Wilderness First Aid Basics

When an emergency strikes out in the wilderness, your quick response could mean the difference between life and death. Addresses breathing problems, cold problems, shock and dehydration.


| August/September 1995



wilderness first aid

Anytime you are exerting yourself physically, drink enough water to maintain proper hydration.

PHOTO: FOTOLIA/AUREMAR
Before the bandages, before the dressing, before the splints and sutures, wilderness first aid must address certain basic problems, regardless of the injury or illness, that conventional first-aid courses often omit. When you are miles from help with an injured person depending upon you for his or her life, you'll probably be forced to leave him or her while you get help. How do you assess an injury and keep that injured person as stable and comfortable as possible while you seek professional assistance? Four conditions must be assessed from the first moment.

Breathing Problems

Many an injured person has died needlessly in the wilderness simply because he was left lying on his back while someone went for help. In most cases, he became unconscious and his relaxed tongue fell back and blocked his air passage. III some cases he vomited, and because he was on his back and unable to help himself, he got some of the vomit into his lungs. The acid in the vomit caused a fast-acting pneumonia, which killed him quickly. In still other cases, blood from his nose or mouth collected in the airway and he asphyxiated.

If his companion had simply placed him on his side and braced him there before going for help, he might not have died. What a simple thing to make the difference between life and death! An Unconscious person who is placed on his side to protect against fluids in his airway is said to be in the recovery position, because in that position he may regain consciousness without danger of suffocation. It is also called the drainage position because it allows fluids to drain from the mouth and throat without blocking the airway. Placing ail unconscious casualty in this position is one of the most basic parts of first aid.

Other casualties have died because they could not get enough air. Again, simple body position makes a difference. A person lying down cannot breathe as well as one sitting up. This is because when we lie down, our intestines tend to move up and push against the diaphragm, the flat sheet-like muscle that separates Our lungs and vital organs, and helps us to breathe. Lying down keeps the diaphragm from working well, so we get less air into the lungs. That is why people with breathing problems such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema, or asthma prefer to sit up. 'that is why we put people in a sitting or semi-sitting position whenever they have trouble getting air.

Hypothermia

Our body needs warmth almost as much as oxygen. Actually, it is the burning of oxygen in our body that produces warmth, so these issues are related. If the inside temperature of our body drops only a few degrees, our brain and other organs do not work as well. If our interior (core) temperature drops to the air temperature of a warm summer day, we may die.

Anyone who is sick or injured is much more vulnerable to cold than is a healthy person. He feels the cold more and is less able to produce heat to fight it. Less blood flows to his skin to keep it warm. Because of this, he may get frostbite or suffer from exposure more easily.

In warmer climates, maintaining body warmth is considered an important part of first aid. Imagine how much more important it is in the northern wilderness! Even in summer, the north is rarely a truly warm place. In any other season it is often bitterly cold. So, protecting a casualty from further cold exposure is of primary importance, once it has been established that nothing immediately threatens the casualty's life. Usually, it is simply a matter of covering the casualty with an adequate sleeping bag or blankets or extra clothing-but don't forget to put something underneath too. A major part of body heat is lost to the ground, and moisture easily seeps in from dirt or snow.





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