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Life-or-Death Decisions – Injury

Learn how to plan and react when and unexpected injury creeps up on you.
life or death injured(Illustration by Supercorn)

6. Reacting to injury
WRONG: Panic. The last thing you want to do is let a surge of adrenaline lead to hasty decisions.
RIGHT: Sit down, breathe slowly, and focus on small, right-brain tasks (setting up the tent, applying a bandage). Think positive: Remind yourself of your skills, think of family and friends, or repeat encouraging phrases to yourself. Treat your injury or condition:
Hypothermia: Put on warm, dry layers and get in your sleeping bag. If you don’t have a bag, sit on top of your pack with your arms curled around your knees. Drink hot liquids and snack on something with fat and carbs. Do jumping jacks or squats to generate heat.
Heat exhaustion: Get out of the sun, remove restrictive clothing, and spray yourself with cool water. Drink cool liquids and rest.
Altitude sickness: Drink a liter of water and do light exercise to bring more oxygen into your body. Take an ibuprofen tablet. If you don’t feel better within two hours, descend 1,000 to 2,000 feet.
Injured ankle: Apply a bladder or zip-top bag filled with cold water or snow for 30 minutes. Wrap with an elastic bandage or tape and take ibuprofen. If it’s very painful, can’t bear weight, or you heard a popping sound, it’s a more serious injury. Splint your ankle with a sleeping pad, clothes, and backpack straps or bandannas.
Bleeding: Apply direct pressure with a clean bandage, adding extra bandages on top of the first without removing it. When the bleeding stops, irrigate the wound with a stream of water from a bladder or zip-top bag, then close with a butterfly bandage or 1/4-inch strips of duct tape, leaving space between for drainage.

How to tape a sprained ankle
First, apply tape in a stirrup pattern: down one side of the ankle, under the heel, up the opposite side. Next, tape several figure 8s: Bring tape across the arch, under the foot and around the back of the ankle to return to starting position.

7. Deciding to stay or go
WRONG: Drag yourself across dangerous terrain with a serious injury.
RIGHT: “If the injury impairs mobility, like a bad sprain or a broken leg, you’re probably better off staying put and waiting for rescue,” advises Anderson. “Walking out will be extremely painful and maybe even hazardous.” Don’t try to move anyone with a head or neck injury, heavy bleeding, or loss of consciousness. The exception: If you’re alone and nobody knows where you are–or even that you went hiking–consider self-evacuating.

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