The Non-Expert

Home Surgery

Experts answer what they know. The Non-Expert answers anything. This week we show you how to mend common household wounds with a handful of band-aids, a bottle of ipecac, and a healthy dose of resolve.

Have a question? Need some advice? Ignored by everyone else? Send us your questions via email. The Non-Expert handles all subjects and is updated on Fridays, and is written by a member of The Morning News staff.


Question: I was hanging a picture with a hammer and nail when I accidentally missed the nail completely and hammered my thumb on the nail. It hurt really bad and split my thumbnail too. I put some band-aids on it. But did I need to go to the hospital? —Beth R.

Answer: Probably not. You may lose the fingernail, but it will grow back, and as long as you keep it disinfected and bandaged, you should be fine. A trip to the emergency room will only expose you to fatal skin rashes and rare cases of blood fungi.

Many such injuries are deceptive in their severity, and if a trip to the ER seems to be in the works, we should always find ways to avoid it. After all, though a mishandled cleaver into the foot demands a visit from the EMTs, a simple puncture wound—say, a compass tip into the meat of your palm—will heal itself up nicely; maybe, though, with the aid of a rolled-up piece of toilet paper and a circular band-aid.

Here are some common household injuries, and ways you can tend to them at home—no ambulance required.

You’ve Stapled Your Finger

It’s tax season. Or rather, it was, two months ago. Still, you’re determined to file late instead of never. Receipt here, pay stub there, shuffle shuffle shuffle, staple together and…uh oh.

Interestingly, when you staple yourself, the staple goes in rather cleanly. The first thing you must do is remove the staple from your finger. This will be painful. Do not use a staple remover, or you will risk mauling what skin and nail you’ve got left. Perhaps you can learn to live with it stuck in you. Think of it like having stitches, without having to learn how to sew. Crisis averted.

If, however, you successfully yank out the staple, and blood begins squirting from your mangled finger, re-staple it! Stat! It will probably be necessary to use heavier gauge staples the second go-round. Seek help.

You’ve Broken Your Toe

You walked barefoot past that hidden part of the bed frame again and, sure enough, wrapped your pinky toe around it. After writhing in hysterics and moaning with your face pressed on the bedside table, you regain composure and prepare to examine your hoof for damage.

Start by checking your toe control. Try wiggling. Not working? That’s OK: It’s probably just in shock. Is it now turning purple? No problem: That may be a bruise. Wait… is it sloping off to one side, dangling like a marble inside a deflated balloon? Diagnosis: broken toe. Tape it up with masking, electrical, or—why not?—surgical tape and wear tight shoes for the next six weeks. Crisis averted.

After three weeks you notice bone fragments in your urine. Seek help.

You’ve Sustained a Head Injury

A plastic bag filled with maps, empty seltzer bottles, and Slim Jim wrappers at your feet, you’re at a convenience store and you’ve just finished cleaning out your car at the end of a long road trip. As you stand by the open driver’s-side door, admiring your handiwork, you notice a DoubleMint wrapper balled up by the gas pedal. That will never do, you say, and just as you lean in to grab it, you slam your forehead on the edge of your car door.

You feel woozy. Everything seems darker.

Consciousness returns, along with a high-pitched ringing in your ears. Whoa, you think, that was some hit I just took! You grab the gum wrapper and head into the store… for what? Oh, well, you’ll remember when you get to the counter. Obviously you’re fine. Treatment: ignorance. Crisis averted.

You approach the counter and the mom-and-pop team who work the store scream together.

“What? What is it?”

Your eyebrows, you realize, were the only thing holding back the sheet of blood sliding down your face. The owner threatens to sue if you stain his linoleum. You dig in your pocket for your medical insurance card. Seek help.

You’ve Severed the Tip of Your Finger

You’re preparing dinner, slicing carrots for stir-fry. Chop chop chop, chop chop chop. Maybe you’ve had a glass of wine, or two. Chop chop chop, chop, chop—SLICE SLICE. The pain shoots up your finger, up your arm, and your brain explodes. You see the tip of your finger hanging off by not that much. No bone showing, but still: Your mind is utterly shot, but your body may be salvageable.

First, drench the injured digit in hydrogen peroxide, rubbing alcohol, and anything else handy that kills infection and stings. Remember, there is a direct relationship between your pain and germ-killing: the more uncomfortable stinging = the better the disinfection. Once stinging subsides—telling you all the germs are dead—you’re ready to tend your wound.

Find a roll of paper towels and two dishcloths. Wrap the wound with half the roll of paper towels, then make it like a mummy with one dishcloth, and do the same with the other dishcloth, but leaving the ends loose so you can tie them up for make a quickie cast. Crisis averted.

The next morning, the pain has returned. But now it’s more dull, and accompanied by some odd tingling and intermittent nausea. You feel cold. You begin to worry about gangrene. Could you lose your whole hand? Your arm? Ohmigod. Seek help.

The nurse has a look at your injury and deems it minor. He cinches a butterfly closure on your finger and says you’re good to go.

Ha, you think, I could’ve done that at home.


Andrew Womack is a founding editor of The Morning News. He is always working on the next installment of the Albums of the Year series at TMN. More by Andrew Womack