2011-07-15

Survival Guide: Wilderness first-aid

It is my primary intention with these "Survival" Guides to provide readers with the knowledge, skills, and techniques which can be of significant benefit in life-threatening wilderness circumstances. As I have stated previously, most of my knowledge on these subjects comes from my experiences with the Boy Scouts of America and a lifetime of curiosity and practice. That said, I do NOT consider myself an expert and I am certainly not a professional. So, please, use your own brain, a proper degree of caution, and seek the advice of appropriate officials.

Why the disclaimer?
Looking at the sky, building shelters, and even safe drinking water are relatively mundane. Starting today, though, I am going to get into some serious stuff. Beginning with Wilderness first-aid.

Things can always go wrong. Even more so when you're under stress, like being lost or stranded. When things go wrong, the chance of injury increases. In this article, I hope to give you some simple pointers on the basic treatment of medical circumstances in the wilderness.

BLISTERS
A blister is a pocket of skin filled with fluid, such as blood (red/purple), plasma (clear), or pus (green/white from infection).
- Plasma helps with the growth of new tissue in the damaged area, so draining it should be avoided if possible.
- Sometimes it's necessary to drain even a plasma blister as it may not be possible to allow a it to heal naturally without impeding necessary function (such as employing survival skills).
- Blood blisters and infected blisters can be drained to relieve pressure. However...
- Blisters should always be drained using the most clean supplies.
- If you must drain a blister, use the following steps:
STEP 1: Carefully clean the area over and surrounding the blister.
STEP 2: Puncture the blister with a clean (preferably sterile) needle.
STEP 3: Use gauze or a clean cloth to apply pressure to the blister and drain the fluid.
STEP 4: Apply ointments to fight infection (such as antibacterial).
STEP 5: Lightly bandage (or band-aid) the affected area.
- Find out what caused the pressure. Try to reduce the friction and/or moisture in that area.
MUSCLE PAIN
- Cramps can be caused a few things; most commonly lack of oxygen, water, or salt for your muscles/body.
- To relieve a cramp:
STEP 1: Stretch the muscle while taking very deep breaths (to increase the oxygen in your bloodstream).
STEP 2: Slowly drink water. Allow the water time to enter your system before continuing activity.
STEP 3: Eat salty foods to replenish your body's reserves, as they may be depleted through perspiration and other bodily processes.
- Do NOT massage or punch the sore muscle, it will only make the aching worse as it increases the flow of blood and lactic acid to the muscle.
BITES, SCRATCHES, STINGS
- Bites should always be treated as if they could source infection.
- Beware of Rabies, if bitten by a carnivore. Did the animal exhibit an of the common signs of the virus? (e.g. foaming mouth, self-mutilation, growling, jerky behavior, red eyes)
- If you suspect the animal to be venomous, look for green or purple coloration around the bite.
- Do NOT attempt to suck out the venom.
- Do NOT attempt to expose the bite to heat or cold.
- If the victim of a venomous bite cannot reach medical:
STEP 1: Sit the victim up. (Raising the heart.)
STEP 2: Keep the bite lowered and away from the heart.
STEP 3: Remove any constrictive accessories/clothing (e.g. jewelry) on or around the swelling.
STEP 4: Tie a bandage, loose enough to fit a finger under, about 7 cm (3 in) above (toward the heart) the bite.
STEP 5: Get the victim professional medical attention as soon as possible.
- Some venom can paralyze the heart and/or lungs. Be prepared to administer CPR.
- Anaphylactic shock "anaphylaxis" is a severe bodily reaction to an allergen (e.g. insect bites or stings). Anaphylaxis causes rapid swelling which can close the victim's airway. Quickly administer epinephrine and antihistamine.
EXPOSURE
- Exposure (or "hypothermia"), according to the Wikipedia article on the subject, is when a person's core temperature drops below 35°C (95°F).
- Symptoms may include uncontrollable shivering, stiffness and confusion.
- Warm the victim slowly as sudden warming may cause heart failure.
HEAT ILLNESS
- Heat illness occurs when a person's core temperature rises above 40°C (104°F).
- Symptoms may include fainting, weakness, confusion, convulsions. (The latter two symtoms indicate a sever heat illness.)
- Treatment:
STEP 1: CLay the victim down, raise the legs.
STEP 2: Cool the victim. (e.g. fanning, applying damp cloths).
STEP 3: Slowly hydrate the victim and give them salty foods.
STEP 4: Massage the victims limps to help move cooled blood through the bloodstream.
- Heat illness can cause major damage to the body's organs.
WOUNDS
- Treating most wounds:
STEP 1: Quickly remove foreign material from the wound.
STEP 2: Apply pressure. No, really, apply pressure! Your goal is to try to stop the bleeding.
STEP 3: Keep your pressure on the wound for 15 minutes.
STEP 4: Check if the bleeding has stopped.
STEP 5: Wash the wound when bleeding is under control.
- Avoid use of tourniquet unless blood loss cannot be slowed using the above steps. Remember, tourniquets may lead to the loss of a limb.
BREAKS
- Split the break with two straight sticks tied around the extremity, if applicable.
- Try not to move the victim as it may cause more injuries.
- If the skin is broken, see above for treating a wound.
HEART ATTACK
- Symptoms may include nausea, sweating, discomfort in the center of the chest, and difficulty breathing. There may also be pain in the shoulder or arm, sometimes even the jaw; usually on the left side.
- Assisting someone having a heart attack:
STEP 1: Lay the victim down comfortably. (They may sit slightly, if having trouble breathing.)
STEP 2: Have the victim take slow deep breaths.
STEP 3: Give the victim aspirin, if available.
STEP 4: Help calm the victim and keep the comfortably warm.
STEP 5: Allow the victim to rest for eight hours before allowing them to move without assistance.
- You can also attempt to follow the same steps, if treating yourself during a heart attack.

Prepare yourself for any medical emergency. Knowledge is the first step, action is what is necessary. If something goes wrong when you're away from immediate medical assistance, remain calm and confident.
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