by Catten Ely

This is the third in a series of three articles devoted to First Aid tips specific to motorcyclists. MMM writer Catten Ely has been an EMT since 1997 and is certified as an ASMI lead instructor. 

In the last few issues of MMM, I covered what should be in your motorcycle first aid kit and the basic dos and don’ts at a crash scene where someone has taken a tumble. Let’s talk about what to do if it’s YOU.Photo by Catten Ely

The principles are the same as treating someone else, but it’s much harder to objectively assess your own injuries. 

You don’t want to lie exposed on the road any longer than necessary. And you don’t want to cause more damage to yourself. Do a quick inventory before you try to get up. Toes work? Fingers work? Anything numb or especially painful? Road rash hurts like a bear and can distract you from worse injuries. The most common serious injuries motorcyclists experience are to the head, neck, back and chest, so pay close attention to these areas.

You planned ahead and have your cell phone on you, not in your tank bag, right? Call 9-1-1. This might seem unnecessary. However, if you have an internal injury or closed head wound, it’s a very bad idea to climb on your bike and continue your journey. Be smart and let a medic check you out.

Your first concern will probably be whether your bike is okay. Call for help first, then survey the damage.

Shock can occur with even minor trauma. It’s bad news: your organs – including your brain and heart – start starving for oxygen. Your blood pressure tanks. You may not even realize it’s happening; people who are in shock often think they’re okay. Signs include feeling agitated, anxious or confused; dizziness; profuse sweating; cool, clammy skin; a rapid pulse; and shallow breathing. The standard field treatment is to put the patient on his back with his feet propped up higher than his head and cover him with a blanket. (I’ve never encountered a patient who treated himself for shock, but here it is, just in case.)

Let’s say your injuries don’t prevent you from grabbing your first aid kit and getting to a safe place. If possible, rinse a wound with clean water before bandaging it. If it’s bleeding freely, put a sterile gauze pad on it and apply direct pressure. Add more gauze on top as needed – don’t remove the initial layers. When bleeding is controlled, use a bandage to hold the gauze in place. This is where tape or vet wrap comes in handy; be sure not to wrap anything too tightly. If your nail beds turn white or your extremities start tingling, you need to loosen something pronto.

It may be difficult to tell a broken bone from a sprain. Both hurt something fierce and swell. Remove rings, watches, boots, or tight clothing. Elevate the area if possible and apply ice or a cold pack while you wait for help. Immobilize the limb if you can. Splints can be made from a variety of things, from small branches to rolled-up magazines. I’ve fashioned a makeshift sling using a T-shirt and a bungee cord.

Treat burns by rinsing or immersing the area in cool (not cold) water. Don’t use ice or ointments. Cover the area with a loosely applied sterile gauze bandage — avoid putting pressure on the burn.

Seek help ASAP for deep cuts or scrapes, puncture wounds, injuries that don’t stop bleeding after 10 minutes of pressure, or signs of infection: red, very painful, swollen, doesn’t stop draining, and accompanied by a fever. Know when your last tetanus shot was.

This abbreviated advice is intended to get you thinking about what you’d do in an emergency. Always have a plan … and a backup plan. I hope you never need to use them.


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