Emergency wound care is one of those skills you need to have but hope you never have to use.
Even under the “best” circumstances (i.e. having expert medical help nearby), a serious injury or wound can still be life-threatening.
Understandably, this risk increases dramatically in any survival situations where medical help is either far away or never coming at all.
While next to nothing will replace spending years at medical school, knowing a few basic care tips can still prove invaluable during an emergency.
I still highly recommend owning an emergency medical guide (and I’ve heard good things about Wilderness Medicine by William W. Forgey), but my hope is to share a few important survival tips in this blog post.
Essential Emergency Wound Care For a Crisis
Disclaimer: I am not a medical doctor, and the information in the blog is not a substitute for professional medical help.
1 – Make Sure the Scene is Safe
If you come across a wounded person or even if you are injured yourself, you’ll want to check your surroundings to ensure that you aren’t in immediate danger before attempting to treat any wounds.
For example, if you’re attacked and injured by a bear, retreating to a safe distance away from it (and any other predators) takes priority over everything else.
That’s an obvious example, but the principle holds true in a number of survival situations. If someone is injured by a fallen tree, you’ll want to do a preliminary check to see that no other nearby trees are at risk of falling before you tend to that person.
In a crisis, the urge to act fast is both tempting and, in many ways, commendable. However, taking just a few moments to examine the situation can do a lot to prevent further injury.
2 – Expose the Wound
You’re going to want to remove all tight and constrictive clothing from around the wound.
If at all possible, you should wear gloves when dealing with open wounds. Even if you’re treating yourself, it’s still likely that your bare hands are covered in contaminants.
One handy tool to have around for emergency wound care is a rescue hook. These are great for cutting stuck seatbelts after an auto accident, and they work well for cutting through clothing in a safe manner.
Be sure to remove any jewelry from the general area of the wound right away as well. Even if you are injured on a different finger, take off your wedding ring as it’s possible your entire hand may swell up.
3 – Stop the Bleeding
This is one of the most important steps involved in treating a wound.
Uncontrolled hemorrhage through a wounded extremity is one of the biggest causes of preventable death after a trauma.
In many cases, pressure and elevation can stop a wound from bleeding. Another solution is to use ice if you have some available, or you can pack the wound with gauze.
For significant uncontrolled bleeding, using a proper tourniquet can help save your life.
Ideally, you should use an actual medical tourniquet, but you may have to improvise if it’s an emergency.
Many believe that belts can work as tourniquets, but many are too stiff to be tightened enough to work properly. A triangular bandage, necktie, or even a ripped t-shirt will work better than a leather belt.
Here’s a quick video on putting together a makeshift tourniquet and getting it tight enough to stop uncontrolled bleeding.
Another important thing to note is that paracord and shoe laces do not make good tourniquets because they are too narrow.
Note: Belts don’t make good tourniquets, but they can be useful for survival. Check out this blog to see all the reasons belts make great survival tools.
4 – Clean the Wound
Once the bleeding is under control, the next step in wound care is cleaning the injury.
If you can irrigate the area, that will do a lot to help prevent the wound from becoming infected.
Tap water actually works just fine for this, but if you find yourself out in the wilderness, you’ll need to find some clean water to use.
While hydrogen peroxide and rubbing alcohol can be used to sterilize instruments, you should avoid using them to clean wounds. Not only do they cause unnecessary pain, but they can also delay healing by destroying useful cells in your body.
5 – Decide to Fix or Not Fix the Injury
Once the bleeding is under control and clean, you have to decide if you want to attempt to fix the wound or let it heal on its own.
Clean, uncontaminated wounds with minimal tissue loss should be fixed as soon as possible. These wounds need to be closed up, and if you wait too long, you’ll allow bacteria to resettle in the area.
This is especially true of any injuries you sustain on your hands or feet.
On the other hand, many animal bites should be allowed to heal on their own. The reason for this is that animal fangs make deep punctures that also inject bacteria from the animal’s mouth into the wound.
The opening for these bites is relatively small, which makes cleaning more difficult and increases the risk that closing the wound will lead to infection.
How to Treat Gunshot and Knife Wounds
I’ve covered some of the basics, but I also wanted to include instruction from a professional EMT as well.