Cuts are serious, I realized a month ago when I accidentally drove a kitchen knife into my finger. There I was, in shock - mentally fogged, my blood pressure sinking - and I hadn't a clue what to do. As it turned out, all my instincts were wrong. After stitches, I kept the wound soaked in antibiotic cream under a bandage, not a good move, my doctor informed me. Time for some alt-style first-aid research! All ruptures of the skin need care to prevent infection. Minor wounds can be handled by washing, then leaving the area open to the air to heal. You can use tea tree oil and yarrow or goldenseal tincture to disinfect, calendula tincture to heal the tissues. Homeopathic arnica 6C will speed cellular knitting, and so will vitamin c, zinc and echinacea. Soothe minor burns with aloe vera gel.
Most of these remedies work for major injuries, too - but only after you've seen a doctor. Your wound needs medical help if you've hit an artery (blood spurts out in time with your heartbeat, most likely to occur on the neck, inner thigh or arm). So, too, if the edges won't stay together on their own, or if it's more than an inch long or half an inch deep.
Get help for insect bites if you show signs of allergy: swelling, throat tightness, hives or redness anywhere on the body.
Burns take some know-how. A first-degree burn is simply red and painful. Put cool water on it till the pain subsides, then aloe gel. Second-degree burns blister within 15 to 20 minutes. Third-degree burns damage muscles and nerves; the skin looks white or black. These and burns affecting the neck, mouth, nose or eyes or that cover more than 15 per cent of your body surface, and electrical and chemical burns need medical help. You can flush a first- or second-degree chemical burn with water. Otherwise, leave all serious burns alone until you see a doctor.
While you're waiting for treatment for a serious injury, assume your're in shock. Wrap up in a blanket, and don't eat or drink.
Allopathy is also required if any cut, bite or burn does get infected. Redness, swelling, pus and radiating red lines from the site of injury are your warning signs.
WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY
"For (healing) cuts, mix calendula and yarrow tincture half-and-half, dilute half a teaspoon of that in a tablespoon of water and use it as a wash. For first-degree burns, aloe gel is the first choice. The best ones are 99 per cent aloe. The homeopathic remedy cantharis 6c is good for a burn. For insect bites, take apis 6c, two or three doses a day for at least the first day or two. To help the healing process, avoid sugar, which suppresses the immune system. Take 600 mg of vitamin C three times a day (adult dose). If people are slow to heal, they probably need 25 mg of zinc twice a day. Take 50 drops of good-quality echinacea (Gaia, Faunus, St. Francis) every two hours for at least the first day. (For injuries in general) take arnica 6c three to five times a day, depending on how bad the swelling or bruising is."
PAMELA FRANK, naturopath
"(For bleeding) use a sterile dressing, a towel or blanket. Put direct pressure on the wound, just enough to control the bleeding. Tie a dressing, but not so tight that it cuts off blood flow. At www.sja.ca we list components that should be in first aid kits."
KAREN BOND, first aid/CPR instructor/trainer, St. John Ambulance national office, Ottawa
"Was the knife rusty? Used to cut meat? That increases the likelihood of infection. If you haven't had a tetanus shot, you'll need one. If the cut is on your wrist or hand and you're having trouble moving a finger or can't feel part of your hand, you must seek medical attention. You may have cut a nerve or tendon. Seek medical attention if you think there's something in the wound, like a piece of glass. For minor burns, Solarcaine or Bactine will ease the pain. Watch for signs of infection. We don't recommend breaking burn blisters. (That can cause infection.) A doctor can de-roof a burn and put a dressing on it."
BRIAN GOLDMAN, MD, staff emergency physician, Mount Sinai Hospital