If you are here with me reading this article you are probably either...
1. About to go on a surf trip to a reef based destination, or
2. Have unfortunately smashed yourself on the reef and are looking for advice on how to heal the lacerations, asap.
Well, here's a story for ya...
First day in Bali and I am amped to surf. Alarm on for 5 am, paddling out in the dark ready to beat the crowds and then finish up my 2 hour session with a steaming plate of banana pancakes. The dream.
The reality? Second wave I paddle hard for, I decide I can actually do better, pull off, and get sucked over the falls.
It's not fun when you get sucked over the falls and feel your stomach lurch up into your throat. It's even less fun, when you land smack bang onto a barnacled rock, get drilled and grated along the reef, and eventually surface with the most intense and severe muscle pain you have ever felt...
I somehow manage to hobble back to my hotel, and this is where the fun begins...and my first tip.
Before I start please note : I am not a medical expert. This information comes from my own personal experience and from the advice I sought out personally. It is not extensive, only an account of my own treatment.
1. Clean the cut as soon as possible. Depending on where it is, you may have to get a friend to help you. This is where you want to do a really good job. If you have scissors or tweezers, try and cut away the dead flaps of skin and use the tweezers to dig out the bits of coral that may be stuck in your wound.
It can feel wrong to delve into such a fresh wound straight after the injury but it's necessary to get any matter out straight away. Clean the cut with fresh (bottled) water. You can mix a little iodine or hydrogen peroxide but it's best not to use these straight without diluting them.
If the wounds are similar to the ones pictured I would recommend getting them professionally cleaned out by a medical care centre. This is because the medics will probably be a little more forceful and thorough than a friend (most friends don't want to wipe your wounds 'till you cry.)
2. Once you have cleaned the cut you want to put some form of antibiotic ointment or creme on the wounds.The difference between an antibiotic and an antiseptic is this : antibiotics will kill and keep pathogens/bacteria from growing. An antiseptic will weaken the growth of bacteria but some can delay the healing process and worsen a wounds condition.
I suggest using an antibiotic ointment three times a day. (Tip, don't forget the smaller scrapes and wounds on your feet, these are very prone to infection.)
3. To dress or not to dress? This has been a heated topic in the medical industry for a while, but scientific research seems to conclude that dressing a wound is the best form of action. Providing the dressings are kept clean and are changed on a regular basis.
Although scabs close over the wound to prevent infection, it actually impedes the growth of new skin cells to cover the wound.
Gauze is the most recommended product to cover a wound. Gauze maintains a moist environment, which allows oxygen to get to the wound and promotes healing. It absorbs blood and promotes clotting.
Make sure you place a gauze pad over the wound (bigger than the wound) so that it can absorb the drainage. After, wrap the gauze around the wound, starting from the bottom. Be careful not to wrap it too tightly as this may cause the gauze pad to stick to the wound and can be painful to pull off. Secure the outer gauze with some medical tape.
4. After applying the ointment and in between dressing changes, make sure to keep a close eye on the wound. Signs of infection are...
- Expanding redness around the wound
- Yellow or green coloured puss
- A fever
- Red streaking from the wound or
- Increased swelling
If the wound is looking infected make sure you head to the hospital or nearest medical centre straight away. Otherwise, continue with your routine.
5. But when can I go surfing again!? Well, what I need to tell you is that you should avoid being in the water until your wounds are healed. But what you want me to tell you is that can go surfing straight away. Well, here's the thing...the ocean is filled with all sorts of microorganisms that can't wait to feast on your injury.
If you can't possibly stay out of the water, ensure you are keeping a close eye on your wounds, and are cleaning them out/applying ointment regularly. Surfing soon after will probably prolong your healing time and will make you prone to infection, but the choice is up to you.
6. Other complications that can happen with a serious reef injury are prolonged contusions (deep, bruised, sore muscles) and hematoma's (a collection of blood, usually clotted, outside of a blood vessel that may occur because of an injury to the wall of a blood vessel allowing blood to leak out into tissues where it does not belong.)
It is possible that from a heavy slam onto a reef, rock or shelf that you may have deeper injuries, traumas or imbalances that can last much longer than the cuts and scrapes, and it is important to care for these too. Physio's, acupuncturists, osteo's and masseuses can all be very beneficial in your quest to return to full strength, but the last point I want to make is...
7. Don't let an injury knock your confidence (too) far down. Although it is understandable that you will be feeling shakey when returning to the water after a serious incident, don't forget all the times when you have gone surfing and everything has been fine. The mental repercussions can often be just as bad if not worse than the physical, so be gentle with your mind, ease yourself back into it, and remember why it is you surf.