By Nathan Barton
I recently shared ideas for things to carry in your automobile. One of those was a first aid kit. But what should be in that kit? Here, Mama Liberty and I propose the thirteen most useful things to have IN that first aid kit. Notice that this is a trauma kit: this baker’s dozen does not include headache tablets or sting spray or hand lotion for minor things. We are writing about what you need for dealing with serious injuries in a car crash or other road emergency until the EMS arrives.
(Not in any particular order of importance)
- Israeli type bandages, as well as various adhesive bandages various sizes, including knuckle tip, dots, and butterfly type. (A box of ordinary feminine napkins will serve as large wound dressings. They are clean, absorb blood and are inexpensive. Wrap the box in heavy plastic. ML)
- Triangular bandage or folded square (old Army or Boy Scout type, 40-inch with big safety pin) to be used for head and scalp injuries, supporting injured arms, covering hands and feet, etc. At least one, sealed in a baggie. (These can be made from cotton bed sheets, Tshirts. Zig-zag stitch the raw edges. ML)
- Gauze rolls and gauze pads (various sizes): from 2 x 2 inches to combo pad of 5 x 9 inches. (In addition to the feminine napkins. ML)
- Tape of several sizes and types: surgical, cling (the web tape (coban) used by nurses and vampires (phlebotomists) more and more), and waterproof; 1/2 to 2 inch size. (And don’t forget that good old duct tape will do in an emergency, if you have nothing else. ML)
- Scissors: Bandage type, stainless steel, no plastic grips (and/or EMT sheers). Medical type tweezers: stainless steel, flat tips. (Not eyebrow tweezers, though they might do in a pinch.)
- Alcohol wipe pads (towelettes) (a dozen in little foil packages); a small bottle of rubbing alcohol with cotton balls or more gauze is also suitable. (Actually, this would be of limited or no use in an emergency. Do NOT ever put alcohol into an open wound. ML)
- Baby or other pre-wetted, disposable wipes – scent free: 50-100 in sealed box.
- Antibiotic ointment, either in pads (towelettes) or tubes. (Very unlikely to be helpful in a road side emergency, actually. Do NOT put any kind of cream or ointments into a serious wound in the field. It may make treatment much more difficult later. This is especially true for burns. ML)
- Artificial tears in a small bottle, plain kind. (It won’t hurt anything if these freeze… unless they are frozen when you need to use them, of course. Store in a tightly sealed bag or container, so if the bottle splits nothing else will be affected. ML)
- Small instant cold pack (1 or 2)
- Nitril gloves, at least 2 pairs. (These should be ON TOP. Put gloves on first, before touching anything, including the injured person. ML)
- Q-tips ™ or other cotton swabs: 2 dozen, wrapped in cling plastic or baggie to stay dry, and cotton balls. (Can’t imagine needing a q-tip in an emergency, but you never know. A few won’t take up much room. ML)
- Heavy-duty Sharpie ™ or other water-resistant black marker to write on skin, metal and wood, especially for use with tourniquet or triage situations.
There are obviously many other things you might find useful, but this kit (not counting a case) should probably cost 15-20 dollars. You can find some good, military or highway patrol style trauma type first aid kits for 40-50 dollars on-line if you don’t want to build your own, but they are expensive. (A plastic or metal fishing tackle box or tool box is an excellent container for a first aid kit. I’ve carried one for many years. It is waterproof, pretty much dust proof and mostly crush proof. Some will even float. It is much easier to locate what you need in a box, compared to any sort of bag. Use the marker to write on the lid and sides, indicating where things are. ML)
Some other items to consider are QuikClot (use the gauze pads impregnated with the clotting agent and not the powder type). (This stuff is very expensive! Be sure to read the label if your climate has extremes of temperature. As with so many things, this might need to be rotated fairly often. ML) A small timer or clock (doesn’t anyone wear a watch anymore?), so you can use your phone for other things.
For comfort, and if you have room, add things like lip balm, sunburn lotion (aloe vera or similar), insect and sting lotion or ointment, headache remedies, aspirin, salt tablets, and an emergency cell phone with spare batteries. The list really is unlimited. Again, remember that ointments, liquids and spray type things may freeze in the wintertime or blow up in the summertime.
Keep in mind other things you should have in your vehicle that are important for responding to medical emergencies. See the separate post on that subject. Be sure to inspect your kits and other supplies at regular intervals, replacing things that expire or become damaged. You don’t want to reach for something in an emergency, only to find it is no longer useful.
Mama’s Note: If at all possible, take a first aid training course, or at least buy and study a good first aid book. See a good selection of such books here. Having the tools won’t help nearly as much if you don’t know how to use them. Learn CPR and refresh your skills as often as you can. Some folks even volunteer with a fire department/ EMT to learn and keep these skills sharp. The more you travel, the more this would be important.
In an emergency, you must keep your cool and take care of things in the order of priority.
- Is the injured person breathing? Clear the airway and position them on their side if at all possible. Breathing may return spontaneously then. Start CPR if necessary.
- Bleeding. If the bleeding is serious, it must be stopped as soon as possible. Learn how to use a tourniquet properly.
- Safety. It is best not to move a seriously injured person, but if their location would likely lead to further injury, and be unsafe for the rescuers, (too near a burning car, possible imminent land slide or road collapse, etc.) you may be forced to move them. The danger would have to be very serious indeed, especially if there is a possibility of spinal or neck injury. The more you know about these things, the better for everyone.
MamaLiberty is a retired APRN with 30 years of experience, some of that in ER medicine.