November 6, 2014

That ain't gin in the bottle

SOMETHING we don’t often think about on a boat is accidental poisoning. But it can easily happen on small boats where all supplies are crowded together in a confined space.

I well remember a shipmate who came back on board more than a little woozy after a late party with friends. In darkness, he poured himself a nightcap from a bottle in the galley and fell into his bunk.

I was wakened early next morning by retching sounds. I found my shipmate leaning over the side and vomiting. A wide rainbow sheen was spreading  over the calm water alongside. We soon discovered that he had drunk kerosene stove fuel that was kept in an old gin bottle. He was a sturdy fellow with a strong constitution, however, and he survived.

There was a medical man-cum-sailor called Dr. Louis H. Merker who wrote a long magazine article in the 1950s about the philosophy of first aid, and he had some advice for anyone who got into trouble as  my shipmate did. “Thank God, many poisons are slow in action, so you have a little time,” he pointed out. “The thing to do now is to neutralize the poison immediately so that it will become harmless in the stomach.”

This was his proposal:

1. Break three or four eggs in a deep dish, mix them, and drink them down fast. “Since every boatman likes fried eggs for breakfast, most boats carry them aboard.”  Eggs contain albumen, he said, and this forms a chemical combination with many poisons. “It also forms a protective lining on the stomach and renders the poison inert and harmless.”

2. If you have milk aboard, take three, four, or five glasses of milk, one right after the other. If milk is not available, drink about three, four, or five glasses of bicarbonate of soda in water. “The purpose is to neutralize and dilute the poison, and also to fill up the stomach, so that you feel you will burst. Now, when your teeth are about ready to float, bend over a pail, put your fingers in your mouth, and try to force vomiting. If you succeed, all is well. A stomach pump could not have done better.

“If you cannot vomit, take two teaspoons of syrup of ipecac, and you will probably bring up what you ate last week. After all this, lie down and rest. You will need it.”

Ø I should warn you that ipecac is no longer regarded with favor for this purpose by the medical profession, so you had better have a little talk with your family doctor about what to use as a substitute if two fingers down your throat don’t do the trick.  It’s tempting to suggest that if you happen to be at sea, seasickness is an obvious answer, but if you’re not usually susceptible it isn’t going to help. Better have an approved emetic standing by. And don’t save kerosene in old gin bottles.

Today’s Thought
Some men employ their health, an ugly trick,
In making known how oft they have been sick.
— William Cowper, Conversations

Only a few of us can learn from other people’s mistakes.
The rest of us have to be the other people.

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)

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