Survival Medicine: Asked and Answered

Dear Black Bag Confidential Reader,

Hi there, Omar Hamada here. First, let me just say that I am very pleased to have the opportunity to address your questions in this edition of the Weekly Drop.

Of course, none of my answers should be construed as official medical recommendations. But hopefully, you will learn a thing or two that might save your life — or the life of a loved one — by giving you time to get to a proper medical facility.

So if you have a survival or emergency medicine question, send it to and we will do this again!

Now, let’s begin.

During an emergency with limited supplies, how can you treat an infected wound? Assuming you have no antibiotics or hydrogen peroxide, are there any plants or other environmental means you could use to treat an infection? What about preventing infection in a new wound, assuming no soap or antibiotics are available? Would sunlight help? How would you treat a deep wound even if supplies are available?

— Marsha P.

Hi, Marsha. Great questions. We’ve actually seen that irrigating wounds with copious amounts of treated tap water not only dilutes bacteria like sterile saline does, but it actually kills bacteria because of the added chlorine and fluoride in the water.

Short of that, you would need to boil and filter most outdoor water to use for wound irrigation, with a clear mountain stream or brook as a possible exception. With regards to natural substances that are antibacterial and promote healing, I suggest things like garlic, honey, mint, lavender and lemon balm.

In healing deeper wounds, we like to see a beefy red color with some fresh bleeding showing us that the body is using its natural healing abilities. Make sure to pack the wound with wet sterile or antibacterial gauze and change the packing a couple of times daily. Sunlight does help, but be careful to not cause further damage by burning.

In the civilian world, what can we do initially to treat a serious wound, i.e., a gunshot or knife wound? In the military, we had a bagged compound that we could pour into such a wound to help control bleeding when we were in the field. In the civilian world, is there something we can do besides tourniquets and gauze packing?

— Bernie W.

In situations like this, you MUST control bleeding — and FAST. Using a tourniquet and packing with pressure are the best ways.

Hemostatic dressings like QuikClot, HemCon or Avitene are adjuncts to assist with controlling bleeding, but some of these products can cause thermal injury and make it very difficult to repair things in surgery. Of course, if that’s all you have, use it, but mechanical methods of controlling bleeding are preferred.

I’d like to pick up a solid foundation in EMT so I can be useful in the event of a disaster or a mishap while waiting for medical professionals to take over. Will you please describe the components of a curriculum, or perhaps a standard junior college course offering, that would render me a more useful member of my community?

— Shelley V.

Sure thing, Shelley. The main components of pre-hospital trauma care are:

  • Learning CPR
  • Learning how to do basic airway management
  • And learning how to control bleeding and support circulation.

Other practical things to learn include managing the spine and long bone injuries (this should cover minimizing movement to decrease pain and soft tissue/vascular/neural injury, inline traction and splinting) and how to handle electrocution and drowning.

I am interested in medical supplies for my bug-out bag. Suggestions?

— Dion R.

We published a GREAT (if you ask me) article on this a couple of months ago in Spy & Survival Briefing that might provide you more comprehensive information. Click here to check it out if you’re a subscriber. If you are not a Spy & Survival Briefing subscriber, click here.

At the very least, I recommend basic wound management supplies (bandages, a suture and super glue), a good knife, trauma scissors, an antiseptic or antibacterial, an LED light (a flashlight or headlamp), a survival blanket, a tourniquet, means for water filtration and fire starters (a lighter, matches and flint).

If you want to be a bit more advanced, I suggest adding a nasal trumpet or two, QuikClot, a SAM splint, ACE or Coban bandages, Kerlix gauze rolls, tongue depressors, iodoform gauze, Betadine and basic antibiotics.

I am on blood pressure meds and thyroid meds. How will I be able to survive if I can’t get any?

— Elizabeth E.

Well, Elizabeth, it really depends on how severe your disease is when unmedicated. Many people can get off blood pressure medications with lifestyle changes — ketosis, weight loss, low salt, exercise, lowered stress, etc.

Short of that, in a survival situation, I recommend taking half your regular dose so you can at least double the time you have some medication on board. You might also ask your doctor for an extra stash of prescription meds for “a rainy day.”

But honestly, since at least 50% of our health is a direct reflection of our lifestyle choices, I would start there.

I’d like care information for a dislocated shoulder with a previous fracture, please.

— Tina C.

It’s really difficult to put your own dislocated shoulder back in place. It usually takes another person helping you.

Basically, the other person would pull down firmly on your elbow with one hand, while rotating your hand away from your body with their other hand, then back to your belly button. If you feel a loud clunk with a decrease in pain, you have probably succeeded. Then you need to stay in a sling for several weeks to allow the tissues to heal and firm up again.

But sometimes shoulders are stubborn and need more force or different techniques. Regardless, I recommend seeing a physician as soon as possible after your injury.

I watched a YouTube video on how to stitch up a wound. My concern is a wound deep enough to involve an artery or main blood vessels. Pressure or tourniquet can only go so far when no hospitals are in the immediate picture without the chance of losing a limb. And what if the wound is on the torso where pressure is the only option? If I’m the only one available, is an attempt to sew the artery together an option? Obviously, bleeding out is an enormous concern!

— Meledie K.

I do not recommend anyone attempt vascular surgery without proper training. However, if it is a life-or-death situation and you need to tie the artery off, realize that the wounded person will probably lose a limb.

Stay alert… stay alive,

Omar Hamada

Omar Hamada

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