surgery with kitchen scissors

'You will have to watch for dying tissue. When you see any that has died off, cut it away carefully. A pair of kitchen scissors should work, just make sure they are clean," Sam read, then looked up from the computer screen.

‘You will have to watch for dying tissue. When you see any that has died off, cut it away carefully. A pair of kitchen scissors should work, just make sure they are clean,” Sam read, then looked up from the computer screen.

I swallowed.

Wilderness living teaches you an eclectic array of skills over time, if you want to or not. It looked like we were about to learn yet a new one, even though I wasn’t keen on it.

The fact that it wasn’t one of our own body parts that might need to be operated on with the scissors was only small consolation. It was a badly cut dog paw that had us worried. As the information from the vet sank in, I regarded our dog Milan skeptically. He would not take too kindly to the snipping off of any tissue, no matter how dead it was. He has maintained a deep suspicion of the nail clipper all these years, and I doubted that the kitchen scissors would eclipse it in popularity.

“Do they say anything else?” I asked weakly, aware that any scissors-wielding would likely have to be done by me.

The dogs stay somewhat calmer for me than for Sam. Ideally, I thought, we could have taken Milan to the vet right after he injured his paw on sharp, broken ice. But prompt medical attention, be it for dog or human, is hard to come by when you don’t have road access. At least we had been able to e-mail a picture of the toe pad that was sliced into two pieces and gaping wide open via satellite internet to the vet clinic.

Sam scanned the e-mail and doled out more information.

We were to keep the wound clean, watch for signs of infection and prevent the dog from licking his paw.

“They say that often, even if they stitch up a paw, it pops open again when the dog uses it,” Sam concluded and shut down the computer. A semi-encouraging piece of news in our circumstances: we might do no worse than the vet.

I went over to Milan and had another look at the cut. He wagged his tail nervously when I lifted the injured paw and removed the bandages. His long, pink tongue began to hectically lick my wrist as I peered at his paw. The outside toe pad gaped wide open, revealing raw flesh. Part of the rough pad stuck up jauntily into the air, almost severed from the rest. It was the edge of this that seemed to be a candidate for any potential snipping, since a thin sliver of it had hardened to a jerky-like texture.

“I don’t see how this will grow back together again,” I grumbled as I wrapped the paw in fresh gauze and put one of my socks over it, securing it with duct tape. Another problem was how to keep him from licking his paw during the night: already he had eaten his way through a number of booties, socks and bandages in his quest to administer his own cure to the cut.

We used to have two Elizabethan collars, but, of course, the only one we had been able to find now was the one too small for him. The main concern with licking is that it might hinder healing and cause infection, so we opted for extra antiseptic foot care, kept a bootie on his paw all day and left Milan to his own devices over night.

It’s probably not a way of dealing with it that should be replicated, but in this case, the canine-human joint approach to paw care worked.

I finally worked up my nerve to tackle the dried-up piece of toe pad tissue with the scissors, worried that I would either cut off too little or else too much. The herbal concoction for relaxing the dog was ready, the scissors sterilized, fresh bandages taken out and my lungs infused with so many deep breaths that I was rapidly approaching hyperventilation.

Heroically, I reached for Milan’s paw – and saw that the offending piece of tissue had disappeared. The dog must have nibbled it off, conveniently excusing me from the task I had dreaded for days.

And so the trimming of dead tissue with kitchen scissors remains, for now, one wilderness skill unlearned – hopefully for a long time yet.

Lisa Hasselbring is a writer who lives at the headwaters of the Yukon River south of Whitehorse.