Some years ago in Peru, Rich and I were paddling canoes in an obscure subsidiary of the Amazon (the river, of course, not the online retailer) when I broke my finger. I’d like to tell you I sustained the injury wresting with an alligator, fending off a piranha, or messing about with one of the electric eels that lived under the dock in our camp. But the boring truth is that I was simply careless, holding on to the edge of our boat when it smacked up against another, with my finger in between. Ouch! That’s one piece of foolishness I’ll not repeat.
We were days downriver from the nearest medical facility, a small-town clinic of extremely dubious reputation. Our guide offered to take me there, or to the local shaman, Jesus, who a few days earlier had sold me a blowgun; somehow neither alternative appealed. Next our guide mentioned old stories about a tree that had thick sap that, when dried, would harden into a protective shell; he’d always wanted to try it on somebody, if I was game. Before I could say, “Isn’t LifeFlight an option?” Rich said, “I have something in my first aid kit that might help.”
In no time Rich had fashioned a dandy splint from the plastic casing that had held a syringe. (We used to carry them on remoter journeys, as we’d heard horror stories of people needing an emergency injection from a village doctor who’d run out of clean needles.) The splint was comfortable, offered excellent protection, and even had a piece of gauze taped over the end to keep out mosquitoes. A week later when I got back to the US, an ER doctor insisted on fitting me with a “real” splint that was far more uncomfortable and unwieldy; I immediately threw it away and went back to wearing Rich’s.
Up until now, that improvised splint has stood as my benchmark for ingenious solutions to medical issues on the road, but recently a challenger has emerged. I was looking up something on YouTube when I stumbled across “23 Smart Life Hacks for Every Occasion.” This fast-paced video includes, along with a jumble of other topics (replacing a lost earring back with the tip of a pencil eraser, etc.) various creative ways to deal with small health issues that might arise on the road. Most use simple materials you’re likely to have with you, find in a hotel room, or buy cheaply at a local store. To help you zero in on the ones mentioned, I’ve identified the time they appear on the video.
For instance, if a migraine strikes while you’re away from home, the video suggests putting your feet in warm water (the hotel sink will work nicely) and placing something cold (send your travel companion out for a bag of frozen peas) on the back of your neck (0.40). This can help the blood drain down from your head, offering relief. Apparently this one’s been around a while. “Every time I see that image, I cringe,” wrote therapist Tammy Rome on Migraine.com. “The comments alone drive me crazy. Too many people take the image literally and make comments about their inability to perch on the edge of the sink. I want to scream, ‘That’s not the freaking point!’ but truthfully, no one is listening.” Tammy goes on to say the remedy can bring relief, suggesting that those worried about falling off the bathroom counter can use a simpler approach involving a heating pad and an ice pack.
The video has other clever ideas, such as cutting the sticky ends of band-aids into strips and overlapping them at an angle so they adhere firmly to fingertips (1:27). Another section shows an old folk remedy for fending off mosquitoes with a cut lemon studded with cloves (5:21). I tried it last night and woke this morning unbitten. Having sustained three bites earlier in the week, I am cautiously optimistic but feel a bit more testing is required before classifying the experiment as solid scientific proof of efficacy.
Some of the other ideas seem a bit more questionable. If you’re at risk of being overwhelmed by smoke, the video suggests, you should breathe through wet cloth (7:13). So far, so good. Then they show a woman taking off her t-shirt and — no other fluid being readily available — urinating on it. She then holds the shirt over her nose and mouth to run out of the building into the street. Yikes! Would I be able to manage this in a crisis? Would I even want to?
Back in 1999, when The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook was published, I gave a copy to Rich and we chuckled over it in the happy confidence we would never be called upon to do anything as outlandish as deliver a baby in a taxi or perform a tracheotomy with a Swiss army knife and a ball point pen. The book went missing long ago, but for my birthday in September, Rich gave me another copy. And such is the nature of these uncertain times that I am re-reading many sections with fresh interest. How to Survive an Earthquake, for instance, and How to Identify a Bomb, should one happen to arrive in the morning mail. Much of the advice about How to Survive if You Are in the Line of Gunfire — spoiler alert, it involves running away and hiding behind a solid object — may seem obvious, but it’s a sad fact of life that we now need to know this stuff. And remembering the finer points, such as running in a zig-zag pattern instead of a straight line, just might save my life someday.
I used to think the need for such crazy emergency measures would never arise outside of adventurous expeditions deep into the world’s wildest regions. But today, even while traveling to the most civilized places — Paris, London, California’s wine country — we all need to be prepared to cope with events that would once have been unthinkable. So I’m collecting all the advice I can find that may help me deal with emergencies on the road. Let me know if you have any handy home remedies, survival tips, or escape techniques you’re willing to share! In particular I’m seeking alternatives to the video’s urinate-on-your-shirt plan, because hey, there simply has to be a better way.
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12/13/2018 02:33:54 pm
"The splint was comfortable, offered excellent protection, and even had a piece of gauze taped over the end to keep out mosquitoes."
12/14/2018 02:29:51 am
Dear Karen, congratulations for your post.
12/14/2018 07:11:25 am
That must have been a very scary moment for you and your husband, Isabel. You were very lucky to find sanctuary in the church, and to have the dalzy to give your daughter. I am so glad to hear that it all worked out in the end. It's no wonder that you feel specially blessed whenever you think of that day.
12/14/2018 07:07:13 am
He's a very thoughtful guy. And when I got back to the US, I realized that finger was just about the only part of my body that didn't have a mosquito bite, heat rash, or both!
12/14/2018 03:47:29 pm
I'm taking note of the lemon and cloves idea - I suffer from the beastly mozzies while his lordship sleeps on in blissful ignorance. At least your finger was broken on an adventure - I did mine falling off a windowledge when a "friend" threw a snowball at me. I didn't go to hospital but used surgical tape to hold the finger still - result = one stiff joint and a fingernail that disintegrate every 3 months. Thank goodness you travel with an inventor.
12/14/2018 07:07:50 pm
Your broken finger sounds ghastly; having your nail disintegrate every three months!?! Yikes! That can't be fun. As for the lemon and clove approach, am hoping it turns out to be effective in the high mosquito season. Everyone here plugs plastic bottles of chemicals into an electrical outlet all night, and while effective, I can't help but feel it will prove as harmful in the long run to us humans as it is to the mosquitoes.
12/14/2018 09:43:49 pm
Great piece, Karen. I'm afraid I can't think of solutions to the wet cloth over face issue in running away from a smokey fire, (Sweat hardly seems sufficient . . .) As for survival in difficult circumstances, most of my own injuries have taken place in Aikido rather than on trips, and fortunately there were nurses around . . . I do remember however, a survival guide ("The Worst Case Scenario Survival Handbook") which was both funny and informative, particularly if you wanted to know how to survive (or help someone else out of) quicksand or land an airplane in an emergency, say. (My own anxieties re survival run to wilderness problems, desert islands and other likely scenarios, etc,.) There's also a very funny survival guide about how to survive a zombie attack--not one of my worries, but, given the political situation, maybe I haven't been paying enough attention . . .
12/15/2018 09:24:45 am
Yes, like the Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook, I am now taking advice about fending off zombies more seriously. You never really know what the world has in store for you in these crazy times! And then there's The Martian, which is my worst-case scenario: stranded on Mars with nothing standing between me and certain death but my math skills. I would be toast! Here's hoping neither of us ever need to exercise any of these survival skills, Tobey!
12/14/2018 09:46:35 pm
PS You are definitely lucky to be traveling with the well-prepared and resourceful Rich!
12/15/2018 09:25:03 am
Amen to that!
12/15/2018 12:02:19 am
Hi Karen, seems like you and Rich have it all figured out! Thanks so much for sharing with us!
12/15/2018 08:28:02 am
I absolutetly agree Faye:
12/15/2018 09:28:00 am
I so agree, Faye and Isabel, that coffee rituals are vital to starting the day off right. It's a way of honoring ourselves and the tasks ahead of us. And on top of all that, it tastes wonderful and perks us up when we need it most!
12/15/2018 07:06:29 pm
I agree with Toby that we really need to pay attention to the current political situation before it is too late...if current situation continues, we may all want to become ex-pats!!! Just saying...
12/18/2018 09:45:34 am
Yes, I have noticed a real uptick in interest in living abroad since the last presidential election. We'll see how things go in 2020!
12/18/2018 06:57:05 pm
A postscript regarding emergency measures : Vetenarians often wash their hands in cow urine to kill germs. Seems the urine has anti- bacterial component with beneficial effects. Maybe carrying container of cow urine - just in case - is good emergency measure! It’s all about being resourceful, right !!!!!! Whatever works!
12/21/2018 07:55:42 am
Fortunately, I don't often find myself in circumstances requiring the use of cow urine as a germ-killer. How do the veterinarians collect it, I wonder? Sounds like a lot of work. No, if I am going to carry a container of anything, it's more likely to be hand sanitizer — much easier to obtain, for one thing, and for another, less worrying should the stopper come undone in my purse or pocket. However, this is good info, Faye, and I have made a mental note that in extreme circumstances, I can rely on the purifying effects of cow urine. In these crazy times, you never know what life is going to throw at you!
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TO I'm an American travel writer based in Seville, Spain.
Wanderlust has taken me to more than 60 countries. Every week I provide travel tips and adventure stories to inspire your journeys and let you have more fun — and better food — on the road
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