Ten Unconventional Additions to Your Emergency Medical Kit

Okay, I am sure you all have a medical kit to be proud of, you’ve got all the bandages, the slings, the ointments and creams, but sometimes, just sometimes, the most mundane items can make life simpler, especially if you need to move fast, or find yourself in a situation where you need to improvise, or, the stuff you have just isn’t right for the job in hand. Here are a few ideas, and examples of what to use them for.


These are great for a good deal more than stuffing in a hole in the wall of your bank. Scraping out a sting with the edge of a plastic card is preferable to fingernails or tweezers, both of which, just by the pinching action pump the last bit of venom from the sting into the skin.Cut into strips they are excellent splints for broken fingers, and the gaps between the strips allow for swelling. Position either side of the finger and tape into place.

Used whole they can help inflate a deflated lung caused by a sucking chest wound. Put over the hole and tape on three sides only, the card acts as a flutter valve, preventing air from entering the wound but allowing air outside of the lung but inside the chest cavity to escape as the lung inflates.


I love duct tape, it needs to be good tape, not a cheapo one that is not very sticky. Use to secure the card to the chest as described above. It can be used to hold splints on limbs in place, to secure pressure dressings,and even to make a makeshift stretcher to carry a casualty if wrapped around two poles and stuck to itself across the gap between them. There are dozens of uses for this stuff.


Clear plastic bags form a great barrier between a wound and the air, preventing pathogens from getting into the body. They are great for wounds and burns on hands and feet and are carried in ambulances for this reason. Duct tape into place and the wound will stay clean until you can deal with it. This is particularly beneficial if you are near water and you want to prevent contamination.

Use as a flutter valve on large sucking chest wounds. Fix on three sides as described for the card method above.


Sanitary pads make really good pressure dressings. Put over the wound and tape tightly down covering the whole pad with tape, extend the tape a good distance from all edges of the pad to make sure the pressure is maintained.


Tea leaves contain tannin which has anti-inflammatory and vaso-constrictor properties. To wash out an eye make as you would tea, leave to cool and lean forward so the liquid in the container reaches the eye and open and close the eye whilst in the liquid. The tea bag can be placed on the eye afterwards, to reduce any swelling and irritation.

Tannin is a vasoconstrictor, it causes blood vessels to contract and therefore slows blood loss. It would be no use at all for anything major, but for nosebleeds, traumatic tooth extractions and minor cuts and abrasions, it works well. Put just enough boiling water on the tea bag to make it swell to its maximum size and show a little liquid leaking from it, then when it has cooled sufficiently apply it to the tooth socket, cut etc. for nose bleeds roll the bag as small as you can and plug the nostril with as much of it as you can, you can cut it in half if need be and roll so as the cut edge is on the inside of the roll. There is no worry about sterility with a nose bleed.


There are times when the smells around you are almost too much to bear. Infected wounds, corpses, human waste all give off gut-wrenching odours and dabbing vapour rub under your nose helps a great deal.

I have heard occasionally that a dab under the nose of someone having an asthma attack, who does not have an inhaler with them, helps open the airways a little making breathing somewhat easier. I have no experience of this and therefore cannot vouch for it. Having said that an asthma sufferer without an inhaler will not come to any harm by trying this.


The inner tube from a bicycle tyre is very stretchy and it makes an excellent tourniquet. It is also possible to use it as a fire starter, and it will burn even when it is pouring with rain, and it burns for a long while, often long enough to dry out a little damp tinder placed very near it.


These microfibre cloths are very light weight and take up almost no space. They are excellent for drying around wounds so that dressings and tapes stick more easily. As they hold a good amount of liquid, one dunked in water and lightly squeezed out is useful for giving a casualty that cannot sit properly sips of water, they just suck on the cloth.


Cut off the top and bottom and then cut it along it’s length. This gives you a sheet of strong plastic that rolls back into a tube when you let it go. These make great splints, keeping clothing etc away from a wound or helping to immobilise a broken bone. Unroll, place around the limb and gently let it go back into its tube shape. Then, very gently, close the plastic up, one edge will slide under the other with little effort. Fix in place with a piece of tape. To store, roll it up tight and secure with a rubber band. We used this method in hospitals to stop babies and toddlers ripping off their dressings, works very well.


Get an adult pair of knee high socks and force them over a large, full soda bottle to stretch them. When stretched for a couple of days, roll them down the bottle so what you end up with resembles a donut, store them in this shape so that they can be rolled onto a limb rather than forced up over it causing pain and possibly more injury. They are great for holding a leg dressing in place, and make a good sling for arm injuries. Roll onto the arm, position the arm comfortably and safety pin to the patients clothing in a couple of places, beats messing about with a triangular bandage if you are in a hurry. If they have long sleeves, position the arm and pin the sleeve to the body of their clothing.

Well there you have it, a few coventional items with a few unconventional uses.

Lizzie Bennett retired from her job as a senior operating department practitioner in the UK earlier this year. Her field was trauma and accident and emergency and she has served on major catastrophe teams around the UK. Lizzie publishes Underground Medic on the topic of preparedness.

This information has been made available by Ready Nutrition

Originally published August 8th, 2012
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  • Karma Prevails

    What a great article!  I love creative uses for everyday items – and these ideas are WAY better than basic repurposing!

  • Travis

    Add to that:
    Super Glue (used it in Vietnam for quick wound closure…cyanoacrylate).
    Vinegar: soothes bug bites.
    Baking Soda: bug bites, bee stings.
    Airline sized bottles (1.5 oz) high proof white spirits (everclear or golden grain), nice for sterilization.
    Avon Skin-so-soft: Best bug repellent there is.
    Small fish hooks and 5lb test line: sutures.  File the barbs off.
    Pliers: remove objects..hooks, bullets, etc.
    Rifle shells: remove the bullet (or any other piercing deep tissue woulds) with pliers.  Liberally spread gunpowder, front and back if shot through.  Cauterize. Fire with:
    Lighter or matches: Sterilize needles, hooks.
    Nice list.  You adapt for whatever it takes, and you live.  Even if it hurts a bit, you live.
    I was surprised what I could learn from Charlie.

    • Gramas

      Fantastic ideas for first aid. I am learning all I can about medical issues that a lay person can do. I do all the vetting on my animals and humans although different your still able to use some things for both.
      I love the idea about the fish hooks for use as needles for sutures.

  • If you buy your sanitary pads at a janitorial supply they normally have them for the dispensers in the women’s restrooms.  They are u sally cheaper and are individually wrapped and sterile.

  • What a great post! Thanks for all the ideas!

  • Dear all

    Thanks very much for reading the article. I’m sorry about the delay in answering but I am away and the Internet is a bit patchy.


  • Phil

    I would like to point out that potent unguents such as Vick’s can be an irritant to asthma sufferers.  Vick’s vaporub has been clinically shown to cause inflammation of the bronchial airways and can make an asthma attack much worse by causing more oedema (swelling) of tissues and reduced air entry. It is wiser to avoid products such as these if you have chronic obstructive airways disease. 

  • Phil Thanks for that information. This is anecdotal, I read it on a medical site of some kindbut I’ll be damned if I can remember where. I am not doubting what you say but could you possibly refer me to the source you learned this from? Unless of course you have medical experience in airways in which case I will take your word for it. I will make sure this is removed from further posts. Again thank you. Lizzie 

  • Shelly

    I have COPD & Vicks has never caused problems for me. It helps me .   

  • Sharon Baker

    I have had debilitating cough variant asthma for 7 years and vaporub or anything similar makes it worse.  Plain steam from hot water helps.  
    I am going to collect these things together for my first aid supplies.  Thanks for the article. 

  • mom of five

    vicks will make asthma worse I have two kids with it and I have it my hubby is a medic for 20 years. tons of water will help but really meds. buy a battery nebulizer batteries their meds now and out it in a faraday cage. It may save your loved ones life.  

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