Fall is here and that means pumpkin spice lattes, harvest festivals, and family trips to the pumpkin patch. It also means time to go over safe pumpkin carving. I say this because every year, without fail, people come in to the ER for stitches after being cut with a knife while carving a pumpkin. It happens to everyone!! I am guilty myself. But I would like to share some tips with you to keep you and your kids safe this year.
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Safety Tips to ensure you keep all ten fingers:
1. Use a Pumpkin Carving Kit: Some of you might be thinking, well that’s lame Jenny because I have way better knives sitting in my kitchen right now. Why would I waste the money and buy a flimsy pumpkin carving kit? The answer is because those knives are for cooking, not for carving. They are specifically made to carve pumpkins and to make carving easier. The carving knives are small and serrated, which allows them to slice easily through the thick skin of the pumpkin. They are also not very sharp, so if you do happen to cut yourself, it is unlikely that it will cause a deep penetrating injury. This leads me to tip number 2.
2. Stay away from sharp knives: I know that it is much easier and cheaper to grab one of those sharp kitchen knives to carve your pumpkin, but you need to say no. Sharper knives are more likely to get stuck in the pumpkin, therefore causing you to yank on it to get it out…but wait your hand is in the way and there goes your thumb.
3. Verify hand placement before carving: rule number one of carving anything is to always cut away from yourself and in small sections. In other words, do not place your hand on the pumpkin to hold it steady and then cut towards your hand. It is a recipe for injury, especially if all of sudden the knife hits a soft patch in the pumpkin! Cut in the opposite direction of where your hand is placed. Also, beware of where you place your hand inside the pumpkin in attempts to steady it while carving. Sometimes we don’t realize where our hands are on the inside, compared to where the knife is carving on the outside. It is very easy to have the knife come out the other side of the pumpkin and collide with your hand. So be extra careful and strategic when placing your hands on the pumpkin.
4. Make sure everything is dry: We all know that the inside of a pumpkin is quite slimy, which means pretty soon everything is slimy. Try the best you can to keep your hands, tools, and the outside of the pumpkin dry at all times. Keep a towel or a roll of paper towels near by to help dry things off as needed. This will keep your hands and knives from slipping, which in turn will reduce the chances of injury.
5. Carve in a well-lit area: growing up my siblings and I would often carve our pumpkins in the dark and dank garage. It made sense right? Four kids gutting pumpkins means one big GIANT MESS! However, we weren’t thinking of the fact that there was barely enough light to see the pumpkin in front of us. Luckily when we did stab ourselves, it was with a dull pumpkin carving knife so the cut was small. Still not very smart though, so let there be light and save your fingers!!
6. Always supervise: You may think that your kids are old enough or know what they’re doing, but lets face it…they can’t be trusted! Ever turn your back for just a moment and the next thing you hear is a loud crash, scream, or worse SILENCE? Do not underestimate your children. They are magnets for danger! So supervision is a must or better yet, have them pick out the design and you do the carving yourself!
First Aid for Lacerations:
1. Don’t panic: Easier said than done, I know, but panicking just makes everything worse. Some people actually end up injuring themselves again! So take a deep breath and try to stay calm. Also, it doesn’t hurt to warn anybody who faints at the sight of blood to steer clear of the area. You don’t need two patients.
2. Hold Pressure: Place a clean paper towel or cloth over the wound and hold pressure directly on the laceration. Direct pressure activates the clotting cascade by stopping the flow of blood (when blood sits it clots), which in turn creates a blood clot that will stop the bleeding
3. Clean: Once the bleeding has stopped be sure to clean the wound with tap water. Studies show that there is no difference in infection rates when the wound is irrigated with tap water vs sterile saline. In the ER we will have people go over to the sink and use the tap water to irrigate the wound. The pressure of the faucet is high enough to help clear out the wound but not enough to cause tissue damage.
4. Use soap around the wound but not in the wound: You can use soap to clean around the outside of the wound, but it is no longer recommended to use soap, hydrogen peroxide, or iodine in the wound.
5. Get rid of that dirt: If you still see pieces of dirt after irrigating with water, it is recommended to remove them with tweezers if you can. You don’t want to leave those in the wound as it increases the risk for infection.
6. Ointment and band-aid: Once the wound is clean it is recommended to place an antibiotic ointment over the wound and cover with a sterile bandage (band-aid or gauze pad). Small, superficial wounds that are not gaping can be managed with a bandage and do not need sutures (stitches).
When I would seek medical attention:
1. Deep cuts to the palm of your hand, fingers, or wrist. Deep refers to beyond the layers of skin to where you can see fatty tissue, muscle, ligaments, tendons, or bone. The no brainer for this one is if you happen to actually sever one of your fingers. If you amputate your finger, see this guide here for instructions on what to do.
2. The cut is over a joint. Deep lacerations over the joint do not heal well on their own due to constant movement of the joint.
3. Any bleeding that does not stop after 15 minutes. This signifies that the cut is probably too deep or may be arterial and will need sutures.
4. Any squirting of blood! Your arteries are high pressure and veins are low pressure; because of this arteries tend to squirt blood, while veins ooze. So if you cut an artery, prepare for a spray that squirts out with each beat of your heart. So hold pressure and go to the ER.
5. Can’t move your finger: If you can’t move your finger than you probably cut deep enough to sever a tendon. This means two things, you probably need stitches and surgery to re-attach the tendon.
6. Tdap: If you have not had a Tetanus shot in the last 5 – 10 years. You may be thinking, what the hell is Tetanus? Well it’s a bacteria found in dirt that affects your central nervous system and there is no cure. But, there is a vaccine! This article here can tell you all about it!
7. When in doubt, get it checked out!
I hope these tips help! If you haven’t already, check out my post on the Ultimate Guide to Safe Trick or Treating! What are your awesome pumpkin carving tips?