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by Heather Davis

Putting together a first aid kit should be easy with the most obvious of items to include…Right?

Everyone has an opinion as to what they believe should be included in a first aid kit but the reasons behind those items may not be needed for true emergencies. Which brings you to ask, “What is a true emergency?”

As a parent of two teen-aged boys who have me in and out of emergency rooms so often, we know the staff by first-name basis. I use the following three questions to determine a true emergency:

1. Are you bleeding to death?

2. Are you in danger of losing a body part?

3. Are you having trouble staying conscious?

Okay. Many of you are probably thinking, “Is that it? That’s all you ask?” but think of it this way: if you’re losing a lot of blood and fast, you may die.

If you have a body part hanging off even slightly, you’re in danger of being an amputee, bringing us to the last question.
If you can’t stay conscious, then you’re severely in danger of the top two or brain trauma. If you answer yes to any of these questions, you’re looking at life-altering circumstances, which constitutes a true emergency.

With that in mind, what would you need to put in your kit? Remember these kits are not meant to be a permanent fix but a means to keep you stable long enough for medical assistance to reach you.

The history of first aid kits go back to 1888 when the railroads were being built across the country.
A spontaneous conversation occurred one day that year between the founder of Johnson & Johnson — Robert Wood Johnson — who was traveling on vacation, and the chief surgeon of the Denver and Rio Grande Railway, who happened to be sitting close to Johnson at the time.

After learning of the numerous lives lost due to lack of immediate attention at the scene of severe accidents, the two came up with a list needed to assist in keeping people stable. (Source: http://www.kilmerhouse.com/2013/06/from-1888-to-2013-celebrating-the-125th-birthday-of-the-first-aid-kit/#sthash.oWHGg3Vr.dpuf ) This is where the name first aid kit came from.

So after researching various sites and medical journals, I was able to put together a list of what is needed in a true first aid kit. Consider the following:

1. Two absorbent compress dressings or pressure bandages, measuring five by nine inches. The bandages are used for “applying pressure, for the purpose of arresting hemorrhage. Pressure is applied directly over the wound.” (Source: medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com) As defined, these are used to apply over a wound to absorb blood without adding foreign bodies. They are easy to remove without causing more pain due to sticking to the wound, thus making changing bandages easier and quicker once medical attention arrives.

2. Ten sterile gauze pads, five of which are three inches by three inches, and five sterile gauze pads (four inches x four inches). Use these to place over scrapes and wounds that are not in danger of bleeding out but need protection from dirt and foreign objects.

3. Twenty-five adhesive bandages (assorted sizes). “A sterile compress of layers of gauze or other material, affixed to a fabric or film coated with a pressure-sensitive adhesive.” (Source: medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com) These bandages are also well-known as band-aid. They are used to cover and keep smaller areas clean till proper cleaning and dressing can occur.

4. One adhesive cloth tape (ten yards x one inch), also known as strapping, are “varying widths of woven/non-woven tape spread with adhesive, used to retain clinical padding/wound dressing, to create a soft splint or to protect vulnerable areas of skin.” (Source: medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com)

The tape can be used to hold compresses or splints in place while addressing other major needs. I am sure many of you reading this column are familiar with these type of bandages since these are used more often for sprains or to hold splints together.

5. Two packets of aspirin (81 milligrams each). Many would assume that if someone is in severe pain, they should be given strong pain medication to help ease them until assistance arrives but that is not advised.

We don’t like people to suffer but, in essence, pain medications can be a hindrance to any medical treatment needed and this is why: when emergencies happen, sometimes surgery is needed and many medications can react to the anesthesia.

This can cause severe complications or reactions to the much-needed treatment and, in most cases, death. So aspirin is the only recommended pain medication to help keep fever or infection from starting and that is all that is advised until it is deemed safe by a medical professional to administer anything stronger.
6. One blanket or, preferably a space blanket, “a plastic insulating body wrapping coated on one or both sides with aluminum foil which reflects back most of the body heat lost by radiation: carried by climbers, mountaineers, etc, for use in cases of exposure or exhaustion.” (Source: medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com)

Now many of you might not be mountain climbers but, with the way, our climate is changing, getting caught in a snowstorm in your car is more than likely these days. These blankets could mean the difference between death or just a small case of frost bite.

7. Two pair of non-latex gloves (size: large). Everyone should always use gloves when touching any sort of wound. Non-latex gloves are preferred since many have an allergic reaction to latex and you don’t want to make a situation worse by adding an allergic reaction to the emergency. Other reason for the need for gloves is to protect you and the other person from infectious diseases.

8. Two roller bandages, one measuring 13 inches wide and another measuring four inches wide. These are used to wrap around the different bandages as a final protective barrier from dirt and infection.

9. Tweezers. Recommended uses are for the removal of glass and foreign objects that can be safely removed.

10. First aid instruction booklet. A medical book can walk you through the proper procedure since we don’t want to make a present set of circumstances worse.

With all that listed, you’re probably asking, “Where are your creams and wound cleaners?” Well, this is a first aid kit — an assembly of medical devices used to assist you in giving the aid needed in an emergency to stabilize a person until medical assistance can be provided by a professional. You can make your own at-home first aid kit that suits your own personal needs but those are better off called home care kits, aren’t they?

(NOTE: In honor of American Pharmacists Month, PharmPsych.com is offering up articles and advice columns on various subjects concerning the work of pharmacists, the field of pharmacy and those who support both.

Heather Davis is a business woman and owns Cherokee Vixen’s Boutique, a woman’s boutique in Charlotte, Mich. Davis is also assistant manager for Felicity Motivational Group, public liaison for PharmPsych.com and TutorforGood.org and a staff writer for the PharmPsych network. She is married and the mother of two teen-aged boys.)

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Last updated October 2014