How to - The Healthy Gardener

First aid for gardeners

What you need to know to stay safe in the garden

For all its pretty rewards, gardening can be a pretty harsh hobby. With all the cutting implements, contact with flora and fauna and hours spent toiling under the hot summer sun, it’s easy for a gardener to overdo it and pay the price.

We asked Les Johnson, director of training at St. John’s Ambulance, for the right way to treat the whole host of injuries you could succumb to in your garden.

The essential first aid kit

•    Assorted bandage sizes
•    Clean dressings (like gauze pads)
•    Medical tape
•    Surgical gloves
•    Triangular bandages (for making slings)
•    Antibiotic cream or ointment  (like Polysporin)
•    Calamine lotion

Unless you or someone you know has known allergies, an EpiPen is not recommended for the first aid kit. “They’re expensive and expiry dates need to be monitored very carefully,” Johnson explains. 

The abundance of metal garden tools (which can be, let’s face it, a little bit on the rusty side), as well as the natural occurrence of tetanus bacillus in the soil, puts gardeners at a higher risk for getting tetanus. Johnson’s recommendation: “If it’s been a while, you might want to talk to your doctor next time you’re in and see if you need an updated tetanus shot.”

When you do cut yourself in the garden, the first thing you should determine is how bad the bleeding is. In most cases, cuts will be superficial and only require cleaning.

To clean a cut, dip a clean cloth or dressing in warm, soapy water and wipe away from the edges of the wound. This keeps dirt from getting into the cut. Once it’s clean and dry, apply some antibiotic cream, like Polysporin, and apply a bandage. Keep the wound covered for a few days to help speed healing and prevent infection.

Worst-case scenario: “If it’s a severe cut and you’ve got blood spurting out, the first thing you have to do is stop the bleeding,” Johnson says. “Apply direct pressure to the wound, using your hand or a dressing if you have one, then rest.” Resting is important; by sitting or lying down, not only do you reduce the risk of fainting, but it also helps control the bleeding, since your heart doesn’t have to pump so hard.

If the bleeding doesn’t stop right away, apply another dressing on top of the soaked dressing; repeat as often as necessary until the bleeding has stopped. Never remove the soaked dressings, as this can interrupt the clotting process and prolong bleeding.

When to go to the hospital: If the bleeding hasn’t slowed down or stopped by the time a second dressing is applied, it’s time to call 911. Any wound that is extremely deep or gaping open will also need medical attention, and likely stitches.

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