How to Think Like a Doctor (Plus a Sneak-Peek Survival-Book Excerpt)

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How to Think Like a Doctor (Plus a Sneak-Peek Survival-Book Excerpt)

"The Survival Doctor's Guide to Wounds"

“The Survival Doctor’s Guide to Wounds” (available July 17) is written in the way doctors think—with easy-to-follow, step-by-step instructions.

by James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H.

People sometimes ask me how doctors keep all that stuff in their head. There are a gazillion diseases and injuries (give or take), so how does one doctor figure out what to do just for you?

The answer is, of course, we don’t know everything. That’s why there are specialists. But what we do know, we have compartmentalized in our brains. To figure out what’s wrong with you, we go through step-by-step checks, which help us rule out and rule in things.

I tried to write The Survival Doctor’s Guide e-books the way I think. They’re organized around clear, easy-to-follow steps anyone can take. You just have to stop, breathe, and think—or read.

This method really comes in handy when assessing an injury—to figure out how serious a wound is. Below, I’ve published an exclusive excerpt about assessing wounds from The Survival Doctor’s Guide to Wounds. As you know, the books are interactive, so I’ve indicated where links to other parts of the book will be by making that text blue.

This is a good example of how the book teaches. You can learn what to expect in advance, plus have a quick reminder guide to use during the emergency.

Excerpt from The Survival Doctor’s Guide to Wounds, section 1, “Pressure’s On: Basic Care for Most Cuts.”

Step 3. Assess the Damage.

Now that you’ve dealt with the immediate threats to life, you can stop for a moment and breathe. It’s time to take stock of the situation—to assess what damage was done so you can decide what to do next. In this step, you’ll be checking the cut’s depth, damage and dullness.

A. Check the depth.

The deeper the wound, the more likely a large artery is involved, making the wound bleed more and cutting off important circulation. That makes it more essential to get medical help as soon as possible.

If it’s a puncture wound, approximate how deep it goes by checking the object that did the puncturing.

B. See whether anything has been cut besides skin, fat and muscle.

Ask yourself the following questions:

Is the area distal to the wound (the side away from the heart, toward the fingers or toes) becoming cold or discolored? If so, that’s a sign that you may have cut an essential artery. Try applying a little less pressure to make sure you’re not losing circulation simply because you’re pressing too hard. If that doesn’t fix the tissue, this may be a life-threatening situation.

Do you think you’ve broken a bone close to the cut? If so, the bone is at high risk for getting seriously infected. See “Cuts Associated With Broken Bones.”

Is the area distal to the wound (away from the heart) numb? You may have severed a nerve. In itself, this is not an immediate emergency. You usually have a few days to see a surgeon before it becomes irreparable.

Have you lost movement? You may have cut a tendon. Again, not an emergency, but it needs to be seen within a few days for repair.

C. Determine the type of cut.

If it’s a dull or jagged cut—say from a chainsaw—don’t get complacent just because it doesn’t bleed a lot. These types of cuts tend to pull and bruise the blood vessels more, making them spasm and get smaller. The cut may be pretty severe yet not bleed much at first. Later, it may bleed more.

In turn, if it’s a small cut from a sharp object, such as a knife, don’t panic if it bleeds more. The blood vessels don’t spasm as much with sharp cuts.


Watch It!

Click here to watch a video about how to assess a cut.


After this section, The Survival Doctor’s Guide to Wounds goes into detail about how to treat various cuts, prevent infection, and survive.

Don’t miss the 24-hour sale! Get an alert when The Survival Doctor’s Guide books are published by signing up for a free blog subscription. Just look in the upper-right corner.

  • James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H.

    Good question, Amy. You can use cotton gauze with any wound. But if the wound is oozing fluids of any sort, the fluids may dry and cause the gauze to stick. Then, you may need to soak the wound with sterile water or add a little povidine-iodine (Betadine) to tap water to loosen the gauze enough to get it off.

    So, the non-stick pad is used to keep it from sticking to a wound oozing blood. Otherwise the cotton gauze is ok.


  • Janis

    Hi Dr. Hubbard, I have a question about what gauze to use on a wound? My mothers doctor removed a cancerous lump from her arm. The doctor told me to keep it covered, but didn’t say what to use. I used a Telfa non-stick pad over her stitches (applied loosely). When we went in for a check up, he said what I used doesn’t breathe. How do we know when to use cotton gauze or when to use a non-stick pad on a wound? Thanks! Jan