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Better safe than sorry on summer howl-idays

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Whether you are out at the cottage, camping or out on a day trip to a park, enjoying the summer can sometimes bring some unexpected bumps and bruises. If you are far away from home, you may not have access to your regular doctor, nurse or any nearby physician. So, what should you do if you get hurt on the go with limited supplies and help? You can start with a little bit of planning and a simple medical kit to help you manage the summer ills.

Patients often ask what to apply or take if unexpected injury happens. Here is a look inside my summer family medical kit:



Obviously, a major fall or injury or loss of consciousness is an emergency situation and you should seek emergency medical attention. Before you embark on trips to remote areas, you should have a plan on how to contact emergency officials should a serious medical situation arise.

Most low-to-the-ground falls, knee and ankle twists and aches and pains that develop do not need a trip to the emergency room. Naturally, you have to use your best judgment, so if someone has marked pain and cannot walk, you should take them to a medical facility. There are also the bug bites, burns and itchy rashes that can develop and make life uncomfortable for a few days. Of course, applying sunblock and bug spray before going outside can save you from the distress caused by burns and bites.


Make your kit

I prefer a simple kit that is not loaded with unnecessary lotions and potions. You can make up your own acronym, but I like S.L.I.P. It is easy to remember and covers all the basic items.


-- Swell

The "S" stands for swelling. There are two main types of swelling to be prepared for: swelling from trauma/injury and swelling from a skin reaction (such as a bug bite). Ice is the most effective swelling reliever. If you do not have access to ice in a cooler or freezer, you will need an ice pack that activates usually with a shake or twist to the bag. Don't leave the ice on for more than 10-15 minutes at one time, and ensure there's a 10-minute break between applications. The ice should be wrapped in a towel so that the skin does not get too cold. You can secure the ice using a tensor bandage. When the ice is not being applied, allow some room for swelling especially at a large joint such as the knee. Do not put on a tight sleeve brace; a splint is better. You can make your own splint with clothing or a piece of foam, securing it with tape. After the first 1-2 days or with mild swelling, you have the option of using a tensor bandage.


-- Light/look

The "L" is for light and look. Depending on how modern your accommodations are, you may not have access to adequate light to look at the injured area. A small flashlight is essential. Water may be necessary to clean wounds with dirt on them and you can include a small container of sterile water. For more superficial scrapes in a cottage or campground setting, mild soap in warm water will suffice.


-- Itch

The "I" represents itch. Whether it is swimmer's itch or a mosquito bite, the urge to scratch is hard to resist. Excessive scratching can leave some scars. Calamine lotion is the old standby and still holds up today. There are also other products that contain oatmeal or analgesic that you can apply on the spots. Include a few Q-tips for application. If you have access to a bathtub, the oatmeal-based products also come in a powder that can be added to the bath. This is very helpful when you have an itchy rash all over the body. There are pills that you can take for itch but they also cause drowsiness.


-- Pain/protect/plus

Ice is also a quick pain-reliever. If large bruising is present, avoid anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen for the first 48 hours as use of these medications can extend the bruising. Instead, use ice and acetaminophen for pain. If bruising is not present, ibuprofen will help swelling and pain when taken regularly for several days compared to acetaminophen (helps pain only). Do not give Aspirin to children or teenagers as it is associated with a brain and liver disorder known as Reye's syndrome.

For sunburn, cold compresses using a towel, ibuprofen and/or moisturizing creams can be helpful for pain. If blisters appear, seek medical attention. For small wounds, once cleaned, apply a bit of a topical antibiotic cream that you can purchase over the counter and protect the area with a bandage. If the wound is wet, you may need to use gauze and change the gauze regularly. Use gloves when a wound is wet or bleeding. If the wound is becoming more red and yellow over time, it may be a significant infection. Larger wounds with a discharge should be assessed by a physician.

The "Plus" part of the kit is to cover any extra items that are unique to your family. These would include an EpiPen for those with known anaphylactic allergic reactions, an inhaler for asthmatics, juice for diabetics or any other special medical needs required.


Readers can ask Dr. Kennedy questions, but due to the volume of requests, replies are not guaranteed. Email:

Kit checklist

S: ice, tensor bandages, safety pins, medical tape, foam (optional)

L: flashlight, sterile water, mild soap

I: calamine or oatmeal lotion, Q-tips

P: ibuprofen, acetaminophen, topical antibiotic cream, Band-Aids (large and small), gauze squares, gloves, "Plus" items


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 6, 2010 C3

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About Dr. Maureen Kennedy

Born and raised in The Pas, Dr. Kennedy graduated from the University of Winnipeg Collegiate, earned a BSc and BA from the University of Winnipeg and an MD from the University of Manitoba in 1994. After certifying in family medicine at the University of Manitoba, Dr. Kennedy was awarded a two-year fellowship in primary care sport medicine at the University of Calgary Sport Medicine Centre. She completed this fellowship along with a MSc in Kinesiology at the University of Calgary. Her research focus was exercise counselling by family physicians. Dr. Kennedy further explored the use of exercise in medicine with PhD projects examining aerobic exercise in individuals scheduled for total hip or knee replacement surgery. She holds a diploma in sport medicine from the Canadian Academy of Sport Medicine and has served on numerous provincial and national committees for organizations such as the Alberta Medical Association, Canadian Academy of Sport Medicine, College of Family Physicians of Canada and Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology.

For the past 11 years, Dr. Kennedy has practised as a consultant in primary care sport medicine.

Dr. Kennedy's practice focuses on the diagnosis and treatment of injuries, muscle, bone and joint problems, orthopedic triage, weight management, osteoarthritis and dance medicine. She has served as the head physician for Alberta Ballet for the last nine years and has worked with the national women's hockey team along with many elite and amateur athletes in various sports. She points out that sport medicine physicians provide a tremendous service to the general public and the health-care system by shortening orthopedic waiting lists and providing non-surgical treatment options. "It's great to be back home in Manitoba and Winnipeg is a fantastic city," she adds. Readers can expect coverage on a wide range of fitness and health topics, including insider's tips on how to navigate the health-care system.


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