By and large, the study of first-aid tends to focus treating wounds… at least, on the more beginner level where most of us are. We are much more likely to end up having to deal with a serious cut from a tool or even a gunshot wound in the world of survival, than we are a broken bone. But people have been breaking bones forever, much more so out in the wild, than in a suburban setting.
Broken bones can be deadly, not because of the break itself, but because of the difficulty surviving when we don’t have all our arms and legs to work with. But in addition to that, there’s the potential problems that can be caused by infection, in the case of a compound fracture. Those can be dangerous.
Just to be clear, a compound fracture is one where the broken end of the bone protrudes through the skin. It can also be one in which the broken end is visible through the skin, but does not protrude through. That’s better than a typical one, because it is less likely to become infected. But it is still a problem to deal with.
Most fractures are of the simpler type, where the ends of the bone are close together. In normal times, we splint the bone to keep it from moving and rush the patient to the emergency room, so the doctor can take x-rays and set the bone properly. But in the wake of a major disaster, when medical services are spotty at best, we may find ourselves in a position where we have to deal with it ourselves.
To start with, if it is a compound fracture, the wound itself is going to have to be disinfected and treated like any other wound. Infection has probably killed more people throughout history than the after affects of the wounds have. In other words, if someone survived getting wounded and they didn’t get infected, they would probably survive. But if the wound got infected, they were done for, before antibiotics came along.
While compound fractures are obvious, others might not be. The only way that we might know that someone has a broken bone is that they are in pain. That pain will probably increase severely when they put pressure on the bone or try to move the limb. There may also be swelling (nature’s splint) or may have been a cracking sound (not a popping sound0 at the time of the injury.
Without x-rays available to us, our best diagnostic tool is our hands, rubbing them over the bone and feeling for the break. It might not be possible to find, if the bones have not moved. That’s actually the best, because the bones won’t need to be set.
Setting a bone means moving it back into position, so that the ends of the bone are realigned in contact with each other. It can usually be accomplished by pulling on the limb, while aligning the bone with your hands. It’s a painful process for the patient, so a few drinks beforehand might be advisable, as well as some help in holding them down.
Once the bone is in place, it must be immobilized and allowed to heal. This means creating some sort of splint, which will not only immobilize the break, but the joints above and below it. Unless both joints are kept from moving, the bones will move and the break will not heal properly. The good news is, many people have healed of broken bones, without the help of a doctor. At one time, that was much more normal, than having a doctor to help take care of them.
It usually takes six to eight weeks for a bone to heal. During that entire time, the splint needs to be kept in place. But even after that, case must be taken, as the healed bone will not be as strong as normal. Limited activity is possible, but it will take time to work up to a normal workload.