Improvised Medical Kit

Improvised Medical Kit

A first aid kit should be one of the priority items on your kit list if you are planning an expedition of any kind. But what if you find yourself caught unprepared in a survival situation and don’t have access to standard first aid equipment? In such a scenario, the lives of yourself and others could depend on improvised medical kits – everyday items and natural objects that you can find around you.

Unconscious casualties – the ABC rule

In any situation where somebody has (or appears to have) an injury, it is essential to approach the situation with care and follow the ABC rule if the person is unconscious. Before attempting to help an injured person, always make sure that you can do so without putting yourself in danger. If there is an immediate danger to the casualty and it is safe to do so, move them to a safe place. In all situations, try to raise the alarm as soon as possible.

Once you and the casualty are in a safe position, then you need to establish the extent of any injuries. A conscious person will usually be able to tell or show you where it hurts. If, on the other hand, you are dealing with an unresponsive person, then follow the ABC rule:

A – Airways: Is the person able to breathe? Look for the signs of airway obstruction such as the tongue or an object in the mouth/throat and clear them if it is possible to do so
B – Breathing: Is the person able to breathe? If the casualty is not breathing, summon help and begin CPR immediately
C – Circulation: If the patient isn’t breathing, chest compressions (part of CPR) are essential to maintaining blood circulation to the brain and vital organs.

For more information about ABC, visit the NHS guide on what to do after an incident.

Dealing with bleeding

Remember, once we’ve dealt with the ABC for unconscious casualties described in the previous step, then dealing with bleeding will be the next priority. If you are faced with a casualty who has a severe bleed and you do not have bandages on hand, a piece of clothing will often be the best alternative. The most practical item of clothing will usually be a T-shirt because of its size and the type of material. It is highly absorbent and has the flexibility to be applied to a wound, and can be readily ripped if necessary. If you are in a home or other location where tea towels are available, these make a great substitute for bandages.

If you have a severe wound, you may need to use an improvised tourniquet to stem the bleeding. In this case, belts, bag straps, shoelaces, and even bras can be used to fashion a crude but effective solution. Strips of clothing or rope can also be used. Although a tourniquet can help to save a life, there are also dangers associated with their use and we’d recommend that you do some research about how to use them so that you are fully prepared should such a
situation ever arise.

If you have absolutely nothing else to use, remember that your hands are also an extremely good tool for stopping bleeding. Cover as much of the wound as you are able to, apply maximum pressure, and do everything possible to get assistance.

Broken bones

Broken bones may present with or without bleeding. If the patient is bleeding, this should be addressed as the priority. If there is no bleeding or a bleed has been resolved, we can look at immobilizing and supporting a broken bone.

In most cases, it is desirable to support the break with an improvised splint, although this may not be possible for a more complex break. In the outdoors, a combination of strong, straight sticks, a blanket, and a belt can be the ideal
solution for a larger break such as an arm or a leg. Bag straps can be used instead of a belt to keep everything strapped up, as can rope.

In a home or office-type environment, smaller breaks such as a wrist can be supported with an improvised splint made from kitchen utensils, corrugated cardboard, a ruler, or anything else that is flat and long enough. Even a larger mobile phone could support a broken wrist (although it may be better used to summon help).

To keep the splint in place, wrap the break with a piece of clothing or tea towel and use rope, sellotape, gaffa tape, or anything else that will serve to hold everything in place. Avoid applying any kind of tape directly to the skin if possible as this may increase the agony later.


There are two elements to dealing with a burn. Firstly, cooling the burndown and secondly covering it to protect it from infection. If your casualty has just burned themselves and you don’t have access to water, then use any cold, non-dangerous liquid available to cool the burn. Juice,milk, and even beer can be used – the aim is simply to cool the area as quickly as possible.

Ideally, a burn should be cooled for at least ten minutes for the treatment to be effective – so you may have to use everything available to keep a constant stream of liquid flowing onto the injury.

Once you have done what you can to cool the burn, it needs to be covered to help prevent infection. The most effective method by far is to use household clingfilm. If this is not available, you can use a clean plastic carrier bag, food bags, or any other kind of plastic film available. It is important to use plastic wherever possible as this will not stick to the burn.

Head injury or swelling

If you are faced with someone who has a head injury or swelling, you may need to improvise a cold compress. Ice cubes wrapped in a tea towel or a piece of clothing can be used, or alternatively a packet of frozen peas (or other frozen vegetables if there are no peas to hand). In the absence of anything frozen, then a piece of clothing soaked in cold water and wrung out
can work.

Treating shock

It is important to bear in mind that in any of the above situations, the patient may experience shock which can seriously compound the situation and can become life-threatening if not recognized and treated quickly. Shock is a condition that happens when the body isn’t getting enough flow of blood. This means that the cells don’t get enough oxygen to enable them to work properly, which can lead to damage to vital organs like the brain and the heart.

Signs of shock

1. Paleness of the face (pallor)
2. Cold, clammy skin
3. Fast, shallow breathing
4. Fast, weak pulse
5. Yawning or sighing
6. Confusion
7. Loss of response (in extreme cases)

What to do:

● Lay the casualty down with their head low and legs raised and supported, to increase the flow of blood to their head. Do not raise an injured leg.
● Call for medical help
● While you wait for help to arrive, keep the casualty comfortable, warm and calm. Do this by covering them with a coat or blanket or anything else available. Try to comfort and reassure them.

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