It’s not uncommon for most of us who consider ourselves competent outdoor enthusiasts to feel we have the skills necessary to handle ourselves in both routine tasks and emergency situations. Whether it’s using a knife to trim sticks when building a shelter, tying a specific knot to secure a load, or even being able to start a fire with flint and steel, we probably consider ourselves to be quite capable of carrying out an array of outdoor skills.
How deft might you be if you had to perform those same tasks with a debilitating injury? What if, even though you are a “righty”, your left hand has been injured and you can no longer use it to help secure whatever it is you are working on with your right? Even worse, what if it’s your dominant hand that is painfully out of commission? How effective – and safe – will you now be when forced to wield a sharp knife or tie a critical knot without the use of your “good” hand?
As a member of a Civil Air Patrol’s search unit in Alaska, I had an eye-opening reality check relating to accomplishing survival skills. Our supervisor, a seasoned outdoorsman and veteran bush pilot, had me demonstrate – on myself – the Broken Wrist scenario.
From simply rescuing yourself from danger to gathering wood for a shelter or fire, having the use of both hands is critical. Here’s how you can demonstrate on yourself just how hard and painful those same simple tasks can be when acute pain flashes from an injury—a broken wrist, or sprained ankle perhaps.
Simulated Wrist Injury Steps:
- Take a short strip of 2-4″ wide of an elastic bandage and stick four or five thumbtacks all the way through the material near one end of the strip
- Carefully lay the pointed ends of the tacks over the middle of your wrist (using your dominant hand to apply this “disabling” mechanism to your other); and make at least one secure, snug wrap centering the main strip of bandage directly over the heads of the tacks
- Make several more snug wraps around the wrist and secure the bandage as you would a real first aid application
- If done properly, the strip should be snug enough that it holds everything in place and causes you to merely sense the sharp points, perhaps as only a tingling sensation when your hand/wrist is outstretched and not moving or flexed
Slowly start flexing your wrist, bending it up and down, sideways, maneuvering it as you might when grabbing anything: a knife handle, end of a rope, your zipper pull on your jacket – anything! If you didn’t immediately winch in pain from those tacks jabbing you, the bandage is not tight enough!
Now test the limits of movement you can achieve without surrendering to that pain. Imagine how you’ll manage trying to spark a fire or build a warm shelter after you’ve suffered a pain-producing, debilitating injury to your arm or hand.
What’s the answer? Don’t ever get hurt?
Realistically, it is hard to plan how to deal with an injury. However, knowing your potential limitations, preparing for other options might help you lessen that extra-burden your situation has created. Even if you are particularly ambidextrous, an injury can make a critical difference in your ability to deal with an emergency situation. Your options might include re-thinking what kind of knife you use (could you unfold the blade with only one hand?). Would another type of fire-starter unit be a better choice for a one-handed operation? Could you tie that knot using only one hand?
I encourage you to try this demonstration on yourself and then create ways you might address a number of likely scenarios you’d be forced to deal with after suffering a real-life injury.
Be safe. Be smart. And have fun out there!