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Medicine for the Outdoors

Dr. Paul Auerbach is the world's leading outdoor health expert. His blog offers tips on outdoor safety and advice on how to handle wilderness emergencies.

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Tissue Glue, Fingers, and Float Tubes


When you are in the wilderness, it's good to carry supplies that can be used for multiple purposes. Duct tape is important for it's usual purposes, such as fixing a rip in a tent, but it can also be used as a wound closure strip or, in a pinch, to fashion a pair of emergency "sunglasses" for someone with a scratched cornea. We usually think of how non-medical supplies can used improvisationally for medical purposes, but the opposite holds true: there are occasions where the first aid kit comes in handy for non-medical purposes.

Here's how I killed two birds with one stone on a recent fishing trip. After instructing all the kids on the trip to be careful around the campfire, when chopping wood, and using sharp knives, I proceeded to stab myself deeply into the pad of my thumb when cleaning a fish. The wound bled freely, but wasn't spurting or gushing (e.g., no major blood vessel was involved), so I decided the finish the task at hand, then attend to my wound. After I was done with my chore, I washed the wound out vigorously with camp soap and disinfected water, because I am familiar with the sorts of infections one can acquire from bacteria that reside in the freshwater environment. Rather than achieve immediate closure tight closure with tape, I elected to pull the wound edges together only enough to stop the bleeding, and then applied bacitracin ointment and a bandage, so that I could give the cut a day to begin its healing process before attempting a more definitive closure.

The next morning, the cut looked clean, but after a day of fishing and repeated immersion in lake water, it was open and would clearly be a nagging nuisance for the remainder of my vacation, so I wanted to close it. Tape and bandages would work on dry land, but I had observed that even my super-sticky Coverlet® bandages worked themselves loose after a few hours of fishing and repeated immersion of my hand in the water to retrieve fish, handle them, and set them free after they were caught. So, I needed a better solution.

I always carry a few DERMABOND® ProPen (Ethicon, Inc.) applicators with me when I am traveling, so I carefully washed and rinsed my cut again, allowed it to air dry, and then glued it shut with the tissue glue. That worked like a charm, and the cut not only healed without incident, but the pliable and semi-transparent wound repair easily withstood three days of nearly constant soaking in the water. When I returned home, I easily peeled the remaining purple tissue glue off my finger.

While I was gluing my cut, one of my fishing buddies noticed me working on my hand, and asked for an explanation. His eyes lit up and he said, "I think you have a solution for me. The valve on my float tube has come loose. I got it to fit back together but I need something to keep it in place, and I can't find any epoxy cement. Do you think your stuff (the tissue glue) might work?" I had no idea, because I had never used DERMABOND® on anything other than people, but it was worth a try. Using the applicator, he applied a ring of the 2-octyl cyanoacrylate compound to the reassembled valve, taking care to avoid occluding the opening. It was the perfect viscosity to penetrate the connection. We let it dry, then applied one more coating for good measure.

It worked! So, my cut was fixed, and so was my friend's float tube. Of course, I'n not advocating that you consume precious medical supplies to fix your fishing gear, since a tube of Super Glue would be much less expensive, but it's nice to know what works. Furthermore, once you break the seal on a vial of DERMABOND®, it's a one-time use situation, because the vial that is now exposed to air will harden and need to be discarded, so you might as well figure out if you have anything else that needs to be glued before you throw the applicator in the garbage. After observing our success with the float tube, I touched up a few pinholes in my tent and one fraying tent seam, for good measure.

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About the Author

Dr. Paul S. Auerbach is the world’s leading authority on wilderness medicine.