Survival First Aid: Post-Collapse Medicine and How to Use it to Save Lives
Herbal Medicine: How Knowing Medicinal Plants Can Save Your Life in an Emergency
Sam Coffman operates a survival and herbalism school in Texas. He is a former U.S. Special Forces Green Beret Medic with over 20 years experience working with medicinal plants. Here he instructs on the many uses of medicinal plants in a disaster or post-apocalypse scenario with several examples.
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Think you're safe out in the surburbs? Think again. A major disaster including a wave of homegrown terrorists with chemical bombs will make several regions dangerous places to live. If you live ANYWHERE nearby where winds can carry toxic smoke you better have a plan for bugging out.
Because that is what you and I can turn to in a post-collapse environment, where there are no doctors, no surgeons, and no hospitals.
Our goal: Raise survival rates for those sick and injured in a land without 9-1-1.
Medical Emergencies in a Post-Collapse EnvironmentA lot of people -- even those preparing for disaster -- are unaware of how critical it is to have both medical supplies and first aid skills to deal with medical emergencies in a post-collapse or post-disaster environment.
Sure, you're aware how necessary food and water are as a resource, but few people understand that one of the first things to be looted and literally turned into a killing zone are often the clinics, hospitals, veterinary clinics, pharmacies and anyplace where there is an availability of medicine or medical practitioners.
As a prepper, it is crucial to understand that hygiene, medical supplies and most of all medical skills are every bit as important as food and water in a post-disaster environment, which will quite likely be filled with rubble, disease, toxins, bacteria, physical danger and environmental injuries.
First (and Last) AidThe first and most simple way to begin preparing yourself medically is to have some basic first aid supplies, be very familiar with where they are stored and be very comfortable using them. First aid courses -- especially wilderness first aid courses, are a good place to get this type of training. The reason wilderness first aid courses are far more useful is that they generally are teaching skills to be used in a remote location where there is no higher medical care available. This is the type of medical situation you should be accustomed to working in.
The Mindset of the MedicOne way to think about first aid in a post-disaster environment is what I call the "mindset of the medic". This means that you are prepared to provide medical help and care for someone for the first few minutes after an injury, as well as the first few hours, the first few days and possibly the first few months. You must incorporate the full spectrum of medical care into your training. This means that first aid is also "last aid," and is the kind of medical aid you are providing from start to finish for someone, no matter how long that might be.
Must-Know First AidSome of the most important and very basic life-saving procedures that will give you the greatest "bang for the buck" in wilderness first aid skills are:
How to treat major (or minor) blood loss from an open wound
- Know how to make a compression bandage, both with elastic wrap (like ACE wrap bandages) as well as with basic cloth (non-elastic)
- Know how to make a tourniquet with any kind of strap (cravat, belt, strip of cloth, etc.)
- Know how to inspect a wound for further damage such as tendons, nerve, etc., if the bleeding is not heavy enough to require immediate compression
How to treat a sucking chest wound
- Know how to check for an exit wound (especially in the case of a gunshot wound to the chest)
- Know how to apply a 3-sided and a 4-sided occlusive dressing
- Understand the signs and symptoms of a pneumo- and/or hemothorax (collapsing lung due to air or blood)
How to treat shock
- Understand the signs and symptoms of shock
- Understand the importance of keeping the injured person calm, warm, hydrated and secure
How to treat major infection
- Know how to identify infected tissue
- Know the signs and symptoms both locally (around a wound) as well as systemically (throughout the whole body)
- Know how to treat infection without being able to rely on antibiotics
How to treat a broken bone
- Understand how to identify a fracture of a bone
- Know how to splint and bandage fractures throughout the body such as fingers/toes, hand, wrist, arm, rib, collarbone, pelvis, thigh, lower leg, foot
How to treat dislocations
- Know how to identify and reduce (reset) a dislocation of the shoulder
- Understand how to identify a dislocation of the hip, elbow, finger, toe, knee
Some Basics to Survival First AidActually going into how to treat all of the above injuries in a post-disaster environment would be well beyond the scope of an article of this size.
I am currently writing a wilderness herbal first responder (WHFR) manual to go with our WHFR course at The Human Path. It is the first book I know of that embraces both field medicine, sports medicine and in-depth herbal medicine from the standpoint of a clinical herbalist and former medic.
However, in this article I will go into a little bit of wilderness first aid depth on one subject. Let's talk about lacerations, since that is a pretty common occurrence and is usually a minor to medium injury in a non-primitive environment, but can be a major concern in a post-disaster environment.
I like to say, "Treat every wound AS IF it were a life threatening one." ASIF is a mnemonic to help you remember some basic laceration treatment:
What about stitches?It's always exciting to think of stitching up a wound (suturing) for a lot of preppers. However, in a post-disaster, remote or primitive environment, suturing -- at least for a wound that is simple enough for a layperson to suture -- is highly irresponsible. It is unnecessary and will only create infection. Instead, leave it bandaged to stay as clean as possible, but let it heal without stitching. Steri-strips are fine. Tight bandaging is fine (within reason). Herbal poultices are great and will help reduce inflammation, pain and can increase tissue proliferation (healing). Suturing a wound in the field, on the other hand, is something to stay away from.
InfectionThe biggest issue that you have to be aware of with an open wound in a post-disaster environment is infection. Dealing with infection is a matter of catching it as early as possible -- which means knowing what to look for. All wounds will show some signs of inflammation, and also will have some degree of infection present. You have to monitor the wound, however, and determine between infection and inflammation. Here are some key points:
Dealing with InfectionThe classic orthodox treatment for infection is of course antibiotics? But what if you have no antibiotics? Or what if you don't have the right kind? Or what if the infection is resistant to your antibiotics? Or what if you really don't have the medical education to use antibiotics and recognize whether they are working, if there are allergic reactions, etc.?
From any perspective, the first thing you must do to a wound (see above) is of course clean it. If an infection starts to take hold in the damaged tissue, the first thing you must do, once again, is clean it. The best and most efficient way to clean out infected tissue in an open wound is with activated charcoal. You can buy activated charcoal in capsule or tablet form, or just carry the powder in your first aid kit (we stock our herbal first aid kits with this as well) -- which is how I do it. You can make activated charcoal as well, but the USP, food-grade activated charcoal is the most efficient and powerful effect you can get.
Using CharcoalMake a paste with the charcoal and clean (preferably distilled) water. The charcoal forms a weak bond with water and will pick up anything else in the wound once it is in contact with it. It is a micro-sponge that will clean and adsorb toxins, bacteria and all of the dead tissue that is creating more food for bacterial growth. Mix the charcoal and water into a slurry or paste and put it in and around the wound directly. Place a sterile or clean gauze over the top and keep it in place with an elastic wrap or some other manner that works for you. You will see a change in the tissue state within hours, and should plan on changing out the charcoal poultice at least every few hours until the wound tissue no longer appears infected.
Antibacterial HerbsThere are many antibacterial herbs, and I use them in conjunction with tissue proliferative herbs in order to keep pathogenic bacterial growth at bay while working with a wound. I don't usually use them until the wound is free from infection and the tissue looks good (inflamed, injured, but not infected). I do not put the herb directly into the wound generally, but make a poultice out of water and the powdered herb and fold it inside of sterile gauze (like a tea bag, except larger). It is important to use a lot of herb when doing this. Cover the wound area completely and then some. You want the mix of water and herb to drip into and around the wound to assist in wound healing and keep pathogenic bacteria from growing. Here are a few useful herbs for wound healing, anti-infective and anti-inflammation properties:
Lymph MoversAlong with external poultices and tissue care, it is also necessary to take herbs internally in order to help the immune system deal with an infection, as well as promote healing. Here are a few herbs that help stimulate the immune system, the lymph, and help tissue heal:
Final NoteIn conclusion, understand that skills are generally more important than supplies when it comes to post-disaster medicine. Most importantly, skills are more important than supplies when it comes to herbal first aid. Being able to identify and use medicinal plants is knowledge that means you never have to be without medicine. Plus, this is a skill you can start learning immediately. It may be a lifetime of learning, but you can do so without having to change your life (i.e. go to med school, etc.). Check out my online Herbal Medic Level 1 course if you'd like to get started with a practical, inexpensive yet in-depth exploration into field medicine using plants.
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