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Basic Emergency Surgery When There’s No Doctor

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Many people understand the importance of having medical supplies and equipment in the event of a catastrophic event. But surgery is a bit more complicated than standard first-aid — and quite a bit more intimidating. Now might be a good time to do some research, watch and assemble some videos, and learn at least some of the fundamentals of emergency surgery.

To be clear, this isn’t about major surgical procedures. It’s about fundamental procedures like suturing a deep wound, clearing an infected abscess, or removing an epidermal cyst. Given the fact that local anesthetics will mostly be unavailable, these simpler types of procedures create about as much pain as some people can stand without a local anesthetic.

If the possibility of emergency surgery concerns you as a preparedness need, here are the steps you should take to prepare.

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1. Become as knowledgeable as possible about basic types of surgical procedures. There are some excellent books on this subject available, including the Special Forces Medical Handbook, Emergency War Surgery, How to Stitch Up Wounds, The Red Cross Field Manual, and a more clinical text titled Emergency Surgery. Books are very good to have on hand, not only as reference, but also for the checklists they provide to help you both assess a wound or injury and how to approach it surgically. Many of these books focus on the types of injuries and wounds encountered in war zones and areas of conflict, because they are the most common environments for emergency surgeries in the field. You’re preparing for a different situation that will most likely be caused by an accident with an ax or knife, or an infection that has advanced to an abscess. Then again, injuries caused by conflict are also a possibility. Some of these more extreme injuries are covered in the books listed above.

There are also numerous videos on YouTube that cover basic emergency surgery techniques.  Some of the videos feature surgeons – which is great because they demonstrate the proper professional techniques. Others feature non-professionals performing basic techniques, and some of them do fairly well. Be forewarned: Some of the videos are not for the squeamish, but if you ever have to do this kind or procedure, you might as well see what it’s going to look like.

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2. Research, browse and purchase your supplies. This could be as simple as buying an Army issue Field Medical and Surgical Kit, or individual items that can give you some non-surgical options when confronted by a wound or injury. One of the things you will find in all of the books about emergency surgery in the field is a list of recommended items you should assemble. The field-kits usually have all of these items but may not have as many options.

3. Think about how you will manage pain and prevent infection. This can be a tough one. Even if you have a hypodermic syringe, it’s unlikely you’ll have the local anesthetic and the advanced knowledge of how to inject it. This leaves you with either over-the-counter options like acetaminophen or ibuprofen. (Aspirin isn’t the best option given its blood-thinning effect.) You may also have some prescription painkillers left over from a past injury. Either way, you should administer as much pain reliever as you safely can before attempting any basic surgical procedure. If you can wait 20 minutes for the pain relievers to kick-in, all the better. Chewing tablets sometimes accelerates their absorption into the bloodstream.

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Infection is another critical consideration. The area to be worked on should be disinfected and cleaned as much as possible before you begin. Field medical/surgical kits have a variety of these topical antiseptics. You may also want to consider administering an antibiotic to the person for a series of days following any simple surgery if you have them on hand. Proper ways to dress the area and change the dressing, in addition to signs of infection, are also covered in the manuals.

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4. Practice. This may be easier to do than you think. There are kits and supplies sold that allow you to practice on either a synthetic simulation of the human epidermis, or you can use something as simple as a raw pig’s foot. The skin and muscle tissue of raw pig’s feet is very similar to human skin and tissue, and they are relatively inexpensive. This is a good way to practice suturing, or simple and shallow incisions for an abscess of epidermal cyst. There is also an alternative to sutures that is equally as effective. It’s the use of surgical staples and a device that closes the wound while inserting the staple.

The point is that there’s more to it than simply buying a surgical kit and stashing it next to any other equipment you’re storing. If you ever have to use that kit or other surgical supplies, you need to understand the basic concepts, techniques and safe practices surrounding their use.

Are there any books or videos you would recommend? Share your advice in the section below:

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