Monday, December 17, 2012

Wilderness Wound

When I was spending two weeks in the Colorado wilderness in September, I walked into a dry branch while searching for a suitable tree to hang my food for the night (you'd better use a "bear bag" when in such a place, or face the consequences). Said branch rammed into the cartilage in my right ear. Much pain, much gushing of blood. As best I could I cleaned out the wound and disinfected it. This happened first night in the wilderness. Over the course of the following eight days the wound scabbed over and began to heal.
Two weeks after arriving back home, after the wound was reduced to just a small bit of scar tissue, it suddenly welled up red and full of pus. Carole lanced it for me and...out came a chunk of wood as big as a fingernail. Not the size of a piece of a fingernail. No. As big as a whole fingernail.

Yep. Gross.

This was the wound a few days after the incident. I didn't know it then, but there was a huge chunk of Engelmann spruce wood lodged in the cartilage of my ear. It would emerge three weeks later.
In addition to the ear injury, I also got a small cut on my left index finger. The third night in the wilderness I was putting up my tent. It was cold, damp, and sleet was falling. So I was in something of a hurry to get my tent assembled so that I could get my down bag unpacked and myself into it to warm up and relax.

As I was fitting a tent pole into the fly, I pinched the skin on my left index finger between the grommet and the aluminum pole. Looking at it, there was just a slight irritation but not a visible wound. Later, once I was in my tent I took a second look and washed the finger with an alcohol swab, put some ointment on it, and an adhesive bandage.

The next morning the insignificant bit of pinching was now a noticeable wound. Just a tiny cut, but it was no longer just a point of pinched skin. I washed with water and swabbed it with alcohol again, put on more antibiotic ointment and a bandage.

Over the course of the next few days, the insignificant cut began to deepen and widen until it was an almost perfect red circle reaching deep into the dermis. I could look down into the wound and it did not look good. Also, my finger was throbbing and slightly inflamed. No amount of washing and bandaging seemed to do any good. I was a bit concerned.

On the last morning in the Weminuche I boiled up a pot of water and scrubbed my hands completely, using a cloth to scrub the wound as best I could, lathering on the soap and applying more alcohol to the cut. We were heading back to the train to take us to civilization, so if it didn't improve, I'd have access to a clinic if it came to that.

However, after one night back in town the cut quickly began to heal. Just having access to a hot shower and more air (we went from averaging 11,000 feet above sea level to 6,000 feet back in Durango) meant that the cut could heal more effectively. In no time at all the nasty-looking circle of angry tissue had closed up and was healing.

Having experienced this little bit of difficulty with small wounds in the wilderness, with limited ability to deal with them, I know in no uncertain terms that human beings would wither quickly if suddenly denied the luxuries to which we've become accustomed. I'm surprised we lasted long enough to discover the technology that has allowed us to wreck Mother Earth.


Kirk G said...

I wonder if you've got something else going on. Two wounds that seemed to have over reacted and not wanted to heal right. Might be worth a mention at the next doctor's visit. I'd be concerned.

James Robert Smith said...

The ear healed just fine. It was just that there was a chunk of wood in there that my body decided to expel after the initial would healed over.

The cut on the finger wouldn't heal because there's less oxygen above 11,000 feet. And we were consistently over that elevation for eight days straight. My wife was telling me how they isolate wounds on patients at the hospital where she works. They tape down oxygen masks directly over wounds and flood them with pure oxygen, thus speeding healing.

As soon as I got down in more normal altitudes, the cut almost immediately healed over.