Always give health and safety first priority: "Gold will wait for you; injury or illness will not!" For emergencies carry a cell phone and learn the procedure for calling 911:
- Tell the operator what is wrong.
- The operator will then ask if you require transportation. Be prepared to answer and to give directions to where you are or where you can meet them.
- Give specific information about your symptoms.
For many medical emergencies there is a one-hour window of opportunity before extreme consequences. Use this time by getting to help. Do not wait for help if you can move or be moved, even if it is just to meet them on the way. Of course you should have maps so that you can always determine the quickest way to help if you need it. A Colorado Gazeteer or similarly detailed map set is recommended.
For bleeding cuts, apply direct pressure against bone. Even if you succeed in stopping the blood flow, you may want to stop prospecting because there is no bacteria-free water in nature and you run the risk of infection in any stream.
Shock is caused by diminished blood circulation. There are may causes for this, but if you are injured you will experience shock. The sensation will cause you to remark, "I feel funny. I feel strange." A variation in the normal pulse rate of about 72 beats per minute is also a symptom. To relieve shock, replace fluids by drinking water. Keeping warm by wrapping in an emergency blanket is often beneficial.
Burns cause loss of fluid and allow immediate skin invasion by bacteria. Cover burns with a clean cloth bandage. Do not apply ointments. Let medical personnel decide what to apply. Again, consider suspending operations until after you have had professional treatment.
Broken bones should be immobilized from joint to joint. A shirt or jacket wrapped around the break and then tied with the sleeves can suffice in an emergency.
The common sympton of head concussion is "seeing stars." Ask the victim if he has seen stars. Another symptom is nausea. Transportation to help is always indicated.
Heart problems can occur with the rapid changes of elevation common to mountain prospecting. Have some idea of the condition of your heart in advance. It typically takes two weeks for the heart to adjust from sea level to 5,000 feet, and an additional three days for each 1,000 feet more.
The usual first aid for animal, spider, insect, or snake bites is to squeeze the wound as it is the introduction of toxins or bacteria that cause problems. For snake bites, treat the bite first, then kill the snake. It is safer to remove the snake's head as this is what will be used by medical professionals to identify the snake. Be wary of handling the snake's head; it may yet bite!
This is only an overview of first aid for the field, of couse, and is intended to raise awareness of the need for safe and prudent behavior. There are many sources for further study of the subject. Be safe and enjoy your prospecting adventures!
Allen Mershon first qualified as an emergency medical technician in 1978. Subsequently, he qualified as a surgical aide, emergency room aide, cardiopulmonary resuscitation instructor, and Red Cross instructor. He was the chief medic for a 350-person army unit.