Review of Reviews

A Cure for Burns

A Pot of Tea Contains Tannic Acid Sufficient to Relieve a Very Severe Case of Burning

November 15 1934
Review of Reviews

A Cure for Burns

A Pot of Tea Contains Tannic Acid Sufficient to Relieve a Very Severe Case of Burning

November 15 1934

A Cure for Burns

A Pot of Tea Contains Tannic Acid Sufficient to Relieve a Very Severe Case of Burning

AN ARTICLE in Readers' Digest, condensed from an article in Country Gentleman by Paul de Kruif, points out that during the past few years a great advance in the curing of severe burns has been made— and by a remedy so simple that to a certain extent it can be applied in the home before a doctor arrives.

There was no suffering more ghastly than the pain of bad burns and scalds, till Davidson. And the torture of the accident was pleasure compared to the long agony ofdressing the wounds when they were serious. Davidson abolished all that by his miracle. Before him, when a burn was severe enough to put you in a hospital bed, the chances were about forty to UK) you wouldn’t leave that bed alive. Now his trick, used quickly, properly, gives you ninety chances out of 100.

Davidson was a mere kid of thirty, in 1924, and not by profession an investigator but a hard-working surgeon in the Henry Ford Hospital at Detroit. Again and again paint-shop fires and explosions sent men to Davidson.

Now Davidson was puzzled by a curious succession of events that had always baffled doctors. If nervous shock didn’t put a merciful end to the patients’ agony, for the next twenty-four hours or so they were likely to get remarkably better. But then gradually a sinister change became evident. Nearly every man of them died who’d been burned to the extent of one-third of his body’s surface.

Our young doctor dug back into the records of a curious science published long ago by a German searcher, Hermann Pfeiffer. Pfeiffer turned healthy rabbits into bizarre creatures by shaving them all over. * He anaesthetized them so as not to hurt them. Then he scalded them. Scald enough of any rabbit’s skin and he’d die. When Pfeiffer opened these dead beasts, he saw their livers and kidneys strangely degenerated, poisoned. Could it be that this burning had changed healthy skin into something subtly poisonous? Absolutely ! When you planted that scalded skin inside a healthy, unburned rabbit, it died exactly as if burned with boiling water!

But here was a funny little fact: If you added a little bichloride of mercury to that poisonous brew, the poison vanished. But who’d dare to put strong mercury bichloride dressings over areas of raw, blistered skin? Dave finally talked to Dr. E. C. Mason, who said, “Why not try tannic acid?”

On May 5, 1924, there was a flash of illuminating gas in a great motor plant, and then seven men, staggering, screaming— Here was the worst of them: Patient J. M., colored, male, age twenty-seven, burned to that terrible fundamental extent the doctors call the third degree. Davidson pumped in the morphine to relieve the pain. He put moist boric acid compresses on the man’s right hand, arm, his face and head. This was the usual hospital routine. But over the seared left hand and arm he laid dry compresses, soaking them with a five per cent solution of tannic acid.

On the morning of tire seventh, Davidson came to change the diessings. From the right arm and the face it was the slow surgical ritual. Now he bent down to the left arm tannic-acid-soaked bandages. They were off in a painless jiffy. This arm and hand were hardly swollen, and looked and felt as if encased in a stiff, dark, parchment protective.

Davidson switched from the old-fashioned boric-acid compresses to tannic acid for all the remaining six of J. M.’s i>ain-racked comrades, and it was a triumph. Days passed. Gradually the black leathery shell of the tannic acid began to curl up at its edges so that you could peel it off. And now, presto—look what was under it! A

new healthy skin. Just as that awful-looking black coat killed pain and checked the poisoning, so it guarded against infections, did away with scarring.

Of all the thousands who die in this country from scalding and burning every year, forty-five out of 100 are little children of six and under. Davidson talked it over with the able surgeon, Grover Penberthy, at the Children’s Hospital of Michigan.

They began trying tannic acid on babies. The suffering child was given one dose of a pain-killing drug, and the blisters quickly emptied. Then the little one was placed in a light tent, simply a crib covered with sheeting and kept warm inside with electric light. A nurse, armed with an ordinary atomizer, began spraying the tannic acid over the burned places till the wounds had turned deep brown. Meanwhile, nurses got salt solutions into the baby’s body to make up the loss of water that goes with bad burning. That was all. But at Surgeon Penberthy’s hospital, where fifty-eight youngsters used to die from the first pain shock or the poisoning, only seventeen die now.

Davidson’s discovery was so fundamental and simple that before he died he saw it spread through American hospitals, and to England and Scotland. But here’s the fine, hopeful thing about it: The tannic

acid coating makes it possible to treat

burned children at home who, pre-Davidson, wouldn’t have had a chance unless taken to a hospital. Now' any practising physician can conduct this treatment up to the final skin giafting which is necessary w'hen the bums are deep.

And this is not yet the limit. Surgeons agree that the tannic acid treatment can be used in mines, in lactones, on remote farms where no doctor is available. They absolutely counsel against the old-fashioned smearing of carrón oil or any kind of salve. Where no sterile surgical instruments are handy, it isn’t even necessary to empty the blisters. Clean cloths are the first thing, and sterile bandaging. Then four to eight teaspoonfuls of tannic acid powder to a tumbler of water, enough to keep the cloths soaked till the burned skin turns a rich brown. This, done in a jiffy, will fight the dangerous shock of pain till the doctor can come.

Every medicine cabinet should have tannic acid powder, because it’s got to be made up fresh into solution at the time of the accident. Maybe there are many families today too poor to buy the powder. It doesn’t matter. There are few homes without tea. A good strong brew of tea, made fresh and cooled, has enough tannic acid in it to make a protective covering on burned skin.