When I recall the rattlesnakes I've dodged, stepped over and stepped on, the jarring falls I've taken, the holes I've stepped into, the branches that have jabbed me in the eye, high water that came within a whisker of sweeping me away forever, not to mention the black bear that had me up a tree, I rejoice that I seem to have a squadron of tireless guardian angels.
I guess it wasn't until I was the victim of a "mistaken-for-game" shooting that it really sank in that I actually could get hurt out in the woods I love. Most of these close calls came in years before we had cell phones or portable two-way radios. I should be dead about 10 times over from accidents I've had in the woods while alone.
At a Women in the Outdoors event at Canoe Creek, I monitored a class in first aid in the woods. Thanks to the instructor, Diane Lenning of Petersburg, a Southern Blair Co. EMT and instructor with the Red Cross, I learned the proper and easy ways to help others and myself if injured in some way in the field.
I have always carried with me a small kit that would enable me to stay overnight in the woods if I should get lost or break a leg. It's easily carried, consists of a space blanket to use to wrap around me or as a small shelter and a package of long shoelaces for tying the edges of my shelter to small branches. Then, I have a lighter and waterproof matches, a couple of small fire-starter sticks, a few painkiller pills, bandages, a packet to stop a nosebleed, a whistle for signaling, and a small candle. The candle is important, I think. Get it lit and you have a lasting flame to use to get a small fire started or just for comfort. A couple of tightly packed gauze pads and gauze strips for wrapping a wound. You can personalize your kit. I carry all this in a resealable plastic bag, and it takes very little room and is lightweight.
Only once did I ever come close to using it. I had gotten off the track and at 4: 15 on that November day had no idea where I was. I decided that if I didn't find something familiar in the next 15 minutes, I would stop, gather firewood and stay overnight. I didn't have to stay, but it was quite comforting to know I was prepared to.
Getting lost is but one thing that could happen. Falling, spraining an ankle, dislocating or breaking an arm or leg are more common occurrences. We should be prepared for such eventualities. Carrying a kerchief or gauze package so we could wrap and immobilize an injured limb will be a great help. Lenning showed us all how easy it is to first create a sling for an injured arm that can be immobilized by a crossways chest wrap to keep the arm tight against the body.
What about snakebite? Happens every year. Do not cover it, put ice on it or pressure on it. Don't cut it. Just clean the wound, remain calm as possible. It is vital to talk to an injured party to keep them calm. Just this technique will help keep them from going into shock. If you are alone, talk aloud to yourself as you walk slowly back to your vehicle or to help. Do not use a tourniquet on a snakebite.
For severe cuts, apply a gauze pad and some pressure to stop bleeding. If the bleeding stops and you wish to apply another bandage, do not try to remove the original gauze pad. The dried blood will be sticking to the skin and you can cause more damage by trying to rip it off. Just apply another pad atop the first one. My son, a 911 operator, taught me that one.
For a sprain, you may have to get a couple of small tree branches and tie them to the affected limb to keep it straight. For a severe burn, do not apply grease or ice, not that either would be available in the woods. Do not try to pick debris out of a burn, leave that for medics to do. Put cool water on it if it is available and cover with something clean and dry.
Suppose you encounter an animal acting strangely in the woods or fields. Know, first that an animal that is staggering around or does not act afraid of you is probably sick. Both of the above are signs of rabies, so keep your distance. Should you be bitten by such an animal, treat it like a snakebite. Clean and dry and get to help as soon and as calmly as possible.
Many folks are very allergic to bee stings, These folks should never go afield without the proper kit made for counteracting their allergic reaction. More than once I have accidentally stepped on nests of ground bees.
Not pleasant. Put ice or mud on the bite. Use an antibacterial gel if you have some nearby. Try to get the stinger out, not by pulling on it but by scraping across it with a credit card, driver's license or knife blade.
Lyme disease from deer tick bites is a constant threat for Pennsylvanians. Discourage tick bites by being covered up when you go afield. Don't go hiking in shorts and a tank top; wear long pants with the cuffs tucked into boots. Have a scarf around your neck, which can double as a sling or tourniquet. Avoid wearing hairspray or perfume that attracts bugs. Mosquitoes bring West Nile disease, so going afield without some insect repellent is foolish. I have personally found that the spray with Permanone as an ingredient is very effective in keeping ticks away.
The fact is that just a few lightweight items packed into a plastic bag will be great help and comfort if you have a mishap while afield.