediately broke into a heavy sweat and I was freaking out, thinking that I was going to die within minutes.
When I was on my elk hunting trip two weeks ago, one day I was about four miles from camp, it was raining hard, and I slipped on a wet log hidden beneath the tall ferns I was walking through. My leg slid down the wet log and my foot abruptly hit a large rock. Had I not been wearing my solid hunting boots I could have easily broken an ankle, and in the area I was in at the moment, I could have been in serious trouble if I were not able to walk out of there. Not that a first aid kit would have done me any good at that moment, but it just magnifies the point that you never know what is going to happen, and you need to be prepared.