by Meg Floyd
We’ve all been there. It’s the middle of the pools. There’s no time or car to get to a store. A finger gets smashed. Gear breaks. Everything needs to be sorted in five minutes or less. You frantically ask the ref if X material is available. There’s a hurried rush as the crowd of coaches and spectators are canvassed. Does anyone have tape? Gauze? A finger splint? If you’re lucky, yes. If you’re not, then no. Either way, this quick moment of stress is avoidable if you go to a tournament prepared.
Yes, it is a reasonable expectation to think tournament organizers will have medical supplies and water on hand. But they may not have exactly what you want (for example, they may have gauze and bandaids, but no finger splint, or ice easily available). And they certainly are under no obligation to carry items of convenience, like hydrating solution or whatever anti-inflammatory you may particularly like. Over the years of attending tournaments and finding myself in moments of various levels of distress or inconvenience, here’s the list of items I pack in what I call my tournament “go” bag. It has everything I’ve found I needed to make a quick gear repair or do basic first aid or handling of minor discomforts.**
1. Hand sanitizer. Bathrooms are dirty. Wounds should not be cleaned with dirty hands. A sink might be an annoying walk across a crowded ballroom. It’s quick and easy, so carry it.
2. Chemical ice packs. I love these things. They are not as good as ice in a ziploc bag for staying cold a long time, but they have the advantage of not requiring a cooler to transport. I keep a bunch that just live in my go bag in the car. Or at least I did, until I ran out. I’m ordering more today.
3. Chemical heat packs. I’ve used these left often, but they’re still a good idea for minor aches and pains after your pool fights.
4. Scissors. This should be a no-brainer. If you need to cut medical tape, hanging threads from gear, etc, you need a pair of these.
5. 701 Plasters. These things are literally magic. They’re a plaster you apply and tape in place and have camphor, menthol, and aspirin as their active ingredients. You shouldn’t use them on large areas of skin if you’re allergic to aspirin or latex, or on broken skin. (I’m allergic to latex and have used them on small pieces of skin like finger joints with no problem.) These are great for strained joints, broken fingers, and hurting muscles. (Credit goes to Charles Murdock, a practitioner of Eastern medicine, for introducing me to these when he patched up my busted finger one year at Fechtschule America.)
6. Medical tape. Bandaids slip around on sweaty skin. Also great for taping up raw knuckles or quick gear repairs in a pinch, or their more obvious use of holding down gauze.
7. BC or Goodies powder. A little old-fashioned, but in moments where I’ve had a smashed finger or inflamed painful joint to deal with, you can bolt this and it’ll cut down on the pain enough for you to finish your fights within a few minutes. (Note – that’s totally a risk-reward assessment you must make as an individual, and is likely NOT best practice, or what they were intended to use for.) Best taken with orange juice to kill the taste. If you’re on an empty stomach, it can give you cramps, so take it with food if possible.
8. Bandaids. Simple enough stuff for covering up raw wounds.
9. Sterile gauze. You’d be surprised when you need this. I ended up bringing home a bloody T-shirt because I was out and no one had any handy when someone had a rapier tip come off and puncture their jacket this weekend. Great for putting immediate pressure on puncture wounds.
10. NSAIDS of various flavors. Aleve/Naproxen, ibuprofen/Tylenol, and aspirin are all good to carry. Bring whatever works for you. If you have students or clubmates, bring all three. You never know what someone’s allergic to.
11. Tums. Traveling is a great way to have an upset stomach. So are nerves. Or crappy fast food. Tournaments seem to come in excess of all three, so carry something to settle your tummy.
12. Benadryl. Someone had an allergic reaction to tatami recently at an event I attended. This isn’t super necessary but can be filed under the “make yourself and/or clubmates as comfortable as possible under any circumstance.”
13. Baby wipes. Oh baby wipes, how can I sing your many praises? The main reason for baby wipes is a quick cleanup after pool fights if you don’t have time to go back to your hotel and shower. Socializing at HEMA events is pure, unscheduled chaos, usually. Having baby wipes and a fresh change of clothes on hand always makes you feel a lot better.
14. Voltaren gel. Kind of difficult to get in the U.S., but this worked just as well as 701 plasters when I was in Sweden one year and had a busted thumb.
15. Duct tape. Literally as useful as you think it might be. I’ve hung up our club banner, quickly repaired gear, closed jackets whose buttons popped, and repaired grips on swords using duct tape. Get black if you want to be classy. Or butterflies, if you want to be silly like me.
16. Hydrating solution. This stuff tastes a lot like watered down snot. You put a capful in your bottle of water. However, it’s great for hydrating you if you don’t have sports drinks available. If you’re in a hot and/or dry area, definitely carry this. If you’re going to be around on Saturday night after finals around longsword fencers, especially carry this. (May or may not help with hangovers.)
17. Something sugary to eat. It’s not a bad idea to eat something light between rounds to keep your energy up, especially if you’re one of those lucky bastards with a fast metabolism. I’ve used a lot of things for this. Runner’s goo worked well. I’ve also used dates and liked that better, because at least it’s not goo.
18. Protein and/or cereal bars. You never know when you’re going to miss a meal at a tournament because of the schedule running late. Or when you’re going to meet a hungry and cranky staff member who didn’t have time for breakfast. Handing someone one of these will win you a friend for the rest of the weekend, if not for life.
19. Finger splints. If a finger is not horrendously broken and poking out in places, often they just end up taped until the person can get to an ER or urgent care clinic. Finger splints are very nice for stabilizing a fractured finger, cheaply available at your local drugstore, and for some reason often not carried by EMTs. Carry a big one and a pinky-sized one.
20. Sucking chest wound kit. This is a worst of the worst scenario. A blade breaks, someone gets stabbed through the jacket, and they have a sucking chest wound. I don’t think I’ll ever have to use this, but I’d rather have it and not need it, than need it and not have it.
21. Ace bandage. For stabilizing joints and sprains, it’s hard to beat.
22. Ziploc bags. For putting ice in. And storing things.
23. A bag to carry everything in. I use a small duffel to store my wallet, keys, and this stuff. You can use whatever’s handy. If I’m going to a tournament I’ll put everything in two big gallon ziploc bags and stick it in my regular fencing bag.
24. Water bottle. This is pretty obvious.
25. Disinfecting solution.
26. Triple antibiotic. For application after applying disinfectant.
That’s all I tend to carry to tournaments. What would you add? Leave a comment and let me know.
**A go bag cannot, and should not, replace the attention of actual medical professionals, be they doctors or trained EMTs, in the case of actual injuries. It’s the responsibility of every event to have trained medical staff on hand. Don’t think of this as a substitute!