In any survival situation, you must have a basic understanding of first aid to make it out alive. But what if you can’t get from your location to a hospital? What if the grid goes down? When this happens, you will be on your own to handle all types of medical emergencies. Experts refer to this as wilderness first aid.
And there is no one better to learn it from than William W. Forgey, M.D., also known as the “The Father of Wilderness Medicine.” Dr. Forgey is a wilderness explorer and expert, as well as a family physician and U.S. Army Veteran. Not only has he explored the Arctic, but he has also traveled on medical missions to Haiti more than 40 times. He has been named one of America's 20 greatest living explorers by the Explorers Club in New York City and even had a subcamp named for him at the National Boy Scout Jamboree.
With the release of his latest book, The Prepper's Medical Handbook, readers will learn what to stock, as well as what to do in dangerous situations when seeking professional help is not possible. We are honored to share our interview with the author today.
Survival Scout: If you could stock any medications or first aid type supplies, what would they be?
Dr. Forgey: Whenever you are designing a medical kit, you're looking at the technical capability of the person or group using it. If you’re a community of preppers, it’s one thing. If you’re a family, it’s a whole other thing.
When I wrote this book, I wrote for 3 different stockage objectives or 3 populations of preppers.
The first group is going to have the person that wants to have about a 2-week supply. That's a very common timeframe for many people because they're used to power being out for 10 days. I live in the Midwest, and we have ice storms. We've been out for a week or two, and nothing's moving. When this happens, you not only have to have food, but you also have to have the ability to handle medical issues.
The next group focuses on 1 to 3 months of supplies.
And then you have the last group who say, ‘We think the grid could potentially collapse. And we may be looking at a much greater length of time. So now we're looking at really wanting to go beyond a year.”
When you are putting together a kit, you really need to look at these three different groups and decide which one you identify with, then plan accordingly.
You need to ask: What should you bring with you and what are you going to do when you run out and how will you replace your medical supplies?
You're going to have to know how to MacGyver a certain amount of stuff. And every single thing I looked at in The Preppers Medical Handbook, I looked at and said, “Here's what you should have brought. If you use it up and you don't have it, here's what you're going to do without it.”
Survival Scout: Are there common first aid kit items that are just a waste of space that you see people stockpiling that they really don't need?
Dr. Forgey: The big question is, what do you really need? A prepper always has the problem of cost, and they also could have the problem of weight and bulk. And how much space do you have to stockpile? So, let's take only what's really needed. What's the most difficult thing to scrounge up? Well, it's going to be probably medication.
The most common things you are going to use are bandages. There are bandages that are advanced--which I talk about in my book--that are particularly good and useful to have, and why not have some of them? Well, those are also the easiest thing to probably do without, because you can scrounge something up that acts as a bandage. The one thing you can't do without as easily are some medications.
Now there are herbal remedies that mimic almost any medication you have. But the difference between herbal medication and a pill bottle is that you don't need a lot of training to take a pill out of a bottle, but you need a lot of training to be an herbalist.
Some home remedies are just as good as the most modern medicine, but I would say your biggest challenge is going to be certain medications.
Survival Scout: For survivalists who plan to stockpile, how long do medications last before they become more harmful than helpful?
Dr. Forgey: One thing I try to point out in the book is that medications have an incredibly long shelf life. There have been numerous studies done with medications that have been packaged for use in civil defense. For example, many antibiotics have been stockpiled for over a decade and under not exactly ideal circumstances.
There have been medications stockpiled for trips to the Antarctic where they've been in boats that have been under equatorial heat conditions, and then under freezing conditions, then back into equatorial ship holes several years later, and then into the labs. We're looking at a broad spectrum of medications, pain medicines, antibiotics, various things, and they've virtually been as good as the day they were packaged. And this is years after expiration.
I would never be worried about a medication. I do talk about certain medicines in my book that do degrade. But even though a medication like epinephrine does degrade and turns brown, you can still use it in an emergency. It may not be as effective, but it won't be harmful.
Survival Scout: What is the biggest mistake people make in emergencies where first aid is required?
Dr. Forgey: Misdiagnosis is a problem, but the biggest mistake is when a person mistakes how to treat the diagnosis. For example, some things you can diagnose easily, and the issue is finding the safest and most effective way to treat the injury or symptom.
But, in a wilderness situation, you don’t have X-rays or resources to help you diagnose. In this case, you want to diagnose the patient as best as you can based on how the injury appears and what the symptoms are. But, then you want to focus on finding the safest way to treat it. The biggest problem is that some people do more harm than good when trying to treat it. Instead, you want to do what you can that will cause the least amount of harm – especially if you are not sure your diagnosis is correct.
If you know how to diagnose, it's easy to go into basically a cookbook, which is why books like The Prepper Medical Handbook are written. Then, look up the recipe or the treatment. This provides a safe course of action.
Survival Scout: What first aid recommendations do you have for people on a budget?
Dr. Forgey: Even with a little budget, you can slowly but surely accumulate what you need. What's the most critical thing to start with? What it comes down to is the thing you're going to use the most -- is it going to be some sort of a pain medication or anti-inflammatory, which is easily available to you (such as Aleve, Ibuprofen).
The most common issues people will have off-grid are overuse injuries, tendon irritations, joint irritations, and contusions. Fortunately, these are all things that are treated with the same type of medication that is normally used for fevers or benign headaches.
One of the things I've been working on since the 70s is finding multifunctional purpose medications. What can you buy for one use, but use it for multiple situations? Therefore, it is more important to spend money on multifunctional medications than stockpile a large amount of different medications.
The other thing you need the most and you'll use the least, is probably going to be an antibiotic. You need an antibiotic the most when you have a particular type of infection, either soft tissue or systemic and general audience infection, and it can be lifesaving.
I'd say the most common thing you're going to use is topical wound care items like bandages and Neosporin. Choose something for pain, aches, and leg issues. Antibiotics are the most critical thing.
If you took my book and followed it exactly for the party of 10 people for a year, and you took everything that's in there, it would cost about $2,000.
Survival Scout: Is there any other training you recommend for preppers?
Dr. Forgey: The best training that’s commonly available would be wilderness first aid. Wilderness first aid is different from traditional first aid. With wilderness first aid, we cover more advanced things like realigning angulated fractures in addition to basic CPR.
Wilderness first aid courses are available through the Red Cross, National Outdoor Leadership School, Outward Bound, and numerous teaching schools like Women’s Medicine Institute. It’s a fairly standard course, but there is some variation. For example, whether the course will include snake bites, hypothermia, or high altitude will depend on the common risks for where you're located.
There are many prepping schools that go into the more advanced prepping, such as workshops of 4 days. The next form in the general scale of training would be the wilderness first responder. Now that could be like a 10-day course.
Buy the book (you can find it here) and keep it in your bug-out bag, friends.
Stay alert, friends.
Preparedness Advisor, My Patriot Supply