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"Dad said to just rub dirt on it" - (9/29/2020)

By Dr. Ron Gasbarro

Mrs. Wu was in the pharmacy to get an antibiotic for her young son. “He was playing tee-ball when he tripped and fell heading for third base. The poor thing got 2 stitches in his knee and a tetanus shot.” The pharmacist replied, “Whenever one of us kids fell and scraped our knees, I remember my dad saying, ‘Just rub some dirt on it and you’ll be fine!’” Mrs. Wu laughed and said, “I’m surprised we didn’t die from some of those old remedies!” “Some of those so-called first aid efforts went back to my great-grandfather, and he didn’t die prematurely,” the pharmacist mused. 

“Just rub dirt on it!” The pharmacist explained to Mrs. Wu that some studies have shown that certain types of clay are antibacterial in nature. Therefore, applying a layer of soft clay to an open scrape may prevent infections. And true, cleaning an injury with isopropyl alcohol or hydrogen peroxide can harm the tissue and slow down healing. However, grabbing a bunch of mud, which can contain anything from dog poop to Clostridium botulinum, the bacterium that causes botulism, and slathering it over your bleeding knee may be unwise. Instead, use warm water and soap to clean a wound. 

“Just walk it off!”
This is another directive when playing outdoors and getting hurt. That’s right, yelled the coach! ”Walk it off, you sissy!” Rolling your ankle may allow you back into the game. However, a more severe ankle sprain means that your supportive ankle ligaments undergo microscopic tears. These breaks can get larger and ruptures and ankle fractures can become worse if you try to play through the injury. As you hobble off the field, tell the coach to shove it (under your breath, of course).

“Just pee on it!” When the pharmacist was a boy, his family took vacations in Florida. “A few times when we were frolicking in the Atlantic, jellyfish stung us. Terrified, we bolted out of water and toward my parents screaming bloody murder. My dad calmly said, ‘Just pee on it. That will take care of the sting.’ We kids were too shocked to do that sort of thing. Mom usually carried vinegar in her bag for just that purpose.” Jellyfish, which float near many of the world’s beaches, have stinging cells embedded in their tentacles. These cells contain venom, which causes an itchy, burning, throbbing reaction upon contact with human skin. Fresh salt-free water relieves the sting. Urine, conversely, intensifies the pain because it contains salt, which causes the stinging cells remaining in the skin to release more venom. Jellyfish off the Florida coast are duck soup compared with those in Australia. The waters of Down Under are home to much more dangerous sea jellies, such as the Box Jellyfish, whose sting is so painful that lifeguards are equipped with morphine to treat ill-fated swimmers. Urine would only make it blindingly worse. 

“Just wrap a tourniquet around it!” Haven’t we seen this in every old cowboy movie? The white hats are on the chase, looking to catch the bandit when a rattlesnake chomps one of them. His buddy takes his belt and wraps it around the injured cowboy’s ankle to keep the venom from spreading. The day is saved! However, those in the medicine game say, “Not so fast!” If the foot turns blue, loosening the tourniquet too fast can give the person a lethal blast of venom throughout the body. Rather, loosen the band slowly so that the anti-venom, which is what one needs to use in the ER, can defuse the venom. A tight tourniquet left on too long can cause nerve damage and possibly gangrene and amputation. That's no way to save the day, kemosabe!  

“Gotta love those old-time cures,” the pharmacist said to Mrs. Wu. “Gotta love them but don’t use them,” she chuckled. 

Ron Gasbarro, PharmD, is a registered pharmacist, medical writer, and principal at Rx-Press.


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