Let’s start with a disclaimer: You definitely should do a First Aid course in your home country before going on the Camino. Not only will it give you added safety and helpfulness on the Way, everyone should take a course every few years and if the Camino is to change you to the better, why not start there?
You should also discuss your health with your physician. Don’t just trust a random guy on the Internet. Ever!
Finally, you should never give medication to someone else. Seriously, don’t. Even something as “harmless” as Ibuprofen, Voltaren (diclofenac), or Aspirin (especially Aspirin) can cause severe damage or even death in people. Specifically anyone with hypovolemia, low fluids, which is something that happens to the best of us on the Camino and can cause headaches that then make people ask for an Ibuprofen or Aspirin. Someone who is severely dehydrated will not notice they are and will often forget things such as their own medical history or allergies. Again, please, please, do not give anyone medication. Take them to a pharmacy and let someone with training decide.
Pharmacies, Physicians, and Ambulances
This takes us to the first thing you should know: pharmacists in Spain are well-trained diagnostic professionals and have much more leeway than US or other EU pharmacists. They also speak English pretty well in most cases. You can find one in most any town, so do not hesitate to visit and ask for help if you need it.
Physicians are equally well distributed. Without a travel insurance you might be a few bucks out-of-pocket (not always), but Spanish physicians are world class trained and can help you.
Finally, ambulances. As anywhere in Europe, call 112. Most ambulances are staffed by an EMT (2 years college) and an emergency nurse (4 years university), so you’ll be in good hands. Since you’re probably calling from a cell phone, which means you’ll get a random dispatch and not the closest, be sure to know exactly where you are. I very highly recommend what3words, which is understood in Spain and can help you give the ambulance a 10x10ft area you are at, no matter where you are. Not all parts of the Camino have street names or street numbers.
In your pack:
- Install what3words on your cell phone, it can save lives
- A laminated card with phone numbers, in case you forget “112” on one side and your medication and health status in Spanish or English on the other side. Trust me, it’s a lifesaver, too.
- Your travel insurance information
One more thing: this is the year of SARS-2. Bring a resuscitation barrier, sometimes called CPR cloth or just resuscitator. It’s a thin barrier between you and the victim that allows you to give rescue breaths without touching their face. It’s two bucks on Amazon. You don’t have to be too worried, people who need CPR don’t breathe anymore and do not produce saliva while you’re breathing and spitting down onto them.
Add a mild antiseptic, small bottle, to your kit. Ask your pharmacist, but please do not take hydrogen peroxide, it won’t survive the heat. A few band aids are great for scrapes and bruises that need to be covered. I’ll talk about blisters seperately.
As you will (have) learn(ed) in your First Aid course, anything bigger is best covered by a sterile pad and then fixated using gauze bandage. I recommend two small, two medium, and a large one. I also recommend bringing at least one triangular scarf to fix broken limbs until the ambulance arrives. You’ll learn how to apply them in your First Aid course.
In your pack:
- Mild antiseptic
- Band Aids
- Sterile Pads
- Gauze Bandage
- Triangular Scarf
Again: this is just for you! Speak to your physician if you have any questions or talk to your pharmacist.
- Diarrhea medicine (Imodium or Pepto-Bismol)
- Motion sickness medicine
- Cough drops, cough suppressant, or expectorant
- Pain and fever medicine (acetaminophen, ibuprofen)
- Mild laxative
- Mild sedative or sleep aid
All of these are usually over the counter. I still highly recommend talking to your physician. Those are also over the counter in Spain, so you could leave them at home and purchase as needed.
Additionally, I recommend:
- Magnesium tablets against muscle soreness (please observe dosing recommendations)
- Voltaren as the muscle pain killer (25mg is usually enough)
- Voltaren Gel
Those are all available over the counter in Spain as well. The pharmacy in Zubiri even offers them as a combi-pack, since most pilgrims feel the effects of the downhill day.
Even more things
- Hand sanitizer (containing at least 60% alcohol) or antibacterial hand wipes. Especially important now in SARS-2 world.
- Insect repellent (with an active ingredient like DEET or picaridin)
- Sunscreen (with UVA and UVB protection, SPF 15 or higher)
- Earplugs (not really “First Aid” but your sanity is health, too)
- 1% hydrocortisone cream (available in Spain as well, you don’t need to lug it around)
- Aloe gel for sunburns (same)
- Insect bite anti-itch gel or cream (I’d bring a small tube)
- Disposable gloves (very important, not just due to SARS-2)
- Eye drops
- Two or three sterile needles for blisters (see Blister Treatment for Walkers)
- Medical alert bracelet or necklace
- Diabetes testing supplies (see Diabetic on the Camino)
- Insulin (here, too)
- EpiPens if needed
Well, that’s about it. Your biggest tool in the bag will be your wit and the knowledge that comes with a First Aid course. Take one. Seriously.