Medicine for the Outdoors
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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An Unexpected Trap

I just returned from a few days fishing in central British Columbia, near the city of Williams Lake. Being an avid and traditional secretive fisherman, I can't reveal the exact location where I caught a 14- to 20-inch trout on every single cast. On one day, after catching approximately 100 fish (it was catch-and-release fishing, as is our usual habit), I was forced to retire in order to rest my arm, sit in an easy chair by the campfire, and swat mosquitoes.

The biters were present in abundance. This past winter created a substantial snowmelt, and the terrain is still moist and green where it is usually brown and dry by this time of year. The mosquitoes thrive on these conditions, so they were out in force. Fortunately, they weren't the large insects that can carry a man off, like the big bugs in Alaska, but they were persistent and voracious. Our insect repellent was precious. We carried all varieties of solutions, creams, and wipes. It was the latter that proved to be a near-disaster for one of our party.

Repel® Sportsmen Formula® Insect Repellent comes in a variety of preparations, one of which is 30% DEET wipes. These are supplied in a plastic cannister from which the wipes are removed, one at a time. They come out the top through an opening that is surrounded by inward-directed rigid plastic triangles designed to provide enough friction and resistance to allow a wipe to be pulled through, torn from the following wipe, then hold the remaining wipe in place to be pulled out in turn.

Our teenage fisherman encountered the cannister with no wipe poking out through the opening, because someone had torn off a wipe and allowed the remainder to fall back into the cannister. So, the victim stuck his index finger through the opening to try to snag one of the wipes. What he didn't appreciate was that the way the opening is designed, it flexes enough to allow a finger to enter, but is rigid enough so that the (sharp) points do not allow the finger to be removed if it has been jammed sufficiently through the opening.

I responded to a cry of distress. My young friend's finger was caught in the mosquito repellent cannister opening so tightly that the circulation to the tip of his finger was severely diminished, and the points of the plastic triangles were very painfully poking into his skin. We gently tried to pull his finger back in the direction from whence it had entered, but this hurt way too much and would have perhaps severely cut his skin. I suppose it is possible that we could have yanked hard and hope for small punctures and a reverse flex-and-release of the plastic, but the poor boy was in agony and not in a mood for an experiment.

Fortunately, we always bring a well-supplied toolbox with us. I grabbed a pair of cutting pliers and cut successively larger wedges out of the plastic until I was able to spread the opening of the finger trap and set the finger free. In a pinch, I could have used any sufficiently sharp cutting instrument, but this was the best solution.

The moral of the story, and a good rule for life in general, is don't poke your fingers where they don't belong.

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About the Author

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