Sunday, February 24, 2013
I've had a bottle of hydrogen peroxide in my small but functional first-aid kit for years now, right at the top with an elastic band around the middle holding a bunch of cotton-buds alongside it. It's been in there for so long, in fact, that the label's faded out so that only I know what it is. Everything else in my first-aid kit comes and goes; sticking plasters and surgical tape gets used and replaced, whilst I soon ditched things like slings when I realised that they were bulky and that if I needed one then it would probably be enough of an emergency to warrant tearing up a t-shirt. But the little bottle of hydrogen peroxide has seen a lot of use; nightly on some surf trips.
It is a strong oxidiser, with a weak bond between one of the oxygen and hydrogen molecules which breaks to produce water and hydrogen (chemistry details here). When diluted (the stuff you can buy from the pharmacist) it can be used to sterilise and clean skin abrasions, however as it turns out, whilst it cleans small surface wounds it can inhibit healing and cause scarring by killing newly formed skin cells. That'd explain the state of my feet then. When you've got reef cuts that might have little bits of living coral embedded in them though, it's just the ticket and more appealing than lime juice or the resultant brown scars of iodine. Just don't forget the cotton buds, or you'll end up doing what I once witnessed an Aussie surfer doing, and cleaning your reef cuts with an old toothbrush. Ouch.
My first introduction to the fizzing sting of cleaning cuts came when I kicked a rock walking across a Cornish beach (tough talk for stubbing my toe) and a friend told me he'd clean the sand out. He dipped a cotton bud in a medicinal-looking bottle and applied it to my bleeding toe. It fizzed white, I winced, and it felt as though my toe was being tattooed but it did the job. A few weeks later I was packing my bag for Indonesia, and remembered the advice that I'd been given on cleaning the unavoidable reef cuts that I was about to enjoy. But before too long, the nightly ritual of cleaning new cuts and keeping healing on track by removing the resultant dust and dirt of so much time spent barefoot became kind of enjoyable in a good-pain kind of way. And I reckon I've got way less scars than I deserve having kept that old bottle close at hand after days spent trying my luck over shallow, sharp, reefs.
Image above by Mat Arney:
Sunset over the starboard rail of Partarma, Lombok, Indonesia, with my good friends the Williams twins Dyfrig and Cynrig (Cynrig sporting some brutal sunburn) and Ceri Pashley passing around bottles of hydrogen peroxide, coke, and bintang. The fizzing white pain was a small price to pay each evening for getting such good waves to ourselves.