Every year there are hundreds of accidents presenting at Emergency Departments and medical centres that have occurred while fishing or camping. From minor lacerations that require little more than a clean dressing through to life saving procedures, all anglers and campers should have a basic understanding of first aid and have a few tools of the trade close at hand.
While you do not have to have a first aid certificate to be able to administer basic first aid, it certainly pays to look at doing a first aid course. The old senior first aid has been replaced with a course known as Apply First Aid. This two day course will give you the skills to apply basic first aid that can help reduce pain and discomfort, prevent secondary illness or injury as well as be lifesaving in some instances.
I work as a paramedic as well as a first aid instructor with the Queensland Ambulance Service and the importance of good basic first aid prior to paramedics attending a scene cannot be underestimated.
From first aiders right through to surgeons, the basics are always the same. What we know as DRABC is the foundation to all interventions that require basic life support.
D = Danger. Ensure the safety of yourself, bystanders and the casualty. If you can, either remove the danger (i.e. put small fire out, unplug power supply or turn off engine) or remove the casualty from the danger.
R = Response. Use the acronym, COWS, to check for the casualty’s ability to respond: C = Can you hear me? O = Open your eyes. W = What is your name? S = Squeeze my hand. Always give priority to an unconscious, unresponsive casualty.
A = Airway. Carefully tilt the casualty’s head backward to look inside of the mouth for anything that could obstruct the airway. Only remove dentures if they are loose and may cause an airway obstruction. If the casualty has blood, vomit or water in the mouth that needs draining, place them on their side and allow gravity to drain the fluid. The head should still be tilted back slightly to keep the tongue from falling over the airway. If you can imagine someone “sniffing” the air, that is the ideal amount of head tilt. Foreign bodies that are too large to be drained by gravity may be swept out of the mouth with your middle and index finger, however, be careful not to force material down deeper into the airway.
B = Breathing. If the airway is open and clear, use the ‘look, listen and feel’ technique to determine whether the patient is breathing or not. Look for a rise and fall of the chest, listen to air moving in and out of the lungs or a snore while holding your hand on the chest or side of the casualty to determine if they are breathing.
C = CPR. Hopefully, it never comes to this but effective CPR for patients who are unconscious and not breathing can allow enough blood and oxygen to feed the brain and other vital organs until paramedics arrive. I would encourage everyone to know CPR and if it has been a few years since you last did a CPR course, it may pay to refresh your knowledge as there have been a number of changes over recent years.
With serious injury or illness that requires an ambulance, call 000 with as much detail as possible. Most people do not realise that when you call from an ambulance, there are actually two Emergency Medical Dispatcher (EMD) listening to your call. One is known as the call taker who will ask you a number of questions while the other, which you will not hear, is arranging the closest ambulance to attend your location. Therefore, stay calm, answer all the questions that you are asked the best you can while knowing that an ambulance has already been dispatched.
Here is hoping that you don’t have anything too serious and all that you need to do is a little basic first aid. Having a small first aid kit on board the boat, in the camping gear and in the car will go a long way to helping with basic first aid. I have included a photograph and inventory of my first aid kit that I carry in my boat just to give you some idea of what is required.
Cuts, burns and grazers require clean, sterile dressings to avoid infection. Bleeding needs to be controlled prior to applying a dressing and if bleeding cannot be controlled or it is spurting, call 000 for assistance.
For minor bleeds, apply firm, direct pressure, pull edges of the wound together, apply a sterile pad with clean bandage and elevate the wound. For wounds that continue to bleed through the pad, apply second pad and bandage and seek medical treatment.
Hooks that have penetrated beyond that barb need to be removed by a doctor or experienced health care worker. I know that a lot of anglers have a few tricks for removing hooks and in a lot of cases these work fine but if in doubt, seek help. It may pay to visit a medical centre to insure tetanus injections are up to date and prevent infection.
Marine envenomation’s cannot only be extremely painful but also life threatening. Most stings will be painful until the venom wears off and there is little that can be done. A small trevally looking fish known as a happy moment is one such fish that can be extremely painful until venom wears off. Stonefish, bullrout, platypus and stingrays can are very painful but some relief can be obtained through soaking the effected area in hot water. Keep water as hot as can be tolerated. Blue bottle stings can re relieved with ice or soaking in cold water and the old wives tail of rubbing with sand is exactly that, an old wives tail and will increase the pain rather then relieve it.
Box jellyfish and the tiny irukandji jellyfish can be lethal and require urgent medical treatment. Call 000 immediately and in the case of box jelly envenomation, douse with large amounts of vinegar. Carefully remove tentacles that are still attached with a stick or other object and do DRABC. Never rub the area or apply pressure bandage.
Snakebites require the casualty to be calm and still while the first aider applies a pressure bandage to the bite area. Providing rest and reassurance for the causality can go a long way toward helping them survive snakebite. If a leg or arm is bitten, apply the bandage from the foot or hand all the way to the groin or armpit. It is vital that you bandage from the hand or foot first which acts to prevent the spread of the venom. By bandaging down the limb instead of up, pressure builds in the blood vessels, which activates the lymphatic system, which is responsible for spreading the venom throughout the body. Mark the bite area but do not clean it so that a swab can be taken and the venom identified at the hospital.
This is just a very short rundown of some basic first aid so for a lot more information, please consider doing an Apply First Aid course. The ambulance service course that I teach includes a very comprehensive first text aid book and will give you the skills and confidence to apply it.
My first aid kit includes:
Pad and pencil