Letter Re: The Case for Stockpiling Gauze

Wednesday, Dec 26, 2012

Dear Mr. Rawles,

I was recently treated for an abscess in my foot and was reminded of the importance of stockpiling large amounts of everything, gauze in particular. The good news is that a nasty staph infection is treatable in a TEOTWAWKI situation. The bad news is that you need to have antibiotics and gauze, and lots of it.

A few weeks ago I went to see my doctor after developing a large and painful abscess that didn't look like pimples I've experienced before. It was deep under the skin, large and painful, so I thought it should be checked out by a professional. My doctor diagnosed it as a potential MRSA infection because of its appearance and the speed with which it had developed (it went from zero to the size and consistency of a cherry pit in 48 hours). Normally MRSA is diagnosed in the laboratory, but the doctor recommended treating it immediately because it could have gotten worse while waiting for the lab results.

Do a web search for "abscess," "MRSA," and "staphylococcus aureus" to get more information about what I was dealing with.

The treatment program was first, the doctor wiped down the area with hydrogen peroxide, injected the area with novocaine and then punctured and drained the abscess using a sterile knife. He then packed the wound with iodoform packing gauze (basically a string with powdered iodine embedded in it), covered the wound with ordinary gauze and taped it down with medical tape.

I came back to his office the next day to have the gauze replaced, and the day after that to have the second piece of gauze removed from the wound.

The program of treatment with antibiotics was as follows: injections of rifampicin once a day for 3 days, plus cephalexin and trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole taken orally twice a day for 10 days. In addition, I had to replace the gauze twice a day for 2 weeks and apply topical mupirocin every time.

Disclaimer: This treatment program worked for me, but I am not a doctor and I am not claiming that this is the best course of treatment for you. Your doctor may disagree with mine, or may prescribe a different course of treatment for the type of abscess you might have, or to work around any allergies or other individual issues you might have. If the world has not ended yet, please see a professional for any semi-serious condition you have and do not rely on what some guy (in this case, me) writes on the internet.

Now, let's do some math: 3 injections of rifampicin, 20 trimehoprim/sulfamethoxazole pills, 20 cephalexin pills, and about half a tube of mupirocin ointment. In addition, every time I changed the gauze, I needed to use one piece of gauze soaked in hydrogen peroxide to clean the skin around the wound and then another fresh piece of gauze to apply to the wound. That was twice a day for 14 days, so I went through a total of 56 medium-sized (2" x 2") gauze pads. Most boxes of gauze you might buy at the drug store contain 10 or 12 pads.

All of that for a single wound that was smaller than a dime. Imagine what you'd need if you had a larger injury, say a big gash in your thigh from sawing wood.

Now, I have to ask the other readers out there, how much gauze do you have in your first-aid kit? How much do you have stockpiled? I'll admit that before I developed the abscess, each of my 3 first aid kits (home, car and BOB) only had 3-4 medium-sized (2" x 2") gauze pads and 1 large (5" x 9") gauze pad. After this experience, I went out and bought 100 medium-sized gauze pads for home, another 100 for the car, and a dozen large gauze pads for each. Because of space limitations, I only added 10 medium-sized gauze pads and two large ones to my BOB. I'm not fully squared away yet, but it's a start.

I'm going to acquire more sterile gauze in the future, and I'm also going to think about ways to stockpile recyclable gauze, i.e. sterilize and store cloth rags, which seems to be the only long-term solution.

The general rule for prepping is to figure out how much you need and then double it. In this case, what I found out I actually needed was more than I thought I needed by at least a factor of ten. I hope my experience is useful to some of your readers. Many thanks for maintaining this great blog!

Best, - Ted from Maine

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