E.R. doc says include ace bandage, petroleum jelly in your on-board first aid kit
This is a great time of year to walk along an oyster mound in a shallow, inshore creek casting for redfish that are hiding from dolphins. It can also be dangerous. I severed an artery in my leg in such a creek recently, which is a quick way to turn a fun day into a life-threatening one.
Luckily, I was able to stop the bleeding before things got out of hand. Still, it ended my day, required a trip to the emergency room and put me at risk of infection. It also made me vulnerable to vibrio, a flesh-eating virus that is not uncommon in many saltwater creeks throughout the south.
I had gotten out of my kayak to walk along the oyster mound — a mound I’d walked on many times before. The mound sits 3 feet above water at low tide. It’s one of those mounds that’s solid as a concrete sidewalk. But this time, I stepped on it with my left foot, and the oysters gave way. My left leg sank into the underlying pluff mud all the way to my thigh. My right leg buckled and caught an oyster as sharp as a surgical knife just below my knee.
Unnoticed wound prolongs first aid
I didn’t even notice the cut right away. Covered in water, salt spray, sunscreen and pluff mud, the blood pouring down my leg didn’t register. And wearing dark sun shades and focusing on fishable waters, I also didn’t immediately see the blood spurting from my leg with every heartbeat, either. The cut was so clean that I didn’t feel a thing.
I’d walked the whole oyster mound, stopping several times to cast, and by the time I looked down to see my injury, the previously sun-bleached, white oyster shell mound now looked like a multi-victim crime scene. A thick, solid line of red marked my journey, and large swaths of crimson showed my every stop. It was bad, and I knew if I didn’t stop the bleeding right away, I was going to be in big trouble.
I had a small first-aid kit, but it mostly contained bandages more suited for a child’s playground than this. And no matter how much I wiped the blood away before applying the largest bandage I had, it slid away, never making contact with the skin due to the massive amount of blood pumping and pouring from my cut.
Hand towel becomes makeshift bandage
A hand towel was stuffed away in my fishing tackle bag. I wrapped it around my leg and held it in place with the lanyard from a pair of fishing pliers. Luckily, this applied enough pressure to stop the bleeding. At this point, I knew the cut was more of an inconvenience than something more serious. But it could have been much worse. And I should have been better prepared.
Once in the emergency room, the doctor gave me a tip I’ll never forget. He said most commercially-bought first-aid kits — especially ones that are small enough to fit into a small boat or kayak without taking up too much space — are insufficient for anything more than a headache or a small cut. He suggested two items to always have on a boat that can help you out of most emergencies.
“An ACE bandage can get you out of most of the trouble you’ll run into in situations like this,” he said. “Very deep cuts, and ones that result in severed arteries, will produce too much blood, too quickly, for any stick-on bandage you’ll find in a first-aid kit. But you’ll get enough absorption and enough pressure by wrapping that same cut with an ACE bandage almost every time.”
He suggested two ACE bandages are better than one. That’s in case of multiple cuts, and also, so you can make a bandage out of one and a tourniquet out of the other if necessary. One other item he suggested is petroleum jelly, which is available in thin packages that fit neatly into fishing bags or tackle boxes.
“Petroleum jelly stops the bleeding on some pretty serious cuts. Applying a good dose of that before wrapping will go a long way toward stopping some serious wounds,” he said.
Stop the bleeding
He also said for anglers who don’t have these items with them if they cut themselves as badly as I did, it’s important to stop the bleeding as quickly as possible, with whatever items they have available.
“Any type of absorbent material you can find, like a hand towel or cotton t-shirt or socks will do,” he said. “More people than you would imagine will waste time looking for what they consider to be a clean item while they continue to lose blood. Their reasoning is fear of infection from a dirty rag. They need to understand that infection is the least of their worries. We can treat infection. What we can’t treat is someone who has lost too much blood to make it to the emergency room in the first place.”
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