Most people hope for the best in life even while they are preparing for the worst. This well-wishing often drifts over into a subject that few people focus upon, medical preparedness for a large group. Illness and injury are an inescapable part of the human condition despite our hope that no one in the group will be sick or injured during a crisis.
This is particularly true in tough times and when dealing with larger group numbers. A higher number of people means that you’ll have a higher exposure to injury. You’ll also have a greater likelihood of sickness and troubling medical issues. Get your group ready before disaster strikes. Obtain the training and the supplies to provide for your own medical care.
Get The Training
A mountain of medical supplies won’t help if you don’t know how the human body works and how to keep it alive when something is going wrong. Even though it may seem that emergency medical care is too complicated for the average person to learn, the truth is quite the opposite. Anybody can learn to save lives. With only a basic understanding of anatomy, breathing, and circulation even a child can stop major bleeding and maintain a victim’s airway until more experienced help arrives. It all starts with training.
EVERY group member should receive basic first aid training since these are the survival skills most likely to be used. Who knows when you’ll be separated from your medic and in need of help? Any number of situations could leave a group member isolated and in need of self-care. Straightforward and affordable training can be found nationwide through Red Cross first aid and CPR classes.
More prep-centric medical training can be found through survival schools, shooting schools, and similar providers. Several group members should receive more advanced training in addition to mandatory group member training in the basics. Of course we all want to have practicing medical professionals in our group, but this isn’t always possible.
Doctors, nurses, dentists, EMTs, and other professionals have the potential to be very valuable team members. But you shouldn’t rely on just one person no matter how experienced they may be. They may not even make it to your first rally point in a crisis. If Murphy’s Law is still in effect, your one and only medical professional will be the first person to be taken out. Avoid putting all your eggs in one basket by having several group members with more extensive medical training.
This could be one adult in each family group or some similar arrangement. An annual refresher course for the whole group is a good idea too since it’s easy to lose this knowledge if you don’t use it. This refresher can cover all of the basics for new group members plus focus on a few new skills and treatments for advanced students. Every team member needs to have the capability to be self-sufficient in their own care. We train to become more self-reliant. Put a medical training date on your calendar right now. Make it soon.
Get The Gear
Once training is in place, finish by getting the right supplies for medical care. You never know when they might be needed.
So many folks forget about lighting in a medical emergency until something bad happens at night. I’ve been stuck trying to provide care in the dark and it’s an experience I’d rather not repeat. I keep an LED headlamp in the top of each of my med kits these days so I can put that on first. This gives me hands free light to find the right supplies and provide first aid in the dark. Keep spare batteries in an outside pocket or some other easy to find in the dark spot just in case your headlamp is dead.
Protection and Pathogen Control
Care starts with prevention and a few simple supplies can protect both the caregivers and the whole group when used correctly.
- Gloves – Non-latex gloves are always in a convenient place in my med kits. These won’t aggravate the allergies of a caregiver or patient and they protect the caregiver from pathogens. Have at least one box of medium gloves and one box of large sized gloves for groups up to 20 people. Have several boxes of each for larger groups.
- Glasses and Masks – N95 or better masks and basic safety glasses can offer a greater degree of protection for caregivers in the event that they have to deal with an infectious patient. Both masks and eye protection can help to protect the wearer from disease spreading fluids and solids. N95 masks vary from cheap to expensive. The ones with exhalation valves are nice, though that’s not a necessary feature. I’d recommend starting with one hundred masks to serve a group of twenty, that’s five masks per person.
- Disinfecting Spray – Think of the value of a couple cans of Lysol during a flu outbreak or pandemic. They’d be nearly priceless in that scenario though they’re cheap to buy right now. Add some large hand sanitizer dispenser bottles and now people have a way to prevent disease transmission within the group. There should always be one with each bathroom or latrine. Bleach can also be very useful when mixed with water to make a sanitizing solution. Mix the bleach with water in a ratio of one part bleach to nine parts water. It would be cheap to buy several gallons of bleach for your group. You may also want some higher proof rubbing alcohol to disinfect medical equipment. A two minute soak is enough to disinfect metal tools and devices.
- Isolation – While we’re talking about protection, it’s important to isolate people that are carrying communicable diseases. Illnesses like typhoid and cholera are highly contagious. They’re very likely to make a raging comeback in a grid down situation.
Sure, you can make your own tourniquet from a strong stick and a strip of cloth. Some bleeds can kill in less than two minutes so your patient will have gone to meet his or her maker in the time it would take to locate the stick and cut the strip of cloth. It takes time to improvise most medical supplies and a lot can go wrong. That’s why it’s important to carry the first aid and medical supplies for the worst injuries and issues that you might expect. It’s also important to note that these supplies would also have a tremendous trade value in a long-term crisis. It might be wise to buy more than you would ever expect to use.
Vital Monitoring. Your group should have at least one blood pressure cuff, one stethoscope, one pulse oximeter, and several old school, non electronic thermometers to share. Keep them in an EMP proof bag if you’re worried about that.
Wound Care. The supplies for wound and injury care can range from band-aids to major trauma care supplies. Something as basic as a band-aid could prevent a nasty infection. Even a small cut could become septic shock and end in death during a grid-down situation. You’ll be the judge of how much of each item to buy, but the following are the items I stock for my family and team. Don’t worry about expiration dates on most of these items. As long as you keep them cool, dry, and clean, they’ll last for a very long time. Just swap out the QuikClot and eyewash every few years. I’d also recommend keeping your gear modular.
Have a trauma kit, an ortho kit, and boo-boo kit. You don’t need to dig through a pile of band-aids and get the wrappers all bloody when trying to dig out an Israeli bandage at the bottom of the bag. Each group member should also have a small first aid kit when traveling. Throw some boo-boo supplies in an IFAK and you’ll be ready for most issues. Here’s a basic shopping list to get you started:
- 4×4 inch non-stick gauze pads
- 8×10 inch trauma pads
- 4 inch and 6 inch Israeli dressings
- CAT Tourniquets and triangle bandages
- Gauze rolls, several sizes
- Rolls of 1 inch tape
- Assorted flexible fabric bandages (band-aids)
- Ace bandages (dry ones that require metal clips as the self-stick ones don’t last
- QuikClot, ACS (clotting sponges)
- Antiseptic wipes
- Ammonia inhalant swabs, to revive people who have fainted
- EMT shears
- Eye pads and eyewash bottles
- Space blankets
Dental Supplies. Teeth need care also so consider a dental module. It should have dental pain relievers like oil of cloves, benzocaine gel, or Eugenol extract. Dental wax or some other temporary filling material is also handy if you lose a filling. This can also temporarily reattach a crown. Make sure you never use superglue or anything like it to stick a crown back in place. Just a small amount of this glue is enough to poison you as it soaks into the jaw through your tooth. I know a cheapskate who almost died by doing this just to skip a dentist’s bill. Don’t try it. Add some floss and basic dental tools such as a mirror and explorers to round out the average kit. You can also go above average by getting a few different sizes and shapes of extraction pliers. That bad tooth will never bother you again if it’s pulled out.
Medicines. A mixture of over-the-counter (OTC) medicines and prescriptions should be part of your medical supplies as well. These shouldn’t be available for the whole group to dip into. They should be dispensed by the chief medical provider so that this person can stay alert to all medical and health problems within the group. Let’s start with the OTCs.
- Several tubes of Neosporin, anti-itch cream, and burn gel. They’re great for treating minor wounds, rashes, and burns.
- Guaifenesin tablets help with coughs and are an expectorant. Get a tablet that also has dextromethorphan as a cough suppressant.
- Ibuprofen is a fine pain reliever and anti-inflammatory.
- Benadryl to quell allergic reactions and can be a lifesaver.
- Acetaminophen is a pain reliever and a fever reducer.
- Aspirin is a pain reliever and blood thinner.
- Anti-diarrhea medicines, laxatives, and antacids are useful for regulating digestive distress. The anti-diarrhea meds are particularly valuable, as diarrhea is a common fact of austere camp life. Even when people are careful with food, water, and sanitation.
- Finish off this section with any other OTC medicines that group members regularly use.
Now, for the trickier prescription medicine stuff. Let me be perfectly clear. I’m not suggesting that you break any laws, lie to your doctor, knock over a pharmacy, try to defraud your insurance company, or bring drugs across the border from Mexico. Furthermore, I’m neither a doctor nor a lawyer so do your own research on the legality of acquiring and possessing prescription medicines that you don’t currently need. But if you do end up acquiring any of these, I will just say this. They should be prescribed to you, with your name on the bottle, and it should all be above board.
So here’s a basic rundown for people who are not medical professionals. Epi-pens are great as they keep people from dying due to allergic reaction. Prescription painkillers are excellent when Tylenol isn’t doing the job. Where would we be without antibiotics? Doxycycline is great for skin infections and fevers of unknown origin. Azithromycin (aka Zithromax or Z-pak) is what you’ll want for pneumonia, STDs, and major infections. Keflex, Cipro, and Augmentin round out the fantastic five as these are the foundational antibiotics for most situations.
Books. As a final piece of your kit, I’d like to recommend two books. The first one is a guidebook on prescription meds. Several publishers put out pocket guides for nurses and doctors that are updated each year. These small books are meant to remind medical professionals of the right prescription and dosage for various illnesses and injuries. They also often list alternate medicines that will work. These are invaluable guides.
If there’s even a chance of ending up with some of these medicines at your disposal, you need this book. Using the wrong medicine can be just as bad as using no medicine, so it’s important to use the right one. For the second book, a great medical kit isn’t so great without a guide to assist you with the right diagnosis and treatment. My favorite book is The Survival Medicine Handbook by Dr. Joseph Alton and his wife Amy. I know them, I trust them, and their book is excellent.