Your Cut or Wound is Serious: Time to See a Doctor

It's been a long day already and you're chopping vegetables for dinners. While thinking about all the things you still need to do before bedtime, the knife slips. Ouch. Not only does your finger hurt, but also it's bleeding like a fountain. You're pretty sure this cut is going to involve a trip to a doctor. The question is, now or later?

What to Do Right Away
You need to see if you can slow or stop the bleeding. Grab a clean cloth and apply firm pressure to the wound area for at least five minutes. If the blood soaks through, put a fresh cloth over the top of the first cloth. Do not use a tourniquet because it can shut off the blood flow to the whole body part. Keep your hand elevated above your heart level to slow the bleeding. If you're home alone, now is a good time to call a friend, family member, or neighbor to come help you. You may need to go to an urgent care center and you'll probably do better not driving with your finger still bleeding and hurting. In fact, too much blood loss can lead to shock.

Call Your Doctor
If the bleeding does not stop after ten minutes of pressure, make the call. Be prepared with the following information:

* What happened and how long ago
* If you've been hurt there before and what problems you've had from the past injury
* What item caused the injury and was there or is there something still in the cut
* What you have done for the wound
* The date of your last tetanus shot
* Any health risks or conditions, such as having diabetes or taking anticoagulant medications

Other Conditions
At different times, you might find yourself with other cuts, scrapes, and puncture wounds. Call your doctor if you experience any of these conditions:

* Pain is extreme
* You can see bone or tendons
* Your skin is gaping and may need to be closed with stitches
* You cannot get dirt or other particles from the wound, even after scrubbing for 15 minutes or so
* You have something stuck in a puncture wound
* You have a very deep scrape
* You have lost more than 10% of the skin on your body surface
* You have experienced an injection injury involving high force from a tool
* Your wound appears to be infected
* For clean and minor wounds, you haven't had a tetanus booster in over ten years
* For dirty and serious wounds, you haven't had a tetanus booster in over five years

After Your Medical Care
Your treatment may involve anything from stitches to surgery for damaged tendons to removal of foreign objects. You may also need preventative care against infections or treatment for any underlying medical conditions. Your doctor will instruct you in follow-up care for your wound, including whether or not you will need bandages or antibiotic ointments, which pain medications you may use, and if you need to come back for further evaluation.

-- Trina Lambert

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