by Keith McCafferty
When we talk about survival, it’s the marquee dangers that carry the conversation: snakebite, gunshot, bear attack. Nobody mentions the microscopic bug in your intestines that causes such severe diarrhea that you die from dehydration, or the plaque that dislodges from an arterial wall to stop your heart. Not a word of the bee sting that induces anaphylactic shock, asphyxiating you as mercilessly as the coils of a python.
Such little things can kill you, but other little things can save your life. In a wilderness emergency, the five pharmaceuticals in the chart at right can be very big medicine. Use it as a guide, and consult with your doctor.
Customize It’s smart to modify your medical kit to your environment and medical history. For example, you don’t need to pack epinephrine if you have no history of allergies. Also, if you’ll hike above 8,000 feet, consult your doctor about getting a prescription for acute mountain sickness. Acetazolamide (Diamox) or dexamethasone (Decadron) tablets can save a life if the victim is promptly evacuated to a lower altitude.
There’s also a pill you might consider adding: a narcotic pain medication such as oxycodone (Percocet) or hydrocodone (Vicodin). If you break a leg, for example, it could mean the difference between hobbling out under your own power or dying where you are. But narcotics must be used with caution. Because they relieve pain by suppressing the brain’s ability to perceive it, they can affect your thinking. If your companion is injured, a pain pill may calm him enough to help you get him to safety. Self-medication is riskier. Only consider using a specific narcotic if you have taken it before and know that it does not affect your decision-making abilities. Otherwise, substitute ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), which will attack your pain at the site of the injury, leaving your mind clear to help get you out of trouble.
For - Chest pain, aches, and to reduce fever.
Dosage - Chew and swallow four 81mg chewable tablets at the onset of chest pain. For aches and fever, follow label directions.
Warning - If you’re allergic to aspirin, other over-the-counter pain relievers can reduce fever, but they don’t thin blood.
Anti-Diarrheal (Imodium A-D)
For - Relief from severe diarrhea that causes dehydration.
Dosage - Swallow two tablets initially, followed by one tablet after each loose bowel movement, not to exceed four tablets daily.
Warning - Consult a doctor before using other antidiarrheals containing bismuth salicylate (Pepto-Bismol).
For - Severe nausea and vomiting, leading to dehydration.
Dosage - Place one to two 4mg oral dissolving tablets on the tongue every 4 to 6 hours as needed.
Warning - Phenergan suppositories are cheaper, but side effects include twitchy muscles and restlessness; relieve them with Benadryl.
AntiAllergy (Epinephrine supplemented by Benadryl)
For - Allergic reactions to stings or foods, resulting in anaphylactic shock.
Dosage - Inject medicine using an EpiPen. Supplement with Benadryl at the onset of allergy symptoms, 50mg every four to six hours.
Warning - The effects of epinephrine are temporary. Seek medical assistance as quickly as possible.
For - Pneumonia; bronchitis; and skin, soft-tissue, sinus, or urinary infections.
Dosage - Take 750mg once per day.
Warning - Levaquin is not recommended for children or teenagers. Check with your doctor for alternatives.
From the June 2012 issue of Field & Stream magazine.