SO, LET’S DISCUSS WOUND CARE.
If you fish long enough, you are going to get some kind of wound. It can be a hook in a body part, or a catfish spine, you might have a shell or barnacle slice your calf, or—heaven forbid—you get zapped by a stingray.
I once had a four-pound mangrove snapper reach out and clamp down on my index finger while I was trying to work a hook out of his gnarly little maw. We’ve all left some blood in the water.
Any kind of broken-skin injury on the water is nothing to ignore, no matter how small. The fish bite I suffered, for example, was a single tooth piercing the pad of my right index finger. It didn’t even hurt that much. The next morning, however, my hand was red and swollen, and there were red streaks running up my forearm.
I knew I was in trouble when the doctor took one look at my arm and said, “Oh, wow!”
(Up to that point, I used to be annoyed at how doctors could look at an injury such as a broken bone and say, “Aw, that’s not so bad;” I never complained about them making that comment ever again.)
Fortunately, a round of Keflex and soaking the offended digit in warm water helped clear up the cellulitis I had contracted. Nevertheless, I was much more cautious and diligent with my on-the-water wound maintenance after that event.
As much as we like to wax eloquent about the emerald green waters of the Texas Coast (or, if you are on the Upper Coast, the Nestle Quik waters—I kid, I kid!), the slow flowing, waters of the back bays and lagoons that we all love so much are not the most sanitary of environs. There are all sorts of cooties that are waiting to infiltrate the human body once an access is created.
Vibrio vulnificus, MRSA, necrotizing fasciitis, and tetanus are among the little monsters lurking and waiting to wreak havoc on our limbs and organs. Vibrio and MRSA are quite common, and we get to see their effect thanks to friends and acquaintances who just have to post pictures on social media.
Every year, however, we hear or read about some poor soul who succumbed to the horrors of necrotizing fasciitis (flesh-eating bacteria) they got from a small cut sustained on the water.
More people than you might think are vulnerable to these infections. Anglers with depressed immunity, such as diabetics, cancer survivors, or transplant patients are walking targets. Even the healthiest of men and women can be infected by a water-borne pathogen.
The treatments for these infections are equally daunting. Strong antibiotics and their side effects (one particularly gnarly antibiotic is Omnicef, which makes you think you’ve eaten a pound of sugar-free Gummy Bears) are the least of your problems. Severe cases of Vibrio, MRSA, or NF could lead to hospitalization and surgery.
You can rest assured that any one of these infections could, at the very least, keep you off the water for some time. At most, they can leave you disfigured, crippled, or even dead.
Yes, it can be scary. Some of you might think I’m some kind of rat for going into such detail, but hey, better to have the knowledge and not need it, than to need it and not have it.
Truth is, however, that anglers can avoid the pain, expense, and misery of contracting one of the aforementioned infections with a little common sense. The most obvious suggestion is to avoid getting cut. But, as I wrote in the opening, if you fish long enough, sooner or later you will bleed. The key is tending to your wound as quickly as possible.
For boat or shore-bound anglers, doctoring a wound is fairly easy. The most rudimentary, but effective, move is to wash the wound out with clean water and cover it with a Band-Aid, or even a piece of tape, if no Band-Aids are at hand (we’ll get into that a bit more in a moment).
Wade fishermen have a bit of an issue, however. The smartest thing to do if you sustain some kind of wound while wading is to get back to your boat or ashore as soon as possible, and treat your wound. The longer the wound is exposed to water, or worse still, submerged, the greater risk that infection will seep in.
Though rinsing the wound with clean water is a smart move, it shouldn’t be your only step. It’s a smart choice to treat your injury with some kind of antiseptic.
Alcohol can be effective, but can make your injury worse. Many anglers I know have taken to carrying a bottle of bleach water to help clean a wound, but even that can cause injury to the wound. Even when diluted down to a ratio of 100 parts water to 1part bleach, it can be too irritating.
A good alternative is to carry a bottle of Anasept® spray. Anasept is an extremely safe topical antimicrobial with exceptionally rapid broad spectrum bactericidal, including the antibiotic resistant strains MRSA & VRE. Anasept also comes in an antimicrobial gel, which is also a bit pricey, but also worth the expenditure. It’s ironic that we don’t blink about the cost of a fishing trip, but we tend to balk at spending the same amount on something like first aid.
After cleansing the wound, a good, waterproof dressing is more than enough to protect the wound. In most cases, you can continue fishing, but monitor your injury. If it shows any redness, gives off heat, or has some kind of discharge, get off the water and seek medical care immediately.
A little caution and a lot of common sense when it comes to treating cuts on the water can go a long way to keeping you on the water and out of the ICU.
Email Cal Gonzales at [email protected]hgame.com