A recent broken finger tip taught me a number of lessons that I would like to share with you. Winter camping on a beach in Anglesey is a wonderful experience, the stars, the stillness of the night, the spray frozen into a sculpture of leaves on the beach, the feeling that perhaps there were otters nearby in the stream as it rushed into the sea, the neolithic chambered tomb casting a shadow behind the road in the moonlight. I was due to join a sea kayaking leadership course but sadly slammed a numb finger in the car door not aware that it was resting inside the door frame. A weekend in Ysbyty Gwynedd, Bangor hospital convinced me that human kindness combined with humour and skill in surgery go a long way to promote healing. I left in good spirits confident that even though the weekend was not what I expected we can live the present and handle each moment as it arrives. If you ever find yourself injured try the following lessons:
Ask yourself does bleeding help to clean the wound? Then let it bleed long enough to wash out some of the dirt before you apply pressure to close the wound and elevate the limb. Use sterile salted water or spring water to wash the wound if you have it to hand. Be aware that if your injuries are serious like in a fall, you will go into shock. It might be the loss of fluids, a sudden drop in blood pressure, or simply the nausea dawning on you of what has happened. I once felt shock coming on so I crawled into the warm sunshine simply to let the heat and light cheer me up while I thought through what to do next. Once you have the bleeding under control, think through what might else might be missing or needed next. Go through a mental check list as to what you will need when help arrives. It might be something as simple as collecting your glasses, some clean water, your wallet and a good book to keep your mind occupied. Take care of other people around you. They might not be feeling as confident as you about the situation. I once rescued someone who had capsized in a sea kayak, by wading up to my neck and reaching out with a kayak paddle. I did not know at the time that he had been drinking. Everyone made a fuss of him with dry clothes, bundled him into the Land rover and took him off for a warm bath and sweet tea. Meanwhile they left me on the beach in bare feet, half dressed, soaked through, having to run two miles on a newly tarred, stone chipped road back to their croft on a cold, windy Orkney day.
Talk to your body, tell it that the blood is going to start clotting, that the troop of the immune system the neutrophils and other leukocytes are arriving at the scene to mop up up infections. Your immune system is going into action to engulf the foreign invaders. Triggers in the damaged tissues are sending messages to your liver to send reactive oxygen species. They almost act like a micro bleach killing micro-organisms. If the skin is not broken try keeping a cold dressing on to restraint the excesses of inflammation. If the skin has been broken avoid keeping it cold for too long. It will slow down the needed inflammatory process. Concentrate on keeping the wound and surrounding area as clean as you can. For kayaking or wilderness situations a condom and a rubber band are very useful for keeping water out. I personally would never tattoo my skin. Apart from the aesthetic side I believe that tattooed skin is not going to heal well.
Find a surgeon who will set the bones accurately. In my experience hospitals that handle helicopter deliveries and trauma from mountain or sea accidents have excellent orthopaedic surgeons. Many people have been to see me after going to A & E departments that have not addressed the basic issue of ensuring that bones are carefully matched together. Bones that are kept in alignment but subject to gentle stresses will heal much faster and stronger. Osteoblasts are special cells in the surface or periosteum that lay down new bone. In 1892 Julias Wolf observed that bones grow along the lines of stress placed upon them. In practice bones need dynamic stress in the form of compression, bending and torsion or twisting to grow strong. The practice in yoga of applying strong twists to the body also strengthens your bones. Keeping a bone in plaster for six weeks is a dubious practice that only wastes the surrounding muscle tissues. In most case two weeks would be enough time to transfer to a sling or protective bandage. A lady once came to see me holding her left humerus (arm bone) in two pieces. It had been removed from plaster only to find that it had not healed in the slightest. Careful manipulation through the skin and suggested use of the triceps and biceps muscles to stabilise the arm soon set it on the road to recovery.
Listen to your pain. It limits your activity and acts as a messenger. Personally I believe that the best use of pain killers is to help us get to sleep. Above that we should keep the use of pain killers and anti-biotics to when we really need them.
Take supplements to help you heal. The following regime brought about bone healing in less than five weeks: 2 gm of MSM to repair and remodel collagen, 120 mg Gingko Biloba and anti-oxidant that improves blood flow, 500 mg of lysine and 3 mg of Arginine / 150 mg pantothenic acid B5.
For those of you who are interested I enclose some pictures of how a broken, carefully stitched finger can heal. Thank you to the surgeon Mr Thati and your team at Ysbyty Gwynedd.