THE INDISPENSABLE SURVIVAL MEDIC
KEEP YOUR TEAM ALIVE AND WELL.
After water, food and shelter, many consider personal defense to be the most important priority for surviving a long-term disaster. These rugged survivalists have the beans and bullets, but what many of them don’t realize is this: They might be shooting themselves in the foot. They can have all the food and ammo there is, but it won’t mean a hill of beans unless they have the right medical gear and the know-how to use it.
Few in your group will be accustomed to performing activities of daily survival such as chopping wood for fuel, for example. This fact will lead to injuries, burns, infections and other medical issues that must be treated.
Therefore, someone has to assume the role of survival medic. This person might have to be you—an average citizen with little formal medical training. In a circumstance where the ambulance is no longer just around the corner, you might be the only medical asset left for your family or group.
Be aware that where there is an existing modern medical system, the practice of medicine or dentistry without a license is illegal and punishable by law. If modern medical professionals and facilities exist, seek them out.
When you become the “end of the line,” medically, how can you be certain you’ll be
an effective caregiver? This is a question I’m often asked as I travel throughout the country to speak on disaster medical preparedness. The success of the survival medic depends on the accumulation of three things: knowledge, training and supplies. These can be obtained, over time, with some effort and dedication.
DEALING WITH BLOOD AND GORE
One thing that’s important, but difficult, for an inexperienced medic to develop is the ability to avoid feeling squeamish at the sight of blood. A response similar to the “fight or flight” mechanism, it’s a natural fear reaction that causes blood vessels to dilate, blood pressure to drop, the heartbeat to slow—all leading to lightheadedness and nausea. Medically, this is known as a “vasovagal” response.
Of course, repeated exposure to blood is one way to become accustomed to it. One medical center director says his students learn to compartmentalize fear reactions by repeating words or numbers in their head, rocking side to side and tensing and relaxing leg muscles. Another preventive measure is to drink a sugary, caffeinated beverage to raise blood pressure and stay hydrated, and avoid low glucose levels (called “hypoglycemia”) that make them feel faint. (As an aside, coffee is commonly thought to be dehydrating, but it doesn’t cause you to lose more fluids than you ingest in the drink.)
ALWAYS DETERMINE FIRST IF YOU CAN CARE FOR A VICTIM WITHOUT PLACING YOURSELF AT UNDUE RISK.
ROLES THE MEDIC MUST ASSUME
The designated medic must assume a number of roles besides that of chief medical officer. These include sanitation supervisor, dental technician, medical quartermaster, counselor and archivist.
As sanitation supervisor, it is your duty to ensure that water is purified, food is prepared properly and human waste is disposed of appropriately. (For example, failure to construct an effective latrine could cause infectious disease to run rampant among your people.)
If you are just worried about a week without power due to a storm, you won’t have to deal with a lot of dental issues. In long-term survival, however, people start having dental issues such as broken teeth, abscesses and toothaches that threaten their work efficiency, if not their lives. Dental supplies become as important as medical supplies in this scenario.
Let’s say you’ve prepared well and have a lot of medical supplies. Who determines when these precious items—many of which will be scarce soon after a disaster strikes—are dispensed? Who gets the last course of antibiotics? That decision must be clearly defined as yours to make.
In the aftermath of a life-changing catastrophe, anxiety and depression
are more likely to be daily issues. You must be a calm, understanding, inspirational presence to keep your people focused on staying alive and productive.
Finally, you must be the archivist for the group. It’s your job to know the history of those for whom you are medically responsible: their illnesses, medications taken, past hospitalizations, allergies and more. If you anticipate the likely problems you will confront as medic (based, in part, on individuals’ medical histories), you can stockpile supplies accordingly.
… AS THE SURVIVAL MEDIC, YOU MIGHT NOT HAVE THE LUXURY OF STABILIZATION AND EVACUATION TO MODERN MEDICAL FACILITIES. THAT MEANS THAT YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR THE CARE OF WOUNDS AND INFECTIOUS ILLNESSES FROM BEGINNING TO END …
MISTAKES FOR THE NOVICE MEDIC TO AVOID
Speaking of supplies, you will need more than you currently have. How can I possibly know this, not having seen your kit? Because you will be responsible for more people than you think.
You might be preparing to care for the number of people in your mutual assistance group, but be certain that they will bring relatives or that you will find additional survivors with skills that would increase your chances for survival. These folks might be useful, but they will cause an additional strain on your medical resources.
Lack of enough supplies for the number of people in your group is the biggest mistake made by the survival medic. You can never have enough; any extras would be valuable barter items. Be wary of kits that claim to be sufficient for 25 or 50 people, as they are often advertised: Just one major hemorrhage can take up the entirety of the bandages in these kits. If you doubt this, empty a liter or two of fluid onto the floor and see how many bandages are needed to absorb it.
Although I suggest that medical supplies could be useful for barter purposes, I believe it is best to conserve them—while freely offering to help all who need medical help. Once it is known you have skills, supplies and a willingness to help, you’ll become so valuable to others in your community that they will expend resources to protect you.
Another mistake made by the medic is preparing for traumatic injuries while ignoring the lesser issues that can affect work efficiency. Toothaches, foot fungus and hemorrhoids are just some of the problems that can plague group members and make them less productive.
A significant error by the medic is the failure to know what plants and other natural substances in their area might have medicinal benefits. For instance, aloe plants can be helpful for burn care. The green underbark of willow trees and others contains salicin, the original ingredient in the first aspirins. Eventually, commercial products will be expended, so it’s important to learn what’s in your own backyard that can help you keep your people healthy. Use all the tools in the medical toolshed.
“... AN OUNCE OF PREVENTION IS WORTH A POUND OF CURE.” THAT OLD SAYING IS NEVER TRUER THAN IN A SURVIVAL SITUATION.
It’s important to realize that as the survival medic, you might not have the luxury of stabilization and evacuation to modern medical facilities. That means that you are responsible for the care of wounds and infectious illnesses from beginning to end—something even experienced paramedics might not be ready to handle. You must enter the mindset that you are the highest medical resource left and must deal with issues without the hope of transport for the foreseeable future. It’s important to set up a reasonable sick room or hospital tent to care for your patients.
MEDICAL ISSUES THE MEDIC WILL FACE
What medical conditions will the medic be most likely to confront in a long-term survival situation? Here are some you can expect:
Minor musculoskeletal injuries (sprains and strains)
Minor trauma (lacerations, abrasions, etc.)
Major traumatic injury (fractures, occasional knife and/or gunshot wounds)
Respiratory infections (pneumonia, bronchitis, influenza, common cold) Diarrheal disease (sometimes a community-wide outbreak)
Minor infections (for example, urinary infections or “pinkeye”)
Lice, ticks, mosquitoes, as well as the diseases they carry
Minor (foods, plants, pollen, bees, bed bugs or other insect bites and stings) Major (anaphylactic shock from foods, drugs, insects)
Broken or knocked-out teeth
Loose crowns or other dental work Reproductive Issues
Pregnancy and delivery
Your environment will also factor into your effectiveness as a medic. At various times of the year, issues such as heat stroke or exhaustion, hypothermia and dehydration could be encountered. If you don’t consider the environment, you have made it your enemy … and it’s a formidable one.
All the issues I mention here can quickly take up everything you have stored to help you function as the medic. Therefore, it just makes common sense to consider preventive measures to avoid headaches—and, perhaps, heartaches. In other words, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” That old saying is never truer than in a survival situation.
It’s important to enforce the use of protective gloves, boots and eyewear in any situation where injuries might occur. Clothes should be appropriate for the climate at your location. You might not consider these items to be medical supplies, but they can prevent a lot of problems that will take up your time and resources. Persons who carry or use firearms, knives and tools must be trained in their safe use. Prevention extends not only to injuries, but also to infectious diseases. When you suspect a group member is ill, you must make sure they are isolated from those who are healthy. These concepts might seem obvious to you, but you’ll be (unpleasantly) surprised at how many will forget to take precautions to avoid injuries and infection.
There is one last essential characteristic of the successful survival medic: a strong instinct for self-preservation. Although you might want to rush to the aid of the sick and injured—even in the face of hostile fire—you must realize you are an indispensable asset to your group. If you frequently place yourself in harm’s way, you will eventually find yourself as the patient more often than you or anyone else would like.
Always determine first if you can care for a victim without placing yourself at undue risk. You must abolish all threats; if someone has a gunshot wound, it stands to reason there’s a guy with a gun out there. Don’t become the next casualty.
In the next issue of American Survival Guide, I will discuss what supplies the effective medic should have on hand in a long-term survival scenario, as well as other factors involved in dealing with medical issues.
… IT’S IMPORTANT TO LEARN WHAT’S IN YOUR OWN BACKYARD THAT CAN HELP YOU KEEP YOUR PEOPLE HEALTHY. USE ALL THE TOOLS IN THE MEDICAL TOOLSHED.
Above: With the proper knowledge, supplies and mindset, anyone can become an effective survival medic.
In long-term survival situations, the helicopter isn’t coming.
Above: Beans and bullets don’t mean a thing without the bandages.
Some activities required for daily survival can cause significant injuries.
The survival medic must ensure proper disposal of all waste, including that produced by humans.
Opposite: When the drugs run out, you’ll need to know where to look for natural medicinal benefits.
When the SHTF, the survival medic will need to deal with dental issues, as well.
Anxiety and depression will be daily challenges for the medic in a survival situation.
Top: An example of a typical medic’s field tent. Other accommodations can work—as long as they’re clean, organized and meet the needs of the survival group.
Above left: A good supply of dental supplies is needed for long-term survival scenarios.
Above right: The survival medic must always be ready and able to improvise treatments.