FIRST AID KIT
On a recent camping trip I was put in charge of assembling our first aid kit, which made sense as a nurse going away with three actors. To my surprise I didn’t already have one made. While it may seem over-cautious, having a first-aid kit at home, in the car or on holidays is essential. How often have you searched for a bandaid, or bandage, and have to do a late-night run to buy them? As we are now entering the silly season and people start to go away, or have a few drinks as they carve up the Christmas lunch, let’s look at some bare-essentials to have in our first-aid kits and how to use them.
What is First Aid?
First-aid is the first, basic care given to an injury or accident. Don’t get first aid confused with something akin to the TV show Lost or Bear Grylls; it is about providing the most basic level of care before getting that person to a medical professional. If someone gets a serious cut while outdoors, it’s enough to clean and cover the wound; suturing with fishing line or amputation with a swiss army knife is not necessary.
For some people, buying a pre-made first aid kit is adequate and the following information should help you understand your new kit. If you are assembling your kit from scratch it helps to think about common injuries needing first aid and what equipment you’ll need.
CUTS AND GRAZES
Whether going for a hike or cooking dinner, cuts are the most common injuries requiring first aid. Whether it’s a serious laceration or just a simple graze if you can get the healing process started then you are helping to avoid infection and delayed-healing. Some essentials to consider are:
Saline/ Sterile Water - any open wound is prone to infection and having some sterile saline or water can help to clean the wound. This is especially relevant if you cut yourself outdoors or while cooking where more bacteria is present. Simply create a steady force of water over the wound, essentially irrigating the wound, and allow the water and exudate to run out. If you don’t have a sterile solution, water from the tap or shower will also suffice depending where you are in the world. If you don’t have any clean water/ solution available, DO NOT PEE ON THE WOUND! This is a myth; urine is not sterile and won’t clean the wound.
Sterile Gauze - another essential is sterile gauze. For cleaning, you can soak the gauze in your sterile saline or water and clean the wound this way; wipe gently over the wound, working outwards, and only use once. Sterile gauze is also great to put over a bleeding wound post cleaning to apply pressure and stop bleeding.
Iodine - as discussed in my Wound Healing video, Iodine is a great initial tool in wound healing. It will non-selectively kill most bacteria present. Lather on the wound after cleaning before applying a dressing. Caution: not for long term use, as Iodine will kill good bacteria.
Dressings/ bandaids - once the wound is clean it’s essential to keep it covered, otherwise it is still open to infection. Have a few different dressings available: small bandaids, large dressings, some waterproof. Make sure you chose the right dressing based on the wound; ask a healthcare professional for more tips on this!
SPRAINS AND STRAINS
Other very common first aid injuries are musculoskeletal accidents, like sprains and strains. This often occurs if someone falls, or rolls an ankle while running/ hiking, etc. How you can support someone with this kind of injury before they see a doctor? Firstly, remember the key acronym in helping a sprain or strain injury, RICE: Rest, Ice, Compression & Elevation.
Firm, support bandage - providing compression to an injured area is going to reduce swelling, allow support and easier movement and may also ease pain. Ensure the bandage is medium-heavy weight; a light crepe bandage is more suitable for covering a dressing or wound.
Triangular Bandage - when someone injures themselves, you want to avoid moving that area too much before you know what kind of injury it is. This will also help with pain. For leg injuries, this is tricky without crutches or a wheelchair. A triangular bandage however makes a great sling and allows someone to rest their wrist/arm/elbow before they can seek help.
Ice pack - ice packs are more suited as additions to first-aid kits, as obviously your kit won’t be refrigerated. Ice packs to an injured area will reduce swelling and help manage pain.
INSECT OR SNAKE/SPIDER BITES
In Australia, we have a fair few creepy crawlies. Mosquito and insect bites are a bit of an inevitability, and very occasionally you may be faced with someone who suspects a venomous snake or spider bite. What should you have with you to be prepared for these injuries?
Insect Repellent - the best intervention is prevention. Having a strong, deet-based repellent is going to avoid all the dramas that go along with bug bites: itching, discomfort, infection from bites that are open from being scratched too much. In Australia, this is a must!
Antihistamines - if you do have any insect bites, antihistamines will help to reduce itching, discomfort and inflammation. Take as directed and read the product information before taking.
Tourniquet - even though every international media outlet portrays Australia as a crawling with deadly creatures, venomous snake and spider bites are relatively rare. If you do suspect someone has been bitten, that person needs medical attention ASAP. What you can do while you wait is to tourniquet the area to stop the flow of venom. A tourniquet is any device tied tightly around an area that restricts blood flow. You can use an actual tourniquet, or any fabric or material. Tie the tourniquet ABOVE the bite, meaning that you are restricting venom from flowing towards the heart. Have the person lie down, keep them calm and wait for medical attention.
Some other essential might be sunscreen, medical tape, a resuscitation mask, a notepad and pen, plastic bags, disposable gloves, tweezers & scissors and alcohol swabs to keep your equipment clean.
First Aid Courses
In my video I promised some links to First Aid Courses. I believe everybody should be trained in first aid and/or CPR; it can mean the difference to someone’s life! Completing a First Aid course will also better enable you to use your First Aid Kit properly. Here are some options for courses in NSW (note: this is not an exhaustive list and does not imply endorsement by Hot on Health):
St John’s Ambulance: http://www.stjohnnsw.com.au/first-aid-courses/w1/i1004493/
Australian Red Cross: http://www.redcross.org.au/first-aid.aspx
Australian Training Institute: http://australiantraininginstitute.com.au/product-category/first-aid-training-hltaid003/?gclid=Cj0KEQiA-MPCBRCZ0q23tPGm6_8BEiQAgw_bAqPOIG6hcZPiz7S4mW-n1jzSNxMzkBtNPd8vLKyHHW8aAgI58P8HAQ
I hope this episode and article have inspired you to make a First Aid Kit! Just remember, it’s all about providing basic care before seeking help from an appropriate healthcare worker. Please send in messages or comment on the video any other essentials you have in your kits that is not listed here!
There is no healthcare without self-care.
Resources/ suggested reading:
NSW Ambulance, 'First Aid' - http://www.ambulance.nsw.gov.au/Community-Info/First-Aid.html
Better Health Channel, 'First Aid Kit', Better Health Channel, Victoria, accessed 15 October 2016: <https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/first-aid-kits>.
St John's Ambulance, 'First Aid Kits' - http://stjohn.org.au/first-aid-kits (browse the store for ideas!).
SWA, 'Model Code of Practice - First Aid in the Workplace', Safe Work Australia, Canberra, accessed 15 October 2016: <http://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/sites/swa/about/publications/pages/first-aid-in-the-workplace>.