Improvised Medicine

Improvised Medicine is essential reading for any medical professional, from EMT to surgeon, who may ever run out of medical supplies. Whether the cause is poverty or isolation, disaster or war, this book provides improvisations and work-arounds.

In thirty-seven chapters, Iserson covers all fields of medicine, including dentistry and psychological care. Topics range from triage to sanitation, from infectious diseases to documenting deaths. Each chapter has several pages of references, citing sources from medical journals to POW memoirs. These could be very useful in persuading medical colleagues to take the procedures and substitutions seriously. The book is also well-indexed.

Among topics covered:

  • Reusing disposable medical supplies
  • Using expired medications or street drugs
  • Rehydration formulas
  • Improvising lab tests
  • Making IV equipment
  • Direct blood transfusion from person-to-person
  • Making a blood warmer
  • Using a razor blade as a scalpel
  • Preparing a helicopter landing zone
  • Preparing your patients for evacuation on aircraft or pack animals
  • Adapting adult-size medical supplies to care for children or infants
  • Making hospital beds and rehab equipment from normal household items
  • Adapting a ventilator to work for multiple patients at the same time
  • Why you may not want to bury the dead immediately.

This book will not teach you how to do surgery. If you know how, it will show you how to work without the equipment, drugs, lab support or electricity you would normally expect to have. While not intended for non-professionals, if you have Where There is No Doctor on your bookshelf, you might want this book next to it.

For a trade paperback, this book is expensive ($57). A Kindle edition is available for $45. However, if you are out of IV tubing, you may not have any way to recharge the battery.

-- Walter Noiseux  

Improvised Medicine: Providing Care in Extreme Environments
Kenneth V. Iserson
2011, 578 pages

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:





Gum Eez-Thru Floss Threaders

These inexpensive nylon loops are the only effective way to floss under dental bridges. Just put a piece of floss through the loop and insert the end without the loop under the bridge. Move the floss back and forth under the bridge and then pull it through.

-- Walter Noiseux  

G-U-M Eez-Thru Floss Threaders
$4 / 25

Available from Amazon

Johnson & Johnson First Aid To Go

I’ve used these mini first aid kits for almost a decade now, and keep coming back to them because of their availability and practicality. They’re small (the plastic case is about 4″ square by 1″ thick) and contain a starter amount of bandages, gauze pads, and alcohol wipes. I add a 0.5 oz tube of antiseptic ointment and a few more bandages as needed. They stay in my toiletry kit, in my day pack, and in both vehicles, and I’m always glad to have them at hand.

They’re easy to find at most grocery, discount retail, and pharmacy chains in the U.S. for a buck or two.

-- Patrick Leffas  

Johnson & Johnson First Aid To Go!

Available from Amazon

Adidas Weighted Vest

This is the best exercise device I own. 10 pounds of weight perfectly distributed on front and back of chest, in an elastic black vest with orange piping that actually “looks cool.” I strap this on, put my iPhone into the extra front pocket thoughtfully designed in front, and easily walk up to two hours without even feeling the weight. I work up a great sweat, have built up my stamina and strength, and now have four of these stationed for me in locations I often visit: Seattle, Singapore, Boston, Australia.

-- Ron Kaufman  

Adidas Weighted Vest

Available from Amazon

Solar Shield Over-Glasses Sunglasses

I wear glasses. Mine are good ones, and I have little clippy sunglass “covers” for them that are polarized and work pretty well too.

But they’re sorta delicate, and really take two hands to properly fix to my specs. Not ideal for driving, when I may want to stick something on quickly and with a single hand.

Years ago I bought a truly ugly pair of Fitovers. They worked like I hoped but even just wearing them driving I got laughed at. Plus, they’re somewhat expensive. (Lots better looking these days, too.)

I stumbled into Solar Shield sunglasses at a Walgreen’s drugstore. They’re less than $20, much less ugly, and work pretty good too. Polarized as well.

Good for summer glare, even better for winter snow glare, and even good out of the car too. The, I dunno, brow-ridge on the frame shades the inside of the specs to cut down on behind-the-lens reflections (when sunlight gets directly in behind the sunglasses, what you’re seeing though your sunglasses is in competition with glare from your face, etc.), so a baseball hat isn’t so needed outside.

These things are cheap enough and fit simply enough that we’ve got two pair in each car — driver’s and an extra.

There are different sizes, so while you can pick these up online, I suggest going to Walgreen’s to find what fits your specs first.

These are not tiny little things, so you’ll need to have some space to store them. And one pair of mine broke for unknown reasons. That’s then I found that parts are not interchangeable between sizes. But again, these are not expensive, so while I was disappointed, I just replaced them.

You may not be styling with these things, but you’ll be comfortable. And a lot safer in those bad driving situations, too.

-- Wayne Ruffner  

Solar Shield
$10 – $15

Available from Amazon

Bag Balm

I’ve suffered from dry skin and eczema since childhood. I tried every over-the-counter and prescription remedy available, and nothing worked until I discovered Bag Balm, which I’ve been using for over a decade now.

Originally developed to soften and heal the chapped and cracked udders of dairy cows, its dead-simple formula – petrolatum lanolin with a touch of 8-hydroxyquinoline sulfate antiseptic – works wonders. It’s slightly thicker than petroleum jelly and goes on a bit stickier at first, but the greasiness quickly dissipates as it softens the skin. Its mildly medicinal smell is off-putting to some, and although I find it pleasant, a few drops of rosemary or spearmint oil blended in definitely gives it a more spa-like aroma.

Bag Balm’s greatest strength is that it works on the skin far longer than even the most robust moisturizers. In addition to soothing work-roughened hands and healing eczema, I also smear a thin layer over my exposed face prior to Northeastern wintertime surf sessions, lessening the icy shock of that first duck dive and keeping my exposed face protected for hours, with none of the post-surf face chap I had in the past.

-- Eric Schmid  

Bag Balm Moisturizing & Softening Ointment
$12 / 10 oz. can

Available from Amazon

Seki Edge Total Control Eyelash Curler

I’ve used the Seki Edge Total Control Eyelash Curler for 15 years now. It’s an especially great tool for those with Asian features since the curve of the metal part that lays against your eye is much flatter than traditional metal eyelash curlers. It also has no side bars that will accidentally catch (or miss) your eyelashes. It’s also useful for those with small (as in a short width) eyes since you can target the edges of your lash line with it very easily.

When using the Seki Edge, the user places it in a position that lays perpendicular to her face, which means that there is no need to smash a metal curler up against your cheeks and upper eye lid. It’s extremely easy to use and to control the amount of curl you need.

One of my greatest annoyances with traditional curlers is their crazy shape and weird angles, which makes them such a pain to store. The Seki Edge conveniently closes relatively flat, which makes it incredibly easy to keep in even a small pocket of your makeup bag. The curler also comes with an extra rubber pad which conveniently stores inside the handle so you’ll never forget about it.

When I first started using makeup as a teenager, I had a lot of trouble using traditional curlers. I stopped in a local Ulta and spotted this curler there and purchased it (along with a ton of other various curling tools), and this one was the clear winner. Unfortunately, I don’t believe this curler is sold at Ulta any longer; I’ve only been able to find it on Amazon.

After almost 8 years of use, my original Seki Edge started pulling apart at the metal joint. I was amazed it even lasted that long, so I had no qualms buying another (although I do believe they come with some kind of lifetime warranty, which I had forgotten about). I dread the day when this curler will no longer be produced, which I’m afraid may come sooner than later. It seems harder and harder to find it. But I do have a couple extra on hand in case that happens!

-- Debra Yoo  

Seki Edge Total Control Eyelash Curler

Available from Amazon


Worlds best toothpick!  Has a pleasing, textured surface and the perfect shape to maximize crumb-picking effectiveness from your teeth and gums.  The very small, pocketable plastic case makes it easy to always have a fresh pick at hand (each case holds 32 picks), yet these last for quite a few uses. I enjoy them as a simple, effective pleasure.  A brilliant solution that once you try, you’ll never go back to wood.

-- Dave  

Opalpix 32ct., 6 packs 192 total picks

Available from Amazon

Index Knobber, Backnobber, and Jacknobber

I’ve been using products from Pressure Positive for about 20 years. They are great for self massage. I especially enjoy the Index Knobber, the Backnobber, and Jacknobber.

indexThe Original Index Knobber lets you apply deep pressure to muscles, and tendons, without stress to the fingers or hands.

The Orignal Backnobber (photo above) is solid chrome molly steel rod with wooden balls on each end, and can be used to apply deep pressure to the back muscles, using your arms (or even the knees, if you’re limber enough).

jackThe Original Jacknobber, along with a hard solid rubber ball (lacrosse), can be used to get deep tissue in the pelvis / hip, by resting it on while laying on the floor. Lacrosse balls can also be used for the back, by rolling around on it, very slowly. Cheap and effective.

It can really hurt to do this, if you’ve got trigger points, but over a month or two, the pain diminishes during the massage, and between massages, so it’s well worth it for chronic muscle / tendon pain.

I’ve been doing self-massage most of my life, and these 3 tools are “best in class,” IMHO.

None of these has ever broken, and 15 years after I purchased it, I asked the owner if I could buy the small wooden balls to replace the larger one on my Backknobber, and he sent them for no charge. Nice people to do business with. I have no business relationship with them, other than as a long term very happy customer.


-- Michael Rostagno-Lasky  

Ear Syringe

For some reason my ears get clogged up with earwax (cerumen is the technical term) about two to three times a year. When it first happened, I was told to use a dilute solution of hydrogen peroxide and one of those rubber bulbs you use to clear a baby’s nose. This strategy never worked for me, and I would inevitably end up in a doctor’s office hard of hearing. I got tired of paying the copay for something that seemed so trivial, and did some research only to find that for about $12 you could order a near identical chrome syringe as the one they use in a doctor’s office and do it yourself. All it requires is standing (or sitting) in the shower, and carefully syringing your ear with warm water. After a few syringes full of warm water out pops the ear wax plug, and wham my hearing comes back all at once.

At $11, it’s probably one of the better investments I’ve ever made. With that being said, there are some precautions, and you should probably talk to your doctor before you do this yourself.

First, not everybody has wet earwax. Many asians have the recessive trait for dry earwax, and as such they have their own special tools for removing blockages. If you have any pain in your ear you’re better off going to the doctor to get it done lest you damage your tympanic membrane. Also, some people can be sensitive to temperature changes in their inner ear and can experience dizziness and vertigo (some instructions tell you to do it seated in case you fall over; this is made worse if you use cold water). I would also not recommend using these on children given that they have shorter ear canals, and are more prone to ear infections (especially if they’ve had issues with eustachian tubes). Definitely talk to your pediatrician first.

Finally, you shouldn’t be cleaning your ears too frequently. Cerumen serves many functions and as such shouldn’t be removed on a regular basis unless absolutely necessary. As it stands, if you find yourself needing to clean out your ears a few times a year these are great tools. It takes a little bit of time to learn how to aim into your ear canal, but once you get the hang of it you can save yourself an unnecessary trip to the doctor.

-- Oliver Hulland  

Ear Syringe, 4 Oz

Available from Amazon