Larry Lyons: Basic outdoor first aid part 2 – life threatening injuries

Published 2:59 am Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Even though recreating outdoors is far safer than driving on a highway there are always potential risks. Ideally, everyone would attend a first aid course every few years but most of us just aren’t going to go through that inconvenience. 

At the very least we should have some clue as to how to deal with life threatening injuries. Last week we covered heart attack and stroke, the most common killers encountered afield. As pointed out in the previous column, a cell phone with good reception in the area you’ll be in is your most important first aid tool.   

Now that everyone has taken to the treetops to ambush deer falls have skyrocketed. In fact, studies show one out of every three tree stand hunters will at some point fall and sustain injury. If you’re lucky you may get off with broken limbs, ribs and such. Not fun, but nothing a 911 call can’t take care of. The less fortunate will also suffer a broken back, head trauma or both. Now things are dire. Do not move them or allow them to try and move. A broken back does not always cause paralyses, however, its possible further movement could.

An open head wound usually bleeds a lot but is seldom life threatening. It’s the internal bleeding of head trauma that gets you and there’s no first aid for that. Since you don’t know if the victim has a broken back or neck don’t mess with a head wound other than gently putting a cloth of some sort on the wound if it is accessible. Don’t apply pressure as normally prescribed for open wounds as that could aggravate a spinal injury. Bottom line is don’t allow the victim to move and call for help. Calm down and give good directions to find you. If you must leave the victim to direct rescue personnel mark your trail well. Even if you know the area like the back of your hand, under the stress and adrenalin you can easily become disoriented.  I know of that happening.

From here on most life threatening incidents we’ll most likely encounter involve severe bleeding as from a gunshot, a chain saw or ORV or boat accident. For all open wounds the best first aid is to put lots of cloth such as a wadded shirt over the wound and apply firm, steady pressure. In the case of a gunshot wound to the chest where air is being sucked through the wound put a piece of plastic such as sandwich wrap, a zip lock bag or even a candy bar wrapper over the hole to seal it then apply cloth and pressure.

The cloth and pressure is even advised for cases of limb amputation. The old days of the tourniquet are all but over. Regardless of the wound type and severity 99 percent of the time the cloth and pressure will do the trick. If you are totally convinced you’re experiencing the other 1 percent and decide to use a tourniquet do so knowing the limb below the tourniquet may very well be lost.

Shock often accompanies trauma and can be more life threatening than the injury itself. It’s caused by a slowing of blood flow throughout the body. Easily recognized symptoms by the untrained are pale or bluish skin and lips, moist, clammy skin, fast, irregular breathing, thirst, vomiting and even unconsciousness. If spine or neck injury is suspected don’t move the victim.  If not, lay the person on their back with their feet elevated about a foot (unless that position causes excessive pain). Cover them with a coat or shirt to keep them warm and DON’T give water or food. If they vomit roll them over on their side and clean out their mouth.      

There’s one more I almost overlooked, wasp or bee stings.  Allergic people (and that can be those previously stung with no reaction) can go into anaphylactic shock within minutes and it can be fatal. Some obvious symptoms of a severe reaction are swelling of face, lips and throat, difficulty breathing, dizziness, fast heart rate and unconsciousness. Time is critical. The moment symptoms begin appearing call for an ambulance. If you’re the stingee don’t even consider driving yourself to the hospital for you may soon pass out. 

Carpe diem.

Larry Lyons writes a weekly outdoor column for Leader Publications. He can be reached at