First Aid SWAG Kit

Published online: Sep 16, 2013 Feature Met Clark
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Technology is a wonderful thing. I remember when I was growing up the apex at the time for video games was an Atari. The game had a rectangle moving up and down on the side of the TV screen that hit a small, moving square. This seems to confound a player's digital dexterity and would occupy hours on end. Since then, technology now matches the imagination. Cell phones, computers, Nano-suits, taser shot gun rounds and medical technology, just to name a few, have outpaced our imagination. One has to wonder, where do we go next?   

On the medical front, surgical capabilities and pharmaceuticals are in the palms of everyone's hands, literally. Just do a search on a smart phone and information will be available for every infliction, ailment and injury, with several different ways to treat, a plethora of opinions and more than one company willing to sell you the service or item. However, just like houseboating, the simple things in life are the best. 

Here are the seven best, must-have items for a simple first aid kit for boaters. Some of these items you may already have and the rest can be obtained for around $50 total. 

A Plan

First, boaters must understand the mindset of the selection for this simple first aid kit. I teach my tactical and wilderness medic students an old saying of "3 is 2.  2 is 1. 1 is none." The translation means that you should always have a backup plan and equipment. Then expanding on that concept, the selection of gear and equipment should have more than one use if found in different environments and emergencies. If a person goes into an environment with one plan and one gear, that person should plan on failing. 

Boating injuries fall within two groups: trauma and medical related. The trauma side is the area of focus for this first aid kit. The injury list is extensive but can easily be classified as something broken or something bleeding. Anything that is broken must be splinted or held in place in the best way possible until definitive medical care can be obtained. Anything bleeding must be stopped rapidly with as little loss of blood as possible. Both: proper splinting and control of blood loss will help to fight off shock, speed recovery and increase the morale of the injured person. 

Item 1: The SAM Splint. 

The SAM splint is a malleable splint that comes in a long rectangular shape and two colors: gray or orange/blue. There is not enough space to state how many different ways to use this product, but here is a short list of the finer qualities for first aid, survival and such. The splint is used as designed, splinting an arm, leg or body part. For suspected cervical spine injuries, the SAM splint can be used as a "C" collar placed around the injured person's neck (training required). For loose tooth, the SAM splint can be cut into thin strips and formed into place with stoma adhesive to an adjacent tooth. 

Other uses: for signaling, the orange-colored SAM splint can be waved in the air with the orange facing towards potential rescuers to attract attention; used to splint a pet's leg; be formed into a small circle and a plastic bag placed in it to make a bowl; serve as a windscreen while attempting to make a fire; hold your fishing rod; or swat at flies and mosquitoes. The SAM splint has multiple uses but the primary function is to splint as a first aid device.

Item 2: The SWAT Tourniquet

The SWAT tourniquet has come about from clever little minds that sought new ways to stop blood loss. It is a stretchy, open end rubber band and comes in gray. It reminds me of a mountain bike inner tube that has been cut open and then cut down the middle. The SWAT tourniquet is wrapped tightly around the arm or leg to apply the pressure that is needed against the arteries and vessels, thereby stemming the loss of blood. When applying any tourniquet, always apply approximately 4 inches above the point of injury and not on a joint. Write on the person the time of tourniquet application and get them to definitive medical care. 

Other uses: as a pressure dressing over a wound, to hold the SAM splint in place, as an exercise band (seriously), as a means to lash or tie items together, to help splint the arm to the body, to help hold impaled objects in place (this requires training) and anything else a rubber band would do. Yes, it can be used as a large, water balloon sling shot: just tie between two poles and let loose the dogs of war!

Item 3: The Triangle Bandage or Cravat

The triangle bandage has three items in this kit that are all useful in several different scenarios. The primary scenario is to use the triangle bandage as a sling and swath. The sling and swath is used to hold and help immobilize an injured arm close to the body without too much discomfort to the person. The arm is bent close to 90 degrees and the bandage is placed around the arm and tied around the neck to hold in place. The knot should not be tied to the side or back of the neck. 

Other uses: a full head wrap to repel insects and dirt, exposure protection from the sun, prevention of heat loss, a sweat band, filter for odors and dirt from the air by covering the nose and mouth and tying behind the back of the head, a pressure dressing, a tourniquet, a lash or tie, a baby diaper, signal for help, to hold the SAM splint in place, to place under the SWAT tourniquet for pressure on a wound, to wrap around the a glove or freezer bag as a means for carrying the water container, or to wipe off the water balloon that was hurled at you from the person that rigged up the SWAT sling shot. 

Item 4: The Roll Sterile Gauze

The roll of sterile gauze is used against bleeding surfaces or helps impede the flow of body fluids. The roll gauze is sterile to help reduce infection when applied to the body or body cavity.  It can be wrapped around the head for head injuries, help stabilize impaled objects, wrapped around the arms or legs or packed into a wound (training required). The gauze can be cut into smaller pieces and used as needed for smaller bleeding areas. 

Other uses:  toilet paper and fire starting material.

Item 5: The Trauma Shear

Depending on whom you talk to, the scissors have many names: nurse's shears, EMT shears, etc.  This is a powerhouse scissor designed to cut a penny and somewhere, in some event you might need that. The trauma shear is straightfoward, cut.  Cut the SAM splint into smaller segments or strips, cut the SWAT tourniquet, cut the roll gauze, cut the cravat, cut fishing line, cut fishing hooks, etc. just cut. Often, adults and children are entertained by cutting a penny with it. 

Other uses: a windlass for the cravat tourniquet or a pain compliance tool. Kip Tietsort of DT4EMS demonstrates the use of trauma shears as a pain compliance tool. The trauma shears are held with the plastic ends and angled tip facing towards a possible aggressor. The ends are used to help persuade folks to a more peaceful resolution. 

Item 6: Gloves

The gloves are more noted in the medical profession as "personal protective equipment" or PPE.  The gloves provide a protective barrier for the hands against blood borne pathogens, body fluids, body matter and other substances. Some people have latex allergies and non-latex gloves should be used. 

Other uses: a water container/portage by tying off the ends, a means to contain dirty material such as the gauze, a containment device for tooth or teeth.  Of course, the water balloon itself for the SWAT sling shot.

To use the glove as an airway barrier during CPR, use the trauma shears and cut a small slit (approximately half inch) at the very tip and center of the middle finger (the cut is perpendicular with the finger), place the glove into the mouth with the fingers pointing down and place the large open end of the glove outside of the victim's mouth.  Do NOT lose control of the glove.  Maintain the appropriate seal at all times.

Item 7: The Gallon Zipper Lock Freezer Bag

The final item is the one-gallon zipper lock freezer bag. The best bag is the one that is spill proof and has thick Mylar. The bag will hold all of the above items and allows rapid viewing of interior items to be identified in an emergency. It can be inflated to hold air or hold water without leak, used as a fire starter or used as a chest seal for a sucking chest wound. Ice or cold water can be placed in the bag to be used as an icepack on bumps and bruises.

The simplicity and joy of houseboating is a passion and pleasure to pursue. The water condition, the environment and the people will contribute to the experience.  No matter the extent of happiness, whether it is you, a family member or a dock neighbor, things can rapidly change. In those moments, simple first aid skills and a simple first aid pack will have a profound impact on helping the person experiencing the emergency, to a more rapid recovery. First responder training is a recommended route that cost little monetarily and is the shortest of emergency medical training time. Another cost effective solution is have a Boy Scout teach you the simple stuff of first aid and preparedness!

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