Wednesday, June 20, 2012

A Gross One

People, please, don't ignore what the doctor tells you. If your instructions say to follow up in a week, we're not just trying to milk another copay out of you. If they say to keep your wound clean, we're not just being the handwashing police. We're trying to save you from something uncomfortable and dangerous.

For instance, let's say you're somebody who hurt yourself fixing your car. You went to the ER with a big laceration, and got 19 stitches up the side of your forearm. The doctor told you to keep it clean, wash twice a day with soap and water, and come back in 7 to 10 days to have the stitches removed. The nurse repeated the same instructions. They're printed on your discharge paperwork, in bold face, underlined. Don't ignore them.

Don't let the wound get covered in dirt and engine grime because a bandage sounds like too much trouble.

Don't leave it unwashed for a few days because you think dirt is macho.

Don't goof around for two weeks because you're afraid the suture removal will hurt. It'll take ten minutes and I promise I'll be gentle.

After the third week, when the wound starts to get swollen, red, and scabby, don't procrastinate while you show it off to gross out your buddies.

In week four, when it swells more and starts to get really painful, that would still be a good time to see the doctor. Don't put a bandage on and avoid us because you're afraid we would criticize your choices. We might, but we'll do our best to be polite about it.

At the beginning of week five, when your girlfriend catches a glimpse of the wound and flips out, don't tell her she's overreacting. Don't make her have to threaten and manipulate you for days on end just to get your silly ass back to the ER.

Don't do these things, because your 19 old dirty stitches may lead to 38 individual abscesses, and they will swell up and glom together into a painful, oozy, disgusting mass of skin and pus. You'll need a good scrubbing and some powerful antibiotics in order to head off the infection and save your arm. And those sutures still need to come out, which means I need to take tweezers, scissors, and face shield, and go spelunking to find each individual knot somewhere inside the mass. This will take ten times as long and hurt a hundred times worse than if you had followed instructions in the first place.

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