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  First Aid Tips & Suggestions

by David Eidell

First Things First (Suggestion)

Experienced travelers know that having a first aid kit handy makes good common sense. Yet not everyone takes the time to ponder the fact that all first aid kits are not alike - very small "lunchbox" size kits are more suited for uncomfortable picnic "owies" rather than serious accidents. A much better first aid kit would be found in a container that measures about eighteen inches per side and two inches in depth. Don't be a shirker and act stingy when it comes time to buying a quality first aid kit. The first time that you use the kit for treating a serious burn or cut, you'll be glad that you paid the extra money for a good one. If properly stored and replenished, a first aid kit will last indefinitely.

First Aid Instructions (Suggestion)

Your travel kit should include two booklets on first aid treatment. The first type is included with better quality first aid kits. It will demonstrate correct procedures for dealing with burns, cuts, broken bones CPR and heart attacks. The second book is titled: WHERE THERE IS NO DOCTOR by David Werner (Hesperian Foundation). This book is priceless and written so lay persons can understand basic treatment. Can easily save someone's life� highly recommended. You can order Where There Is No Doctor via the Internet at AMAZON.COM

A Good Topical Pain Killer

An excellent addition to a first aid kit would be a bottle of M�xican "XYLOCAINA SPRAY " (Ask for it by its brand name, the spray bottle is called a "rociador"), it is five times as strong as the strongest pain killing spray or cream found in the U.S. It is NOT a "medicina controlado" (controlled medicine), so anyone can legally buy it over the counter without a prescription It comes in a small glass jar, with a special pump nozzle and cap. The packaging is high quality and makes it spill-proof (unless you manage to break the bottle). Don't use it full strength in or around the eyes (see text below). And, don't forget to declare it at U.S. Customs.

Dealing With Critters

Scorpion Stings (Hint)

Most people find that a scorpion sting is about as painful than a sting by an angry hornet. One tip that I've learned over the years is to immediately take (ingest) two BENADRYL tablets. The antihistamine effectively counters much of the poison and really reduces the chances of having an anaphylactic reaction to the sting. Children under five who are stung should seek immediate medical attention (try not to scare the poor tyke to death on the way to the hospital). Apply a few sprits of XYLOCAINA SPRAY around the sting.

Rattlesnake Bite (Hint)

Much more serious than a scorpion sting. Forget about carving giant "X's" with a knife. Instead, while someone else drives the patient to a doctor or clinic, a third party should put their mouth on the twin punctures and suck as hard as they can (quick action brings better results. Keep up the intensive sucking and spitting for at least ten minutes. Few people die from rattlesnake bites if this practice is observed and no delay is encountered on the way to a clinic. Every rural IMSS and ISSSTE clinica has antivenin and they know how to administer it. If you have a quantity of ice, pack some around the bite, but beware of getting carried away (frostbite on toes and fingers).

Stingray Punctures (Hint)

The wound will be contaminated with the slime found on the barb. Take two BENADRYL tablets, The affected limb should be immersed in a bucket of tepid water. Slowly add hot water (don't parboil someone's foot!) until the victim can just barely tolerate the temperature. The affected part should soak for at least half an hour. The idea is to dissolve the slime which reduces pain and lessens the chance of infection. After soaking, the wound should be dusted with sulfa powder and allowed to heal in open air. Apply XYLOCAINA SPRAY . Careful washing and reapplication of sulfa power should be done twice a day until the wound heals.

Mosquito Bites And Jejene Bites (Hint)

Multiple bites can be treated with two BENADRYL tablets internally, and with Cortisone cream (2%) externally. The combination of the two is very potent as far as reducing both the swelling and the itch. The addition of PENNYROYAL OIL beforehand (externally) along with a high concentration of DEET in a repellent will stop no-see-ums in their tracks. Pennyroyal Oil can be found in any health food store in the U.S. Pennyroyal Oil is for EXTERNAL USE ONLY. In a pinch, I've cut fresh Jalap��os in two and rubbed them on insect bites. It's better than nothing.

Body Ailments

Sprains And Strains (Hint)

Much discomfort can be temporarily relieved by judicious application of DMSO. Found in veterinary supply stores in the U.S. the foul smelling liquid must be first diluted with an equal amount of DISTILLED water. Gently clean around the affected area with soap and water, rinse then dry. Next swab the area with medicinal alcohol and let evaporate. Then dab on a liberal quantity of the diluted DMSO. . Don't try to rub it in as rubbing will irritate skin. The relief that DMSO brings is dramatic, but the person should not stress the injury until it has had a chance to heal. DMSO penetrates the skin, so beware of using it on top of sun screen or mosquito repellent.

Diarrhea (Hint)

The big "D" word. Caused by everything from "unfamiliar bacteria" to single cell denizens. There are three general classes of infectious diarrhea:

  1. Bacteria
  2. Protozoa (single cell animal)
  3. Food Poisoning
1. Mild to life threatening (E-Coli 409). Mild cases (which are often caused by the stress of travel) should be allowed to run their course. Diarrhea accompanied by vomiting chills and fever may actually be food poisoning (see 3 below). An oral bactericide by the name of "CIPRO" (Ciprofloxacin) is the preferred method of killing obnoxious intestinal bacteria. Adults take one 500-mg tablet every twelve hours for two days. Bowel inhibitors such as LOMOTIL should be used only when there is no fever or vomiting. Lomotil, paregoric, or Imodium AD does not kill bacteria; they merely paralyze the bowel muscles.

2. Mild to very serious. Amoebic dysentery is very hard to diagnose accurately. Generally speaking when a stool analysis cannot be performed, dysentery is dealt with by a process of trial and error. Many times a bowel inhibitor such as Lomotil has little or no effect in controlling diarrhea. If a combination of LOMOTIL and CIPRO have little or no effect, it's time to see a doctor. In the meantime a medicine by the name of FLAGYL can be used in an attempt to give the patient enough breathing room to get to a doctor without incurring several highway emergency stops. Flagyl is a powerful drug. Check with a doctor before using it. The maximum dose of three caplets per day is indicated only in very stubborn cases.

3. Some forms of food poisoning are lethal. Fortunately for us most cases that we'll encounter in M�xico make us merely miserable for a short period (usually under a day). A common type of food poisoning lasts about twelve hours. Food poisoning is just that� a poison. Short-lived strains of bacteria emit waste product in a form that is highly toxic to humans. Antibiotics are useless. By the time we discover that something is amiss with our body, the bacteria are already dead or dying and it's their poison that will occupy our mind for the next day or so. Expect semi-violent to violent vomiting, diarrhea, and general discomfort.

Vomiting and diarrhea cause a potentially serious level of dehydration in the body. Healthy adults can tolerate two days of continuous vomiting and diarrhea but children under ten years of age and adults with heart problems should seek medical help after twenty four hours. Use an accurate thermometer� if oral temperature exceeds one hundred three point zero Fahrenheit, get to a doctor pronto. M�xican mineral water makes an excellent metabolite replacement and lukewarm Coca-Cola will give a body needed energy with sugar.


Many medications make our skin sun-sensitive. If you are taking ANY medicine, ask your local pharmacist if it will make you photosensitive. The only prevention is to cover up with clothes or slather on a high number SPF sun screen. I've found that applying a "first coat" of sun screen an hour before exposure allows the ingredients to take fuller effect; a second application three hours later adds more protection. PABA formulated sun screens may work better for some folks, especially those of us whose maintenance medications cause photosensitivity. XYLOCAINA SPRAY offers excellent pain relief. DO NOT spray directly on burned skin as the liquid has alcohol as a vehicle; Instead spray some on a wad of cotton, wait one minute for the alcohol to evaporate then gently dab onto affected area.

Skin Infection

A highly unorthodox but extremely effective treatment is to bathe the infected area with a ready mix solution used for disinfecting kitchen surfaces. The "antibacterial" sprays are inexpensive to buy in the U.S. Simply fill a small screw top bottle with the solution and label it. Dab it on an infection and overnight you'll see a dramatic reduction in the size and intensity of the infection. Sadly I've found "triple antibiotic" salves to be almost worthless.

Splinters & Cactus Spines

Every decent first aid kit should include a pair of strong reading glasses. They may be necessary if an older person must read the first aid manuals. Secondly, strong reading glasses allow extremely close inspection. This will prove invaluable when searching for tiny cactus spines and splinters (or digging out a buried fishhook). Number four-diopter (4.0) are great but difficult to find. Try to get a pair of glasses of (at least) 3.0-diopter power.


The only really effective first aid treatment for a toothache (outside of a dentist's office) is oral antibiotics. Amoxycillin or penicillin V is the best choices. Opiate based pain relievers are absolutely useless against toothache (even a megadose of Percodan or Vicodin is worthless). A couple of sprits full-strength XYLOCAINA SPRAY will dull the pain for an hour (unless the root is infected). Spit out the excess as the stuff will cause rapid heartbeat if too much of it is swallowed. Take Aspirin to relieve overall pain.

Eye Pain

Pain in one or both eyes is cause to see a doctor as soon as possible. In the meantime while the car is warming up, you can manufacture pain-killing eye drops that are exactly the same formula as used by an optometrist or ophthalmologist. With an eyedropper measure twenty drops of STERILE water into a small STERILE container. Then add five drops of XYLOCAINA. Cover, shake well, and apply three drops to each eye. Obviously this is for emergency temporary relief.

Sore Throat

Squirt XYLOCAINA SPRAY directly to the back of the throat. Spit out the excess. Take a couple of aspirin or Tylenol tablets.


This subject always evokes laughter (until those who are doing the laughing suffer through it once). Try the following regimen:

Drink an extra cup of coffee unless you're on a caffeine limited diet. Follow the coffee with one cup of shredded coconut meat (eat two cups if you can). Drink one liter of tepid warm water, then go for a brisk half mile walk (Don't forget the TP). Nothing happened? Drink a second liter of tepid water and go for another walk.

Fish Bone Stuck In Throat

Obviously large bones stuck in the throat are a medical emergency. Smaller bones can be effectively dealt with if you happen to have a soft ripe banana handy (not too much to ask for in the tropics, right?). Have the victim bite off a chunk of banana about the size of a gumball (a large marble). Roll it around inside the mouth in order to "soften the edges" and make it round; then swallow� presto! The bone is gone! I learned this pangu�ros remedy long ago. It is incredibly effective and no, the banana won't get "hung up" on the bone.

Handful Of Fine Cactus Spines

Brush the hand through your hair lightly but swiftly. Keep doing it until all of the spines are gone. In stubborn cases heat candle wax until barely melted (don't burn yourself). Carefully pour the wax over the skin. Let cool. Apply some ice to further harden the wax. Then peel off the stiff wax. Not pretty and the hirsute may bellow but it works.

Protective Glove

Restaurant Supply Houses sell special gloves (you'll need only one) that prevent you from accidentally cutting yourself when filleting fish or preparing vegetables. These gloves aren't cheap but can potentially prevent a serious wound. Super for cleaning and filleting fish!

Sheep Dip

This is my nickname for a pan of water laced with chlorine bleach. Besides frequent hand washes, everyone should make a habit of rinsing their hands in the pan at least four times a day. This will dramatically cut down on incidents of infections, colds, or other diseases that are transmitted by contaminated hands. Add a spot of bleach to the camp foot rinsing bath to prevent athlete's foot.

David Eidell
David has travelled to most areas of Mexico and has extensive knowledge of the country and it's people. He also has submitted articles to many print and internet magazines and newspapers and even writes for Carl Franz' "The People's Guide to Mexico" newsletter/web site as "El Codo". Contact him by e-mail at

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