When hospitals are BYOB

At some point in your journey into preparedness, you wind up starting to stock up on medical supplies. Not just first aid stuff, although that gets piled high too, but ‘medical supplies’…things like gloves, sutures, forceps, drapes, irrigation tools, scalpels, etc, etc….things that really go beyond izzy bandages and SAM splints. When it comes up in discussion there is invariably some wag who opines that storing medical stuff that you have no idea how to use is foolish and even dangerous, since it may encourage you to use it when you have no idea how to use it correctly.

I heartily disagree. First of all, I’m a fairly intelligent guy…if I don’t know how to use something, I can always learn. (And you should always be learning…) But here is the main reason I  think that storing medical supplies that you don’t know how to use isn’t a bad thing: just because you don’t know how to use it doesn’t mean there won’t be someone else around who does.

How often do we read about car accidents where one of the first people on the scene was an EMT, nurse, or doctor, on their way to work that morning? If you’re in a crisis situation and you don’t know how to help somebody, there’s a good chance that there is someone with the talent, but not the tools, nearby. Provide them the tools.

Another good reason is evidenced in Venezuela right now. In many parts of the world, hospital care is dependent on the patient providing their own supplies. Oh, you may luck out and find a hospital that isn’t re-using syringes, isn’t using medicine that was stored improperly, isn’t using medicines of questionable origin and purity, but to be perfectly safe…you bring your own. Check this out:

As her 3-month-old daughter was recovering from heart surgery at one of the leading public hospitals in Caracas, Venezuela, doctors told Yamila she needed to go out and buy basic medical supplies for her baby that the hospital had run out of. They gave her a list that included catheters, needles for administering IV fluids, antibiotics and other medications, the mother told a Human Rights Watch researcher in November.

Leaving her daughter’s side, Yamila went on a frantic search for medical supplies so basic that no hospital — let alone one of the country’s largest teaching hospitals — should ever run out of them. But none of the hospitals or pharmacies she visited had them in stock. In the end, despite concerns about the quality of the supplies, and unsure whether she had the correct catheters and needles for a newborn, Yamila had no option but to buy whatever she could find on the black market — with no quality guarantees.

(Here’s another article on Venezuela’s medical crisis.)

In this country, it’s not that difficult to stock up on that sort of thing. In fact, you can get an amazing amount of first aid and medical supplies (and equipment) off eBay if you know what you’re looking for. I think I bought a case of 4800 bandaids for something like twenty bucks. But, there’s also sutures, scalpels, lights, drapes, forceps, retractors, braces, crutches, portable x-ray machines, etc, etc. You can create a very passable medical clinic/station using nothing but your laptop, a debit card, and UPS.

When ‘The Big One’, or whatever your particular flavor of apocalypse is, occurs it will stretch your local hospitals stores to the limit. The .gov, occasionally showing some good decision-making skills, has the Strategic National Stockpile. (More here.) The notion here is that when Mayberry Hospital gets virtually stripped to the walls as patients flood in and are laid out in makeshift wards in the parking lot, the feds can swoop in with whatever passes for a Packaged Disaster Hospital these days. (The PDH’s are still out there, in some cases…like lost Cold War time capsules. This one was discovered in the base of the Brooklyn Bridge a few years back.)

My point is that it is not unreasonable to stock medical supplies that may be beyond your ability to use. However, just because you don’t know how to use something now is no excuse not to perhaps learn how to use it for a later time. When things go sideways it’s a safe bet your local medical facilities will be crowded, understaffed, overworked, overwhelmed, and probably underequipped. You’re future is a lot brighter when your neighbor, the retired doctor or nurse, says “Yeah, I can fix that but we need some…” and you trot to your supply locker and produce it.

Recommended reading:

Even if you’re not doing DIY surgery, books like these give you excellent ‘shopping lists’ for things to keep on hand.

 

Single-serving burn gel

I’m a big fan of the Water Jel burn relief product. This stuff is the most awesome thing in the world for taking the pain out burns. Years ago I made the mistake of picking up a lawnmower by the exhaust manifold. Ow. I literally could not sleep unless my hand was clutching a bag full of ice cubes, the pain and ache was that strong. Nowadays, I slap some of this stuff on it and -presto- the pain goes away. Nothing magical, its just a topical anesthetic, but when you burn yourself, especially on parts of the body that really make you feel it…like fingertips…the stuff is a wonder.

20150605_181355I keep the large bottle of it around the house but thats really too large for most first-aid kits. Fortunately, they offer single-serving ‘ketchup packets’ of the stuff. Several of these are going into the various FAKs that go in the hunting/fishing bags. Nine times out of ten the burns I get outdoors are the simplest and stupidest ones….those stupid wire handles on the canteen cup. Its a long day of chasing Bambi, you stop to heat some water on the esbit stove to mix up some lunch, your hands are a little cold so you don’t notice how hot the wire handles are at first, and…ouch. And while burns are never fun, the ones on fingers..esp fingertips….really suck. So…a couple packets of this stuff will go into each FAK.

As I was ordering the stuff up offa Amazon I noticed they even make a ‘military’ kit that is suitable for white phosphorus injuries. Kinda cool, although if I’m in a situation where there is a genuiune risk of Willy Pete injuries then things have truly gone off the rails.

I’d posted a while back about Water Jel but didn’t mention the extremely convenient single-serve packets. I ordered them up a few days ago and they just arrived. Figured I’d mention it because it is some really awesome stuff and there’s really no excuse for not having some in your kits when you can get it in something as convenient and small as the single-serving packets.

 

Fixing first aid kit foibles

As you may (or may not) remember, a few posts back I described how the first aid kit I left in my bicycle pannier turned into something less-than-optimal as a result of being left out over the winter.

The problem was that it’s a tough balancing act to have a first aid kit in a watertight/airtight container of some fashion but still be quickly accessible with one hand when youre trying to keep all the red stuff inside you. Turned out that the bicycle pannier may not have been nearly as weather resistant as I thought and as a result my first aid kit suffered a great deal of moisture damage. (Although, to be fair, the items that were wrapped in plastic or sealed in foil fared just fine.)

Okay, spring is (somewhat) here and I’m back to riding my bicycle more. Time to replace that first aid kit. On my bike, my needs are simple – I need some stuff to patch up scrapes/cuts/tears from me being suddenly introduced to the road surface by that great facilitator of ouchies – gravity.

An assortment of gauze, pads, bandaids, some tape, and some antibiotic ointment should do it. Lets see what we have:

20150405_120652It’s just for a bicycle accident, not a splenectomy….the skin stapler, betadine and other over-the-top stuff is in the other kit. For the most common boo-boos related to me flying over the handlebars, this’ll handle most of it. Now, to package it up so it stays clean and dry. In this case, we’ll go with a heavy mylar foil resealable bag. With a reasonable amount of care, and a modicum of force, everything fit into the pouch and left enough room to have a bit of extra material to form a seal:

20150405_121911Make sure the jaws of the sealer are hot enough, slide the open end of the pouch between ’em, squeeze jaws shut for a ten-count, and…voila:

20150405_122632I have a rather…exhaustive….supply of first-aid supplies from an episode of eBay purchasing that may have been a bit over-the-top. I’m dead serious…I’ve got something on the order of 9,600 band aids. Since I had to buy the mylar bags in quantity to get a discount, I should probably but together a dozen similar packages, label ’em appropriately, and pass ’em out as Paratus gifts this fall.

Anyway, I’ll toss this in the bag on the bike and be good to go. Should be watertight, airtight, and pretty much impervious to just about any environmental concern.

First aid kit foibles

Years back,I used to have a bicycle that would, at irregular intervals, try and kill me by locking up the chain for no particular reason. I eventually got a newer, better, bicycle but the old Death Machine taught me to keep a first aid kit handy. On my bike I have one of these mounted. I find it very useful, and keep my first aid kit in there. The first aid kit is one of these (Maxpedition FR-1 Pouch) loaded with what I feel is necessary gear. Now, if you’re keeping track, that is a first aid kit contained in a cordura pouch, which is itself contained within a cordura bicycle bag. What could go wrong?

Well, here’s the lesson for today… I left my bike chained up in the yard over the winter. As a result, the rain and snowmelt made its way through the bicycle bag and through the first aid pouch. Check this out:

20150308_164940Thats not dirt, kids….thats mold. Most first aid stuff is packaged in sterilized paper envelopes and those are less waterproof. So, virtually everything was moist/damp/moldy and had to be discarded. However, some things were not damaged. Observe:

20150308_165152Basically, anything packed in foil or sealed in plastic weathered it just fine.

So, by now, you’re thinking “No problemo, just seal up all the individual contents and you’ll be good to go.” A reasonable way of thinking, but it overlooks a big issue – when you need a first aid kit, theres a pretty good chance you’re under stress, your hands might be a little shaky, and you may only have one hand to work with since your other arm/hand might be injured. So, sealing things up in a manner that required two hands to open (or requires several repeated pouch-opening-procedures) might not be conducive to effective use of your gear.

Now, I rather like the Maxpedition FR pouch. It’s reasonably compact, fairly easy to organize, and has several methods for attachment to other gear. I’d hate to give it up. So, to me, the choices are two: a) individually seal the contents of the kit or b) put the whole kit into a waterproof container of some sort.

I’m leaning towards ‘A’. Best method? Well, there’s this:

IMG_1863Those are heavy-duty mylar bags with ‘tear away’ tops and zip-seals, and a 6″ heat sealer that I picked up off Amazon. The bags, in various sizes and thicknesses, are from Sorbent Systems. I got them expressly for the purpose of making small, weatherproof, resealable, firs-aid kits for my hunting and outdoors gear. For example:

IMG_1865That pouch contains most of the important stuff…gauze, non-stick pads, compress bandage, antibiotic ointment, bandaids, aspirin, tape, etc, etc. Not enough to do surgery or fix a detached aorta, but for the cuts, burns, scrapes and bloody messes that sometimes happen from bicycle accidents, knife slips, falls in blowdown snag, etc, its pretty good. And, it is now completely waterproof. Tear open at the upper corner there with your teeth and open it like a bag of chips. When done, you can reseal it with the ziploc-type closure. When the crisis is over, since I have a stack of these bags, I can simply transfer the contents to a new bag to seal. I’ll wind up getting a larger back, drop the Maxpedition FR into it, throw in a few oxygen absorbers to snug it up tight, and tuck it into my bike bag.

Now, if you have a vacuum sealer, you can very much accomplish a similar setup using your sealer and bags. Two big differences though: the mylar pouches pictured have a ‘tear notch’ to allow easy access (which a vacuum sealed bag does not); and the mylar pouch, in this heavy thickness, is much more puncture resistant than a vacuum seal bag (however, you can always wrap the vacuum seal bag in something to protect its integrity).

I have learned my lesson and won’t be leaving this gear outside over the winter again, but walking around in a solid rain for a few hours would have probably induced the same amount of moisture into things. Waterproofing/weatherproofing an important bit of gear like this makes sense. Fortunately, today I noticed it because I was thinking I should probably check to see how the gear fared over the winter…it would have been a different story if I was a couple miles down the road, sitting on a rock, trying to bandage a gash in my leg with wet and moldy 4″ gauze and pads.