Saving a life is often as simple as taking one easy step--but quickly enough to make a difference. People die all the time just because no one around them knew the fix that would have turned things around.  To become a hero at-the-ready, memorize these eight quick treatments and tips.

by James Hubbard, MD, MPH

If you’ve been reading The Survival Doctor for a while, you’ve learned a lot about survival medicine.

Yet all the long-term treatments in the world are useless if the victim dies in the first few minutes. So it’s important to continually return to the basics, to reinforce those quick, life-saving skills I believe are most important to remember.

After all, saving a life or limb in the short-term is often as simple as taking one easy step—but doing it quickly enough to make a difference. People die all the time just because no one around them knew the fix that would have turned things around.

To become a hero at-the-ready, memorize these eight quick treatments and tips. Share them with your friends and family so they’re prepared in case you’re the one who needs care.

The goals is to memorize these so well that when you need to use them in real life, you won’t have to stop and think. They’ll be the first things that pop to mind—almost as quickly as a reflex. Then you can take a breath and figure out what to do next.

Important note: In this post, I’m assuming calling 911, if necessary, is either taken care of or impossible. I’m also assuming that if you’ve come upon an injured person, you’ve first made sure you’re safe—not threatened by a wild animal, a shooter, or whatever else caused the injury. And, of course, don’t forget about CPR and an AED if there are no signs of life. 

1. Suspect carbon monoxide poisoning? Provide fresh air.

Headache and drowsiness are a few of many possible signs of carbon monoxide poisoning. Step one in treatment is to get the person fresh air. Get them outside if you can. If you have pure oxygen, give that. Carbon monoxide is often thought of as a winter concern, due to certain heat sources, but it’s also a risk in summer when RVs and boats come out to play.

2. Think you’re having a heart attack? Chew an aspirin.

A child- or adult-size aspirin may keep the clot from worsening. Chew and swallow. Then lie down and make sure someone’s looking for an AED if you’re in a public building. Here are more heart attack tips.

3. Get a cut? Apply pressure.

Direct pressure works for most cuts. For extra help, elevate the wound to heart level or above. (Lying down puts everything on heart level.) The bleeding will probably stop within five minutes, but you may have to continue pressure to keep it stopped.

Alternately, you could try pressing above or below the wound, depending on where the bleeding is coming from.  If all else fails, a tourniquet will stop most bad bleeds on an arm or leg. If a tourniquet is obviously needed from the beginning, go straight to it.

For safety, always use a barrier between your hand and the blood, like a medical glove or thick towel.

5. See someone who’s badly bleeding? Cover to help prevent shock.

Shock is when the blood pressure goes way down. This can be deadly. One thing you can do to help prevent it is cover the person with a blanket. (While looking for wounds to address, keep other parts covered as you go.) Keeping the person warm reduces stress on the body’s circulation because extra blood doesn’t have to be routed to the skin to regulate temperature.

Of course, don’t cover the person if they’re already too hot or if it’s a hot day, they have plenty of clothes on, and they’re dry.

6. Feel sick in the heat? Cool off, and drink water.

If you’re hot and feel a flu-like symptom (like weakness, dizziness, headache, or nausea), you may have heat exhaustion. Other potential symptoms are cramps and a sudden increase in sweating. Cool off, drink water or a sports drink, and stay cool the rest of the day. You may have just prevented heatstroke.

Also beware confusion in the heat. That can be a sign of either heat exhaustion or heatstroke.

7. Shiver in the cold? Get to warmth—before you stop shivering.

Shivering is a sign of mild hypothermia. If you stop shivering, you’ve progressed to moderate hypothermia. Either way, get to warmth. Both the mild and moderate forms can cause confusion, and you don’t want to be stuck outside with that. For further treatment details (or for times when you can’t get to warmth), click here.

8. Get a burn? Cool with water.

The first step for a burn is to cool the area immediately. Don’t use ice for this because it stops healthy blood flow. Instead, run water over the burn or drape soaked material over it. The latter option is especially helpful for big burns.

9. Chest pierced deeply? Seal with a special kind of one-way valve.

When a puncture or bullet penetrates the chest cavity, air may get progressively sucked in through the wound as the person breathes, putting potentially fatal pressure on the lungs and heart. If you catch a chest wound before this happens, you can help prevent it by creating a one-way valve that prevents air from getting in but allows trapped air to escape. Here are two simple ways to do that:

  1. Place a driver’s license or plastic wrap on the wound, or
  2. Coat gauze in petroleum jelly, ointment, or honey, and place it on the wound.

The box on this post has more details.


What do you think? Do you have these treatments memorized? Have you ever had to use them?

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