A guest post by Chris
[This is an entry in our non-fiction writing contest where you could win – First Prize a 10 Person Deluxe Family Survival Kit, Second Prize an Herb Seed Bank or Third Prize a copy of Dirt Cheap Survival Retreat. For complete rules and list of prizes see this post.]
As we learned in our first installment, First Aid Without the Kit, there are a multitude of ways to deal with injuries while using common household tools. In this part, we’re going to hit on environmental emergencies that you’ll need little to no gear for.
Since many of our preps involve leaving or bugging out (read: leaving our comfortable house for whatever reason), the environment is something that needs to be prepped for. Even for those of us who are Bugging In, we’re not immune from problems. Let’s get right into it, shall we?
Some very surprisingly common problems that we may all run into are environmental, which are sometimes easily preventable but nonetheless treatable in most cases. Treatment of environmental issues is based on the premise that you should know what they are and how to prevent them before they happen.
Understand the environment you live or work in and prepare for it. Some environmental emergencies are slow and sneak up on you and others hit rather fast. Learning to identify the signs and symptoms of each emergency-both in yourself and in others-will help you in the long run in the attempt to treat them.
Heat is a killer. It doesn’t take long for the body to become overheated and bad things happen! Heat emergencies occur simply when the body gets too hot. Sweating is a natural mechanism the body has that attempts to cool itself via evaporation. Many times, if you are properly dressed and well hydrated you body will be able to cool itself during work. However several issues can come about that stops the body from cooling itself. Check the following bullet points:
- If sweating only works by evaporation, how does it work in humidity? It doesn’t. High humidity levels cause an inordinate amount of heat related stresses.
- If a person is dehydrated, the body lacks the fluid to make sweat and thus decreases the amount of liquid needed to cool the body. Less sweat equals higher heat.
- In both of these situations, the clear thing to do is to remove the person from the hot environment (if possible) cool the body and give liquids. Our priority in these situations is COOLING THE BODY!!
Let’s go to how to identify the causes….
Heat exhaustion is simply when the body is beginning to lose its ability to cool itself. When you’re starting to suffer from heat exhaustion, a person might present with the following signs and symptoms
- Pale, cool, and clammy skin (will probably be very sweaty feeling) NOTE: the sweat mechanism is still working…
- Dizziness and nausea as well as some possible weakness
- The body temperature is too high (many times is up to or even over 101 degrees)
Treatment of heat exhaustion
- Move to a cooler area or construct some shade out of the sun if outside. You or the suffering person will benefit from some air movement or fanning.
- Have them drink plenty of fluids (if conscious) and attempt to replace electrolyte loss (specifically salt) by offering water with crackers, trail mix, or salted cashews or nuts.
- If you have electrolyte drinks available (such as Gatorade) then this is a good time. I realize that in some SHTF scenarios Gatorade may not be available but it is a GREAT electrolyte replacement and consideration should be made to add to your preps.
- Pour cool water on the person where permissible. Take rags, shirts or towels, soak them in water, and place them around the persons’ neck, in their arm pits, and groin area. These areas are susceptible to heat dissipation and this will help with quicker cooling.
- Remove as much clothing as possible to facilitate cooling.
Treatment of Heat Exhaustion takes awhile depending on the person. Some people recover quickly after only 5 or 10 minutes, whereas some will take longer. If not treated, however, heat exhaustion can rapidly turn into heat stroke, which is bad. Really Bad. Fatally Bad.
Heat stroke is a potentially fatal problem that needs to be dealt with immediately. Often times it is precipitated by untreated heat exhaustion and is not normally treated outside of a hospital. Signs and symptoms can include:
- Hot, dry skin. Will often be reddened or discolored. Many times at this point sweating has stopped and the body’s ability to cool itself has failed.
- Person may become partially or fully unconscious, or be deeply confused and even combative.
- These people probably won’t be able to drink any fluids and will often be vomiting.
- Chest and abdominal pain may be present and attempts to cool them may not work.
- These people’s body temperature is often over 104-106 degrees and death could be imminent!
Heat Stroke victims are most often treated in the hospital since the high temperature of the body can cause death of the organs and cells, as well as other issues. Often times too rapid cooling can result in the stopping of the heart or spontaneous breathing. This is scary stuff here. Since we don’t have the proper stuff and this person is in dire straits, here are a couple of things you can do in the field:
- Heat stroke victims are often immersed in water to aid in cooling the body. If done too fast, this can cause cardiac arrest. However, in the case of SHTF, it’s better than doing nothing.
- Get a kiddie pool, or anything that can hold some water and have them lay in it. The water will begin to suck the heat from the person and begin cooling the inner core temperatures.
Heat stroke victims are often given intravenous fluids. To my Paramedic friends: bolus time.
- Ice packs to the groin and arm pits. Notice I didn’t say wet tee shirts. We need to bring down the temperature considerably so if you have ice packs, now is the time to use ‘em.
- Fanning the body when its wet, even in a humid environment, will help it cool down. Fan them!
As you can see, heat is nothing to mess with! Now let’s deal with Cold!
Now if you’re a believer in living in the colder areas of our country, you’re no doubt going to run into some cold-related emergencies. These emergencies are also nothing to scoff at; losing limbs and dying is no fun no matter what the cause is. Furthermore, more people will die from cold related problems than from heat.
Hypothermia is the most common cause of cold-related problems. It only takes your body to drop 3 degrees (read 95) to become hypothermic. Again, the body has been assaulted by outside temperature and is not able to regulate internal temperature. Volumes have been written on how to regulate body temperature in cold weather and it should be known that sweating in the cold can cause hypothermia if the proper clothing layers are not used. I’m not going to go into that here….
Symptoms of Hypothermia are many. Here are some common ones:
- Teeth chattering
- Coordination problems including tripping and falling or unable to grasp items
- Drowsiness or feeling faint
- Lackadaisical attitude as to their situation. (read: they don’t know or don’t care)
- Unable to think or make decisions.
Best way to treat these people are simply by warming them up.
- Start a fire or find a heat source and remove ALL wet clothing. Wet clothing alone can cause hypothermia. Wrap in blankets. If you have the ability to heat them up, do so!
- Remove from wind or rainy areas. Wind alone can cause hypothermia by stripping the heat from the skin. There is no use trying to warm someone up in a wind storm. Build a wind block from tarps, trees, or some brush if need be. You need to get OUT of the wind.
- Cover and warm up exposed parts that are affected (hands and feet in particular). Check and treat for frostbite. How? Look below.
Frost bite is a deceptive thing because many times, it occurs or is occurring but is not visually apparent. Signs and symptoms are:
- Burning, itching, throbbing or simply pain in the affected areas. It will feel cold to the touch.
- White discoloration and frozen flesh are obvious frostbite signs and will develop into worse conditions. This includes blistering and waxy skin.
- The amount of skin frozen will indicate the damage. Risks in the long-term include loss of circulation and gangrene, both of which can indicate the loss of the affected area.
In a preppers ‘situation, you do NOT want to get frost bite. You MUST do everything to prevent it that is possible. If you get frost bite that goes into the thickness of the skin, you may LOSE the affected parts and can cause deeper systemic problems such as infection. Although it isn’t in the scope of this paper, LEARN how to dress properly for the elements.
Should frostbite begin to form, here are some steps to take:
- DO NOT RUB the affected part. The old wives’ tale of using friction can actually cause more problems. As the skin freezes, ice crystals form and rubbing can cause the skin to literally cut itself internally and make the situation worse.
- Remove yourself or the person from the cold environment, if possible, and find shelter. Reheat the affected parts by exposing them to heat (camp fire, etc) or place hot DRY towels around the affected areas. Many people who suffer from frostbite also may be suffering from hypothermia so remember to treat that! If it is available, a very warm bath will work great for both hypothermia and warming affected parts.
- Administer warm fluids, warm water works great as well as a light soup if the person is able to eat.
- As the parts are re-warmed, pain will become apparent as the nerves are able to work. Continue warming. If it is an arm, hand, leg or foot, try to elevate them above the level of the heart to ease the pain.
Overview of Preps
Some of the things we’ve used for these treatments that SHOULD be in your preps:
- Blankets! Mylar blankets, fire blankets, wool blankets, any blankets. You’ll need ‘em.
- Water. You prep for drinking washing, and toileting, prep for injury treatment also!
- Fire starting materials.
I would suggest doing some serious research on environmental emergencies for prepping. This letter is designed to provide an overview of some of the situations you’ll run into and is by no means complete. As with any first aid training, constant review and study is recommended!
Part three will be coming soon and we’ll be covering even more…preview: Tampons, superglue and duct tape! :-/