We’ve all done it. You are blithely chopping veggies for a gourmet dinner with your prized chef-grade knife, and your attention wanders. Suddenly you’re spurting blood and, although you can’t quite feel it yet, you realize that you have deeply sliced your finger.
You holler at whomever is in the next room, they come running, and (after much drama) you and your partner-in-panic wrap the traumatized digit in a T-shirt and drive to the nearest Emergency Room. After an interminable wait during which you almost pass out from pain, the doc checks for nerve damage and stitches up the cut, the nurse applies a bandage, you’re handed a prescription for antibiotics, and you undergo a radical cashectomy. At least you feel secure, knowing that experts have decided you will probably not lose the finger...
Now picture the same scene on the water, where the decision to visit the ER could involve the Coast Guard and a rescue helicopter. Traumatic injury takes on a whole new dimension when you are far from professional help... and this is the point where you need to become reasonably self-sufficient. We all have different experiences and abilities, and unless you have extensive medical training, it is easy to panic, scramble for supplies, and second-guess yourself about whether you’re doing it right (my partner jokes about staunching blood flow with one hand and Googling with the other). Even if you are a medical professional, it’s a different experience when you are looking at your own blood spurting from a fresh wound... and if you have to repair yourself in the cabin of a pitching vessel... well, it can be a challenge.
So we had an idea. How can I put 17 years of nursing experience (including ER) to best use as I make the transition to water, not only helping my sailing partner but bringing something to the cruising community? I have patched many a cut, assessed countless traumas, changed innumerable complicated dressings, given thousands of injections, started a plethora of IV’s, assisted with surgeries, sutured many incisions and generated a few trees’ worth of documentation... perhaps I can offer useful tidbits to fellow sailors, and even a much-needed product or two.
One of my basic philosophies is that we must take responsibility for our own health, and this is not even optional in the cruising setting. We have to educate ourselves, stock the best tools and supplies, and take a deliberate approach to on-board health management. With this blog I will attempt to move us toward that goal.
But lets not be boring! This is not a textbook; it’s interesting stuff, and should be treated that way. I will use this blog to present case studies of marine medical “adventures” as learning tools. Please consider this an invitation to send me your war stories of trauma aboard... if it’s a fit, I’d love to follow up with an interview and provide credit (if it’s not too embarrassing!) as well as a link to your website. We’ll also throw in a discount on your next order for medical supplies as a “thank you” for sharing your tales.
The first module in our Expedition Medical Chest line is focused on wounds and burn care. Since lacerations, abrasions, punctures, and burns are common injuries on a boat, we decided to focus on those for our initial offering. Steve told me how he shopped for his boat’s expensive medical kit, and as I browsed the contents with a critical nurse’s eye, I found myself surprised at what was (and was not) included. I realized that if I were called upon to take care of someone who had just cut themselves badly at sea, I would not want to reach for that kit... which is a high-end and well-marketed product.
This brings me to the reasoning behind our first Medical Chest module (available here), which reflects my nursing experience as well as Steve’s colorful career of adventure on land and sea. I have specific preferences in the items I reach for when I enter the hospital supply room, so here is an inventory of the contents packed in a logical sequence in our gasketed Lexan cases, along with some commentary on my rationale behind each:
As I mentioned earlier, we were deliberate in our choices with these materials, and the quantities we included. Some other kits we have examined include inadequate quantities of supplies you can grab at your local drugstore, packaged in cases that won’t withstand a puddle, much less a flooded dinghy. Maybe I am spoiled, but I know there is a huge difference in the quality and usability of these items. Lower grade bandages will fall apart as soon as they get wet or you bend your elbow to hoist a line... better ones last longer, are easier to work with, and give you a better chance to heal.
The supplies in our kits are the same ones I am used to grabbing when I run into the supply room in hospitals, and the quantities reflect my experience with first aid as well as ongoing care. The gasketed polycarbonate box is completely waterproof and will keep your supplies dry... a must in the marine environment. I took some time to sit down and write out a step-by-step instruction book in clear language (with a font big enough to see), then followed that with a starter medical log to get you in the habit of keeping records about this important subject.
We believe that the combination of these elements yields a marine medical kit that meets the needs of cruisers and others who need a reliable stock of supplies in a harsh environment. This Medical Chest is what Steve and I would like to have available if we find ourselves dealing with an injury at sea.
Future blog posts will look at such topics as what to stock in your onboard medicine cabinet (both over-the-counter and with a prescription from your MD), antibiotics (broad spectrum and others), to Tourniquet or not to Tourniquet, the proper way to do dressing changes and wound assessments, shock, hypothermia, aseptic technique, burns, how to wrap, how to give an injection, how to document incidents in a medical log, use of epinephrine pens and so on. I expect it to be interesting and fun... especially with the added color of your stories about medical adventures at sea!
Welcome, and thanks for dropping by...