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A Handbook of Health by Woods Hutchinson

And tighten as for a cut artery


[Illustration: POISON IVY

It may be distinguished from woodbine by its _leaves in groups of three_ (not five), _glossy_ and _smooth-edged_ (not dull and saw-toothed); its _berries greenish-white_ (not blue).]

Another rather frequent and most disagreeable accident, which may happen to you when out in the woods, is poisoning by poison ivy. This is due to the leaves or twigs of a plant, which many of you probably know by sight, touching your hands or face. If you do not happen to know what poison ivy looks like, you had better get some one who knows to point out the shrub to you the next time you go into the woods, and then you should try to keep as far away from it as possible. It is sometimes called poison oak, but both these names are incorrect, as the shrub is really a kind of sumac. It takes its different names because it has the curious habit of either climbing like a vine, when it is called "ivy," or growing erect like a bush, or shrub, when it is called "oak."

All sorts of absurd stories are told about the leaves of the shrub being so poisonous that it is not safe to go within ten feet of it, when the dew is on it, or to walk past it when the wind is blowing from it toward you. But these are pretty nearly pure superstitions, because it has been found that the substance in the leaves or bark of the shrub which poisons the skin is an oil, which is _non-volatile_, that is to say, will not give off any vapors to the air and, of course, cannot be dissolved in dew or other watery moisture. You must actually touch the leaves in order to be poisoned; but, unfortunately, this is only too easy to do without knowing it when you are scrambling through the woods or hunting for flowers or picking berries.

The remedy for poison ivy is a very simple one, and within the reach of anybody, and is as effective as it is simple. This is a thorough scrubbing of the part poisoned, just as soon as it begins to itch, with a nail-brush and soap and hot water. This makes the skin glow for a little while, but it washes out all the burning and irritating oil and, if used promptly, will usually stop the trouble then and there. It is a good idea if you know that you have touched poison ivy, or even if you have been scrambling about actively in woods or patches of brush where you know that the ivy is common, to give your hands a good washing and scrubbing with sand or mud, if there is no soap at hand, in the first stream or pool that you come to. This will usually wash off the oil before it has had time to get through the natural protective coating of the skin.

Snake-bite is one of the rarest of all accidents and not one-fiftieth as dangerous as usually believed. Not more than one person in twenty bitten by a large rattlesnake will die, and only about two in a hundred bitten by small rattlers or by copperheads. The average poisonous snake of North America cannot kill anything larger than a rabbit, and any medium-sized dog can kill a rattlesnake with perfect safety. Our horror-stricken dread of snakes is chiefly superstition. Of those who die after being bitten by North American snakes, at least half die of acute alcoholic poisoning from the whiskey poured down their throats in pints; and another fourth, from gangrene due to too tight bandaging of the limb to prevent the poison from getting into the circulation, or from pus infections of the wound from cutting it with a dirty knife. Alcohol is as great a delusion and fraud in snake-bite as in everything else; instead of being an antidote, it increases the poisoning by its depressing effect on the heart. If you should be bitten, throw a bandage round the limb, above the bite, and tighten as for a cut artery. Then make with a clean knife two free cuts, about half or three-quarters of an inch deep, through the puncture, one lengthwise and the other crosswise of the limb, and let it bleed freely. Then throw one or, if there be room, two or three other bandages round the limb, three or four inches apart, and tighten gently so as to close the surface veins by the pressure, without shutting off the flow in the arteries. After thirty or forty minutes loosen the first bandage to the same tightness and leave it so unless the heart weakens or faintness is felt, in which case tighten again. If this be done, there isn't one chance in a hundred of any serious result.


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