In 2016, Burning Man’s Emergency Services Department (ESD) saw nearly 5,000 patients — close to 7% of the event population — for all kinds of ailments. Were there so many sick and injured people, you ask? Is Black Rock City an ominously dangerous place that so many would need to seek medical attention?
The answer to that big burning question is “No.” Yeah, a few people do get quite sick or seriously injured at Burning Man, and that bites. But in truth, it’s not very common. The bulk of the people we encountered at our medical stations in 2016 — in fact more than 80% of those who came seeking assistance — had illnesses and injuries easily treated at home in their own camps.
We are honored to provide care at no cost to our amazing citizens of Black Rock City. But to be honest, when we hand out band-aids for paper cuts, moleskin for blisters, or sunscreen, Tylenol, tampons, condoms, and on and on… we feel a bit like we’re betraying the event ethos. Rampart, the advanced-level care facility on playa on the Esplanade at 5:15, has voiced the same concern. Dozens of people with asthma left their inhalers at home. How does that happen?? People came in looking for a prophylactic Tetanus shot, just in case they got cut. We get asked to provide antifungal cream for athlete’s foot. That nasty little fungus does not reveal itself in the eight days of Burning Man; it takes months for it to become the itching voracious beast that it is.
The fourth Burning Man principle is Radical Self-reliance, and we’ve seen a sharp uptick in the numbers of people coming to Black Rock City unprepared to be Radically Self-reliant when it comes to self care. Are people not reading the Survival Guide? Can they not be bothered with the Health and Safety edition of the Jackrabbit Speaks? Or is there a “Woo-Hoo! Free health care at Burning Man!” mentality? We aren’t really sure. But we know we need to stand in support of our fourth principle of Radical Self-reliance and let everyone know that it’s time to show up to the playa prepared to take care of themselves when possible. And the most awesome Burners bring along a few extra supplies just in case their neighbors forgot or ran out of something.
Here, Let Us Tell You How to Be Self-Reliant
So here, my lovely Burners, are our pro tips. Wickedly wise and hip ways to show you have your Burning Man shit together and you have chosen to resist sparklepony-dom and are being a self-reliant badass.
Bring a first aid kit suitable in size to support your camp. If it’s just you braving the playa in your REI two-person tent, here’s our list of goodies we recommend bringing. If your camp is 25, 50, 100 or more people strong, you can create your own by loading things from our list into a duffle or find kits like this online, although those kits need supplementing to be playa-worthy.
- Self-adhesive bandages Also known by many as Coban, this stuff sticks to itself. And when taken off and reapplied, it sticks to itself again. It’s really awesome. Band-aids and adhesive tape are useless crap at Burning Man; the dust disables the glue. Get a roll of Coban. It comes in many amazing colors, and if you buy the vet tape, it’s the same stuff but less expensive.
This beautiful liquid gold neutralizes the alkalinity of the playa dust. A vinegar bathing of feet, followed by a water rinse, lotioning, and a pair of clean socks, is a moment of supreme playa happiness.
The stress of late nights, heat, dry, noise, travel will ignite the hormones in the most predictable way. I’ve never met a playa veteran woman who hasn’t at some point been visited by an unexpected moon flow. Bring tampons. Bring them for your friends. You’re a guy? Bring them anyway and be the hero in your camp. Guys who are man enough to carry a box of tampons are revered, just so you know.
- Neti pot
It took me a decade of enduring the playa booger before I ventured into the world of Neti pots. The whole idea of putting salt water up one nostril and having it drain out the other was just creepy. Well, I finally manned up, and honestly, it was weird for about two tries. Then it was absolute heaven on earth. Your nose will be so happy with this wise decision. Do it.
And to assist you in being radically self-reliant, here is the first edition of the ESD Playa First Aid Manual. It gives some basics around playa health care and also includes a primer on how to get help if you have an emergency. It’s printable in booklet form so you can do a two-sided printing, fold it in half and stuff it in that first aid kit you put together.
As always, ESD and Rampart are here for you. We have top notch health care pros — paramedics, nurses, docs. We have diagnostic equipment. We can get you on an ambulance and to Reno toot sweet if you need it (although that part isn’t free so try to avoid it).
Be safe. Be prepared. Embrace self-reliance. See you in a little while.