Scouting magazine

How to bandage an accidental pocketknife wound

Emergency Situation: Pausing for lunch while hiking in a remote region of Zion National Park, you pull out your pocketknife. After slicing a few pieces of dry salami, you begin to fold the blade back. But with your hands covered in oily salami goodness, the knife slips and accidentally slices something less tasty: your finger. What should you do?

Solution: Consider presliced salami for the next trip.

As with all wounds, the first step is always to stop the bleeding, using direct pressure. This allows the blood to coagulate, though the wound might still seep a bit. Use gauze from your first-aid kit pressing on the cut to slow the bleeding. Elevate your hand above your heart and be patient: Lacerations (particularly deep wounds) might continue to bleed for several minutes. As the gauze becomes soaked, add clean gauze to cover the wound without removing the original gauze. This helps encourage coagulation.

Once you believe the bleeding has slowed or stopped, carefully remove the gauze and check the wound. If it appears to be fairly superficial, clean it with an alcohol swab from the kit (yes, it will sting), with soap and water, or at the very least just irrigate it with water. For a small wound, put an adhesive bandage on it (with some gauze directly over the cut, if need be) and you’re good to go.

For a deeper cut that does not clot, you’ll need to take additional steps to stop the bleeding. Essentially, what you’ll do is construct your own butterfly bandage, which is used to treat lacerations that might be deep but are not very wide. These bandages are wider at the ends than they are in the middle and are used to pinch/pull the two sides of skin together to assist coagulation. They won’t take the place of stitches, but they should at least help slow the blood flow until you can visit an emergency room. You’ll need someone to help with this procedure.

First, use scissors to cut a piece of 1-inch-wide cloth tape to about 2 inches long. In a pinch, you can use duct or any other variety of tape, as long as it’s sticky. Next, fold the tape in half in the middle, sticky side facing out. It might be helpful to fold the tape over a narrow, stiff piece of cardboard. Using scissors, cut two notches on either side of the tape. Unfold it. The tape should now have four notches, two above and two below the fold. Carefully take hold of the two center sections and fold them in, one atop the other, and press them together. You should now have a bandage with two sticky “wings” on either side of a narrow, non-sticky section.

Clean the wound with alcohol. Pinch together the two sides of the cut while your helper carefully places the bandage next to the area, affixing one sticky side first, placing the narrow (non-sticky) section across the laceration, and then pressing the other sticky section to the skin. You might need two for a long cut.

Finally, place some clean gauze over the butterfly followed by a regular bandage for protection. It’s quite possible that a deep cut will continue to weep for a while; this is normal. Once you’re back to civilization, you should have the cut examined by a doctor. If your tetanus booster is not up to date, you can expect a shot, along with the physician’s admiration of your fieldwork.