Here at Cheaper Than Dirt! we carry a variety of medical kits intended for first aid of major injuries and self-treatment of minor injuries. It is always interesting to compare the kits and see what different companies decide to include or leave out.
Many people like to customize their kits depending on what activity they are participating in, and this makes a lot of sense to me. Speaking for myself, I keep a fairly standard medical kit at home that is geared towards minor injuries I’m likely to inflict on myself—cuts on my hands from tinkering around with gun parts, minor burns from my cooking adventures, stuff like that. In addition, I have a medical pouch on the left side of the chest rig I take shooting with me. It is customized for first aid in the event that someone (maybe even me) receives a gunshot wound while I’m at the shooting range.
Standardized kits start out cheap and basic, with a lot of gauze, wipes of various kinds to clean wounds, antibiotic creams, and bandages. These are referred to as “owie” or “boo-boo” kits—if you get a nasty cut you can disinfect the area, put some antibiotic cream on it, bandage it up, and keep going. It’s a much better plan just bleeding all over your USP 45 for the rest of the IDPA match waiting for the cut to clot up by itself (with all those weapon manipulations, it won’t clot up, trust me). One easy addition I like to make to my owie kit is super glue, in case of a nasty bleeding cut that refuses to close up. Sometimes there’s no substitute for stitches (or, heaven forbid, staples), but even fairly deep cuts can be closed via super glue poured onto the area while pinching the cut closed. Of course you need to make sure you have cleaned the wound first—no matter how you close it up, you don’t want to seal in grimy dirt and harmful bacteria!
The less expensive kits tend to include a lot of cheap basic owie gear, to fill them up and give the buyer plenty of supplies without having to spend much money, but they leave out other items that might be useful (but cost more to include). Personally, I don’t need enough gauze to wrap up my whole body like a mummy, I would rather remove some of the gauze and fit in some other useful tools. One thing I like to do is include a large pill bottle, with one dose of various pills put in little baggies with small labels in each baggie. For a day at the shooting range I’m not going to need a hundred ibuprofen pills. I might need a couple of allergy pills or sinus pills, or I might need some IMODIUM® in case yesterday’s burrito wreaks a horrible vengeance on my bowels. Why carry more than I can possibly use of one medicine and risk not going without another kind that I may want? I keep everything wrapped up in plastic sandwich bags with the ends taped shut. I don’t want to ruin half of my kit because I tripped and fell into a big puddle, but the sandwich bags are also thin enough that I can just tear them open to access the contents in a hurry. For any kind of serious trauma kit, I think that EMT shears are a must—to treat a significant wound you need to access it, and that means cutting away clothing around the area immediately. The clean shears designed specifically to do this will work much better than that dusty folding knife in your pants pocket. Also, powder free surgical gloves should be included, or your dirty hands will counter your attempt to disinfect a bleeding area.
As the medical kits get more expensive they include more specialized tools. Blood stopper kits, large compression bandages, oral airways and even surgical hemostats can be found in some of the more advanced kits. At the top of the kits we carry is the massive, $500 Military STOMP Portable Hospital Pack containing hundreds of items systematically packed into a large backpack. Most of us just heading to the shooting range on Saturday morning won’t invest in a fully stocked rig like that, but for professionals, having one lying around in the back of a SWAT truck can come in darn handy. For most of us, starting out with a basic kit and maybe swapping a few things out will be all we are likely to need.
Useful with Caution
I want to write specifically for a bit about QuikClot®. The original form of QuikClot was a powder that you poured into a wound to stop serious bleeding from severed arteries. Amazing stuff, right? Well, when it contacts living tissue the QuikClot cauterizes with an exothermic reaction which chemically burns any skin that it touches—including your bare hands and your eyeballs. Be aware of this! The latest form of QuikClot is a treated gauze that looks like any regular cotton gauze, and doesn’t burn. You are supposed to stuff the entire package of gauze into the wound and apply pressure to the wound for 2-3 minutes. QuikClot is a powerful tool but it is only to be used in severe penetrating trauma emergencies, like a gunshot wound. The use of QuikClot can make things more difficult for trauma surgeons once you actually get the wounded person to the hospital, so it is not for “owie my thumb stings” situations.
I need to give a similar warning about the Combat Application Tourniquet (CAT). It has become fashionable to have a CAT in your trauma kit to show what an elite tactical operator you are. I have one in mine, sure, all the cool kids are doing it, right? But if you’re going to carry one you need to understand when and when not to use it. A tourniquet is truly a tool of last resort, and if you use it improperly or in the wrong situation, you can kill the person you are trying to save. Only use a tourniquet if there’s a serious likelihood that blood loss will cause the death of the bleeding person before competent medical help arrives. Understand that the limb you apply the tourniquet to will possibly have to be amputated afterwards, and once the tourniquet goes on, do not take it off or loosen it no matter what! Blood starved oxygen in the limb past the tourniquet could return into the body and kill the person through toxic shock. How would you feel if you killed the person you were trying to save with your tactical toy?
I want to stress that you should educate yourself about the tools you’re carrying in your medical kit and know when and how to properly use them. I don’t carry an oral airway in my kit because I don’t know how to do a tracheotomy without killing the person I am trying to help breathe. I haven’t been trained on it and in my unskilled hands it would be nothing but a liability. I do not fool myself into thinking that I have the capability to use an item just because I spent money on it and carry it around in a bag. There are many websites, discussion forums and even YouTube videos that can help us learn the basic principles of first aid medicine. There are classes you can sign up for and plenty of vets just back from Iraq and Afghanistan to talk to about what they have seen work and not work. Just as a firearm is a tool with no free will of its own, a medical kit is just a tool that does nothing on its own without the power of your knowledge to apply it correctly.