You, dear reader, are a smart person. Level headed, intelligent, thoughtful. You know the importance of first aid skills, of having a home first aid kit, and of keeping your CPR certification current. The aftermath of a self-defense incident can be especially gruesome that may require first aid for trauma. While many attacks will cause limited damage—within the range of normal first aid—some extreme cases inflict trauma that warrants separate and special consideration.
First Aid for Trauma
Head injury is a distinct possibility in any self-defense situation. A blow to the head with a weapon or even an fist can do a great deal of damage. A simple shove or slip can lead to a cranium banging against a concrete floor with a frightening amount of force. When the dust settles, take a good look at the afflicted person and check for the following symptoms:
- Blood or clear fluid coming from the ears or nose
- Slurred or confused speech
- Unconsciousness, confusion, drowsiness, or dizziness
- Unequal pupil size or response, blurred vision, or double vision
These are all signs of a serious problem. Keep the patient stabilized, treat any bleeding as necessary, and get them to medical care as soon as possible. Bear in mind that some symptoms may manifest up to 24 hours later, so keep an eye on them consistently. Drowsiness, physical weakness, persistent vomiting, headache, or seizures may develop, and they’re an indication that immediate medical care is needed. Don’t delay—get this person to a hospital.
If the attack involves a bladed weapon—or if you’re unlucky enough to be involved in an automobile accident—a severe laceration or traumatic amputation may result. This requires immediate treatment, so do not delay.
Have someone call an ambulance.
Remember the bystander effect and designate a specific person—e.g. “You in the cowboy hat! Call 911”.
Get the bleeding under control as quickly as possible.
Have the injured person lie down, elevate the affected limb/region, and apply direct pressure with gauze or a cloth. Bleeding should slow within 15 minutes. Keep applying pressure regardless.
Treat the injured person for shock.
There’s a huge amount of potential emotional trauma here,and that has physical implications. Keep them warm, try to keep them calm, and keep their airway clear—if they vomit, roll their head to the side and clear their mouth with your fingers if necessary. Now’s not the time to be prissy.
Take care of the amputated body part, if any.
Recover it if you can do so safety, rinse away any debris with clean water if possible, wrap it in a sterile cloth and put it in a waterproof container, preferably on ice.
NOTE: The idea is to keep the amputated body part cool, not cold or freezing. Do not put it in direct contact with the ice—that can cause additional damage that makes reattachment difficult.
With that out of the way, let’s talk about tourniquets. While they’re a big part of pop culture’s understanding of treating trauma, in reality they’re tricky to apply appropriately and in many ways risky. In general, direct pressure is preferably for first aid, and tourniquets should only be used in extreme cases or if medical help is delayed. I recommend a lot of research and training before incorporating a tourniquet into your first aid kit or plan.