As I mentioned in the previous edition of Kitchen Safety: Controlled Pyrotechnics, I’m posting this from the Wild West, so I apologize if it’s coming out at a weird time (I’m actually in Salt Lake City, today, for a concert). Anyway, I figure a piece on first aid isn’t a bad idea. If you spend enough time in the kitchen, you’re going to end up hurting yourself somehow: cuts, burns, scalds, choking, run-ins with capsaicin, something in your eye — whatever. We’ll make our way down the list and go through the steps of first aid for each problem.
Let’s get started!
Cuts These are the most common kitchen. They’re pretty common anywhere, really. Generally, they don’t involve losing entire limbs, and they really are simply scratches and flesh wounds. I’ve mentioned how not to deal with a cut, so I might as well give you a hand with what to do. What’s the best way to deal with cuts, in the kitchen? It honestly depends on how bad they are. In the kitchen, you’re most likely to cut your finger than anything else (unless you can efficiently handle knives with your toes, in which case, props to you!). For small cuts, just clean it and either wait for it to stop bleeding or use a band aid and put on a glove. For deeper cuts:
Apply direct pressure until the bleeding stops and keep it elevated (above your heart). Once it stops, maintain pressure, so it doesn’t start bleeding again.
Go to urgent care to have it looked at by a doctor to see if you need stitches.
After cuts, burns are the other most likely way of harming yourself in the kitchen. Personally, I’ve burned myself on so many items, I’ve lost count of them all — toaster ovens, pots (I was short and the pot was over my head, so my arm kept hitting the lip), pans, oven racks…
Most of the time (at least I would hope), the burns you’ll incur in the kitchen are going to be minor — the accidentally-touched-some-hot-metal kind, but in the event that you, say, grab a hot pan of duck that just came out of the oven (and you’re not my mom, who is apparently the Human Torch and whose flesh is invulnerable to heat and flames), you probably want to do some at-home first aid while someone dials a doctor. Otherwise, that kind of contact can leave behind some serious scarring.
For first-degree burns (redness, like a sunburn):
Cool the burned area off by holding it under cool (not cold) running water until it stops hurting (a few minutes, at most).
Treat as you would a sunburn (applying aloe is usually a good idea)
For second-degree burns (it will form a blister, if not immediately, than shortly thereafter):
Run the burned area under cool water for 15-30 minutes to cool the skin and ease the pain.
Clean the burn gently, with mild soap and water, and do not break the blister. If you do, it could get infected.
Apply some sort of salve (aloe vera works well. Although if you can — and want to — spare the few bucks, I highly recommend Rescue Cream. It’s what my mom used on her whole-hand burn, and you can use it on pretty much any skin ailment). If the affected area hurts a lot, you can buy aloe vera with lidocaine in it, which will help ease and cool the pain.
Cover the burned area with a nonadhesive bandage. If the blister isn’t broken, you can skip the bandage and just move on to step 6.
Keep the bandage clean and let the wound breathe (no bandage) overnight.
Keep the skin clean and apply aloe or cream multiple times per day to reduce the chance of scarring.
When you get “burned” by hot water, it’s technically called a scald. Just a drop of hot water might sting, but it won’t do any serious damage (believe me, my teapot flings them at me all the time). If you were to accidentally splash a significant amount of boiling water onto yourself, however, that would be a different story.
Fortunately (I guess?), the treatment for a burn received from boiling water is pretty much the same as dry heat burns. I suppose that means you can consider this section more of a PSA — Water can burn you.
Ta-da! Moving on.
Everyone should know how to handle someone who is choking. It happens. I choked on a hot dog at lunch once, in third grade. It was traumatizing, and I still remember the experience vividly. Fortunately, someone knew what to do and I ended up being okay.
When someone chokes, it’s more than just getting food stuck in their throat. The piece of food actually gets lodged in their airway, so they can’t breathe. The universal sign for choking is both hands, palms down, crossed in front of the neck. I’m sure you’ve seen signs with it in a restaurant or cafeteria before. Know it, learn to recognize it, and hope you never have to use it.
That hand signal is the first way to recognize choking. The second thing is also recognizing that someone who is choking cannot speak. Blocked airways = no vocal cord vibrations.
Since I don’t want to risk anything being lost in translation with this one, I’m going to include a graphic for how to help a choking adult, as well as one for how to help a choking child. Finally, I’ll pop in a graphic for how to help yourself if you happen to be home alone and in this frightening predicament.
If the choking adult is pregnant, place your hands at the top of the baby bump, but still below the ribcage, and proceed with the maneuver. You’re aiming for the diaphragm, which is the muscle that controls our breathing. By forcing it, you force air abruptly out of the lungs, thereby dislodging the food.
This also applies for babies.
On a lighter note about choking, did you know that the man who invented Lifesavers candies created them with a hole in the middle so that if a child (or, more specifically, his daughter) choked on one, they would still be able to breathe?
This could go one of two ways:
a) You were cutting hot peppers and it got in a cut or under your fingernails and now you’re in agony.
b) You got cocky and ate more pepper than you could handle, and now you’re really in agony.
I’ve experienced both. Neither is pleasant, the latter is far, far worse.
Let’s start with what makes peppers hot. Inside hot peppers is a chemical called capsaicin. Its job is to add spice to things, but sometimes, it gets carried away.
Heat, at least for peppers, is measured in Scoville units. Bell peppers come in at a flat 0 — they don’t even know what spicy is. Jalapenos come in around 2,500-8,000 units — barely a third of the way up most charts. Bhut Jolokia (Ghost Pepper) comes in near the top at 1,041,427 Scoville Units — HOT. (If you’re curious, I used this chart.)
Let’s start with the lesser of the two evils — pepper juice under your nails or in a cut.
If you’re cutting anything really spicy, you should wear gloves. That’s first and foremost. The hot peppers are going to hurt your hands, open skin or not.
To break down the capsaicin oil on skin, applying an acid (like vinegar or lemon juice) has been shown to provide some relief.
Another recommended method of treatment is petroleum jelly or Vaseline.
Okay, but what if you did a stupid and ate a ton of hot peppers to, oh, I don’t know, impress someone’s family or friends (lookin’ at you, Boyfriend…)? Depending on how much capsaicin you ingested, your ailing could range from a mild upset stomach and some, uh, incendiary rounds in a few hours, to an absolutely painful night spent rolling around on the bathroom floor, feeling like you’re being poked with red-hot skewers from within (still lookin’ at you, Boyfriend).
In the event of the lesser reaction, there’s not much you can do besides chew some Tums and wait it out. If you went all out and decided to try a burger with two habaneros and two ghost peppers on it, it’s going to be a lot more like the latter description. In that case, here’s what you can do:
Drink milk — It’ll help neutralize some of the oil with the capsaicin and it will help coat your mouth and stomach.
Chew some Tums — Space them out. Read the package to be sure, but I think you can eat 10 of them in a 24-hour period.
Drink some Pepto Bismol — Follow the instructions on the bottle for dosing. Like the milk, Pepto Bismol will help coat your stomach, as well as help a little on the way out (and, believe me, you’re going to need all the help you can get).
Try to throw up — If you can trigger your gag reflex and get the contents out of your stomach, give that a go. It will burn, but it will save you the indigestion and the bathroom woes later on.
If the pain is unbearable and you really don’t think you can wait out the several hours for it to pass, seek out medical attention, either at an urgent care facility or an emergency room. They can help you out from there.
“I’ve Just got Something in my Eye…”
Stuff gets in our eyes. Whether you were outside doing something and got something in there or you were cooking and got some citrus juice in your eye, it’s all the same trouble with the same treatment.
I’m sorry, in advance, if you’re one of those people with really sensitive eyes, to the point where even purified water feels like battery acid. Sensitive eyes or not, this is the best and gentlest method for trying to get something out of your eyes. Don’t try to pick or rub it out with your fingers; you can damage your eye that way.
Here’s what you do if you have something in your eye — acid, dirt, sand, bugs, Bugs…
Get some room-temperature water — Either put it in a clean glass or, if you’re tall enough (which I’m not), you can try to stick your eye in the running water.
Make sure the affected eye is lower then the unaffected one — The last thing you want to do is rinse whatever is in the one eye, into the other.
Rinse your eye and pat dry with a clean towel — Give your eye a few minutes to calm down, as it probably got irritated by whatever was in there. If there still seems to be something stuck, rinse and repeat.
If whatever was in there is out but your eye still itches, use some allergy eye drops to calm the irritation.
There you have it — Basic kitchen first aid!
Just like with fire, if you don’t feel comfortable handling it yourself, ask a professional. Urgent care facilities are great when you need help right away (better than the emergency room, by far).