Tourniquets exist in a class of medical techniques associated with wilderness survival and military medicine primarily because they are only used in drastic, uncontrollable circumstances. Whether on the battlefield or some distant peak, a tourniquet is often the only way to stop excessive bleeding to severely injured limbs. Using a strip of fabric, belt, or other material, tourniquets constrict blood flow until the wound can be attended to by medical professionals.
During World War II, tourniquets were used heavily in the field, but because soldiers often had to wait hours on end to be seen by surgeons and medics, their constricted limbs suffered nerve and tissue damage that forced amputations. The perceived relationship between tourniquets and amputation caused them to fall out of use for decades, but new research from the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan has shown that, when used correctly, the benefits of tourniquets far outweigh the risks, especially in circumstances where patients can receive proper medical care within a few hours of their application.
The bottom line is that when blood loss from a limb injury risks death, a tourniquet is a lifesaving technique that cannot be ignored.
1. Ensure your surroundings are safe, put on gloves if available, and expose the wound by removing any clothing or debris that’s obscuring your view of the area.
2. Put constant, firm pressure on the wound using gauze or strips of cloth while you look for tourniquet materials.
3. Choose a material; a belt, strip of cloth, bike tube, shoelace, backpack strap, or even a bra. You’ll also need a torsion device. Any short, strong, straight item will do; a stick, flashlight, or even a wrapped up knife.
4. Wrap the tourniquet around the limb, two inches closer to the body than the wound site. Never apply the tourniquet on a joint. If necessary, place it just above joints like elbows or knees.
5. Use the remaining tourniquet material to tie on the torsion device and then turn it slowly to start constricting blood flow. Once the bleeding stops, tie the torsion device in place.
8. Lay the person down, assess for shock, and cover them with a blanket until help arrives. Ensure the victim receives professional medical attention as soon as possible.
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