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First Aid: General Gunshot Wound

Posted by Alex Francis on

A lot of first aid questions come about regarding gunshot wounds.  Perhaps it is the result of urban crime, a hunting accident in the country, or something in between.  In any case, there are a few simple things everyone can learn to help prepare them.

We should note though, that gunshot wounds come in a wide variety, are often unpredictable, and should always be professional treated by a doctor or hospital as soon as possible.  Most gun shot wounds, of course, don't occur in the hospital.  Having the right knowledge and tools in your first aid kit will help tremendously until then.  Below we outline some very general actions you can take.

  1. If able, have someone call 911.  The sooner the person gets professional help, the better odds of survival they have.  If it's just you, dial 911 and put yourself on speaker phone--you have other things to do with your hands in the mean time.
  2. Your primary concern is usually to stop the bleeding.  If the blood is squirting out, an artery has been cut, which makes the situation more serious.  Apply direct pressure to the wound.  Standard gauze will help, but for serious bleeding, you may want to use QuikClot gauze--QuikClot is extremely effective at stopping bleeding.  You may also want to consider a tourniquet, if you know how to properly use it.
  3. With direct pressure applied, try to elevate the wound above the heart if able.  You may not be able to do this, depending on the location of the wound.
  4. Finally, you will want to apply a pressure bandage to the wound.  An Israeli bandage is ideal, or a tight ace bandage will suffice.
  5. Keep the victim warm--with less blood in the body, a person becomes more susceptible to hypothermia and shock, even if the air is not cold.  Do this by covering the victim with blankets, jackets, or clothes--anything to keep them warm.  
  6. Finally, carefully check the victim for any other gun shot wounds.  An exit point may not necessarily be in a straight line with an entry wound.  Bullets can ricochet quite easily off of bone in a totally unexpected path.  Check the entire body throughly, as there may be more bleeding that needs to be controlled.  Also, don't remove any bullets you find in the body--it isn't an immediate danger to leave them in, but removing them could cause more serious bleeding/injury.
Special Note About Chest Wounds

Although we could (and probably will) write multiple blog posts about specific types of gunshot wound first aid, we want to write a quick note about chest gunshot wounds.  Sometimes, these are referred to as sucking chest wounds.  In these situations, air can be sucked into the chest cavity, causing lungs to deflate.  One valuable tool to include in your first aid kit is a chest seal.

Rescue Trekker offers two varieties: an occlusive seal, and a vented seal.  Most prefer the vented seal, and is cheaper per seal since our vented seal comes in a two-pack.  The wound area should be cleaned as well as reasonably can, and then apply the dressing over the wound.  This will allow air to escape, without air coming back in through the chest cavity wall.  

Without the seals, you may also try to use a sheet of plastic wrap, or even a credit card or driver's license.  Restricting some airflow is better than nothing.

In short, make sure professional help is coming by calling 911.  Try to stop the bleeding, keep the victim warm, and look for other wounds.  Add some of the above items to your first aid kit today, just in case.  Remember, preparing is surviving!


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