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First Aid Kits
Does yours need a check-up?

By: Cash Anthony

Do you carry a First Aid kit on your bike? If so, when is the last time you took a look inside? Many riders probably carry kits which were purchased to meet a perceived safety requirement (or to qualify for a safe-riding badge), but if you don't know what your First Aid kit contains, you may be unpleasantly surprised if you ever need to use it.

What passes for a First Aid kit from sources such as discount stores and auto supply shops (and sometimes given away as Poker Run prizes) may be woefully short of what is needed for our sport. In case of a motorcycle accident, I dislike to say it, but band-aids ain't gonna help much, folks.

I was lucky enough to take a First Aid course a couple of years ago with some of the best EMS people I've ever met, at the home of our Assistant CDs for GWTA Chapter "I", Kathy and John Holly. The team who taught the course had handled serious accidents on a daily basis -- in fact, the woman in charge told me it was rare for them to be on the job for a shift without having to perform CPR at least once -- and they had come upon a number of accidents involving motorcyclists. They stressed several things that have really stuck in my mind.

  • Your First Aid kit needs to have a really good pair of scissors in it, to cut away (thick) clothing. If you can't see the injured area, it's hard to figure out what is best to do. You may find it worthwhile to invest in a heavy-duty shears which can handle thick material.

  • Every rider should carry a pair (several pairs is best) of latex gloves to be used in case of an accident where blood is spilled. Having them on your bike may allow persons who want to assist you to make that decision without fear of contamination, as well as being available to you to help someone else.

  • A good First Aid kit should have a number of triangle bandages in it, which can be easily made from inexpensive muslin purchased at any fabric or discount department store -- I got mine for about .99 a yard. These pieces should be large enough that you can make a sling from them, or fold them to use as a pressure-point type bandage, or put them on a head injury to hold other bandages into place. Mine are about 30" by 30" and are cut on the diagonal. These are just unbleached muslin, but they are clean and strong and BIG. I've NEVER seen a commercially purchased First Aid kit with these supplied. If you need more than one (for example, after making a sling for an arm, it's a good idea to immobilize that arm by binding it to the upper body), you can tie several of these together if the patient is a large individual. Carrying a minimum of three triangle bandages would be a good idea.

  • I've also seen very few kits that have anything like enough sterile gauze pads. If you need to put pressure on a bleeding wound, you'll go through these items fast and will want enough to add another clean one often. NOTE: Place a new gauze patch on top of an existing blood soaked patch in order to prevent tearing any existing clotting that has begun and reopening a wound.

  • It is helpful to have a bottle of filtered or distilled water in your kit. This can be useful in case of broken bones, eye injuries, cleaning out other minor injuries, and for dehydration. If you've got a compound fracture, it may be helpful to put a muslin bandage over a damp gauze bandage on the end of the exposed bone, to keep it from drying out, though an experienced EMS person has advised to simply use a clean (sterile), dry, dressing as you would any other open wound. Many minor problems can be dealt with initially by washing them with clean water, and debris in the eye can often be relieved by this, with nothing else required. (Even if the water isn't distilled or filtered, it can still be used if it's of potable quality.)

  • In the case of very bad head injuries, it's not unusual to have substantial eye injuries. Unfortunately, eyes can come out of place on impact. The recommended First Aid in this situation is to have a cup (like a clean Styrofoam cup) available to contain the damaged and displaced eye, and to strap that cup onto the face with a triangle bandage or use a roll of gauze. The medical folks today can do amazing things to put an eye back into place, but it's a good idea to bandage both eyes to keep the person from panicking (and to slow the 'eye-matching' reflexes, which try to make our eyes work together), while touching and reassuring the injured party. Having a clean cup in your kit may permit you to do someone an invaluable service by helping to save their sight.

  • Those who haven't taken a CPR or First Aid class in a while might be interested to know that the American Heart Association guidelines on CPR have been changing gradually. The last time I took one (about 14 months ago), I found that the procedure was not exactly the same as what I'd been taught in my previous courses. But all these courses do strongly recommend that a person who is going to administer CPR have a barrier available to protect them from the bodily fluids of the injured party. This may be a plastic gadget that looks like a kitchen gripper, with a hole in it for a breathing tube, or a more sophisticated mask that can keep a rescuer's face and lips away from the injured party while he or she breathes for the person who's down. These items are inexpensive and are available at medical supply shops, but I've yet to see a commercial First Aid kit that comes with one.

  • Most simple First Aid kits contain some kind of antiseptic ointment or cream. These can be useful for minor sunburns or insect bites, but they should usually NOT be used on an serious injury. When the medical folks start working on a wound, they don't want to wonder what has already been applied to it. When in doubt, throw it out.

In case of an accident, the first response these days is to call 911. In most regions of the country, even in rural areas, emergency assistance can be sent out right away. However, if you ever become a witness to a bad accident, you'll discover how important it is to have current information and adequate First Aid gear, even if you can't really do very much at the scene. It may save a life to know what NOT to do.

When you reach for that First Aid kit, you'll be better prepared if you know what's in it and how to use it. Take some time to look at what you're carrying on your bike, to see if it's what you really need.

Copyright © 1992 - 2021 by The Master Strategy Group, all rights reserved.

(James R. Davis is a recognized expert witness in the fields of Motorcycle Safety/Dynamics.)

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