Dealing with medical emergencies solo: when it’s necessary to stitch up your own wound, pull out your own tooth, apply your own tourniquet

by Dayton

About two months ago, I sliced my leg open with a beer bottle.  I work in a bar, so that was extraordinary in itself, but the depth was. Bone wasn’t visible, but everything else was.  Luckily, it didn’t bleed too badly.  My coworkers insisted that I needed stitches, but I just butterflied the bitch. Maybe I should’ve gone to the hospital, seeing as it took over a month to heal, and I’ve got a nasty scar out of it.  Still, four weeks and no infection later, I recognize that I scraped by on the bare minimum.  But, sometimes, that’s all that’s going to be available to you.

I had the luxury of being able to go to the hospital if my pride would’ve just let me.  But that’s not always a reality.  Whether because you are too far away from medical personnel or because there are none available, you’ve got to be prepared to deal with your own medical emergencies.  Now there are some things that just aren’t possible (performing your own open-heart surgery, for example), but you’d be surprised what you’re capable of doing yourself if necessary.  Below are some tips with dealing with three medical emergencies by yourself.  

Mandatory disclaimer: I am not a medically trained professional.  This guide is for informational purposes only, based on my experiences and best research.  This knowledge is only to be referred to as a last resort- if you do have access to a medical professional that should be your first go-to, no matter what complex you have about receiving help.  For the purposes of this guide, you are days or more away from real medical help.

Bleeding

Alright, so there’s a couple things you need to take into account when dealing with your own gash.  First, access how badly it’s bleeding.  If you’re lucky, like I was, then it won’t bleed too much.  That means you’ll be able to clearly see the wound for what it is.  For now, let’s assume that’s the case.  Access the nature of the cut.

  • Is it jagged?  You may have to trim the edges, but only what is completely necessary.  My cut was completely straight, luckily, so all I had to do was pull the two edges together.
  • Is there debris lodged within it?   If you close the wound and leave bacteria in there to fester, you could develop an infection.  Since you don’t have access to a hospital, make sure you clean the wound every day until it closes.
  • Is it over a joint?  This will make stitches a lot harder, since the sides of the wound will constantly pulled apart.  
  • Is it the result of an animal bite?  If the answer is yes, you may not want to stitch it.  Doing so will only result in a higher chance of infection, as you’ll be trapping the bacteria inside the wound.

First, see if you can stop the bleeding with tape.  That’s your main goal here, so if it can be accomplished with pressure and some tape, you should stick with that.  If that’s not the case, you may have to stitch yourself up.

Clean the wound and sterilize your equipment.  You’ll need a needle and something to thread.  Dental floss or fishing line is stronger than thread, but you’ll have to make do with what you got.  You probably don’t have a curved needle, but the smaller the better.  If possible, make each stitch independent from the next, so that if one comes undone, you won’t have to start all over.  You won’t want to repeat the experience.  Then, make sure to cover the wound to prevent infection.

On the other hand, if it is bleeding very badly, you might be tempted to apply a tourniquet.  However, keep in mind that they aren’t recommended unless it is a life-threatening injury.  If you’ve suddenly got a stump where your leg used to be, go for it, but you don’t want to cut off blood flow unless necessary.  

Tooth Pain

I know, this seems a little anticlimactic after talking about stitching yourself up, but tooth pain is some of the most agonizing pain out there. Unfortunately, dealing with dental problems by yourself is very tricky.  The angles just aren’t right.  But trust me, you’ll be pushed to the point of no return and willing to try anything.  If that time ever comes (knock on wood), and you don’t have access to a dentist, try and remember this guide.

If you can, look in your mouth.  Try to identify what’s causing you pain.  If it’s spread all over, it might be a gum disease.  You’ll need to clean your teeth as best as possible and get plenty of rest so your body can defend itself.  On the other hand, if you can see a cavity, or if it’s one tooth that’s bothering you, you have a more straightforward solution: pull it out.

This might sound horrifying, and that’s because it is.  However, plenty of people have done it due to a lack of dental coverage.  While not recommended, it’s definitely an option in a survival situation.  

The difficulty will depend highly on which tooth it is.  Your front teeth have mostly one root, but your upper molars have three.  The more roots, the more difficult it will be.  This is especially dangerous, because if the tooth fragments while you’re pulling it, you might leave some root pieces behind, which can lead to an infection later on.  

Hopefully, you have some pliers or forceps handy.  Grab the affected tooth carefully, making sure that you’re just handling the one, and begin wiggling, first towards the cheek and then towards the tongue.  You’ll have to get every root loose. When you’ve done that, the tooth should come out relatively easy.

Of course, the best tactic here is preventative care and preparation.  You don’t want to end up holding an ice skate and a rock, wishing you’d taken the time to floss.

Giving Birth

It’s not exactly unheard of.  Yes, in the United States, less than .25% of births were unassisted, intentionally or not, but in this scenario, you haven’t been planning for this.  You or your partner is suddenly having contractions and you are days from the nearest hospital.  What do you do?

The good news is that women’s bodies are designed to get this done without help.  Just like dogs, giraffes, rabbits, polar bears, and every other mammal, we’ll give birth.  Yes, there can be complications, but hospital births are far from perfect. Understand that while you are certainly in a serious situation, it is not necessarily dire.  Many women choose to give birth alone or with little aid.  If you’ve had a healthy pregnancy, you’ve got every reason to make it out of this alright.  

Here are some steps on how to give birth in a car, but the basics will apply no matter where you are.  Listen to the mother’s body.  Support the baby when it comes out.  Don’t wrap the umbilical cord around the baby’s neck.  Deliver the placenta.  Sometimes things go wrong, but if you don’t have access to a medical professional, there’s nothing you can really do.

These are three scenarios that the everyday person has a chance of dealing with by themselves or with limited help; they’re also common enough to be a persistent concern.  It’s always better to be prepared, with materials and knowledge, so even if you can’t find a trained medic, you can handle the situation temporarily.  Seconds count when medicine is concerned, so you’ll have to find the courage to act if necessary.  Or, maybe you’re unreasonably stubborn like me, and just want to see how far duct tape will take you.

Disclaimer: The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this Website.

If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor, go to the emergency department, or call 911 when possible. This content is intended for informational purposes only. See our full disclaimer here.

Comments

  1. Very good article. I would only add a bit to the Wounds section. Having around 18 years experience in the medical field with most of that in the ER/Trauma arena, I would add Crazy glue as an effective alternative to sutures or staples for Minor wounds. In the ER we often used ‘Dermabond’ or a similar product (basically crazy glue for skin) to close minor wounds. Some advantages are 1- no pain, Sutures can hurt!! 2- easy to apply for laymen/women. 3- very effective at closing small wounds and it stays on for a few days. MAKE SURE TO THOROUGHLY CLEAN ANY WOUNDS BEFORE CLOSING!! Regardless of the method you use to close the wound an infection can kill without proper antibiotics. Make sure Bleeding is controlled prior to applying. Hold pressure for an effective amount of time or blood will mix with the glue and it will not hold as well. Then pull the edges together ad glue (make sure you don’t glue your fingers, tools, or latex/rubber gloves to the wound as well, It HAS happened). Duct tape also works well and can hold a laceration over a joint better than glue and allow movement.

  2. Interesting article, I’m no Dentist, but I manage my occasional tooth pain very well myself. The first thing to do based on my experience is to completely clean and sanitize your entire mouth (Especially where the pain is coming from). Forget about toothpaste. That don’t work and based on my experience only makes things worse. “Pull” (Or gargle) With Coconut oil several times a day. Coconut oil will clean/sanitize your mouth better than almost anything can! Make sure it’s pure oil. Take a teaspoon, scoop it up, place it in your mouth and slowly swish it around for 5-15 minutes. Be careful not to swallow though because all those germs will end up in your stomach. Spit it out in a garbage can (Never the sink because it will harden and clog it). Coconut oil tastes fantastic (Many use it as an alternative to flouride toothpaste). An other option I did (Temporary option) is that if you have severe tooth pain and it keeps you up at night, get a ‘Nipper’ of Whiskey, take a tiny swig (Or small put a small dab on your finger and rub it on the area of pain) and the alcohol will numb it temporarily.

    • I use the generic Chloraseptic sore throat spray on the gum around a sore tooth. Works like a charm and if you have to pull it, you have something to use to numb yourself. Swish colloidal silver and swallow. Been there.

  3. For any mouth infection, a mint rinse is an easy and effective germ killer. As I work in the woods daily, I wipe down with spearmint rinse before and after and get amazing healing on scratches. I never cover them… moist heat encourages infection. I had a 3/8 inch puncture would that I treated several times with Spearmint and it healed within a day. I am allergic to tetanus and deal with punctures with mint. Made it to 62 so far. There are other herbs I use but Spearmint grows so easy, is pleasant, and nontoxic. It also leaves my skin soft and nice. Peppermint is stronger.

    • mom of three says:

      How do you make your rinse? I just chopped back my mint, but it was flowering, so I did a huge cut back I too love the smell of mint:) it makes me happy..

      • Seasoned_Citizen says:

        Here’s one recipie, mom:
        http://www.organicauthority.com/health/diy-make-your-own-mouthwash-whats-really-in-mouthwash.html

        Keep an eye on all that mint. mom of three! the stuff literally grows like wildfire–had it “take over” about a 1/4 acre spot of my garden. boy, was it hard to keep at bay.

        if you can, keep it planted in containers or even re-plant it in raised beds, old tires, concrete pipes in ground, whatever.

        Dang! even all the deer here who mow down all the greenery here won’t touch the mint!!

        • mom of three says:

          I have my mint In the cement block’s that have the large holes in. One is mint the other side is chive onions, so if the mint starts to wander I can deal with it before it gets out if hand. I’ll check the website tomorrow and try it I like do it yourself 🙂

  4. I have pulled out 16 of my own teeth. When the pain hurts worse than the pulling, you can do it yourself. Make use of antibiotics prior if you can.
    Prep Betadyne for wound care.

  5. mom of three says:

    Yikes, it will be nasty if there is no longer any medical, or medicine. I’m learning as much as I can and doing as much as I can with out the aid of a Dr. But… as long as we do have medical help go as long as you can and keep yourself healthy as you can.

  6. Anonamo Also says:

    clove oil one drop on tooth will help with pain, and is anti-infective. With tooth care, prevention is certainly the way to go…a drop of peppermint on a toothbrush dipped in soda, is refreshing and anti bacterial…Painful teeth are debilitating.

  7. One can buy your own suture kit that has everything u need to stitch yourself or someone else up. There are also dental first aid kits on the market. In the old days, booze was used to dull the pain. I’ve heard of using sugar in wounds, but can’t recall what the sugar did.

    • Sugar does three things in a wound. It will slow bleeding, it is antibacterial, and it will promote healing by nourishing the cells. I’ve used it often on myself and livestock with great results. Honey is excellent as well, although it does not staunch blood flow like sugar does. Both will itch once healing begins but that is a good sign, so leave it alone. Honey will also promote healing of ulcerated flesh faster than most medications.

  8. My grandmother was a medicine woman so to speak, she passed in the mid sixties. Clean was always important then honey was a favorite over a open wounds. As for festering wounds salted meat, had a splinter in my finger all fester up. Grandma put a piece of bacon on it, next morning splinter was sticking in the bacon piece. This home medical became a driving force where I became a ICU/RN for 20 yrs. Willow bark use to be used as pain reliever. Many years ago when I lived in In. I use to go find snake root and blood root and we sold it to the pharmaceutical co.
    As for prepping I’m ready medically. Really ready!

    • Good for you! I too have a medical background and find this helpful for visulation of alternative medicine I am now studying.

  9. A couple of things that I haven’t seen on your list that come in handy.

    A Bible for peace of mind for those of us that believe.

    A set of encyclopedias for research and to teach children. In a major emergency there won’t be an internet. There are amazing things in an encyclopedia like how to make gun cotton as an example.

  10. Thank goodness DD is a nurse. I have been trained in sutures so that helps. Note, tare strips are easier and come in most first aid kits.

  11. This is a very good article. I am in the woods quite a bit, and in this hot, humid environment, infection is just waiting for a place to take hold.

  12. Would like to add something concerning tooth aches. Buy football mouth guards and peroxide. If you put peroxide in the mouth guard and put it in your mouth it will kill germs and stop tooth decay. One added benefit is it whitens you teeth.

  13. vocalpatriot says:

    I have had several wounds in my years including gunshot…here is what i noticed…ALL the ones with stitches have scars…ALL the ones that went without stitches have barely any scars at all…That includes the shot gun that was aimed my way, which left a couple of pieces of metal against my rib, that were then removed in the field. no stitches. When i got back on post, 3 days later, and went in to the hospital, the “dr.” literally asked me why I was there and ordered me back to work. again .. my wife doesn’t believe me…but I had the pieces of black metal in a small test tube for years..
    point is, stitches aren’t all that…always..

  14. giving medical advice is for a trained professional not some leftard leaf licker.

    • Everything depends on the wound and what is going on. As a retired ICU nurse during the Gulf war, I’ve seen some bullet wounds. Medical advice is basically the same. Depending on the experience of the medical personal. If SHTF there will be less medical personal availability. What trained professional will be around? Once a person has been shot they know a pain that other then someone who has been shot can understand. It’s best to learn some first aid. I’ve seen doctors over load one nite in ER when 12 Shot gang members where brought in. OR full with the worst and we were challenged to treat the rest in ER. The doctor I worked with started to panic, he’s only human.
      As for your name calling shame on you. As for you calling me a leftward leaf licker your an idiot. I have a BSN, Did clinical rotation at shock trauma the first trauma center in the nation. No I’m not a leftard leaf licker. I’m the nurse who monitored the young doctors when GWH doctors came to my ICU. Wrong orders written, I’m the one that save your ass from painful procedures that weren’t warrented for your condition. I’m the nurse that has held your wife uterus in my sterile hands while the doctor delivered your baby cercian. I’m the one who held the Supra veina cava closed with forceps while the doc stitched it up so you wouldn’t bleed to death.
      I’m the kid who father was a veterinarian and grew up assisting him. No I’m not a leftard leaf licker, you are a person who makes judgements and doesn’t know what you are talking about. If you go and check most medications start from organic material Fox glove for example is the cardiac drug Digoxin. Been used for hundreds of years. Educate yourself before calling names.

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