It could evolve as systems are stressed after a natural disaster. It could be caused by a terrorist attack. It could even be the result of a societal or economic collapse. Have you ever thought about what might happen if our current health care system (EMS, Doctors, Hospitals, and Pharmacies) ceased to function normally?
What would you do if you couldn't go to your doctor, all of the hospitals were shut down, all of the pharmacies closed, and no one answered the phone when you called 911? You would be on your own. You would have to take care of yourself and your family members with the knowledge and supplies you currently have. Could you do it?
Many people have been forced to care for themselves due to partial or full system collapses in recent history. Think about these events:
- Hurricane Katrina in 2005
- The 2006 Tsunami in Thailand
- The 2010 Haitian Earthquake
- The 2011Earthquake, Tsunami, and Fukushima Nuclear Disaster in Japan
Those were just the big ones. There have been countless other natural disasters on a slightly smaller scale. Besides the natural events, think about what happened in New York City when the Twin Towers were brought down. Think about the economic collapse that affected Argentina for several years. Think about the societal collapse in the Balkans in the early 1990s.
In each of these events, medical care was limited or non-existent. All of the residents affected had to take care of themselves. I ask again: could you do it?
In order to be successful, you have to have knowledge. With the right medical knowledge, you can acquire, create, or improvise many of the supplies you may need. Fortunately in this digital age, there is a lot of knowledge freely available on the Internet. The difficulty lies in sorting through all the rubbish and trying to discern good information from bad.
Well, I've done the work for you. Below are links to the best available free videos and publications on the internet. These resources are designed primarily for the person who is not a medical professional. Most speak in relatively clear language without too much technical jargon. With a little work, anyone reading these books should be able to understand the concepts. Almost all of these references address the issue of austere medical care...what to do when you have relatively untrained practitioners, limited equipment, and no one coming to help. These are the facts and skills you will need to learn if you want to take care of yourself in a system-collapse medical emergency.
Where There is No Doctor
The most widely-used health care manual for health workers, educators, and others involved in primary health care delivery and health promotion programs around the world. While you are visiting this site, make sure you also download "Where There is No Dentist", "Where Women Have No Doctor" and "A Book For Midwives". All are excellent resources. Print versions are also available as well.
These books are a great introduction to primary care in an austere environment, offering useful information for handling everyday medical problems by unskilled caregivers with minimal access to resources. but the advice often ends with “and transport patient to definitive medical care”. That may not be enough when there is no definitive care available.
US Army Tactical Combat Casualty Care (TCCC) Correspondence Course
“When you have casualties on the battlefield, you must determine the sequence in which the casualties are to be treated and how to treat their injuries. This subcourse discusses the procedures for performing tactical combat casualty care; treating injuries to the extremities, chest, abdominal, and head; and controlling shock.”
This course was developed by the United States Army, but the lessons contained within are the battlefield medical protocols utilized by all branches of the US Military. These are the absolute best practices for handling traumatic injuries without professional medical intervention.
Combat Lifesaver Home Study Course
This is the "advanced" version of the basic TCCC protocols course above. It is a self- guided home study course that is academically equivalent to the class that many soldiers going into combat receive.
Special Operations Forces Medical Handbook (2001)
This book is a little more complex than the other ones above, but it is still a very valuable reference. There are more current print versions available, but the latest books don't vary greatly from the free version found at the link.
This is simply one of the best wilderness and primitive medical books available anywhere! It covers every conceivable topic including drugs, kits, herbal remedies, disease treatment, trauma, and dentistry. It also has a very comprehensive list of reference material to look at for additional study.
Although primarily concerned with emergencies at sea, this book is an excellent medical guide for a variety of conditions written so that the lay reader can diagnose, understand, and treat most common medical conditions in the absence of more definitive care. It contains good basic coverage of hygiene, nursing and medical care with limited on-hand resources. Like “Where There is No Doctor”, the treatment sections often end with somewhat impractical advice for a grid-down scenario. “Access medical counsel via ship radio” may not be appropriate for your situation.
Operational Medicine Videos
For those of you who prefer to learn skills by watching video rather than reading, this is your site! It is a treasure trove of archived military medical videos on almost every topic available.
Medical Drugs and Equipment for the Team Physician
A great listing of equipment and drugs for treating all types of injuries in athletes. In a survival situation, everyone will have to become an athlete. This is a great overall list of gear (and drugs) to have if you plan on taking care of a large group of people or you have a larger family.
Journal of Special Operations Medicine
An archive of more than 10 years' worth of journals for continuing education of military medics. Check out each year's "Training Supplement" for the latest guidance about how to treat virtually any common medical conditions in the field with minimal equipment. If I had only one resource to download, this "Training Supplement" would be it.
Before you dig in and get started, I have a couple of caveats....
Reading these books and stockpiling some supplies is not the same as attending medical school! If the healthcare system is functioning properly, use it! Save the knowledge in these books for when you really need it.
Also, there is no substitute for experience. If you have a greater interest in these subjects, classes are available. You will learn much more in a hands-on classroom environment than you will by just reading alone. Medical classes for non-medical personnel are sprouting up nationwide. You can find classes in every subject from Tactical Medicine to Third-World Medicine to Wilderness/Backcountry Medical skills. I've taken many of these kinds of classes and even teach some. They are all valuable. The first time that you place a tourniquet should be in class, not on the battlefield!
I have one more tip for you....
If you anticipate needing these kinds of skills, think about the environment in which you will be practicing. Don't just save these to your computer. If there are power outages or if there is an EMP event, your computer won't likely work. Print them out or order the books in hard copy form. There's nothing like having a real book when the lights go out!
If you want to learn more and buy some actual hard copy books for reference material, it would be a good investment. I recommend the following:
- Wilderness Medicine, 5th Edition by Paul S. Auerbach
- 2012 Nurse's Drug Handbook
- Ditch Medicine: Advanced Field Procedures For Emergencies by Hugh Coffee
- Medicine for the Outdoors by Paul Auerbach
- The Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy
- Primary Surgery: Volume 1: Non-Trauma by Maurice King
- Primary Surgery: Volume 2: Traumaby Maurice King
- The Sanford Guide to Antimicrobial Therapy 2012 Edited by David Gilbert
- Tactical Medicine Essentials by E. John Wipfler
- Wilderness Medicine, Beyond First Aid, 5th Edition by William W. Forgey
- Wilderness 911 by Eric Weiss
- Wounds and Lacerations: Emergency Care and Closure by Alexander T. Trott MD
Be safe and learn these skills before you need them!
About the Author: Greg Ellifritz is a 16-year veteran police officer. He is currently assigned as the full-time training officer for a suburban police department, responsible for developing and instructing all of his agency’s in-service training. With a passion for adventure travel, Greg spends an average of six weeks a year exploring Third World countries. Recognizing that his travels often take him far away from established medical care, he has taken numerous wilderness, tactical and military medical care classes since 2003 and is a certified Tactical First Aid Instructor and Emergency Trauma Management Instructor. Having provided medical care for both himself and his traveling companions in austere conditions on five continents, he now teaches medical courses for police officers, corporations and individuals through his company, Active Response Training.