When SHTF (shit hits the fan), there’s no telling what will happen. When society as we know it stops functioning, the fate of you and your companions will all depend on your reaction time, quick thinking, and immediate response before, during, and after the situation.
Ideally, you’ll be okay and you’ll get out unscathed. However, realistically, dealing with grave injuries and almost certain death is the worst possible scenario that you can find yourself in.
Ideally, you’ll be okay and you’ll get out unscathed, because you are prepared and ready to handle whatever might come. However, if we want to be realistic, dealing with serious injuries or even death is possible, even when you’re thoroughly prepared to handle a disaster.
The key is in these situations is having the skills you need to manage an injury should someone gets seriously hurt. These skills are even more important when taking an injured person to a hospital or doctor is just out of the question.
Additionally, it’s imperative that you’re ready to handle the death of a loved one should things really go wrong.
Even though we never want to think about such a situation, being able to keep your composure after a recent death can quite literally be the difference between life and death for others in your family or community moving forward.
However, few people are truly prepared to handle such a serious medical situation, especially when help isn’t coming. To ensure that you’re always ready, I’ve created this guide to handling death and injury when SHTF. Let’s get started.
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The information in this article is provided “as is” and should not be mistaken for or be a substitute for medical advice. Always seek the help of a professional whenever possible. Neither the author, www.SurvivalSullivan.com, nor the company behind the website shall be held liable for any negative effects of you putting into practice the information in this article. We strongly recommend that you take a wilderness first aid course or seek out further medical training if you want to be thoroughly prepared to deal with a medical emergency. Appropriate medical training and skills upkeep are critical in a survival situation.
How to Deal With Injury When SHTF
Sometimes, we’re tempted to think that everything will be fine since we’ve done everything that we can to prepare. Unfortunately, this is seldom the case. The first thing that you will have to remember when SHTF is that you need to expect the unexpected.
No two SHTF disasters are the same, so it’s critical that you prepare for every possible scenario. Doing this will help you have a faster reaction time to the serious situations you might find yourself in. To help you find your footing, here are a few of the most common injuries you might encounter when SHTF and what you can do to help.
Have A Good Stockpile of Medical Supplies
Before we get into the nitty gritty of dealing with injuries and death when SHTF, it’s important to realize that having a solid stockpile of different medications, medical supplies, and herbal remedies can make a huge difference when a situation gets desperate.
Check out our advice on building your own DIY first aid kit for home and for creating the perfect collection of medical supplies to put in your bug out bag. Alternatively, we have a veritable treasure trove of information on herbal remedies that could save your life when SHTF.
Soft Tissue Injuries: AKA Cuts and Scrapes
No matter how minor the cut or scrape, there is always a risk of contracting an infection. In a survival situation, an infection is one of the worst things that can happen since getting an infection can turn a simple cut into a life-threatening emergency.
To properly deal with soft tissue injuries to stop the bleed and prevent an infection, it’s important that you do the “four Cs”:
- Control the bleed
- Clean the wound
- Care for the injury
- Continuously monitor
1. Control The Bleed
The most important thing that you can do for someone that is currently bleeding is to stop the bleed.
Uncontrolled bleeding is going to kill a person way faster than an infection, so if you can’t get that blood loss under control, things aren’t going to get any better anytime soon.
This is particularly true for wounds that cause arterial bleeding, such as deep lacerations or gunshot wounds.
When controlling bleeding, it’s best to start with the least invasive option and then progress from there if the bleeding just won’t stop. Try the following methods to stop the bleed:
- Direct pressure. Direct pressure is almost always going to be your first move when trying to stop a bleed. All you need to do is take your hand and push down firmly on whatever’s bleeding. Ideally, you’d have a glove on to protect yourself from blood-borne diseases, but if not, find what you can to put a barrier between you and the other person so you can quickly stop the bleed. If it’s your friend or family member at stake here, though, you might not care about these potential diseases.
- Pressure Bandage. If direct pressure just isn’t working, your next step is to try a pressure bandage. To make a pressure bandage, you simply need to use an ACE wrap, t-shirt, or whatever else you can find to tighten around someone’s arm or leg to help get the bleeding under control. Don’t make it too tight, though, as you don’t want to cut off blood flow to the person’s fingers or toes.
- Tourniquet. A tourniquet is going to be your absolute last resort when managing a bleed as using a tourniquet often means that you’re going to sacrifice the limb to save the person. While applying a tourniquet isn’t too hard to do, it does come with some serious potential complications. Mass General Hospital made a great video on how to apply a tourniquet to a patient, but I’d recommend taking a wilderness first aid class for more guidance on how to do this properly.
Also, don’t forget about nosebleeds! While they’re generally not serious, no one likes to have blood running down their face, especially if you’re already in a survival situation. Check out our top tips for dealing with nosebleeds so you’re always prepared.
2. Clean The Wound
The next step in dealing with a soft tissue injury is to clean it out thoroughly. If you want to prevent an infection, properly cleaning a wound is critical.
What’s important here is that you find the cleanest water you can and then thoroughly “irrigate” the wound. It’s best to use something like a sports water bottle that can provide a lot of water pressure to try and flush out any harmful bacteria that are trapped inside the cut.
If you don’t have a sports water bottle, filling a sturdy Ziploc bag with water, closing it, and then cutting off a small piece of the corner is a good alternative for creating some water pressure.
Once the wound is flushed out as much as possible, clean it thoroughly with soap and water. If you don’t have soap but happen to have some medical-grade iodine in your first aid kit, a 1:10 solution of iodine to water is a good alternative. Just be careful when using iodine as many people are allergic to it.
Whenever possible, it’s best not to use hydrogen peroxide (rubbing alcohol) to clean a wound. That stinging sensation you feel is actually the alcohol killing the few remaining live cells in your wound, which will slow the healing process.
3. Care For The Injury
Once the wound is clean, it’s time to “dress it” with a bandage so the cut can heal without getting exposed to any harmful bacteria that can cause an infection. In a survival situation, you may not have lots of nice gauze and medical supplies to create a proper dressing.
If this is the case, try to find the cleanest t-shirt or towel that you have and place it neatly on the wound. Then, attach the shirt or towel using some tape or whatever else you have on hand.
It’s best not to make this too tight as you don’t want to cut off circulation. Additionally, you’ll have to remove this bandage every once in a while to check on the wound, so don’t make it impossible to take off.
Alternatively, instead of using a bandage, some people prefer to use superglue when caring for a cut. However, supergluing a cut can be problematic, so check out our advice on what to do so you’re always prepared.
4. Continuously Monitor
Even though the injury is nicely wrapped up at this point, your job is not done. To stop any infection in its tracks, you’ll need to continuously monitor the wound for signs of infection.
When we talk about infections, we have “early signs” and “late signs.” Ideally, you can stop an infection by noticing the early signs before it’s too late. Early signs of an infection include:
- Wound is warm to the touch
- Puffiness around the wound
Late signs of an infection include:
- “Streaking” or red lines on the skin going from the wound toward the heart
- Swollen and tender lymph nodes
Needless to say, you don’t want a wound to progress to the point where you’re seeing late signs of infection. If you notice any early signs, consider the following:
- Soak the wound in hot saltwater baths
- Open the wound up and drain any fluid build-up
- Vigorously clean the wound to remove any bacteria
Ultimately, never underestimate any injury that you will get during your fight for survival. Infections are hard to heal from and if not done correctly, the worst can happen. Cuts should always be treated with care, even if they seem minor. The key is to keep the wound clean at all times and to prevent an infection at all costs.
Burns are also a type of soft tissue injury, but they require some specific care that warrants talking about them on their own.
Burns can happen for a whole lot of reasons, but the most common are severe sunburns, scalding from boiling water, and exposure to flames. Here’s what to do if someone has a burn:
1. Remove the source of heat. Now, this might seem obvious, but if someone has a burn the very first thing to do is to stop the actual burning. Do whatever you can to get them away from the flames, hot water, or chemicals that are causing the burn without putting yourself in danger in the process.
It’s also a good idea to remove any clothing or jewelry as this can also be hot and cause further burning. Clothing and jewelry can also cut off circulation as the skin around the burn starts to get inflamed and swollen.
2. Cool the wound. Then, aggressively try to cool the burn down pouring cold water on it. Don’t use ice because this restricts blood flow to the region and can slow down the healing process.
3. Dress the burn. If someone has a burn, soak it in water for 15 minutes, then place a moist dressing on the wound. This dressing will ideally be sterile gauze, but if you don’t have that, the cleanest t-shirt or towel you have will suffice.
4. Keep them hydrated. Anyone that has a burn, particularly a severe burn is going to get dehydrated very quickly. Do everything you can to get them to drink as much water as possible. But, don’t forget that they’ll also need to replenish their electrolytes, so ensure that they’re also eating sugary and salty snacks.
5. Monitor for infection. Burns can get infected, just like any other wound. If you notice any of the signs of infection that I talked about earlier, you’ll need to act quickly to stop the infection in its tracks.
A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury that normally happens as a result of serious head trauma. In a SHTF situation, this could be due to a fight, a car crash, or from getting hit in the head with falling debris.
If not recognized and treated properly, a concussion can cause some serious negative long-term health effects. In the immediate future, the effects of a concussion can be debilitating, which wouldn’t exactly be ideal in a survival situation.
The key with managing concussions is early identification. Therefore, understanding the signs and symptoms of a concussion is critical. These include:
- Loss of consciousness
- Impaired vision
- Stumbling and balance problems
- Memory loss
However, for some people, the signs of a concussion are quite mild, and they might not be obvious right away. If you suspect that someone may have a concussion, try asking them questions about who they are, where they are, or what the date is.
If they struggle to answer any of these questions, you should be suspicious of a potential brain injury.
Additionally, people that have a serious concussion can develop life-threatening bleeding or bruising in the brain. This often presents with the following signs and symptoms:
- One pupil large than the other
- Headaches that get worse
- Slurred speech
- Lack of coordination
- Repeated vomiting
- Seizures (for people that don’t normally have seizures)
- Unusual behavior, including confusion, agitation, or excessive restlessness
If someone has any of these signs or symptoms, the ideal thing to do is to get them to a hospital as there isn’t much that we can otherwise do. Should this be the case, being a calming influence for the person is your best option.
Otherwise, here are some general tips for helping people recover from a mild to moderate concussion:
- Take them to a dark place away from bright lights and loud noises
- Ensure that they get enough sleep
- Avoid physical exertion or exercise
- Do not allow them to drink alcohol
- Ensure that they drink enough water and have enough to eat
For the most part, mild concussions will heal on their own, but it takes time. Rushing back into activity is one of the most dangerous things a person with a concussion can do as this can lead to significant long-term health issues, such as post-concussive syndrome or traumatic brain encephalopathy, down the line.
The key here is to support someone with a concussion and create the best possible environment for their recovery.
Sprains and Fractures
Sprains and fractures are surprisingly common. In our regular day to day lives, they are certainly painful and inconvenient, but if you can get to a doctor fairly quickly, most sprains and strains heal well and are not life-threatening.
In a SHFT situation, though, a sprain or fracture can hinder your ability to get to safety or can quickly escalate into a truly serious injury. Here are some top tips for dealing with sprains and fractures during a disaster:
A sprain is an injury to the ligaments, tendons, or muscles that’s caused by excessive twisting or pulling. Sprains happen to joints, such as the ankle, wrist, elbow, or knee, and can vary from mild to overwhelmingly painful.
The signs and symptoms of a sprain include:
- Pain with movement
- Generalized pain around a joint
- Lots of swelling
- Discoloration (usually within 24 hours)
Thankfully, sprains heal well on their own and can be treated using the “RICE” method:
- Compression with an ACE wrap or similar
- Elevation of the joint
You can also consider taking an anti-inflammatory, such as ibuprofen to help reduce any swelling. The trick with sprains is to begin treating them soon after they happen.
A fracture is a broken bone. However, they can be surprisingly difficult to distinguish from a sprain around joints like your ankle and wrist. When in doubt, it’s generally best to be cautious and treat the injury like a fracture.
The signs and symptoms of a fracture usually include:
- Pain in a centralized location
- Decreased range of motion of the limb or joint
- Crepitus (that gross crackling or popping sound)
While identifying a fracture or a sprain isn’t necessarily that difficult, adequately treating one can actually be quite challenging. I highly recommend that you consider taking a first aid course to learn the basics of caring for a fracture and splinting an arm or a leg.
If you don’t have medical training and there’s no one that’s nearby to help, the best thing to do is to immobilize the broken bone as much as possible. Learning how to splint a broken bone is a great skill that all preppers should know.
Once you immobilize a fracture, be sure to check in on your patient often to ensure that the injury is not getting worse. Always remember that if there is a soft tissue wound, like a cut, in addition to the fracture, you also have to control the bleeding and care for the wound to prevent an infection.
Although most sprains and fractures will heal when properly treated by a medical professional, if that’s not possible, do your best to keep the person comfortable and relaxed.
Be sure to stay with them and to continuously reassure them as they will need support to survive if they can’t fend for themselves.
Hypothermia is a life-threatening condition that happens when the body’s core temperature gets so low that your brain and muscles aren’t functioning properly. Hypothermia can happen anywhere in the world, so long as the outside temperature is below normal human body temperature (98.6oF/37oC).
People are also particularly prone to developing hypothermia in wet and windy conditions. If someone is not well hydrated or well fed, they are also at risk of hypothermia in even fairly mild conditions.
Some of the signs and symptoms of hypothermia include:
- Fumbling around and a lack of motor coordination
- Inability to walk
- Can’t talk
- Difficulty with simple tasks
- Ashen grey skin
The best way to treat hypothermia is to prevent it from happening in the first place. Wearing warm, dry clothing and getting enough to eat and drink is imperative in cold conditions. Additionally, being able to identify early signs of hypothermia makes it possible for you to treat the issue before it gets worse.
Treatment for hypothermia includes the following:
- Get the person to shelter out of the wind, rain, snow, and cold as much as possible
- Remove any wet clothing and get them dry as much as possible
- If they are conscious and can eat, feed them sweet, warm liquids like hot chocolate or hot lemonade
- If the person is really cold, consider wrapping them up in warm sleeping bags or whatever you have available. Make sure they’re not lying directly on the snow or the ground – create some sort of insulating protection from the cold ground. However, DO NOT get in the sleeping bag with the hypothermic person. This used to be taught as a treatment option but has been shown to actually increase the risk of the rescuer also developing hypothermia.
Over time, with the proper care, people with hypothermia can recover with minimal long-term effects. But, it’s important that you’re able to quickly identify the early stages of hypothermia before the situation gets worse.
Choking is a surprisingly common issue. In fact, it’s the fourth leading cause of accidental death in the United States. However, it’s almost always possible for someone with minimal medical training to save someone else that’s choking.
If you notice that someone nearby is choking, the Heimlich Maneuver is generally your best bet. If that doesn’t work, CPR is your next go-to (if you’re trained to do it) as it is very effective at creating enough pressure within the chest cavity to dislodge whatever’s stuck in the person’s trachea.
For people that have never taken a CPR class before, though, I highly recommend it. Most courses are just a few hours long and can give you the skills you need to save someone’s life.
Dealing With Death When SHTF
Despite your best efforts, though, death happens to people that are seriously sick or injured, whether that’s a result of dehydration, a car accident, or any other of the multitude of ways to die when SHTF. While death is never easy, in a SHTF situation, though, dealing with death can be even harder.
The first thing about death that most people least expect is that no one’s ever prepared for it.
No matter what mindset you’re in or no matter the preparation, death is always shocking, especially if you’re fighting for your survival.
So how do you deal with death when SHTF? There’s no definite answer but there are a few guidelines that can help you through the process.
Often, having something to do or at least knowing what to do immediately after someone’s death helps the people who survived by providing them with something to do other than focus on their grief.
What to Do When Someone Dies
When someone dies, as humans, we often mourn as a way to work through our feelings. Unfortunately, we may not always have as much time to mourn as we would like.
More often than not, we will also be focused on keeping ourselves and others around us alive in challenging circumstances.
Here are a few things to do immediately after someone dies:
- Know how and why they died. If it’s because of their injuries, your immediate concern should be your safety. The cause of these injuries, may it be another human being, animals, insects, or a natural disaster, may still be at large. If the person died because of illness, take precautionary measures to ensure that the disease does not spread.
- Naturally, after someone close to us dies, we would like to give them a proper burial. Before doing so, assess your situation and make sure that you are not in immediate danger.
- Move the body away from any source of water as human remains can contaminate drinking water. If the deceased died of illness, make sure that you don’t touch the body haphazardly. Use gloves or anything else you can find that can create a barrier between you and any potential diseases.
- Rally everyone in your group to bury the body. Attempt to dig at least 6 feet (1.8m) whenever possible.
- Take care of yourself. It’s never easy to handle death. The pain clouds logical thinking and can put you at further risk. Thus, after someone dies, you have to take care of yourself. Set aside time to mourn and help others through it as well. Everyone mourns differently so be supportive to everyone around you.
Finally, when SHTF and someone get injured or dies trying to survive, there’s one thing you must remember: you did what you could. It’s not your fault. What’s important is that you focus on your own survival moving forward.
updated 07/03/2020 by Gaby Pilson