The Prepper’s Medicine Chest. Are you sure you’re ready for everything?

It’s not just about bandages, splints and OTC pain killers. Are you prepared and knowledgeable about minor surgery, suturing, poisoning, major burns, dental problems, infections and resources for prescription meds?

Some of the key areas that people focus on in terms of preparedness include food, water, shelter, defense and medical supplies.  Those are all important but don’t make assumptions about your medical supplies until you consider the things you may truly need at some point in time:

  • Basic first-aid supplies for cuts, scrapes, minor burns, and over-the-counter (OTC) medicines for pain, colds and flu, and other common symptoms and afflictions.
  • Prescription medicines for you and/or someone in your group who is dependent on them. The big question is do you have enough for a long-term shortage caused by a significant disruption to the manufacture and distribution of pharmaceuticals?  This is especially important for people with significant, chronic conditions like diabetes or an implant requiring the regular use of blood-thinners.
  • Advanced first-aid supplies for major injuries such as broken bones, major burns, poisoning, deep cuts, and wounds to the eye.
  • Dental equipment and some basic supplies for a time when there may be no dentist.
  • Additional prescription meds for use as needed to treat infections.
  • Vital sign devices for measuring blood-pressure, heart rate, temperature, oxygen levels, and in the case of diabetics -blood sugar monitoring devices and supplies.
  • Knowledge from books and other resources that can educate you about medical procedures and treatments that you should learn before any incidents occur, and to serve as reference afterwards.

Acquiring some of these supplies is fairly easy and can be done over a period of time to offset the costs.  Other supplies require a bit of research, but many adventure outfitters and other outlets offer advanced first-aid kits and other supplies and equipment for significant injuries.

There is also a veterinarian option where companies sell pharmaceuticals for treating animals that have application to certain human conditions in some instances.

Ultimately, the degree to which you stock, store and collect equipment and supplies for your medicine chest is up to you.  You should also be mindful of the unique needs of children as it relates to the size of some medical equipment like splints or crutches, and the dosage of any medicine whether it’s OTC or a prescription

A Conceptual Checklist

A checklist for all of the items a prepper should consider in their medicine chest could fill a book.  Rather than endlessly list items we’re going to identify the incidents and conditions you may encounter and think in terms of equipment and supplies for diagnosis and treatment.  After that it’s up to you.  There are also unique conditions that might affect you or your family that a checklist can’t anticipate.

A Graph as a Guideline

The graph below attempts to isolate various conditions by severity.  These are general guidelines.  It’s constructed in 4 levels with Level 1 as the least severe and Lever 4 as the most severe.

We should also add there are various opinions about how certain conditions should be treated so use this graph as a thought-starter to help you anticipate what you think you may need, and the degree to which you’re going to stock your medicine chest.

We should also add that the symptoms and treatments listed here are highly generalized.  Other treatment approaches should be considered if you’re in doubt.  If you want an excellent source for self-diagnosis the Merck Manual is the standard reference used by Physicians.

For the record, this information was not put together by doctors but is based on the knowledge and experience of people who actively prepare for desperate situations and have combined a good level of research and experience to frame some of these thoughts on a prepper’s medicine chest.

Sections marked with “N/A” means that particular section is most likely not relevant to the condition.  A simple example is that no equipment is needed to bandage a minor cut.

Understanding the Levels

LEVEL 1

These are conditions that many of us encounter and treat at home on a regular basis.  They rarely require a doctor visit or prescription medications and are easily treated with OTC medicines and medical supplies bought off the shelf at a pharmacy.

LEVEL 2

These conditions are a bit more serious and while some of us can deal with them at home, many people consider a visit to a convenient care facility or doctor’s office.  On rare occasions they require a visit to the emergency room depending on the age and general physical condition of the person.

LEVEL 3

These are serious medical conditions and would be typically treated at an emergency room or in a doctor’s office.  In desperate times if there is no access to medical facilities or medical professionals it’s best to be prepared for the worse not only with the right equipment and supplies, but the knowledge of how to treat the condition.  This begins to get into areas that require significant research on how to treat these conditions.

LEVEL 4

These are critical medical emergencies and would be traditionally treated by paramedics arriving in an ambulance or at a hospital emergency room or urgent care facility.  To some degree there may be little anyone can do without sufficient medical training and sophisticated facilities.  We’re covered a few conditions but if you want insight and advice on how to treat a heart attack, stroke or broken neck at home you should probably take a close look at the reference resources we’ve linked to at the end of this article.  No guarantees on good solutions but at least some clues, insight and some hope.

Approaching the Conditions

There are also some general comments in the graph on approaching any condition.  Here’s how to think about them:

1. APPARENT SYMPTOMS

These are very general symptoms that sometimes appear singly, together or not at all.  Your best approach to evaluating any symptom is to ask yourself or the person, “What do you feel?”  If they’re not sure some of these symptoms might give you a clue.

2. EQUIPMENT NEEDED FOR CONTINUOUS TREATMENT

Think wheel chair or crutches.  These are long term things that an individual may need for a period of time or that you use over and over again over time.

3. SUPPLIES NEEDED FOR IMMEDIATE TREATMENT

This is what you want to have on hand when you first encounter a medical situation.  It’s the stuff that will allow you to immediately begin to treat the condition and to some degree offer immediate relief to the person you’re treating.  Don’t assume this is a one-time use.  Others in your family or group my encounter similar problems and some individuals may need repeated treatment.

4. MEDS POSSIBLY NEEDED FOR TREATMENT

This is a tough one.  Few of us are pharmacists or doctors and prescription meds are dependent on a highly complex group of organizations, laws, manufacturers and a distribution system.  They’re also dependent on what the name implies: “a prescription.”  Whether you decide to keep your leftover, family prescriptions or consider alternative resources like veterinary suppliers -that’s once again up to you.  However, you should not be shy about stockpiling a good amount of OTC meds from your local pharmacy or grocery store.

Prepper Medicine Chest Possibilities

Level 1 Conditions

LEVEL 1 CONDITION APPARENT SYMPTOMSEQUIPMENT NEEDED FOR CONTINUOUS TREATMENTSUPPLIES NEEDED FOR IMMEDIATE TREATMENTMEDS POSSIBLY NEEDED FOR TREATMENT
SprainPain, swelling, rednessRefillable ice bag, elastic bandages for support, cane or crutchesIce for ice bag or reusable cold-packs for immediate reliefOTC pain relievers like Benadryl to reduce swelling, topical ointment for muscles
Shallow cutMinor bleedingN/AAntiseptic wipes, assorted bandagestriple antibiotic ointment
1 st degree burnRedness, blisteringN/AIce for immediate relief or cold water, bandagesTopical pain relief spray, triple antibiotic ointment with topical pain relief
Painful insect bite including bees, wasps, hornets, fire ants and non-poisonous spidersLocalized pain and swellingRefillable ice bagIce for the ice bag for immediate reliefTopical pain relief spray, baking soda
Coughing and congestionSneezing and coughingHumidifier or tea kettleWater for steam from humidityCough medicine, vaporub,
Fever due to cold or fluTemperature of 100° F. up to 102.5Thermometer, refillable ice bag, washclothsIce for bag, cold water for cloths for immediate reliefOTC pain relievers
Mild allergic reactionHives, itching, swellingN/AN/ABenadryl, anti-itch spray
Severely sprained or broken fingerPain, swelling, difficulty moving finger, rednessN/AFinger splints, splint pads, medical tapeOTC pain relievers like Ibuprofen to reduce swelling
Inflamed gumsPain and noticeable swelling along the gum lineDental pick, tooth brushFloss, tooth paste, mouthwash or salt and water rinseAmoxicillin or Cipro in the event of infection

Level 2 Conditions

LEVEL 2 CONDITION APPARENT SYMPTOMSEQUIPMENT NEEDED FOR CONTINUOUS TREATMENTSUPPLIES NEEDED FOR IMMEDIATE TREATMENTMEDS POSSIBLY NEEDED FOR TREATMENT
Deep Cuts or woundsPain, profuse bleeding, dark-red bloodSuture needle, antiseptic water-flush bottle, sterile rubber glovesSuture thread, antiseptic water for immediate rinsing, butterfly bandages, large, sterile gauze padsTriple antibiotic ointment, Amoxicillin or Cipro, Prescription pain meds, OTC pain meds
2 nd degree burnsBurn through skin to muscle, oozing, redness, intense pain, shockPre-packed burn kit with enough burn gel for repeated usage over timeBurn gel used immediately, sterile gauze bandages, sterile rubber gloves, at a minimum plenty of clean, cold waterTriple antibiotic ointment, Amoxicillin or Cipro, Prescription pain meds, OTC pain meds
Severely sprained or broken wrist or ankle but not a compound fracturePain, redness, distortion of the wrist or ankle, swellingIce bag for pain and to manage swellingVarious splints, Velcro wrist and ankle braces, surgical tape, ice for pain, elastic medical wraps for immediate treatmentPrescription pain meds, Amoxicillin or Cipro, OTC pain meds like Ibuprofen
Poisoning Sweating, vomiting, diarrhea, confusion, hivesBucket for vomiting either natural or inducedN/AActivated charcoal, Ipecac to induce vomiting
Cracked toothObvious gap or missing part of toothDental medical kitPutty or cement to repair toothPrescription Amoxicillin or Cipro for possible infection, and prescription or OTC pain meds

Level 3 Conditions

LEVEL 3 CONDITION APPARENT SYMPTOMSEQUIPMENT NEEDED FOR CONTINUOUS TREATMENTSUPPLIES NEEDED FOR IMMEDIATE TREATMENTMEDS POSSIBLY NEEDED FOR TREATMENT
Venomous bite from snake or spiderRedness, swelling, festering wound, puncture marksElastic wraps to wrap wound area in ice, sterile gauze and bandagesSnake bite kit to be used immediately, ice to slow the spread of venomAnti-venom? OTC pain meds like Ibuprofen for swelling, Amoxicillin or Cipro. Triple anti-biotic ointment
Broken shoulder, ribs, arm or broken leg but not a compound fracturePain, distortion of the affected area, redness, swellingElastic wraps, Velcro braces for various parts of the body, splints, reusable ice bagsIce to provide immediate relief for pain and swellingPrescription and OTC pain meds including Ibuprofen for swelling, prescription blood thinners like Plavix to prevent blood clots
Severe wound from a chainsaw, ax, or firearmSevere Bleeding, pain, loss of consciousnessVarious bandages, surgical tape, elastic wraps, reusable ice bags for long-term relief of pain and swelling, suture needlesSterile towels, sterile gauze, sterile rubber gloves, surgical tape, elastic wraps, suture thread, ice packs for some immediate relief of pain and swellingPrescription and OTC pain meds including Ibuprofen to relieve inflammation, Amoxicillin or Cipro, triple antibiotic ointment
3 rd degree burnsSevere pain burns into and past the outer epidermal layer of skin into tissue and musclePre-packed burn kit with enough burn gel for repeated usage over time and repeated, sterile gauze bandage changesBurn gel used immediately, sterile gauze bandages, sterile rubber gloves possibly pure cold water to rinse and cool burned areas if burn gel not availableTriple antibiotic ointment, Amoxicillin or Cipro, Prescription pain meds, OTC pain meds, sterile water

Level 4 Conditions

LEVEL 4 CONDITION APPARENT SYMPTOMSEQUIPMENT NEEDED FOR CONTINUOUS TREATMENTSUPPLIES NEEDED FOR IMMEDIATE TREATMENTMEDS POSSIBLY NEEDED FOR TREATMENT
3 rd degree burns with wide coverage of the bodyPain, deep tissue and muscle burns, shockBurn kit with burn gel and sterile bandagesCold-water, burn gel, bandagesPrescription pain meds, OTC pain meds, triple anti-biotic ointment, burn gel, prescription antibiotics like amoxicillin or Cipro
Compound fracture Intense pain, bone protruding from wounded area, heavy bleedingBandages, elastic wrap, Tourniquet, splintsSterile towels, sterile water, additional bandagesAmoxicillin or Cipro, prescription pain meds, triple anti-biotic ointment
Heart attack, strokeIt’s best to do extensive research on these critical conditions.Nitroglycerin prescription

The 4th level of medical conditions can be difficult to prepare for unless you or someone in your group is a medical professional.  It’s good to know as much as you can, but in an isolated or desperate environment without adequate medical facilities and professionals the options for treatment of a Level 4 condition are severely limited.

General knowledge you should have:

1. Wound treatment. We all have dealt with minor cuts, but some wounds can be serious.  Proper treatment of any wound will help to prevent infection and accelerate recovery.

2. Basic suturing.  Many medical kits available on the Internet include suture needles and thread in sterilized packages.  There are videos on the Internet that demonstrate how to practice suturing.  This is usually done on a pork shoulder or ham with the skin intact and uncooked.  The epidermal layer of a pig is very similar to human skin.

suture kit

suture kit

There are also suture pads made specifically for suture practice. This is something you want to practice rather than attempting for the first time in an emergency.  There’s also a question of pain management before suturing that can be done with prescription pain meds or OTC pain medicines.

3. Burn care. We’ve all had minor burns.  They’re usually first-degree burns resulting in nothing more than a blister.  Second and third-degree burns are another story and you should be aware of how to quickly provide relief and treatment.

Burn kit

Burn kit

burn kit contents

burn kit contents

Burn kits are also available on the Internet and provide many of the basic gels and dressings needed to treat major burns.

4. Severe sprains and broken bones. Knowing how to physically handle someone with a sprained or broken limb is important to understand.  Also, the proper way to immobilize the affected area and the necessary splints, wraps and tape to allow the area to heal.

5. Eye care. Nothing is worse than an injury to the eye.

eye first aid kit

eye first aid kit

Here again there are medical eye kits on the Internet offering everything from eye cups to patches, eye drops and rinses and eye-safe antibiotic ointments.

6. Shock Knowing how to recognize shock from a traumatic injury and how to treat it should be a part of your basic knowledge.

7. Dental conditions.  There are dental emergency kits available on the Internet.  They provide everything from dental picks to epoxies that can be used to repair a tooth.

dental first aid kit

dental first aid kit

The severity of the dental condition will have a lot to do with how much you can do, but these kits offer you some god solutions.  There’s also an excellent book by Murray Dickson titled, “Where There is No Dentist.”  In it he covers many of the approaches he used to treat people in remote areas.

8. Prescription Meds. If you or someone in your family or group are dependent on a prescription pharmaceutical to treat a serious and chronic condition you should talk to your doctor about a 90-day supply rather than 30 days.  You could also look into online pharmacies but be careful out there.  Many online pharmacies are based in foreign countries and fraud is sometimes the case.  The medicines have the approximate shape and color of a standard prescription med but can be sugar-pill.  It’s hard to know but if you do order online, start with a small quantity and ask your local pharmacist to confirm that it’s authentic.  Prescription meds all have a unique number, color and shape that a pharmacist will recognize.  You could also refer to the Physician’s Desk Reference and look up the pill.

9. Veterinary Pharmaceuticals. This is a touchy area but there are veterinary pharmaceuticals to treat infections that are coded, shaped and colored the same as human prescriptions.  This is required by law.  In a book written by David Werner titled, “Where There is No Doctor” he explains how he has used veterinary pharmaceuticals in his work as a missionary.  This approach is totally up to you and requires extensive research to understand the risks.

There are other conditions from pneumonia to fungal infections you should be aware of and have an understanding of how to treat.  This gets to some of the resources you should consider in books or on the Internet.  Books are a good thing to consider or continuous reference in the event that the Internet is not available to you.

Build as You Go 

You should continually think about what you might to have in your medicine chest and add items over time.  The more you learn the better you’ll be able understand what items to collect and most importantly, how to use them.

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