I have been a prepper for a while and I have always regarded my current location in rural West Virginia a safe place for WTSHTF. However I failed to recognize it’s vulnerabilities in the time before that happens. To set the stage I live just west of the Shenandoah Valley, the nearest hospital is 20 miles away over a mountain chain in Virginia, a 45 minute drive during good weather. It had been snowing for two days and this route happened to be closed to all but emergency vehicles. The other hospital was a two hour drive away, again, snowed in. Our county had two ambulances, one was in a volunteer fire department (They had no established fire department) the other roamed the county seat, which was 12 miles away over another ridge of mountains.
My wife was cooking and my two children were in their rooms playing. It was at this time that I learned a valuable lesson about first aid kits and how unprepared they actually leave you.
My wife, through some slip and catch routine caught the business end of a carving knife just below the inside of her elbow. The cut was about 2.5 inches long and about a ¼ inch deep. Now that doesn’t sound like a lot but when you are looking at tendons, fat and blood vessels it’s more than enough.
Confident of my first aid kit and training I immediately sat her down and told her to raise her arm. Unfortunately due to the location of the gash, this was unbearably painful for my wife. I opened our medical kit, which I thought was of substantial size, and donned sterile gloves, and opened a pair of gauze pads. I had her hold this on the cut while I called 911 and checked in on the kids. The kids were fine, the ambulance was busy. Busy? Apparently someone had caught their living room on fire and the incident occupied both ambulances which would be unavailable for the next four hours while trudging through the night behind a snowplow to the nearest hospital. Not to mention a plethora of people had been caught in the weather trying to drive.
The severity of that situation did not dawn on me until after the incident. I set the phone down near us as I replaced the dripping bandages. The blood was clotting but it still oozed out of cut. I placed four bandages on and wrapped a triangle bandage and had her lay down so her arm would be slightly elevated above her heart.
For those that do not know when skin is cut that deep it pulls away from itself, all in all the center most opening was nearly ½ inch wide showing more anatomy that I was comfortable with. Upon changing the bandage the third time the blood had stopped and it was clotted enough to allow me to use a small iodine wipe around the cut, careful not to get it into the mound I tried to clean up the blood as best as I could. My wife, now shivering from slight shock of the incident was nauseous and dizzy. I took appropriate actions and assured her everything was going to be fine.(I myself had doubts about this)
It was 9 p.m. when I ran out of bandages. In four hours I had gone through three boxes of gauze as the wound wept, the ‘dull thudding pain’ also taking it’s toll on the medication we had in the kit. I called once more, and said my wife was fine and only needed stitches, and maybe some pain medication. I was told the ambulances were on their way back but someone else had literally slid of the side of the mountain and they were having to Triage people for an ambulance. That sent a chill down my spine. “I’m very sorry sir, but you will be given a call as soon as another emergency vehicle is available.”
I looked at my wife and made the decision to go to the gas station four miles down the road and buy as many sterile pads that they had. The trip took an hour. Luckily halfway through going there I heard the heavy scraping of a snowplow as he rushed through, I pulled into someone’s driveway and let him pass before continuing. I bought the bandages: 8 boxes gauze/ 2 boxes super absorbent gauze non-stick pads. As I made my way back on the uncleared lane, I slid off the road or into the oncoming lane (which was plowed) multiple times. Luckily I made it back in one piece and so did the vehicle. The bandages were replaced and luckily all was good. I double checked her wound before calling the emergency line again and informing them to take us off of the ‘Ambulatory Triage’ list.
It was four days before I could take my wife to the hospital who said she was lucky it was not infected and it would have required stitches had she come in that night. At that point it had closed up and scabbed over enough for them to need only give her some penicillin to ward off any infection and some painkillers.
So in hind sight now I had to ask myself some serious questions…
What if she had cut a tendon or a major artery, would they have diverted an ambulance to our house when someone’s vehicle had flipped off the road? Would my wife have been ‘triaged’ over a smoke inhalation victim?
What if I had gotten stuck in the snow or worse, wrecked as many did that night and was left stranded as I got my wife her bandages? Was I prepared to walk through that kind of weather? Was it a good decision to risk it for bandages and leave my wife alone handicap with two children?
What if the gas station was closed? What if they didn’t even carry medical supplies? What if it had gotten infected early on? What if I had cut myself, did my wife know how to properly care for a wound? Would the situation have been more severe had my children been the victim? I asked these and many other questions after this event and have made adjustments accordingly.
We now have an ample stock of medical supplies (As in hundreds of each ‘basic’ necessity in a first aid kit.), my wife has been to a basic fist aid and CPR class and I am working to educate her to the level of first aid that I am at, the children too, are learning. Remember the lesson here is modern medical kits are designed for the 30 minutes to an hour between the incident and the time the ambulance arrives or you arrive to hospital. Not for extended use.
Replacing the pads as often as I did, I’m sure, is what saved it from infection for as long as it did, all together over 100 pads were used, 2 triangle bandages and 2 rolls of medical tape, three dozen iodine/alcohol wipes, even more pairs of latex gloves, and that’s for just one cut for four days.
Take heed that in TEOTWAWKI there are no drugstores or gas stations down the road, you not only have to cover the wound but you have to maintain it until it heals properly. I highly recommend buying massive quantities of gauze and other ‘basic’ medical supplies.
Learn from my experience and don’t ever think it won’t happen to you before TEOTWAWKI. You can never be prepared enough. Regards,- I.S.