The skin can be disturbed in a number of ways: There are open wounds, diseases of the skin, frostbite, burns, or trench foot. Here’s how you can deal with these difficulties:
Your concern with an open wound is not only the harm to the affected area and the loss of blood, but also the risk of infection. This can come from bacteria on whatever caused the wound, on the victim’s skin or clothing, or anything else that brushes against the open wound. Clean the wound as soon as you can.
First, cut away or remove clothing. Look for an exit wound if it was a knife wound, gun shot, or another sharp object such as shrapnel. Clean all the skin around the area that is wounded first. Get this as sterile as you can make it. Don’t scrub at the wound. But do rinse it, using as much water as you can get. If you can get water under pressure, as in a hose with a thumb over the water, that will help. If you have no water, urinate on the wound. Don’t try to play doctor by stitching the wound closed. Let it stay open so that the pus can drain out. If it is draining, it is probably not going to lead to permanent harm or fatality despite the fact the look and smell might be frightening. Put dressing on the wound –- as clean as you can get. Put a bandage on top of that to hold it in place. If the wound is gaping open, pull the edges toward each other with tape. Cut the tape in the shape of a butterfly so that the tape is thickest where it will be sticking outside the wound and thinnest across the wound.
Odds are the wound will become infected. You’ll know it’s an infection if there is more pain and swelling as well as redness, along with a fever and more pus building up. Put a compress on the wound. It should be moist, not wet, and make it warm if you can. Leave it on for thirty minutes and change it when it cools. Do that three or four times throughout the day.
You may have to drain the wound of built-up fluids. Sterilize a cutting instrument. If you have a knife, stick it in fire first to kill as many bacteria as possible. Gently probe the cooled sharp object into the area to release as many fluids as possible. Once you’ve done that, place a dressing and bandage, as above. Get the victim to drink as much water as possible.
Keep doing this until the infection seems to have gone away. If none of your efforts are working and you’re looking at a very infected area, your last resort is to use maggots. Leave the wound open for flies to land for a day. Look to see every day if maggots are growing. Once they are there, keep the wound covered up, but do look inside once or twice a day. The maggots will eat the dead tissue. Take them out at that point, so that they don’t start eating the healthy tissue. When clean tissue is being eaten, it bleeds bright red and hurts even more.
To get the maggots out, use as much clean water as you can – or urine – until they are all flushed away. You’ll want to check back for any new maggots that have been born. Do that every four hours – for days if necessary. Now you can apply an ordinary bandage and let it heal.
Diseases of the Skin
These are problems that are not necessarily life-threatening, but they should be taken care of since they can cause discomfort.
For a boil, put on a warm compress, so that the boil is at maximum pressure. Then lance the boil. Use something sharp you have sterilized, such as a knife or a needle, or even a wire. Use soap and water to clean out the pus. Use bandages to cover the area, and keep checking back for infection.
Fungus thrives in moisture. Try to keep the area as dry and clean as possible. If you can get it in sunlight, that’s even better. Scratching will make it even worse. There are antifungal treatments such as alcohol or vinegar – these have limited usefulness, but can be helpful. Don’t overdo them.
What to do about a rash depends on why it’s there. When in doubt, make sure not to scratch, and follow the rule of opposites: if the rash is dry, moisten it. If it’s moist in the first place, dry it.
Place a compress on it. If you have vinegar, put that in the compress. You can also use tannic acid. You can get tannic acid by boiling acorns or bark from hardwood trees. To moisten dry rashes, put grease or fat on the area. Otherwise, treat a rash as you would an open wound. Clean it daily and change the dressing.
To avoid infection, you can use iodine tablets. If you put about ten tablets in a gallon of water, you’ll have a good rinse. You can also try garlic, a natural antibiotic. You can rub it directly onto the wound, or you can boil it to get out the oils, and use water to rinse the injury or rash. You can also use salt. Put three tablespoons in a gallon of water, mix thoroughly, and you’ll have a good solution. Honey is also a natural antiseptic.
In cold or snow, tissues can freeze. When the skin on the surface freezes, you’ll see a whitish discoloration. You can also get deeper frostbite, below the skin. The tissue underneath will become solid. The most likely places to get frostbite are the areas that get blood least easily – the hands, feet, nose, ears, etc.
If you are in severe cold with another person, keep checking each others’ faces. If you are on your own, keep your nose, mouth and chin covered with your mittens or gloves. If you get to a fire and are trying to get the warmth back into troubled areas, do it gradually, not next to open flames. A good way is to rub the affected areas while they are in warm water. Dry the affected area after doing this and then put it next to a warm part of your body.
This is a very serious condition. At worst, gangrene can set in as tissues die, and your foot may have to be amputated. It happens when your feet are wet and cold for many days, or even hours. The best prevention for trench foot is very simple, but often very hard to do in a survival situation. Keep your feet dry. If you have extra socks you can dry and swap, do that. If you have a waterproof container, keep dry socks in it.
The first step in dealing with a burn is to stop the burning. Put out the flames with water or sand, or by rolling. Immediately use ice or water to cool the affected area. The exception would be if the burn was caused by a chemical like phosphorous. In that case you would want to pick out the phosphorous with tweezers, not flush it with water.
Create dressings for your burns by soaking them for ten minutes in boiling water with tannic acid in it, which can be gotten from boiling acorns or tree bark. Before you put the dressing on, let it cool. Then gently set it on the burn. At this point, use the same treatment you would for an open wound. Make sure to drink a lot, as this will assist in healing. Check for shock and keep the air passages clear for breathing. If you have morphine and the situation is dire, use it – unless the burn area is near the victim’s face.