When I hear tales of people who perished as a result of an ailment they might have survived if they had only known a little more fundamental medicine, I get an uncomfortable sensation in my tummy. Maybe they knew but simply weren’t thinking straight at the time.

Then there are the individuals who used tourniquets and other methods effectively applied to save lives that aren’t even taught in standard first-aid courses. I have a video course on such procedures if you’d like to learn more.

Even if you’re trapped in a disaster, homesteading, or otherwise unable to get immediate expert assistance, getting a catastrophic injury does not always lead to death. You may be able to survive—or save the life of a loved one—if you understand what to do.

Here are some of my most helpful suggestions for coping with five potentially deadly injuries if you can’t get to a doctor until later. (In addition to these pointers, have someone contact 911 as quickly as possible.) These are excellent study aids for me.

1. Deep Wound to an Extremity

Most common immediate threat to life: Blood loss.

My tips: Many individuals are unaware of how to prevent bleeding. If there’s one thing you take away from this article, it’s that you should know this. Many people have been saved by learning how to stop bleeding.

Put on medical gloves before treating a wound to protect yourself and the victim from blood-borne illnesses. If you don’t have any, make do with plastic bags, a towel—the ideal thing you can use. It may not be as effective, but it’s better than nothing.

One of these things will almost certainly work:

  1. Direct pressure—The most common method of first aid for a hand sprain is to apply firm pressure on the injury with your hand, which usually works. (If you can tell whether the bleeding is from an artery or vein, pressing above or below the injury may also assist.)
  2. If the pressure bandage works but the bleeding begins once you remove your grip, apply a pressure dressing.
  3. If none of these methods works, apply a tourniquet. Tighten it until the bleeding has stopped.

Some people prefer to have QuikClot or Celox on hand, a chemical-based product that stops bleeding. I like the bandage type better than the granules since they’re difficult to clean out. Read the directions before you need to utilize it, and keep in mind that if the dressing comes into direct contact with bleeding blood vessel, it will work.

The next life-threatening worry after bleeding is usually infection, so clean the wound carefully and apply antibacterial ointment or honey if you’ll be unattended for a period of time.

2. Bad Burn

Most common immediate threat to life: Swelling.

My tips: If your basement is on fire, you’ll need to act fast. You don’t want to be caught off guard and find yourself without water. If you’re injured or if someone else gets hurt in the course of a home fire, call an ambulance right away. If you have any minor burns, they’ll heal more quickly than larger ones. In the meantime, follow these steps:

  • Remove your clothes and jewelry as soon as possible after a fire. If the items are still warm, they may become tangled.
  • Water-soaked material should be draped over the skin to soothe the burn.
  • Keep applying cool cloths and elevating the burned area to heart level or higher to try to limit edema.

Hyperthermia and infection are the next challenges you’ll face after this primary danger has been dealt with. Third-degree burns will require assistance in the healing process as well.


3. An external puncture wound causes a collapsed lung.

Most common immediate threat to life: Potential to become a tension pneumo.

My tips: Been shot or knifed in the chest? A puncture to the chest wall might allow air into the chest cavity. In response, the lung will shrink or collapse. This is not always immediately life-threatening, but it nevertheless has a chance to develop into something serious: a tension pneumothorax.

With a tension pneumo, more and more air enters the chest, with none escaping. The flattened lung begins to press against the heart, causing it to cease working.

So when someone gets a deep puncture wound to the chest, head off a tension pneumo by sealing the wound so air can’t keep getting in. To seal it, you can simply use petroleum jelly and a bandage. A credit card or something similar over the wound works also. The fluids keep the card attached to the skin. The card seals the wound when the person breathes in, but it’s loose enough for air to escape when the person breathes out.

  • Caveat 1: A simple collapsed lung produces shortness of breath, but if a person’s shortness of breath is increasing and becoming severe, they could already have a tension pneumothorax, in which case more intensive therapy is required.
  • Caveat 2: A crushed rib can also result in a punctured lung, although there is no means to seal the injury from the outside. If the incision is tiny and you are unable to obtain assistance, it may heal on its own. Here’s how broken ribs should be treated.

4. Open Fracture

Most common immediate threat to life: Blood loss, then infection.

My tips: When a fractured bone protrudes from a wound for even a fraction of a second, you have an open fracture. The infection may rapidly and severely damage the bone. So, to clean that wound as best you can, irrigate it, irrigize it, and then irrigate it again as soon as possible. Applying antibacterial ointment or honey* will help prevent infection. Once you’ve obtained assistance, start antibiotics if they are accessible.

5. Gunshot Wound

Most common immediate threat to life: Blood loss.

My tips: When someone is shot, the visible wound may not be the only one there is. Check all over for wounds and stop the bleeding as soon as you find it. A bullet might travel from one part of the body to another, bouncing around along the way before exiting somewhere else. In order to prevent internal bleeding due to a bullet, surgery will almost certainly be required in this situation; nevertheless, you can at least prevent blood loss that you can see.

What was your experience? Have you ever been in a situation where you had to deal with a potentially fatal wound on your own? What did you do?

Photo by Tom Jur/Unsplash

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