Uncontrolled Bleeding from an Extremity is the single greatest cause off all preventable deaths in combat and emergency trauma situations.
This fact was drilled into those of us training in the 68 Whiskey course at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. Hemorrhage Control was gospel, and I am passing along that gospel to you, the uninitiated.
It’s not rocket science to say that if you suffer any kind of injury that causes serious bleeding, intervening in some way is the smartest route you can take.
But while I was a part of the US military, trained in the art of preserving life, armed with the latest in reliable, rugged, effective and field-tested equipment, you, dear reader, are sitting in a dark room, or a cafe, wearing a stylish outfit, or nothing at all, and the closest thing you have on you to a bandage is a rubber band and some napkins.
Don’t despair, however. The tourniquet, while sounding fancy and specially made, is an old technology using basic knowledge and even more basic material.
I’ll walk you through how to make and use a tourniquet in just a few easy to remember steps, and explain each step as I go along.
- Identify the bleed.
You need to know if a tourniquet is the right aid in the situation. While in combat the tourniquet is slapped on faster than a ‘support our troops’ bumper sticker on a new recruit’s mom’s minivan, in the ‘real world’, this may be drastic, and cause undue harm. The only thing you need to know is this; Bright Red And Pulsing (As In It Pumps Or Spurts With The Beat Of The Heart), means Arterial, and it is an immediate tourniquet. Dark Red And Oozing (As in it spreads and oozes in a steady flow) you can actually use a trauma bandage or any handy cloth material to staunch the bleeding and allow clotting to begin.
- Find the right material.
You can’t make an effective tourniquet out of a thong, but you also can’t make one out of a long, wide wool scarf either. What you need is a single strip of cloth, as in a continuous seam with only one layer. This can be cut from a basic cotton shirt, a pair of jeans, a table-cloth, a towel, anything that can meet this simple requirement. Go for sturdy, not just anything will do.
- Cut it to size.
2-3 inches wide, at least three feet long, not shredded or made of sections with holes.
- Place it high and tight and cross the ends.
Self-explanatory, but high and tight means as far ‘up’ the limb as you can go, tight means pulling and maintaining tension, and crossing the ends means drawing the ends of the strip so that they create an x.
- Find and place the windlass.
A drumstick, a large spoon, a broken chair leg, a thin but sturdy stick, tongue depressors, basically any solid objects that will not bend or splinter. Take your ‘windlass’ and place it at the meeting point of the crossed strips.
- Tie the strips over the windlass.
Just what it says, take the ends of your cloth strip and tie them in a simple knot over your windlass.
- Twist till you’ve stopped the bleeding.
This is important to remember; It is going to hurt when you use it. You’re crushing every vein and artery in the limb along the surface area of the tourniquet. With Arterial Bleeding, stopping the bleed means completely cutting off all blood flow, TOTALLY. A good way to do this visually is to look at the site of injury, be it a cut or amputation. Oozing will cease, pulsing will cease, and pulses will be absent from the limb.
- Secure your windlass.
Cut another, longer strip of cloth, tie it in a knot around one end of the windlass and tie off this second cloth strip so that it maintains the tension and pressure you’ve created.
- Go for help/Call for help/seek higher level of care.
If you know where to go and your friend is stable enough to hang on, run for help. If you are somewhere with signal, call for help immediately and keep your friend awake and calm. If you are somewhere with hospitals and clinics all around, ask passersby or even first responders for help or transport.
And just like that, you have an easy guide to creating and using a tourniquet.
Just remember the numbered instructions, and practice the detailed description, and you’ll be a life-saver in no time.
This Guide In No Way Replaces Proper Medical Training Or Knowledge And Is Intended As An Introduction/General Summary