So you’ve had had a mishap in the shop, it happens. Maybe you rubbed against the sharp edge of your sheet metal project, cut yourself with a wood chisel, or were sliced into by plastic clamshell packaging. The resulting wound might not be serious enough for a trip to your doctor or the ER for stitches, but you still need to treat it.
How to Treat Small or Minor Wounds
It is generally recommended that you clean, treat, and protect wounds to help prevent infection.
- Stop the bleeding – if not easy to do, call a friend or family member for help. If it’s too much for them to handle, seek medical care.*
- Clean the wound – rinse it out with water and clean the surrounding area with soap and water and a clean rag or washcloth. Painless wound cleanser can also be used.
- Apply antibacterial ointment to discourage infection.
- Cover the wound with a bandage. A small Band-Aid adhesive bandage or gauze secured with tape should do. If there’s still a lot of blood, start back from the beginning and ask for assistance if you need it.
- Change the bandage at least once a day, more often if necessary.
- Is the wound infected? Is it red, more painful, or swelling up? You might need to see a doctor.
*Remember, these suggestions are for minor wounds. If you’re gushing blood or suffer a major injury call 911.
Do You Need Stitches?
I’m not a medical professional and don’t pretend to know how large or deep a wound must be before stitches are needed. According to the web, wounds that are more than 1/4″ deep, gaping, with jagged edges, or with fat or muscle protruding will usually require stitches.
How Many DIYers and Pros Usually (Improperly) Treat Small Wounds
- Stop bleeding with paper towel and rinse with water (if easily available)
- Assess situation and take photos to share online and with friends
- Apply bandage
- Ignore wound and get back to work
A lot of men shrug off small cuts that don’t require medical attention. We might tape up fresh or larger cuts and scratches and then walk them off. How many of you skip on thoroughly cleaning a small wound, especially if you’re in the middle of a project?
I typically cannot escape a lengthy cleaning and bandaging process if my wife’s around. It used to be that I would save time with a little water, a paper towel, and quick Band-Aid, but I have been much better about minor wound care in recent months. At the very least it seems to speed up healing and reduce scarring.
Sepsis and How a Small Cut Can Kill You
My wife forwarded to me an article about a 12-year old boy, Rory Staunton, who recently died from sepsis. Sepsis is essentially a full body infection that develops when bacteria gets into your blood stream and spreads around. In this case, it seems that the boy developed sepsis after he cut his arm playing basketball.
Rory’s death is unfortunate and it could possibly have been prevented if doctors hadn’t sent him home the first time he was brought to the emergency room. But the point I’m trying to make is how proper wound care might help prevent infection and sepsis in the first place.
The NY Times article does not describe how deep Rory’s cut was or whether it was cleaned and bandaged properly. Even with a thorough cleaning and proper care, infection is still possible. And from infection sepsis is possible. Sepsis is often treatable but can be fatal.
It is not likely that sepsis will develop from small cuts, scratches, and scrapes, but it can and does happen. Even so, proper first aid and wound care can greatly reduce the chances of localized and full body infection. Sepsis aside, localized skin and tissue infections can be quite harmful as well. Don’t take unnecessary chances if you can help it.
First Aid Kits
Do you have a first aid kit in your shop? I have a J&J first aid kit ($10) and waterless wound cleanser in my home workspace, antibacterial ointment and an assortment of bandage supplies in the bathroom medicine cabinet, and travel kits ($5) in the car and lab. These links are to Amazon, but I often buy first aid supplies at the local Target for about the same price.
Reminder: Have you had a tetanus shot in the last 10-years? If not, it may be time for a booster. Ask your doctor about this the next time you go in for a physical.
NOTE: The above are only suggestions and are not to be construed as medical advice.