Tuesday, February 23, 2016

What do you put on a burn? Whatever you have.

There we were in my Alaska Literacy Program class, going through the workbook, learning the English words for safety and accident prevention. We were also working on the difference between “should” (see a doctor) and “have to” (go to the hospital). We were describing what had happened in this illustration:
“She burned her hand.” “She should use a mitt.” And then, in those moments I love, the conversation took off.

Irma from Guatemala said she should put eggs on her burn. Rebecca from South Sudan agreed, but she would add sugar and milk to the mixture and make a paste to spread on the burn. I’m not exactly sure of the recipe; ingredients were coming fast and furiously, in a mixture of several languages, with energetic hand motions for emphasis. Irma was “stirring” her eggs for me while Rebecca was “applying” her paste.

But Fioly from the Dominican Republic was busy grating potatoes. Her mother had a terrible burn from a pot of boiling water, but applying grated potatoes meant no scar. So Irma showed me where she’d received a bad burn but the eggs had cured it.

Afele from Samoa got in on the action: “Butter,” he said. “No, no, no,” the women chorused, “Never butter.” I explained the little I knew, that butter continues to cook from the heat of the burn, making a burn worse.

Sandra is from Colombia and found the whole thing hilarious. She said she puts ham and cheese and bread on her arm and then mimed eating her arm. I didn’t think Sandra understood. I thought she wasn’t following the conversation, that she thought it was about eating. It took me a while, but then I got it: she was making a joke. It really seemed like we were putting meals on our burns.
So, of course, I had to get in on the action. I told them what everyone should do when they get a bad burn in Alaska: cover it with snow. I knew that the temperature had to be lowered quickly, and I’d heard stories of miraculous rescues by throwing fire victims in snow banks. But then the women all shouted, “No, not water. No water at all.” They were adamant.

So I came home and Googled “burn remedies.” Well, the first thing that pops up is “No ice.” Ice can damage tissue. Cool water is the top recommendation, but then there’s a whole batch of things: vanilla extract; cold, wet tea bags; milk; oats; raw potato; onion juice; vinegar; and honey (although there’s some debate as to whether it’s only special honey). Some say eggs, some say egg whites. And, after all this food, what else? Mint toothpaste.
Not to be outdone, the National Mustard Museum touts the yellow mustard burn remedy, and the People’s Pharmacy says, “Some people have wondered if brown mustard or fancy Dijon mustard will work as well. From what we hear from readers, cheap yellow mustard works best.”

I’d better tell Sandra her ham and cheese sandwich needs mustard, too.

If most burns in the home happen in the kitchen, I can guess why all these food remedies have emerged: everyone grabs whatever they can find. The mustard solution was only discovered after someone realized soy sauce didn’t work. Soy sauce?

And afterwards, wrap the burn in aluminum foil because the foil delivers “restorative minerals as foil contains aluminum and other regenerative minerals.”

I’d better tell Sandra to wrap her sandwich in aluminum foil.

Okay, after migrating through all these assorted food remedies and Google sites, I finally found something reputable (I think): cool water and aloe vera. So I keep an aloe vera plant in the kitchen. I might try a couple of tea bags because I’ve already been told to keep some of them in the freezer for mosquito bites.

But I still don’t know about snow. Was that just an urban legend I’d picked up? Burns happen all over the world and all over the world, people pick what’s handy in their attempts to treat it. My snow may just be Alaska’s answer to Irma’s eggs and Fioly’s potatoes.

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