Could you save a life on your next adventure using your first aid skills, or at least take care of a scrape or two?
We all love to get out there and have our Outback adventures. Camping, walks, long drives, campfires and swimming are all great activities – but we are more likely to have an accident being active than sitting at home on the couch.
Would you know what to do?
Without the family doctor or an ambulance a few minutes away, it is now your responsibility to handle the situation and this may be for an extended period of time.
The best thing you can do before heading off is do a first aid course, and then don’t forget to restock your first aid kit. Remember the one thing with Outback touring is that in many cases it is not ‘first’ aid, it is ‘only’ aid. And for many minor injuries you won’t be going to see a doctor or off to casualty… so you will have to patch yourself up on the road.
When checking your first aid kit contents, these are a few essential extras to include
- 10-15 saline waters (70mm)
- Snakebite bandages – wide elastic (at least 3)
- Lots of dressings – various sizes, including waterproof ones
- Steri Strips – these substitute for stitches for many smaller cuts
- Antihistamine –tablets like Zyrtec as well as creams for rashes and bites
- Asthma reliever (blue/grey) puffer
- Tick remover and splinter probes
- Burn Aid gel and pads
- Instant ice packs
- Electrolyte replacement drink powder
- Antiseptic/bite creams and antiseptic powder
Minor cuts, grazes, insect bites
Clean with saline; use antiseptic or anti-itch creams; keep clean and cover if there is a chance of more grit or dirt getting involved. Keep an eye on the wound for infection ¬– signs include if it gets red, hot, pussy (yellow/smelly); clear liquid is OK and common on grazes. It is best to dry out a graze and antiseptic powder is handy for this. Some larger cuts can be cleaned, and then use Steri Strips (wound closures) to pull the sides together and let the body begin the healing. Sometimes it is a long drive to a hospital to get a few stitches and by the time you get there the body has already started to mend itself.
Cold running water – if not available use Burn Aid gel. Don’t use creams or any other ‘family’ remedy – believe me I have heard a few doozies. Remove immediately any rings, watches, clothing if possible (don’t pull clothing stuck to the skin; do not pull hot clothing over the face to take it off – better off cutting the shirt). Once you have cooled the burn, cover and keep clean – and like any other wound, watch for infection. If it is a severe burn, seek medical advice ASAP.
Sprains and strains
Remember the acronym RICE-R:
- Rest – get off the injury.
- Ice – wrap ice in tea towel, don’t put ice directly on the skin.
- Compression – elastic bandage.
- Elevate – helps to
- Rehab/Refer – if pain
persists get it checked out
by the professionals.
- Minor fractures
For fingers, arm, collarbones – support with a sling. An arm splint can be made from a newspaper or magazine covered with a hand towel for comfort. Not much point racing off to the hospital for some of these breaks. I did a collarbone on the first week of a Kimberley trip and managed to continue for the next four weeks with an elevated arm sling. I suggest you stock some good pain relief in your kit too.
Stay calm, remember the basics: DRSABCD – Looking out for danger is what most people in their panic forget to do. Take a deep breath and think about the situation.
Danger. Response. Send for help. Airway. Breathing. CPR. Defibrillation.
Ensure your safety and the safety of the casualty and others. The last thing you need is more people injured. Take control of the situation and use others to help out. If it is on the road, don’t underestimate the speed which other cars can come up upon the accident scene. Send bystanders down the road to warn oncoming traffic and slow them down. Use onlookers to take care of others involved. Keep people from unnecessarily moving about. Look for the ‘quiet ones’… the screaming ones are at least breathing, but probably won’t be much help.
Perform CPR if necessary but it is vital if someone is not breathing to get help on the way. No magazine article is going to make you competent in CPR so make sure you do a course.
Talk calmly to any responsive casualty and assess their injuries. SLOW DOWN. Think about where you are, how to get help and the time it might take. You may need to provide shade or a blanket. Only move people if it is necessary to keep them safe.
Treat bleeding with pressure over the wound, and elevate. If there is an amputation keep the piece in a sealed plastic bag and keep it cool, ideally in iced water – microsurgery is amazing these days!
Head injuries are very common, especially with slips and falls. Talk to the person and ask questions. You should get consistent sensible answers (mind you I have trouble getting sensible answers from some of the people I travel with, even when they haven’t taken a fall). Watch their pupils for any uneven dilation or being unresponsive to light. If they can’t remember; if they vomit; if their pupils are uneven or they have slurred speech or blurred vision – it is a trip to the hospital. Keep their head elevated and get onto help. It may mean a Flying Doctor trip. In most cases they just have a headache and keeping them quiet and rested is the key. If there is a bump, then an ice pack is the answer.
Signs of a stroke are typically slurred speech, weakness down one side – especially noticeable if you get them to try and smile. Time is crucial, get help ASAP. Keep their head elevated and keep them calm.
Often the difficulty is trying to work out what someone’s trouble is. A common ailment is weakness and breathlessness. This could mean a number of things from simply over-exertion (being off the couch and now doing stuff) to diabetes, allergic reaction or asthma attack. Look for medical bracelets or ask family members about medical conditions. Any breathing difficulty can be helped with a reliever (blue/grey puffer) like Ventolin. You can use anyone’s, and it’s not a bad idea to put one in your kit.
Anyone low in sugar, feeling weak or confused (may not even be a diabetic) can be helped with a sweet drink or a choccy bar.
Allergic reactions can occur to foods, bites or contact so it is important to recognise the symptoms: Swelling, rashes, noisy breathing and vomiting. If someone carries an Epipen don’t hesitate to use it. Use ice packs to reduce swelling and antihistamines to reduce minor reactions. If breathing is involved get onto help immediately.
Keep the person calm, lay them down. Use an elastic bandage directly over the bite and then compression bandage the whole limb – as many bandages as you have all the way to the armpit or groin (lymph nodes). Don’t let the patient walk or move about, and keep them still. You can also use an ice pack on top of the bite site on the outside of the bandages.
We can’t do a full first aid course in an article… but the main thing is to stay calm and don’t rush. First aid is common sense, so give yourself the benefit of a deep breath before rushing into a situation. Prepare before you go, drive safely, stay away from hot campfires, snakes and cliffs… aka use your common sense when in remote areas.
What is essential?
The more remote you go the better your communications need to be. HF radio or satellite phone comms are needed if you are going to be miles from civilisation.
Splints! What for? If the injury is major, you are not going anywhere.
A lot of the time you are keeping the casualty comfortable and safe while waiting for help to arrive.