Good medical services are expensive, which can make it a little hard for people to get the services they need, when they need them. But that’s nothing compared to the problem with getting medical services in the wake of a disaster. When that happens, medical services are overwhelmed, supplies are short and even getting to a doctor can become a major problem.
If you can’t get to a doctor, what do you do? I suppose that we could just let people die, but that doesn’t seem to me like a very viable alternative. It becomes even less of one when that person is a loved one who you are trying to help.
Since we know that there’s a good chance that the healthcare system won’t be able to keep up with everyone’s needs in such a time, it only makes sense to do something about it ourselves. That means we’d better prepare for taking care of medical emergencies.
There are two parts of preparing for medical emergencies; having the necessary knowledge and having the right tools and materials to work with. In other words, we need to learn first-aid skills and have a really good first-aid kit to work with. Not a $19.95 special from the big box store, but one that allows us to deal with all types of trauma situations. That means either spending a lot of money or building it ourselves.
Why Build Your Own First-Aid Kit
Personally, I prefer building my own first-aid kit. While there are a number of really excellent trauma kits on the market, they are rather expensive, especially if you consider having enough supplies in it to take care of a number of serious trauma cases, not just one. The other thing is that most packaged trauma kits don’t use the best medical supplies around. They save money by using second-rate stuff.
Let me be clear about that. I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with the first-aid supplies that these companies are providing in their kits, just that they aren’t the best. One simple example is adhesive bandages. Everyone has used those. They consist of a strip of plastic with adhesive on one side and a small square of gauze in the middle. You put it over the wound and everything’s fine. That is, everything is fine as long as you don’t move that part of your body. If you move it, there’s a good chance the adhesive will become undone.
The best adhesive bandages around are the cloth ones. They are similar to the others, with the exception that they use a strip of cloth, rather than a strip of plastic. That makes the bandage flexible, so that when you move, it can stay stuck to you. While more expensive than others, they are well worth it. That’s the type of supplies I want in my first-aid kit.
Start with the Case
You’ve got to have something to keep the first-aid kit in, so let’s start there. Many kits today are built into a duffle bag; the kind you might use to go to the gym or to take a weekend trip. This works well for its flexibility, but it can be a problem for organization. Ideally, you want to be able to organize your supplies so that they are easy to get to and easy to find. That means you need a duffle with lots of pockets, or you need to develop a divider system for the inside of it.
I personally use a large fishing tackle box for me first-aid kit. The cantilevered trays provide a great place to organize small things like medicines and adhesive bandages, while the larger space in the bottom provides a place for things like elastic bandages and blood pressure cuffs. I cheated a little on my tackle box, by cutting out some of the dividers in the trays, making larger storage spaces.
What Goes in the Case?
You can find a lot of different ideas about what should be in a first-aid kit, if you take a spin around the internet. It would be easy to think that all of those lists should be the same, but in reality, different people have different levels of training. It really doesn’t make a whole lot of sense in filling a first-aid kit with equipment and supplies you can’t use. So, here’s my list. This is what’s in my kit, which is a compilation of everything I could find on everyone else’s list.
The start of any first-aid is keeping the patient from becoming infected. At the same time, you want to make sure that you don’t get infected by anything they might have.
- Antibacterial hand cleaner
- Rubber gloves
- Medical masks (dust masks work as well, if sprayed with a disinfectant or antiseptic cleaner)
We’ll start with the tools needed to take care of patients. These are either diagnostic in nature or used for treating wounds.
- Medical scissors – for removing bandages
- Sharp tweezers – for removing splinters and debris from wounds
- Eye loupe – for use with the tweezers, allowing you to see small splinters
- Hemostats – for closing off blood vessels that are bleeding profusely
- Tourniquet – for restricting blood flow to a limb with a major wound – must be able to be used with one hand
- In-ear thermometer
- Blood pressure cuff – the new electronic types that strap on the wrist are much easier to use
- Glucose meter – for checking blood sugar levels
- Eye cup – for rinsing irritants out of eyes
- Resuscitation mask – for use in performing CPR, without transferring germs between the patient and the first responder
When we talk about trauma, we’re referring to cuts, scrapes, bruises and broken bones of all types. This is the biggest part of the kit, and needs to be very well stocked. I keep extra trauma supplies in a box in my bathroom, for restocking my first-aid kit after using it.
- Cloth adhesive bandages in various sizes
- Cloth adhesive knuckle bandages
- Cloth adhesive fingertip bandages
- 2″ x 3″ bandages
- 5″ x 7″ bandages
- Sanitary napkins – women’s sanitary napkins are essentially large bandages. They are sanitary and designed to soak up a lot of blood. They are also much cheaper than most other bandages.
- Clotting agent – there are several brands of this on the market. You can buy it either in a powder to sprinkle on the wound or in a bandage that has the clotting agent in it. I have both.
- Medical tape – larger bandages aren’t self-adhesive. I prefer the new “cohesive” tape. While expensive, it doesn’t stick to the skin, so it doesn’t hurt to take it off.
- Butterfly closure strips – these can be used in place of sutures for cuts. They look a lot like adhesive bandages, except that the center part is a narrow strip, without gauze
- Alcohol towelettes – for cleaning wounds before applying the bandage
- Antiseptic cream – to help prevent infection. This kills bacteria that might have gotten into the wound
- Foam-faced aluminum splint (Sam splint) – a formable splint which can be used for holding any sort of break.
- Finger splints – essentially the same as the Sam splint, but made for fingers
- Elastic bandages in various sizes – good for attaching the Sam splint or wrapping sprained joints
- Saline eye wash solution – for use with the eye cup, to remove irritants
- Large bandana – for use as a sling in cases where an arm or hand is injured
- Instant cold packs – applied to reduce swelling in the first 15 minutes after an injury
Since you and I aren’t doctors, we can’t really stock our first-aid kit with all that many medicines; but there are a few over-the-counter medicines which we should have.
- Pain relievers – ibuprofen, acetaminophen or any other you prefer
- Antihistamine – for dealing with colds, allergies, runny noses and reducing itching
- Decongestant – for clearing respiratory infection, opening airways
- Loperamide or Imodium – anti-diarrhea medicine
- Meclizine (trade names Dramamine or Bonine) used for reducing nausea and vomiting
- Rantide (trade name Zantec) for heartburn
- Hydrocortisone cream – for reducing itching from rashes