Monthly Archives: February 2012


Get the Pus Out! How to Lance a Boil

by James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H. Okay, I know you think it’s gross, but if you get a boil and it’s impossible to find a health-care professional, you’re going to want to know this. A boil is an infected lump in your skin that’s hard and filled with pus. It can be the size of a pea or golf ball. Something as simple as a single infected hair follicle can cause it. Or a cyst might get infected. A boil can not only be extremely painful, it can get you down. The infection can make you weak and give you a fever. There are other things to try first, but sometimes, a boil just has to be lanced. […]

By | February 28th, 2012|Other Wounds, Skin|314 Comments

How a Felon Could Make You Lose a Finger

This is a paronychia—an infection that stays around the fingernail. It’s not as dangerous as a felon (another type of finger infection), but it still needs proper treatment so it doesn’t get worse. by James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H. If you’ve ever had a hangnail that got a little infected, you discovered you have a lot of nerve endings in your fingers. And you found out you use your hands for just about everything. Hands you’ll especially need during disasters. Fortunately, most infected hangnails heal well as long as you keep the area dry and clean. (Gloves? Band-Aids?) But sometimes, rarely, an infected finger can get serious. The infection can run up the finger, into your hand’s tendons, and you have a dangerous mess on your hands—literally. Or the fingertip can become so swollen that it starts cutting of the circulation, putting you in danger of losing that finger. This type of infection is called, perhaps appropriately, a felon. Here are some tips to help you kinda know what you’re dealing with and what to do. […]

By | February 23rd, 2012|Other Wounds, Skin|504 Comments

Can a Bruise Cause a Serious Blood Clot?

by James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H. I see this fairly often. Someone comes in with a whopper of a bruise, maybe with a lump, and they’re afraid it’s a blood clot. In a disaster situation, you’re likely to get some bruises, but you won’t be able to come see me. Should you worry? In short, probably not. You do have clotted blood, but there are blood clots and there “blood clots.” In fact, if your blood doesn’t clot, you could bleed to death. Bruise-related clotting happens in tissue outside the blood vessels. That’s where the bleeding occurred. What you’re really worried about is a deep-vein thrombosis (DVT)—a clot that forms inside a deep-in-the-tissue vein and can break off and travel to the lungs. DVTs are different, serious, and sometimes lethal. So a bruise isn’t a serious blood clot. However, can a bruise cause a serious blood clot? No, but the hit that caused the bruise can—though that’s rare. […]

By | February 21st, 2012|Other Wounds|300 Comments

Carbon Monoxide: How Your Choice of Heat Can Kill You

by James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H. CDC. A family of four found is found dead in a two-room tent with the propane heater still running. The cause of death: carbon monoxide poisoning. A father and son fall asleep in their charcoal-heated tent. They don’t wake up. Your choice of heat can kill you without singeing a hair. Carbon monoxide is colorless and orderless—a silent killer. It’ s the leading cause of poisoning deaths. How can you ensure you or your family isn’t its next victim? When you’re camping or the heat goes off, remember that unless you have a working chimney, makeshift heating may be your greatest danger. […]

By | February 16th, 2012|Cold, Weather|36 Comments

Stranded With Frostbite? 17 Dos and Don’ts

by James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H. In my last post, I talked about how Olympic gold-medal winner Rulon Gardner saved most of his foot despite severe frostbite. The main thing is, he didn’t rewarm it while there was still a chance of the tissue refreezing. (If it had refrozen, it would have been dead meat—literally.) And of course, he was able to get to a medical facility. But what if you can’t get expert care? What if you’re stranded in some shack or tent? Here are some first-aid dos and don’ts for severe frostbite when help is not on the way. […]

By | February 14th, 2012|Cold, Weather|5 Comments

Frozen Foot? When Not to Rewarm It

by James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H. Relatively speaking, losing just one toe and a couple of toe tips was pretty much a best-case scenario for Rulon Gardner. He could have lost his entire foot—and some people would have in the same situation. As I talked about Tuesday, the Olympic gold-medal wrestler survived being stranded on a mountainside for seventeen hours in 2002. His right shoe was frozen to his foot. I imagine the tissue was gray or white and hard to the touch, frozen with severe frostbite. But Rulon did a few things that saved his foot—things anyone in the same situation could do, high-level athlete or average joe. […]

By | February 9th, 2012|Cold, Weather|1 Comment

What an Olympian’s Brush With Death Teaches Us About Frostbite

by James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H. Rulon Gardner is one megatough dude. He’s a local celebrity here in Colorado (Olympic wresting gold medalist and The Biggest Loser participant). A giant of a guy, he was stranded for something like seventeen hours on the side of a mountain after a snowmobile accident in 2002. You can read his story in Sports Illustrated. They found him almost dead from hypothermia. His right shoe was frozen to his foot. He survived and is back to competitive wrestling. He lost the tips of both big toes, all of his right middle one, and a lot of skin. But it could have been so much worse. We can learn a lot about frostbite from his experience. […]

By | February 7th, 2012|Cold, Weather|Comments Off on What an Olympian’s Brush With Death Teaches Us About Frostbite

Trench Foot: How to Save Your Feet in a Flood

by James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H. Trench foot, also called immersion foot, was common in soldiers who had to spend hours upon hours standing in trenches with cold water up to their ankles or knees. But it can occur in anyone who stands in cold water (33 to 59 F) or wears wet socks or shoes for long periods in the cold. It usually takes ten hours or longer of these constant conditions—the cooler the quicker. Think campers or water-related disasters. The constant cold wetness injures the tiny blood vessels that bring nutrition to your feet, leading to foot-tissue damage. Problems range from burning and aching to muscle, nerve, and skin destruction. Trench foot can trigger years of painful, swollen feet, or even partial loss of a foot or feet. There’s no real cure for trench foot, so prevention is essential. […]

By | February 2nd, 2012|Cold, Weather|18 Comments