-Note: This article is for informational purposes only and should not be construed in any way as medical training or as a substitute for proper medical training.
When seconds count, help is minutes away.
There’s a saying that applies in the city: “When seconds count, help is minutes away.” This saying refers to the fact that first responders (EMS, fire, police) are on average at least 10 minutes away. In larger cities or more remote areas, this number can increase drastically. When we are out with friends and family or on solo trips hunting and fishing, help can potentially be hours if not days away.
As outdoor enthusiasts who spend time in remote areas, we need to be knowledgeable enough to act as our own first responders. A major arterial injury, sudden cardiac arrest, gunshot to the chest, or asphyxiation due to choking are all examples of medical emergencies for which seconds can make the difference between life or death. CPR certification classes are fairly common, but you should be aware that stop-the-bleed training is equally important.
I have previously told you about the 3.5 pounds of survival gear I carry with me on every hunt. One of those items was my medical kit. In that kit, there are 3 crucial pieces of gear that you need to have. They increase the chances of survival for someone suffering from a major injury resulting in blood loss. Thousands of companies sell pre-packaged medical and trauma kits, but often you are paying much more than if you purchased the critical pieces yourself.
This is not the equipment you want to skimp on to save money. Do not purchase these supplies from anyone other than an authorized vendor of life-saving equipment. I have included links throughout the list to North American Rescue and Dark Angel Medical which are both highly reputable distributors of life-saving equipment for LEO, the military, and civilians.
The 3 Items You Will Need
A tourniquet – This critical piece of gear is the difference between life and death if you or someone you are with is suffering from arterial bleeding to one of their limbs. There are only two types the military trusts and recommends. A CAT tourniquet or a SOFTT-W tourniquet. The Red Cross defines two types of bleeding that are either life-threatening or potentially life-threatening: Spurting or pulsating blood of a bright red color or a steady slow flow of blood of a dark red color. Their recommendation is to first apply direct pressure if possible. If this fails to stop the bleeding or is not possible (multiple injuries to attend to, affected limb trapped and not accessible to you, the scene is unsafe) then the recommendation is to apply a tourniquet two inches above the wound on an appendage. The CAT and SOFTT-W tourniquet are both compact, lightweight, and their proper application can be learned quickly. You can purchase a tourniquet for around $30 and they will last a long time unused. After being used to treat an injury or for practice, the tourniquet should not be reused. Bright blue trainer tourniquets are available for practice.
A Pair of Vented Chest Seals – This item is used for a deep puncture injury to the chest, abdomen, or neck (if the airway has been cut or there is a neck laceration with air or bubbling blood coming out). Chest seals are ideal for treating any injury which can result in a collapsed lung, which is a life-threatening condition called a pneumothorax. According to the Mayo Clinic, “A pneumothorax occurs when air leaks into the space between your lung and chest wall. This air pushes on the outside of your lung and makes it collapse.” For this sucking chest wound, which is often caused by impalement or a gunshot, the stabilization technique is to apply a vented chest seal to the entry and exit hole of the wound. The seal allows the lung to fill back up and breathing to continue temporarily, and the vent prevents a tension pneumothorax which is a life-threatening condition caused by sealing a chest wound. If you are using a standard chest seal (non-vented) you would also need to be trained in the use of a decompression needle to relieve the pressure. Just get the vented pair of seals. A pair of Hyfin Vent Chest Seals is available for $15. If you are around firearms or archery equipment this is a piece of equipment you will want to have.
Combat Gauze with Quik Clot – We have so far covered how to treat severe bleeding to appendages and sucking chest wounds. However, some injuries result in rapid blood loss where a tourniquet or chest seal may not be appropriate. Arterial hemorrhaging (massive bleeding) can cause a person to die in under 5 minutes if the bleeding is not stopped. This is where the combat gauze comes in. It is a 12 ft strip of 3-inch gauze treated with a hemostatic clotting agent called Quik Clot. It is designed to be fed into the wound like a magician stuffing a handkerchief into his pocket. Direct pressure is then applied with the remainder of the gauze. Once bleeding is stabilized a pressure wrap is applied over the gauze and the package is kept to present to medical personnel (with instructions for the safe removal of the gauze). This piece of kit will cost you about $40 and has a 5-year shelf life.
The three pieces of gear above can be purchased for under $90 and are small enough to store in a pocket, belt pouch, or anywhere else you can keep them with you. It is not enough to just buy these pieces and put them in your pocket. You also need to know and understand how to use them. Ideally everyone should go through a stop the bleed training class. In a perfect world, you would want to add some normal gauze, fabric bandage, and a pair of gloves to your kit. In a pinch, you could save someone’s life with just a tourniquet, pair of chest seals, and combat gauze—if they are suffering from a life-threatening bleeding or chest injury.