Medical & Dental Tips

I have lived and worked for many years in very remote jungles operating a small primary care medical clinic wherein I provided medical and dental care to hundreds of people under very primitive conditions. Hiking alone to remote villages with only the assortment of medicines, medical and dental instruments and supplies I could carry in my back pack (along with personal "survival items") and without re-supply for many weeks at times, I quickly learned many basic ideas on how to self-treat or treat another without a fancy "first aid kit" and I hope you can get a few ideas from this article.

Survival Medical and Dental Tips

Priority #1: Learn and study all you can about emergency medicine before you need it. There is not one item in any first-aid kit that will replace basic emergency care knowledge, training and old fashion common sense in a survival situation. Remember this tip; the more medical knowledge and skills you possess the fewer medical items you require in a survival situation. With basic skills and knowledge, you can treat anyone for any injury without any first-aid supplies at all.

You do not need to attend medical college, but a few basic courses in first-aid, such as offered by the Red Cross in every country is a good place to start. If you were seriously injured in a remote setting and not able to properly care for yourself immediately, would you really want to see your buddy sitting there trying to read a simple first-aid manual while you are bleeding and in severe pain? I would suggest it best if your buddy already knew what to do and could begin emergency care immediately wherein not only would you feel better, but it will probably forestall worsening the injuries and speed later recovery. So do yourself (and your buddy) a favor by learning emergency first aid before you need it.

Medical tips:

OK, here are a few tidbits that may help you train, plan for, stock-up and keep yourself or buddy in the best shape possible in an emergency situation.

Always keep in mind, in a survival situation you are not trying to play doctor. Your intent should be treating the injured to maintain their body in the best shape possible pending treatment by "a real doctor" either via extraction or having one brought to your location. The delay in time for professional care may range from a few hours to days, weeks or longer depending on your anticipated location and circumstances. So plan and educate yourself accordingly.

The body is a marvelous self-repairing machine. Fractures will heal on their own (misaligned perhaps, but they will start to mend in only a few days). Large wounds will heal, even gaping wounds. They may leave scars but the body will fix itself. The majority of infections will be cured by the body without antibiotics.

Antibiotics are dispensed unnecessarily today as we have become accustomed to getting a prescription for every little infection we pick up. World wide abuse has lead to many pathogens now being immune to basic antibiotics and science is in a non-stop race striving to find new ones. Common infections do not require antibiotics. Most antibiotics do not "kill the bugs" causing the infection; rather, they prevent their ability to multiply in our body and allowing the body's own immune system to "cure itself" by killing the infecting organism. Common infections in a survival situation is often best left untreated by antibiotics if you do not know which one(s) to dish out unless a high fever or a wound is pus filled, red & swollen and obviously well infected. Generally a low grade fever does not warrant antibiotics and many professionals have concluded a fever is the body's attempt to kill off the invading bacteria or virus. Warm compresses can help or even draw out topical infections.

I do suggest putting in your kit a good "broad spectrum" antibiotic. (Most bacteria have a specifically developed 'rifle like antibiotic' designed to treat it and 'broad spectrum antibiotics' means they cover a variety of ailments 'like shot gunning' the critters). Talk with your doctor as to which one(s) he suggests and ask him for a prescription. Most doctors are willing to do so if you can demonstrate when and how to administer them.

Speaking of medications, you can optimize a kit with a few other meds. Pain meds such as over the counter Ibuprofen or codeine 30 mg with acetaminophen maybe something to consider for they have additional medical uses other than pain and, as with every medicine you carry, you should acquaint yourself with the other indications. Depending on your location, specific meds such as anti-malarials or high altitude meds may be in order. An anti diarrhea med such as Lamotrigine (Imodium AD) is a standard as is Diphenhydramine (Benadryl).

Bandages and Dressings: Most survival kits provide bandages and dressings and range from different sizes and quantities. While I am not striving to dissuade your decision as to which kit or size or quantities is best for your anticipated needs, lets shed some light on these items.

  • A dressing is something placed directly onto a wound. Its function is to protect the wound from further damage and often to help control bleeding. Most injuries do not require a sterile dressing. If you do not have a medical dressing, simply use the cleanest material you have at hand to control bleeding in an emergency. A piece of torn clothing can later be boiled, cooled and applied and it is often more effective than simple gauze dressings included in basic first-aid kits. Sterile dressings obviously have their place in a survival kit, but keep in mind if and when you run out of the 2" x 2", 3" x 3" or 4" x 4", 5" x 9" or larger sizes, your common sense and training will find replacements in the field.
  • A bandage is something that holds a dressing in place. It can also be used to immobilize a part of the body such as a triangular bandage used for a sling or a fracture; however the gauze roller bandages we think of are mainly used to keep the dressing where you want it to be. There are many different styles and sizes on the market. From simple gauze, sterile and non-sterile, self conforming bandages (i.e. Kling) that mold itself to the injured part and self-adhering bandages (i.e. Coban) that require no tape (and is stretchy and makes a very effective pressure bandage). Other bandages are combined with a built-in dressing such as Band-Aids or military style compress dressing. Even a bandanna makes a great field expedient bandage/dressing combination. First aid tape alone, Duct tape and even twine can be an effective bandage to hold a dressing in place.
  • If you apply a sterile dressing on a wound, anything you apply as a bandage and is not sterile will effectively "de-sterilize the dressing. Sterile + sterile = sterile. Sterile + non-sterile = non-sterile.
  • In an emergency and someone has suffered traumatic injuries, remember this simple tip; examine for and treat with "ABC" in mind. "A" is for airway, "B" is for breathing and "C" is for circulation (that encompasses first the heart beating and then severe bleeding). If a person's Airway is obstructed or damaged, their attempts at breathing will not be effective and they will die. Simply extending a persons head backwards a bit (if no neck injury is present or suspected) will open the unobstructed airway and takes but a fraction of a second to do. If a person's airway is clear but the Breathing is not working, they will enter unconsciousness in seconds and die within a matter of minutes. This is where mouth-to-mouth and other techniques come into play. If the airway and breathing is in good shape, then determining Circulation begins with checking the heart to find out if it's beating. If you can not locate a pulse or hear the heart, one could begin CPR. If the heart is beating blood through the body, quickly look for severe bleeding that you need to control quickly. If Airway is obstructed, then breathing is not getting air and body will die. If the Airway is closed, no air gets into the lungs. If Breathing is stopped there is no oxygenated blood going to the heart so the heart temporarily pumping does the body no good. If the heart stops Circulating oxygenated blood or it is loosing too much blood to keep cells alive, all else is mute.
  • So called minor surgical kits or suture kits are not needed in the field. Wounds will take care of themselves without sutures. Without formal training leave the surgery to professionals.
  • Even with gaping wounds for example, all one needs to do is wash the wound with soap and potable water (any water you can drink), flush it gently with as much potable water as possible, dry it or allow to air dry and simply cover with sterile gauze dressing if available. Even surgeons in hospitals rely on this manner of keeping wounds sterile.
  • Creams and salves do have a place in a medium or large size kit but use in the field is rather specific and their use can be often left untreated by them. If you are going to carry some, I suggest an anti-fungal cream (take along some female vaginal cream for women and also any fungal infections anywhere on the body except the eyes and mouth) as it is more potent than other over-the-counter anti-fungal creams; a topical anesthesia cream containing Benzocaine or Lidocaine for treating localized itch, mucus tissue like the anus for hemorrhoids from sitting on those rocks and logs and in an emergency for oral uses. Over-the-counter hydrocortisone is simply too weak to be of much use. If space allows, a good gel-burn bandage is a nice thing to have along. With proper wound care, first aid creams are not of much use.

Dental tips

If you anticipate being anywhere for any length of time or subject to facial injuries (plane crash) or whatever, a couple of very basic materials will keep you intact and out of pain until you can get to a dentist. The items are so small I suggest carrying some if at all possible.

Tip: Ask you local dentist to give you a very small amount of eugenol and zinc oxide powder. These are not prescription items (many drug stores either carry or can order them for you but the amounts ordered and received is ridiculous). I bet if you take in a tiny dark bottle that has a very tight fitting lid for the eugenol (it is a liquid) and a small container (film container?) for the zinc oxide power to the dentist they will gladly give it to you because its is very cheap stuff. Remember you will only need small amounts of both. Eugenol can be substituted with oil of cloves for they are the same stuff and oil of cloves is found in many grocery stores in the spice department; however, it is not as potent as pure eugenol.

Eugenol has been used for more than a hundred years by dentists and still widely used to stop the pain from a tooth ache or even broken teeth in many practices. Simply placing a small drop of the eugenol onto a tiny cotton pellet (miniature ball) or even a piece of cloth will work, and inserting it into the cavity, lost filling or broken tooth. It will stop the pain instantly. Reapply as needed.

If there is a cavity or lost filling, mixing the zinc oxide with the eugenol into a paste makes a very effective "temporary filling material" that is used daily in many dentist's offices. Mix a small amount of the paste and stick it into the cavity and mush it down some with a twig or whatever is handy. Remove any pieces floating around inside the mouth for saliva can and will numb the gums, tongue and lips! Hold the mouth open for a minute to dry. If the cavity is large or the material seems not to hold, try again and mix a few strands of cotton with the paste for a stronger bond. These "temporary fillings" can last for weeks, months or even longer depending on the location of the filling.

The tips I have provided here is in no way meant to be replacement for neither definitive professional care nor advice as such. They are only meant to give insight into a few tips I have learned over the course of years working and living in remote areas performing "survival medicine" each day. Education is still the foundation of any survival medical planning and it is the first "first aid item" you should invest in.

-Jerry B. Blaine

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