#42: If I Had Some Duct Tape, I Could Fix That.
Except that sometimes, you can't MacGyver your way out of a health emergency.
While I’m fairly certain one of the badges adorning my Girl Guide sash was for First Aid, I doubt there was any meaningful or long-lasting knowledge imparted on me. I remember things like making bannock, trying to learn constellations, or cleaning camp bathrooms while screaming at large moths fluttering around my head and the pulsing fluorescent lights over the sinks.
However, first aid did seem to stick with some of the girls. Like my sister, who also sat around the same papier-mâché mushroom at the end of each troupe meeting, reciting puritanical incantations written by acolytes of Lady Baden Powell (or the old doll herself). My sister’s resume is, indeed, a litany of acts helping others. Attendant in youth group homes. Swimming instructor. Yoga instructor. A certified pool, then beach, lifeguard - the latter requiring timed sprints along frigid coastlines and in even more icy waters to save volunteer victims.Post-undergraduate degree, she attended paramedic school. Recently, after 15 years of service, she’s returned to the classroom to become a trauma and crisis counsellor.
I share all this because she’s a beautifully kind and funny soul who heals, and I like to brag about her work.
I share it, too, as context for the glare she is fixing me across my dining room table.
As she sips an herbal tea, dressed in the eclectic threads that she sources from nooks and crannies, and which would look dishevelled on most people, but gives off an effortless bohemian vibe, she listens to me tell her about a recent hike.
In which I made the (fortunate) mistake of telling her I included a first aid kit in my pack.
“Uh-huh,” she sighs. She levels a look at me that speaks of decades of training in the field and of experience with all sorts of folks - and, being two years younger, with my nonsense. She already knows.
“Can I see it?”
I’m still under the delusion at this point that my efforts will get passing grades. I lay out the two kits - one that was in Ben’s pack, and my own - and sit back.
She takes another sip of tea, opens the small kit Ben had in his pack - a completely pre-fab, and up to this point, unused affair originally bought for The Boy™ as part of “hunter preparedness”. She purses her lips.
“What?? What’s wrong with it?”
“It’s all Band-Aids.”
An obscene, and unnecessary, number of Band-Aids
One large, new safety pin
One empty, plastic syringe
She then turns her eye to my kit: a patchwork of pieces lying around our medicine cabinet, supplemented by spotty first aid knowledge. She holds up a muffin liner containing several ibuprofen tablets.
“Are you serious.”
“What? I couldn’t find an empty bottle or one of those tiny plastic containers for salad dressing. And I didn’t want to carry loose Advil in my pocket that day.”
In addition to the muffin liner of drugs:
Two (?) tubes of anti itch cream
An elastic bandage with questionable safety pins
Expiredmoist and alcohol wipes
Another sigh. More tea. And then, a conversation on making a useful first-aid kit that doesn’t involve pillaging the pantry.
As Surgeon-General, [Johann] Esmarch required every German soldier to have an "Antiseptic Dressing Package". This is described in the German Military Sanitary Regulations of 1886 as containing “two antiseptic muslin compresses 40 cm. X 20 cm., a cambric bandage 300 cm. X 5 cm., a safety pin, and waterproof material 28 cm. X 18 cm., for covering.
Johann Friedrich August von Esmarch: His Life and Contributions to Orthopaedic Surgery (Herzenberg, 1988)
No doubt the father of the first aid kit, Dr. Esmarch, would also grimace at the paltry kits we had assembled. I was interested in improving on my earlier attempt, but it is overwhelming when faced with aisles of similar packages and products. The choices in pharmacies and outdoor wilderness shops can also be deceiving.
“They might have one thing in there that is useful, but are mostly full of cheap “filler”, like Band-Aids,” my sister advised. She kindly gives me a list to begin sourcing new components for my kit. she also advises me that, while the bigger pharmacies can have useful items, “dollar stores” (or “pound shops”?) are also a good resource for basic items, like small Band-Aids and safety pins.
Starting with the pharmacies, I strike out at my first stop, Shoppers Drug Mart (AKA the big Canadian chain). Their selection of first aid gear sticks to a small selection of pre-fab kits and some sports injury supplies.
I drive a kilometre down the street to Guardian Drugs, a smaller pharmacy that boasts a strange blend of cool giftware, cosmetic staples, and medical/surgical supplies. It has a wider selection of materials for wound care, and sells them individually.
What I Bought
Yes, Band-Aids. Although I had a bounty of rectangular Band-Aids at home to manage small cuts or scrapes with light bleeding, other shapes are important to include. Butterfly, or knuckle, Band-Aids are especially handy for cuts on joints.
Non-adherent dressings.Sometimes, you need to cover an area that isn’t anticipated by the surface area of the above bandages. These are also good for burns, and are secured in place with…
Medical tape. To secure dressings or gauze, tape is also handy for mobilizing injured digits and limbs. As per sisterly recommendations, I got two sizes so I’d be ready for different needs: 1/2” wide, and 1” wide.
Gauze.Whether it’s gauze pads, or a roll, gauze is well-woven to allow for some air flow while also providing a clean surface for larger areas and to stop heavier bleeding.
Steri-strips. If you have a small but deep cut, it’s hard to keep it closed with just a Band-Aid if it’s also on an area that moves. While waiting to get back for a few stitches, you can close the cut with the proper tension to keep it clean and safe.
Bottle of water. To flush out wounds with clean water.
Safety pins. The ones in my existing kit had seen better days.
Salvaged From My Kits of Sadness
Emergency blanket. Made fashionable by marathon men and women, the reflective lining reflects heat back to you while you wait for help.
Instant cold pack. To reduce swelling.
Gloves. To keep the germs to yourself, and not the fresh wound.
The plastic syringe. I wasn’t going to buy one if it was missing, but since I had it, it would help with more targeted flushing of wounds.
Elastic bandages. For stabilizing a joint, usually secured with safety pins.
Medications. after checking the expiry date, I included tubes of insect bite cream (“After-Bite”) and antibiotic ointment, and proper containers of anti-histamine pills, acetaminophen, and ibuprofen. If you have specific meds, e.g., Epi-Pen, diabetes supplies, pop these in the kit before leaving the house.
Tweezers. To pick out junk from a wound. You can also get special, fine-tipped ones for removing ticks, which we have in our area due to all the deer roaming about. The special ones help remove the critter completely, without crushing it or leaving the head buried under the skin.
The DIY Project
Triangular bandage. You don’t need to buy this - an old bed sheet cut into a size that works, cut into 40” by 40” by 56”. It doesn’t have the handy illustrations that the father of the first aid kit printed for instructions on his triangular bandages, but I’ll work out a configuration if needed.
Splints. Actually, I don’t have splints in my kit, because nature is full of them! Try to wrap it in gauze or cloth before securing to the limb.
““If you try hard enough to make the best of a situation, the situation won’t get the best of you.”
So, there you have it. I’m now in possession of a presentable first aid kit that doesn’t completely make my sister cringe, and which gives me a chance at not losing a finger in the wild to whatever bird I’m trying to photograph this week.
If you’re interested in shopping to create your own kit, or supplement an existing one, I created a checklist for you to download. Let me know how it works for you!
It might seem like a lot to assemble, but take your time, look around your existing supplies to see what still fits the bill, and consider your immediate needs: the activity you’ll be doing, where you’re going, and how far you will be from medical care.
Or, find yourself a paramedic that you can put on speed-dial.
I tried to help her practice for these tests. Once. I tried to play “drowned” dead weight, but resting far too rigid, I eventually started to sink until I coughed and sputtered, and she told me to go splash about elsewhere.
How does moisture “expire”, exactly?
A good explainer of dressings and other bandages: https://blog.physical-sports.co.uk/2017/12/11/first-aid-dressings-explained/
I found this to be a good explanation of gauze: https://www.cvs.com/shop/health-medicine/first-aid/first-aid-tape-gauze-pads
Definitely not telling your sister I don’t have any kind of a first aid kit and I’m pretty sure I’m out of band-aids at home too...uh, just downloading that list there, no big deal...
I’m with your sister on this one. I’m sure it will come as no surprise that as a former EMT I always carry a tourniquet, QuikClot( bandages with a built in coagulating agent) , and Israeli bandages- like a cloth wrap for a bleeding wound, and a lot of other supplies for stopping bleeding.
I do need to brush up on my splinting supplies, though 😁