DIY Surgery

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DIY Surgery

File this one under DIY medical care.

Whether you lack medical insurance, spend time out doors far from medical care, or don’t want to fork over cash for minor medical procedures, it makes sense to learn how to care for yourself and save a trip to the doctor. Over on the Resilient Communities website, a reader submitted a video of his DIY medical tip: using Super Glue to close a minor head wound instead of going to the ER for stitches.
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Warning: The video is a bit gory and MAKE doesn’t endorse such a procedure. But it does raise some interesting questions. Here’s what the contributor to Resilient Communities wrote with his video submission:  

The video is meant to be funny too, but I think it also illustrates one area where most people are completely dependent on the system-health care.  Most people like me grew up with health insurance from their parents that covered the whole family for pretty much anything. Cold? Go to the doctor. Hurt playing sports? Go to the doctor. Need stitches? Definitely go to the doctor.

The past few years of living un-insured or marginally insured has taught me just how much we can manage on our own when we don’t have much other choice.

Showing the video to friends and family has gotten extreme and mixed reactions. Dad (who grew up really rural) thought it was great, resourceful; others thought it was crazy to do anything but spend the $1000+. Strikes me that it might be a bit taboo (for some people) to even suggest they take any aspect of their medical care into their own hands.

 I don’t know about you, but I’m going to start carrying Super Glue on my backcountry trips. What do you think?  

58 thoughts on “DIY Surgery

  1. Raven says:

    Can’t you buy those little sticky strips to close it with? Suture tape? Is that what it’s called? Also: I’m sooo glad to be Canadian. You just head to the ER and they fix you up…

    1. tjanderson says:

      Butterfly bandages work for some wounds. Also “liquid bandage” is another form, but it is more for a superficial cut like a band aid. I would almost rather bleed to death than wiat in a canadian ER. Slower than delicious canadian mapple syrup.

      1. Raven says:

        I’ve never waited long for anything serous – they take you right in. Stuff that won’t kill you, however, you can wait a long time. And I live in an area with few doctors.

        1. Raven says:


        2. tjanderson says:

          That’s good to know. During my short time there I never had an experience with anything “serious”.

    2. Ginnee says:

      Duct tape will keep people from bleeding to death…we should keep it in our medicine bag.

      1. Raven says:

        Duct tape is good for everything. :)

  2. Steve says:

    LOL! I grew up in the 60s and 70s. I remember once when I cut my leg with a grass whip (manual weed whacker with serrated blade like combination golf club and scythe) very deep, my dad cleaned the wound with alcohol and taped it shut, then slathered it with Neosporin and A&E Ointment. That was the whole treatment, too!

  3. Daniel Kim says:

    I was about to write that this looks like a terrible idea, but after seeing the video, it makes some kind of sense. They do not close the wound directly with superglue, but use the man’s hair to draw the wound closed by tying bundles of hair from opposite sides of the wound into a knot, which is secured with superglue. The glue does not appear to be applied directly to the wound itself.
    I would have flooded the wound with Betadine or some such antiseptic before closing, and may also have covered it with a bit of gauze before tying the hair.
    It’s a bit rough, but the idea is quite clever. I’ll have to remember it. My own hair is cut short, however, so this method won’t work for me.

  4. Christian Restifo says:

    Dermabond is chemically very similar to super glue and has been used for quite some time.

  5. Neil says:

    This isn’t without precedent but special care should be taken to use the “right” glue.

  6. Peter says:

    I’m glad in the UK. The NHS may have it’s flaws, but it’s there when you need it, not just when you can afford it.

  7. Michelle says:

    While I think it is a terrible idea for someone to try this themselves but I feel I should note that many hospitals are using super glue (or a more medical alternative) instead of stitches in many places. I got my appendix out later last year and they used super glue to seal me up instead of stitches. told me it would heal faster since the stitch wounds would not need healing. It also acted in place of bandages to keep the wounds clean. It stayed on for weeks even though I showered.

  8. Azim Miza says:

    Super glue burns like crazy use a medical glue.

  9. kai says:

    I’ve been using superglue for deep cuts for years, it works well if you clean and dry the wound and can stand the sting.

  10. Lisa Hartke says:

    My brother has used super glue in place of stitches many times but medical glue is best!

  11. Robert Nurss says:

    I was actually part of a 1970 clinical trial for ‘glue’ suture. The particular formula didn’t work back then at the time the type of glue was too water soluble. It set back suture glue many years. They certainly do have an acceptable version now though…..

  12. Todd Carter says:

    Surprisingly super glue has been used since the Viet Nam war to patch up minor wounds. I’ve used it myself after rock climbing.
    It’s bacteriostatic, cheap and very effective. I carry it in my first aid bag.

  13. Ron Schulz says:

    I thought that stuff only worked on hard hats and goal posts. :)

  14. ignatz topolino says:

    I’m surprised nobody has suggested Sugru yet; this is MAKE after all.

    1. Stett Holbrook says:

      Good one!

  15. dwgsp says:

    If you try this, it’s extremely important to clean the wound before closing it. Otherwise you risk a very nasty infection. Flush the wound with lot’s of clean water until there is zero dirt visible, and then apply an antiseptic.

    1. Ronnie says:

      Definitely necessary. I’ve always been a proponent of letting a fresh wound bleed back out some after cleaning it as well to allow the blood to flush whatever might be left in from the inside out, then stop it and address the wound more permanently.

      I’ve had an ER doctor incredulously tell me I was lying to him once when he saw the field dressing on a cut on my foot because he thought it must have been a trained medical pro to have done the dressing. If I’d known how ridiculously expensive the stitches were going to be I would have done those two. I certainly didn’t go back to have them cut the stitches out!

  16. A surgeon says:

    Only an ER doc would call this surgery.

    A few notes, this is generally OK, but you would be truly unhappy in the setting of catastrophic failure, i.e., if you got a necrotizing soft tissue infection that required cutting off large chunks of tissue and a $50 to 100k hospital stay. Don’t even consider doing this if you’re diabetic or otherwise immunocompromised.

    That said, the scalp is well perfused and you’d likely be fine. Make sure you close it sooner rather than later. If it’s been more than 12 hours you should see someone. If you haven’t had tetanus booster you should see someone. If there’s a lot of dead tissue that needs to be cut away you should see someone. If you lost consciousness or are having headaches you should go to an ER where they can do a CT scan or get a neurosurgeon to drill a hole in your head if it comes to that.

    If you’re going to do this, wash the wound out with at least a liter of fluid. Sterile saline is the best, Then I’d consider bottled water, then tap water. It has to be high pressure. you can use a syringe (no needle necessary) or poke a small hole in a bottle of water (unopened)

    I would not put anything non-sterile in the wound after you wash it out, this includes your gloves, hands or tweezers. Alcohol may kill bacteria but won’t effect spores.

    Depending how dirty and how long the wound is open I might not close it all the way. We typically use sterile staples so there’s space for pus to come out and let the wound heal from the bottom up. But if it’s a fresh, clean wound you could close it all the way.

    I use the regular superglue on small cuts on my hands all the time. It is not as good as durabond, but it costs $1 tube vs $18. There is also a theoretical risk of burning your skin in the exothermic reaction.


    Next time wear a helmet… I call it neurosurgeon repellent.

    1. naus3a says:

      nice comment :)
      I always like when properly trained docs discuss simple “diy procedures” (ok, “procedure” is a big word for this…) in a open, relaxed way.

  17. A surgeon says:

    If the wound is very dirty, you could use a 50/50 saline or water and hydrogen peroxide mix, but don’t use straight hydrogen peroxide, don’t use iodine products. Both will retard healing.

    Put a light dressing on top and change it daily.

    Consider going to a doc in a box or an urgent care center instead of the ER. (Unless you lost consciousness, are dizzy, feeling faint, nauseous, etc)

  18. Hiram Norton .. what kind of name is that? says:

    I seem to recall from my Military Career (back in the 70’s) that this is what superglue was invented for. CyanoAcrylate was used by vietnam era medics

  19. terrefirma says:

    `This is another reason I love this site and the whole ‘maker movement’ which really seems to be about collaborating by sharing your knowledge and personal experiences in an instructive and non boastful way- with some humor and humility mixed in- not always but usually.
    My $ .02: Even in the U.S. you will not (legally) be turned away for lack of money if you need stitches, although you will definitely get a bill and eventually get sent to collections if you don’t pay it. But the hospitals at present need non-payers- to write off losses, which enables them to pay the execs bonuses and still be a non-profit. But you can negotiate the bill down to what they’d agreed to accept from the insurance companies- wholesale vs. retail. But all of the above posts are pretty accurate- if you can take it. I have seen men pass out at the SIGHT of a NEEDLE- I’m not even kidding- when it’s intended for him. If you have ice definitely apply it for several minutes to help control bleeding and to numb the area (learned this from piercing my ears with a potato), and direct pressure works really well too- no peeking for 3 minutes! The most important thing is to keep it clean, and don’t pick at it…your hands are filthy. Now more than ever.

  20. stevew says:

    I haven’t tried this on myself but I’ve closed some cuts on my dogs this way. Like others mentioned use a lot of saline solution to flush the wound. Good, sterile saline can be found in the contact lens care section of your drug store. Read the labels though, a lot of the cleaning solutions are not just saline.

    For minor cuts on myself I use the “Liquid Bandage” sold in the drug store. It works 100% better than band-aids for me. Just flush the cut, let it air-dry a bit then paint that stuff on. It stings like hell but seems to be very antiseptic and makes the cuts heal very fast.

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Stett Holbrook is editor of the Bohemian, an alternative weekly in Santa Rosa, California. He is a former senior editor at Maker Media.

He is also the co-creator of Food Forward, a documentary TV series for PBS about the innovators and pioneers changing our food system.

View more articles by Stett Holbrook
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