The first thing to know about first aid kits is don’t buy one at the local department store or pharmacy. Those first aid kits are mostly for minor injuries: band-aids, ointments, and not much else. If you want a real SHTF first aid kit, buy one from a specialty company that sells prepping and survival supplies, or build one yourself. I’d like to focus on items that are not commonly found in most first aid kits, and which might be useful if the S really hits the F.
1. Celox Gauze (Z-Fold)
This gauze is used by the U.S. military for treating severe wounds. The gauze is folded like an accordion, so it can be divided into a few thick sections, to pack a large open wound. Or you can cut off smaller segments for smaller/shallower wounds. The gauze is impregnated with kaolin (a type of clay) to aid in clotting. The gauze also has an x-ray detectible strip so that doctors at the ER will not overlook a section of this gauze in a deep wound.
If your wound only needs a band-aid, that’s nice for you. But if you have a serious injury and can’t get to medical care right away, this is the stuff you want. It’s vacuum packed, for compact storage. And unlike most gauze you might buy, it’s sterile.
2. HALO Chest Seal
This device seals a chest wound in cases of severe trauma. The dressing sticks despite blood or water around the wound, and works in a wide range of temperatures. It provides a completely water-proof seal, preventing contamination of the wound by dirt or bacteria.
Another option in this category of wound care is the SAM Vented Chest Seal. It seals the wound like the HALO, but it also has a one-way valve. Remove the cap and air can exit the wound, but it cannot enter. This type of device is used for chest wounds which have penetrated the lungs. Again, it takes some first aid training to know when to use it.
3. CPR Mask
Speaking of one-way valves, if you ever have to perform CPR someone, a “pocket resuscitator” is invaluable. It allows you to give breaths to the patient who is no longer breathing with some protection from bacterial/viral contamination. The valve allows your breath into the patient, but prevents flow in the reverse direction.
More importantly, if you have to do CPR with chest compressions on someone, and they have eaten recently, they may vomit. I’ve been told by more than one EMT that vomiting is not at all unusual when giving CPR. You will be happy you chose to use the one-way valve mask, if that happens. Inexpensive and worth every penny.
4. Suture Kit
This is one of those first aid kit items that preppers and survivalists favor, despite the fact that these kits are only intended for use by medical professionals. So, I can’t tell you to go out and buy a suture kit, and then learn how to use it. Non-medical personnel shouldn’t be suturing wounds. But in extraordinary circumstances, sometimes extraordinary measures are called for.
No wound should be sutured, unless it has first been debrided (remove dirt and debris) and washed with copious amounts of clean (preferably sterile) water. You don’t want to seal bacteria and debris inside a wound. And if you really don’t know how to use a suture kit, you really shouldn’t guess. Bandaging the wound without closing it is better than harming someone by playing doctor. Learn what to do, before the SHTF.
5. Butterfly Bandages
The best example of which is the 3M Steri-Strip “reinforced skin closures”. This type of bandage is for closing a wound, without sutures. It is not for covering the wound. They look like thin plastic strips. Sometimes the middle part is even thinner than both ends, giving rise to the term “butterfly” bandage. In some cases, butterfly bandages can be used instead of sutures if the wound is not particularly deep or wide. After closing the wound, you can place gauze and then medical tape over it all, to protect the wound further.
6. An N95 mask
Surgical masks are soft with a loop to go around each ear. They protect the patient from germs on your breath. They do little or nothing to protect you from a patient who might have an infectious airborne disease. The N95 surgical mask is a hard cup that fits over the nose and mouth. It protect you from the patient and the patient from you. In other words, it intercepts viruses and bacteria going in either direction. They are less comfortable and more difficult to wear for long periods. But the protection is invaluable.
Finallyand I can’t stress this enough take an advanced first aid course, so that you have the knowledge needed to use whatever first aid supplies you have on-hand. Knowledge is the number one resource that you can store up so as to be well-prepared.