DIY medical items

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    Here are a few do-it-yourself tips that I have picked up over the years. Not always as good as the real things, but can be effective, cheaper, and more versatile:

    DIY SAM splints. The SAM splint is probably the most versatile splinting system known. The manufacture states that it can immobilize any bone except for the femur, and in field use that seems to be pretty much true. For info on how to use the SAM splint, go to” onclick=”;return false. SAM splints can run you $10-20 each, though, so if you are trying to set up several kits, or want more than one splint in each kit, then it can get pricey. During WWII, Korea, Vietnam corpsmen did not have SAM splints, they had rolls of wire mesh that worked as well.
    To make your own, get some wire fencing, like poultry fencing. No chicken wire, get the stuff where the wires cross to form squares about 1/4 inch to a side. The heavier the gauge (the smaller the number) the better. Cut a strip about 6 inches wide and 3 feet long. Now play with it, forming it into a splint like in the directions on the SAM splint website. Fold it in half lengthwise, then flair out the ends so that it has a “T” or “V” cross section and see how sturdy it is opposing longitudinal forces (not so good against lateral forces, anything from the side, but then neither is the SAM splint). Try different things out, following the pictures from the website. Once you are finished practicing, scrap the wire you have bent all up and cut yourself and new 6 inch by 3 foot piece. Use a file or a grinder to smooth off all of those loose wires that kept poking you before, as well as the corners. Skipping this part on your practice piece will make you very anal about it on future pieces. Get some thin foam (like sheets of craft foam), line one side of the splint with the foam, and wrap the whole thing up with duct tape. When you go to use it, the foam will be much more comfortable to the patient, if you put the foam side against his skin. The foam, and even the duct tape, are not essential and if you are short on room in your kit, skip them and just wrap it with a t-shirt in the field when you go to use it. I recommend sticking with the foam and duct tape, though, and for added style points lightly wrap an elastic bandage (Ace wrap) around the splint. You will probably want one to hold it in place anyway when you go to use it, just don’t wrap it too tightly or it will get stretched out. Store the splint rolled, folded, or running around the inside of your kit.

    DIY triangular bandages. The triangular bandage was, for a very long time, the work horse of the emergency medical bandages. Other things, like the Ace wrap, have supplanted it, but the triangular bandage is still a great tool. With just a little bit of practice, you can bandage just about any area of the body, make a sling, hold a dislocated shoulder “in place,” tie on a splint, make a tourniquet, or a hundred other uses. Plus, they make great doo-rags and neckerchiefs. To get an idea of how they can be used, check out” onclick=”;return false
    The triangular bandage really is cheap, if you order it, but it can be even cheaper to make one. Buy some cheap material and cut a square out of it, and then cut that square in half diagonally to give you two triangular bandages. The regular size is listed as 37x37x52 inches, others as 40x40x57. This was designed for use with men fit for military duty. If you think that you might use this with persons of other sizes, cut the square bigger or smaller. In one ER that I worked in we regularly used triangular bandages for slings. Had to cut them small for the kids, so I just went to the store and bought some fabric with cartoon prints on it…

    DIY ice packs, hot packs, irrigation systems–Zip-Lock bags. In combat medicine school we were taught to organize our med-kits with Zip-Lock bags. They worked for organizing, kept everything clean and dry, and we could use the bags themselves to render care. Ok, ice pack, put some ice in a Zip-Lock bag (make sure to wrap it with a piece of cloth, otherwise you could cause frost bite). Yeah, I know, everyone knows that one. But what about hot packs? You are out in the field, someone goes down to hypothermia, you need some hot packs to put in the guy’s groins and armpits, what do you do? Fill the Zip-Lock bags with warm liquids: warmed water, coffee from a thermos, or even have everyone pee into them. If you do the warmed water or coffee, make sure to not put it against bare skin, you can burn the guy. If you have to go for the pee, make sure that the bag is zipped up well.
    The best way to cleanse a wound is with a stream of water or saline. One way to get a good, clean stream is to fill up a Zip-Lock bag and poke a small hole in a corner of it with a safety pin. The higher you hold the bag above the wound, the stronger the force of the stream. Water, just about anything safe to drink, seems to work very well, but saline is less irritating. Normal saline is what is most commonly used in ERs, and it is 0.9% salt, or 9000mg of salt in 1 liter of water. If you want to try and make your own, you can add about 2 teaspoons (4500mg) of salt to 2 cups (500 milliliters) of water. Get a Zip-Lock bag, put 500mL of water in it, hold it up-right and mark the water line. Pour the water out and use that bag as a guide to mark up some more Zip-Lock bags. Put the right about of salt in them, seal and roll them out, and when you need to use them just fill ’em up to the line.

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