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First Aid for a Boulder First Aid Kit

We Boulderites often explore. We explore topics academically and practically. We explore various activities as hobbies and professionally. We use power tools, hand tools, kitchen knives, and a myriad of items with sharp edges, fast moving parts, and other traps for our various body parts.

Sometimes we end up with blood, either ours or from the people we are working with. A table-top battle robot is supposed to be a threat to the other battle robots, not to the humans who are competing with their home shop built robots. Whether it is a “smart robot” or a brute force robot, building it will require a variety of tools, parts, and sharp edges. From archery to volleyball, cutting bagels to cutting hardwood, so much of what we do provides a sufficient level of risk that we have First Aid Kits. We have them at  home, in the shop, in the kitchen, in the car, and…well you get the idea. So where’s the problem? If we have these First Aid Kits in appropriate places, what can go wrong?

apple, pavement, injuredI stress that the first aid kit is not a substitute for emergency medical care. Although it might, if properly used and accessible when needed, reduce the severity of whatever injury we have managed to inflict on ourselves whether having a good time or doing a necessary repair at home, or even just tightening a loose bolt with a wrench, the kits have a number of avoidable limitations.

We must be able to find the first aid kit. Is the kit in a red case? Does it have a red cross on every side and edge? Do we know where the kits are located? A first aid kit in a clear plastic box, with a red cross on one side, on a shelf where it looks, in an emergency, like another book on the shelf might become invisible in a first aid emergency.

The focus of this article is not to provide a complete proper inventory for a first aid kit. The kit might be intended for different purposes. For example, a hiking first aid kit might not be identical to a home kit. TIP!!! Take one of your walking sticks. Wrap duct tape around the shaft just under the handle. A yard or two should suffice. You’ll forget it’s even there UNTIL someones hiking footwear experiences sudden catastrophic rapid disassembly. Meaning your shoe falls apart. Are you out of the game? Are you forced to walk down the hill with a single shoe? Over rocks, over hill, over dale (whatever a “dale” is) to make it safely and at least somewhat comfortably back to the trailhead, meeting the challenges as always. I have seen this in action when my nephew had his sneaker separate between the sole and the upper part. Happily and fortunately, two fellow hikers in Rocky Mountain National Park, Bear Lake area, had the magic tape wrapped around a walking stick. They were able to easily and quickly duct tape the sneaker together, and complete the walk, back to the car, with no further problems. The women who rescued my nephew and his sneaker had walked with the duct tape on a walking stick for years and had not needed it. But when it was needed! It not only saved the day and saved a foot, it saved the hike. Does this belong in a first aid kit article? Truthfully  since it is such a good tip I would include it anyway.

SUPER GLUE is basically never a standard part of an emergency first aid kit. Why do we need it? Hopefully we never do. BUT, there is a reason that superglue was used in the Vietnam War for battlefield emergency aid. A deep cut may be beyond the abilities of a band aid. BUT, superglue might allow the slice to be glued closed, stopping the bleeding and holding the wound together to allow either rescue or safe return to the parking lot. And of course, you might have cell service. Why would you hike without a cell phone? Of course you’d have it with you. Perhaps in a zip lock bag for protection from water when you fall while crossing a creek. Note that both superglue and duct tape may well be “water challenged.” Medically, the proper superglue-skin glue is frequently used in place of stitches.

Woman Wrapping Man's Leg with BandageWe need the right “tools” in the kit, AND we need at least basic first aid. We need a working knowledge of basic first aid even if our excitement is limited to the kitchen! And, speaking from personal experience, it might be needed right after trying a new knife sharpener. My new sharpener worked fine. I could have done surgery with the knife edge when I was done with the sharpener. And, although not part of my plan, I did try to do surgery on my own finger. The edge of the knife worked fine. The sharpener worked fine.

tanto, knife, weaponThe blood was easily cleaned up. A band aid might suffice or it might not. That is when it is time to call Madame Superglue! Is this medically advised? Remember I am NOT giving medical advice. Although on the trail or in the shop, while dialing 911 after a bad enough cut to justify the emergency call, the bleeding must be stopped. Because we’re trained, we already know enough triage to avoid panic, and to prioritize the steps in the essential first aid.

The “best” form of superglue for a first aid kit is specifically medical grade glue which is superior to “regular” superglue in a first aid kit. In a severe emergency, I would personally use (and do not recommend) whatever superglue I had.

The “history” of superglue for battlefield first aid is not generally understood. Many of us who are old enough to have been sentient during the Vietnam War were presented with the story that the glue was developed for battlefield first aid. That is not really accurate or correct. I personally have superglue in the tiny tubes in every first aid kit. And for my next MD appointment, I’ll check with my PCP primary care physician about getting some of the “real thing,” medical-grade superglue.

Superglue, or cyanoacrylate, has an interesting history related to its medical use, particularly in the context of battlefield injuries.

  1. Invention and Initial Use: Cyanoacrylate, the main ingredient in what we now know as Super Glue, was first discovered in 1942 by Dr. Harry Coover. However, its potential for medical use wasn’t immediately recognized. The original intent behind its development was to create clear plastic gun sights for the war, not for medical purposes.
  2. Use in the Vietnam War: It’s a common belief that cyanoacrylate glues were used during the Vietnam War for closing wounds on the battlefield. This is partly true. Although not its original purpose, medics in Vietnam reportedly used a form of cyanoacrylate to temporarily close wounds in injured soldiers to stop bleeding or to hold the edges of lacerations until proper medical care could be provided.
  3. Medical Grade Versions: Today, medical versions of cyanoacrylate, known as surgical or skin glues, are used in hospitals and medical settings. These are different from the commercial superglues available in stores, as they are specifically formulated to be biocompatible and less irritating to tissues.
  4. Use in First Aid Kits: While commercial superglue has been used in emergency situations to close cuts, it’s important to note that it’s not the same as medical-grade skin glue. Commercial superglue can cause skin irritation and is not designed for medical use. It’s not generally recommended to use commercial superglue for first aid unless it’s an absolute emergency and no other options are available.
  5. Alternatives in First Aid Kits: For standard first aid kits, it’s more appropriate to include items like adhesive bandages, sterile gauze, and antiseptic wipes for treating cuts and lacerations. For more advanced kits, especially in remote or high-risk environments, including a medical-grade skin adhesive might be beneficial, but this should be done based on the advice of a medical professional. To me, NOT giving medical advice but just sharing thoughts, the first choice is to have proper medical skin glue in the first aid kits, and lacking that, ordinary superglue is preferable to unstoppable bleeding. While there are risks associated with using it, things like tourniquets are downright dangerous. Is it common knowledge that the tourniquet must be periodically loosened and re-tightened? Perhaps not.
  6. Medical skin glue is less irritating, less toxic, and generally a better choice than “regular” superglue. Of course the proper glue is available on Amazon and elsewhere. It costs about $10 for the single-cut “super bandaid” which uses the proper skin glue. If regular superglue is what is available, consider that it might be far safer than bleeding out.

So while there is some truth to the use of cyanoacrylate in emergency medical situations during the Vietnam War, it’s important to differentiate between the commercial superglues and the medical-grade adhesives used in healthcare settings. The latter are safe for medical use, while the former are not generally recommended for treating wounds. The following list is a good guide. Note that the various medical-grade superglues are all cyanoacrylate variations.

For your tool box:

For your first aid kit:

2-Octyl-cyanoacrylate

  • Dermabond
  • SurgiSeal

N-2-butyl-cyanoacrylate

  • Histoacryl
  • Indermil
  • GluStitch
  • GluSeal
  • LiquiBand

2-Ethyl-cyanoacrylate

  • Epiglu

The final tip for this incomplete list of first aid kit ingredients, for an unusual and essential component, be sure to have a whistle in the kit. Whether it is in your pack or in the first aid kit, a whistle is critically important.

Sharon, (we’ll call her “Sharon” for this blog, and coincidentally that is her name) is an experienced mountaineer. Ski patrol, mountain rescue, running up trails, (yes I said running UP trails) and the rest of what makes a hiking superwoman is all within Sharon’s skill set.

Leaving her car in the parking lot at Brainard Lake, with her normal hiking pack, she found herself withing 100 feet of her car when the fog dropped in. Visibility was not. You could not see your own feet let alone see the trail you wanted to follow to find your car. Sharon happily found the parking lot and her car. AND she learned a lesson for all of us. Should one need to literally scream for help, shouting is not that loud. And more importantly, shouting does not last that long. A whistle on the other hand is LOUD, and we can blow a whistle intermittently for a LONG time instead of being stuck in the fog, literally speechless.

SO! our first aid kits should include at least three things not normally in the kit.

1. (medical) superglue

2. a whistle

3. A SAT phone. JUST JOKING sort of. The Satellite Phone relies upon, you guessed it, satellite signals instead of cell tower signals. The is no “out of area” problem. They are not cheap, but they are not shockingly expensive either. The further you plan to go from your car and the trailhead, the more remote your route and destination, the more it makes sense to consider a SAT phone. As to weight, while somewhat bigger and heavier than a cell phone, the size and weight would seem trivial should the phone be needed. A single medical crises avoided would justify the SAT phone. Being prepared for a medical emergency is priceless. And we are Boulderites! We are prepared, self-sufficient, and take the time to make sure we are prepared.

Of course,  the list of essential items extends way beyond superglue. Water for example is considered essential. Almost regardless of the situation, hydration is a huge benefit. Dehydration makes almost any medical condition worse.

So have a great hike, enjoy using the drill press, have a great time with the 8″ chef’s knife and cutting board, and be ready if an emergency arises. While we are not all lucky enough to have been boy scouts and girl scouts, we can learn from them and “always be prepared.” Emergencies are sometimes not avoidable. Being prepared for emergencies is frequently within our reach, and part of our basic planning for survival on the slope or in the shop.

NO MEDICAL ADVICE IS BEING OFFERED OR IS INTENDED! CALL 911 AS APPROPRIATE! The thoughts in this blog are meant as a limited guide to helping insure that your first aid kit, when needed, has the necessary ingredients. Try making chicken soup without salt. Try using a first aid kit without band aids. Disclaimer! Salt alone, while a great tip for making chicken soup, is not and cannot be the only ingredient.

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