DIY Surgery or a $1,000 Medical Bill? Which One Would You Choose?

DIY Surgery or a $1,000 Medical Bill?  Which One Would You Choose?

I have more than my fair share of scars.

Hockey, soccer, rugby, boxing, martial arts, and a childhood spent climbing things award them for participation.

With this background, I immediately identified with this helpful letter and video from Justin.

Let me know what you think.


Hey John,

Just posted this video of some DIY medical care I did for my brother after a snowboarding crash and immediately thought of your resiliency newsletters.

We both have some baseline health insurance (~$100/month, $10K deductible) that doesn’t cover emergency room/urgent care visits and we were quoted “at least $1000” out of pocket to stitch him up. Called a doctor friend in NM and got this idea. Worked great!

“Better than stitches,” says my brother. It was so gratifying to solve the problem ourselves. Super glue is now definitely a must-have item in my first-aid kit for backpacking, etc.

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.

Curious, what you and the Resilient Communities members think of the idea of DIY medical care?

Thanks for all you do.



I followed up with Justin about what happened to the superglue and the wound after a week. He replied:


Hey John,

The scar is clean, comparable to stitching/sutures. The glue actually just flaked out naturally after about 2 weeks. Took a little manual pinching of the glued hair, but he didn’t lose hardly any of it.


Would be harder to pull off and hide with shorter hair, but no one even noticed it.

Pretty easy for sure. Though, I spent some time trying to double-knot it before realizing it was easier to basically do one knot, hold it and glue it. Hair just doesn’t knot tight like string.

Thanks.  Justin.


Again, let me know what you think about this.  Is this the type of step people need to take to improve their resilience in today’s world?

Resiliently Yours,



JR Small


PS:  In general, it’s always a good idea to take a hard look at the things done reflexively, out of habit.

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  • Matt

    I do Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and guys at the gym are always catching stray knees and elbows. It works really well on the scalp. The other thing that we use a lot are steri-strips. Just make sure everything is really clean before you seal it up!!!

  • Penny Pincher

    Superglue started as liquid field sutures in the Army. Using it as sutures is actually its original intended use!

  • Jason

    I think this would be the preferred way of handling medical issues that are not life threatening. I view going to the hospital as a misuse of time and money in many cases.

  • Lynn D

    When my youngest was 4 (she’s 16 now), my son accidentally tripped her. She caught the edge of a cabinet door with her eyebrow almost to the bone. I had just heard about superglue being used in place of stitches. I cleaned the hole in her brow and super glued it. There is a scar still after all of these years but no more so than there would have been with stitches and possibly less. My extended family thought I was crazy (and still do) but it saved us a trip to the ER and unnecessary trauma for my daughter at the time. As long as the injury is clean with no debris or major damage, this works very well.

  • Brian Rich


    This is exactly the sort of thing I am looking for in my move to be more independent of the Colossus that is health care in this country. I’m hoping to ditch the very expensive, high-deductible family insurance in the next couple of years. Or maybe that decision will be made for me – a likely event I am preparing for, mentally. FYI, two good books are “Where there is no Doctor”, and “Where there is no Dentist”.

  • Todd S.

    Yeah, super glue has been a standard part of any combat/field medical kit for ages. In fact, I’ve heard that closing wounds was what it was initially designed for – though I’m not sure I believe that.

    The thing that most caught my eye about this was: doesn’t cover emergency room/urgent care visits. So, what they have then is the exact opposite of insurance since it doesn’t cover any actual emergencies. What they have is just a subscription plan to medical services.

  • Justin Lau

    This DIY is fine but I think you bring up a great topic on being so reliant on a broken medical and “health care” system. Coming from a Chinese background I was exposed to medicinal herbs and treatments for bruises, scratches and cuts. There is even a herbal concoction that is supposedly a secret formula to stop blood clotting or to revitalize the body during traumatic shock. You can look it up or buy it at a chinese herb store. Its a called Die Da Wan. My point is that the current medical system is a hubristic patriarchal experiment that has pushed out all the other competition and thinks its the best thing since sliced bread…if you can afford it. I think it has its place and I would bet my life on it for invasive traumatic life saving surgeries and treatment. But it never seems to even touch on preventative care or even nutrition. It’s so missing any important viewpoints yet we still bow down to it as the end all be all. We always call Homeopathy, Ayurvedic and TCM as “Alternative” which in fact Modern Western Medicine is the alternative and the youngest form of medicine. The fact that insurances barely cover those treatments and the also new inclusion for longer Mental Health coverage is even more astounding to me. It is such a terrible feeling to be involved with that system. The modern western practice has shunned midwifery and women centered realms of healing and do not educate people on basic and backyard ways of treating injuries and sicknesses. Why do I always have to go to a dirty, filthy and cold place of a hospital. That are full of stressed out overworked nurses and doctors ready to kick you out of the room for someone else. The place smells and is full of resistant bacteria and disease. We are in the dark ages if we have to resort to superglue and hair to mend a wound. We now have the power of social media to get together and do something communally. A great example are the midwives from “the farm” in Tennessee. We can learn a lot from the last remaining indigenous communities. The insurance and modern western medical practices will collapse under their own greed and inflexible modalities.

    • Heidi Gould

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts! I, share the view that “midwifery and women centered realms of healing” are essential to building resilient communities! I birthed both my children at home with the assistance of an experienced midwife. Giving birth is a natural process that has been medicalized and disempowers far too many women to the point of questioning the wisdom of giving birth anywhere but in a hospital.

  • John Edmiston

    I’ve been using super-glue for years on wounds, especially when in remote areas hours away from a hospital. When kayaking in foreign countries I’ve successfully glued many a head wound shut. The critical part is to get the bleeding fully stopped and the wound very clean before beginning the gluing. If the wound is still bleeding the blood mixes with the glue, and it becomes much more difficult to keep your fingers from becoming glued to the patient’s scalp while holding the wound together. The next set back is, that often occurs when doing this in the field, the wound is less than sterile, therefore requiring a round of antibiotics. In foreign countries this is often easily taken care of by going to the pharmacy and asking for the antibiotics, however, here in the states it requires a trip to a doc n the box, and paying for an office visit. I’ve never had a doctor comment about or try to repair my glue sutures, so only have to pay for an office visit. If you are on a good relationship with your MD, you can often get them to write an extra scrip for your adventure medical kit. I also, highly recommend carrying a packet of quick-clot silver in your kit. This is highly effective is stopping bleeding in major wounds and can definitely save a life in an emergency.

  • Marcus Wynne

    Hello John and Shlok!

    I’m just back from yet another walkabout for the Resilient Nomad. Couple of quick responses:

    1) Superglue technique is longstanding and well-proven. My (then) 3-year old has a cut above his eye sealed with it with excellent results and I’ve used it myself to treat lacerations in the field. Standard superglue is in my trauma kit as well as in my “boo-boo” kit.

    2) Medical self help, which I define as encompassing self care for injuries as well as awareness and implementation of healthy living choices, is an *essential* skill for the truly resilient. Medical care/treatment is an essential foundation of any resilient community, IMHO, and I consider it an essential fundamental skill set for everyone, including young children. Training in that needs to address a lesson that’s embedded in your example above: it not only eliminates the need for the expensive ER visit, it also eliminates the need for expensive follow up. Does it mean that you should do everything including your own surgery? No. I think it means we can do a lot more than we think we can in terms of that instead of following the habit (as you mention) of outsourcing that to an expensive medical system designed to milk money from you. There’s a time and a place for such treatment, but it’s a lot less than people would imagine. And I say this as a survivor of multiple traumatic injures, cancer, stroke, and other debilitating issues. An excellent (free) source of what’s doable at a local level is here in the Hespereian Foundations WHERE THERE IS NO DOCTOR, available for free download here:

    On one of my other projects, I’m putting together an addendum for them dealing with the issues of Type 1 Diabetics in a grid-down or browned out scenario, both from supply, substitution and refrigeration.

    3) I just got back in town and will be writing and sending over to you that article I owe you on the local farm that built a local-food restaurant to employ their people and utilize their produce in another layer of revenue generation.

    More later from the Resilient Nomad….

    cheers, m

  • Soylent Red

    Guitar players have been using this trick to re-attach calluses since superglue came out.

    Piling on with what Matt said, steri-strips or butterflies are definitely a good thing to have if you plan to glue yourself back together. You can get them at any drugstore pretty cheap. 1″ and 1/2″ medical tape can be cut or used whole as well. The real trick is to keep the wound closed long enough for the bond to occur, without bonding your fingers to the wound. Also, I’d be interested in reading anyone’s good idea on keeping the glue tip from plugging up.

    • donquijote

      I keep superglue in the fridge and it lasts a lot longer. Also, I don’t have to worry as much about the tip plugging up.

  • Mark Howard

    I’m an ER doctor and I’ll back-up the use of ordinary store-bought super glue on cuts. With 3 extra points:

    1. wash the cut out well first with tap water (though this will probably make it bleed again as you wash off the scabs that have already formed inside the wound), 2. Stop bleeding by holding pressure on the wound for a good 10 minutes, if it is still bleeding, hold 10 more minutes, (glue doesn’t stick to a bloody surface) 3. don’t put the glue INSIDE the cut. Pull the cut together and put the glue on the OUTSIDE of the skin and hold in place for 30 – 60 seconds. And hair tying is great, too. Sometimes I use tooth picks to hold the cut closed for the 30-60 seconds it takes for the glue to dry. If you use your fingers, it is hard to get your fingers off without pulling the cut open. Do long cuts in smaller sections using just a small dab of glue, hold till dry, then move tot the next section.

  • Dee

    This is an old sure fire way to get “stiched” up. Super glue was invented in the war to do exactly what you have done…it was used on the battlefield to quickly put the soldiers back together. It is a fail safe use in EVERY kitchen for cuts etc. Glad to see that more and more people are finding it. I found it when my friend with five kids..said the doctor at the hospital told her to use it to put the cut back together in her toddlers worked. The drug stores sell it for about $15 where the dollar store sells it for $1 and no the “toxins” in it wont hurt you. Worry about the electromagnetic radiation from the computer you are reading this on first. :)

  • Jessica

    LOVE this idea. It *does* take a bit of doing, to think past the fear that traps us all into the “but you CAN’T not go to the doctor/dentist/mechanic/professional for THAT!” thought.

    These 2 are awesome, I hope they are proud of that $1000 they saved! They did a great job.

  • caitlin hicks

    Super glue? Isn’t that . . . .toxic? Not sure I would feel comfy putting it INTO an open wound, so it dissolves INTO my system, close to my brain. Did you check out the side effects of putting super glue into your body?

    I like the idea of DIY … but this one makes me squeamish.

    • John

      The glue doesn’t actually dissolve in your system. Your body pushes it out as it heals and you just peal it off or it falls off.

    • Ilkka Vierula

      Supergluing wounds is relatively safe, although it would be better to use proper tissue glue. Regular superglue is methyl-2-cyanoacrylate, whereas medical glue is made of 2-octyl cyanoacrylate. Both polymerize into polycyanoacrylate, which is non-toxic, but regular superglue emits fumes that can cause irritation and allergic reactions in sensitive individuals. Also, scalp isn’t technically close to brain, they are separated by skull and several membrane layers, and blood circulating in scalp doesn’t go anywhere near your brain. Chemicals applied to neck or upper chest have a higher risk of getting carried to brain than from your scalp.

  • caitlin hicks

    Okay the hair tying seems good … but super glue?

    Also .. the cat. Germs. I’d be much more antiseptic.

  • indyjonesouthere

    Great for head gashes and I even keep steri-strips on hand. I got mine at amazon. But I still recommend a tetanus shot from the doctor if its been a few years since you had one.

  • Michael Sears

    “It’s a trade secret, we’re not suppose to tell anyone, but all healing is self-healing.”

    (Albert Schweitzer, MD)

    “The purpose of the doctor is to entertain the patient while the disease takes its course.” (Voltaire)

    American health care has been burdened by a heavy reliance on pharmaceuticals, the side-effects from which are one of the leading reasons for patients entering hospitals today. While passive help (doctors do everything for you, you do nothing for yourself) is important in many health emergencies, the vast majority of healthcare needs are the result of patients not understanding how to work with their bodies for their own well-being. The weight of a failing mainstream healthcare system drives us toward a future more connected to our own self-healing.

    After more than thirty years as a conservative body worker (chiropractic physician and yoga therapist), I can honestly say that what we do for ourselves is so much more important than what others can do for us. And, what we need to learn is largely already present within each of us; we just need to develop the self-discipline to allow our inner healer to come forward. In this regard, as the Dali Lama has said, “The most critical issue facing humanity today is the taming of the mind.” Or, as Joseph Campbell replied to Bill Moyers on the PBS show, “The Power of Myth,” (which is being rerun on its 25th anniversary, see Moyer’s webpage), “The really big change in people’s lives occurs when they realize that life is going on within us as well as outside of us.”

    On the surface of the ocean, the wind is howling, the currents are at full strength, the waves tumbling over us, but 150′ below the surface, all is calm and quiet around us, and the dynamics are all internal. The future of healthcare lies within each of us, our self-healing potentials are waiting to be discovered, we need simply to seek within for all to be found. The journey inward starts for most of us as we try to relieve body pain, and discover that so much more is possible, once we find the dynamic stillness within.

    I would be happy to share what I have to offer in this regard with others on this forum, in any way appropriate.



  • Salva

    Great, please post more on DIY medicine subject. Thanks.

  • y-knot

    Why not honey? sweeten your coffee/tea, glop it on some almonds or walnuts and smear it on your friends head. Antibiotic, Anti-scarring, coagulant and sugar substitute in one.

  • Glee

    Great article. I didn’t know about super-glue. I’ll get a supply next time I’m at the store. I avoid doctors at all costs – cost being the operative word there. Most things I just “get over” if I take care of myself. Other than an x-ray to be sure there isn’t a broken bone, I don’t go to doctors much. My partner felt fine until he started going to the doctors. We both picked up a nasty virus at the doctor’s office when he went in for eye surgery (not a DIY type of thing). When he went to see the doctor about the virus, she told him there was nothing to be done but wait for it to pass. It was the basic take two aspirin and call me in the morning advice – but she charged him for the visit anyway. I don’t think medicine should be a profit-making venture.

  • Sally L Harris

    Your newsletters are always thought-provoking, but I must say, this one is more so. Can’t argue with Justin’s result – I’m no medic, but it looked like there was no infection, with very little scarring. Faced with this situation, I probably would have been concerned about contaminating the wound with oils or particles from the “hair stitches” and the possibility of overlooking unseen damage. But it did look as though the wound area was cleaned pretty well. I have heard of the glue being used to close some types of surgical wounds. Not familiar with this technique. Guess Justin was pretty sure his brother hadn’t suffered a concussion or other head trauma? And no internal bleeding?

    DiY Surgery or a $1,000 Medical Bill? Who’s to say?

    I think it helps to know what you’re doing and why what you’re doing is a good idea. Sometimes it’s hard to separate good common-sense actions from stab-in-the-dark, “oh well” approaches. That said, if nobody thought outside the box, we’d all still be in the box…

  • Peter O’Connor

    Out sailing, there is a horrendous amount of people (mostly young ladies) who crack/break incisors when working with the ‘bobbins’ when stowing sails. A spot of superglue and all well until a visit to a (land-based) dentist can be arranged. Mostly then they are told “come back when the glue fails 10 – 20 months and I’ll use a stronger version”.

    I’ve fixed up deep forearm incisions (cleaned first) with superglue though I also bandaged tightly to aid against stretching the skin. 15 years later there is no scar to be found. The hair-tying bit is good but clothes pegs and office staplers have been used to hold the wound closed until the superglue holds. Now that the arsenic is removed (that was the ‘sharp-smell’) from superglue its even safer and I’ve used it on split-nails, winter-sores on fingers and split heels. Great stuff altogether. Just wear gloves if possible when applying or you could form a ‘lasting relationship’ to the patient.

  • Andrew

    Hello John,

    I think this is perfectly reasonable and sensible. Medical care is simply beyond the financial means of more and more people these days so commonsense practical measures like super glue for superficial cuts etc is well worth learning/preparing for.

    Doctors etc are great and certainly some things are beyond the capabilities of ordinary folk to deal with but on the other hand they’re not gods and in many cases are just as fallible as the rest of us. I say do as much as you reasonably can yourself or at least develop the abilities to do so and only go to the docs when you have too.

    Great newsletter by the way, its one I all ways read as opposed to some I get which I only read infrequently.

    Regards Andrew from down under.

  • concerned

    wait stop, ordinary store bought super glue tends to inflame cuts and wounds, dont use it, medical grade is good enough, i am sorry i havent watched the video as it is banned in my country, but pls for the love of god almighty, if ur gona use it, use the one rated for on-skin use. if i am wrong, pls correct me, with actual facts, dont quote a doctor, show me a study or safety advisory warning or something. i am all for resilience but you may end up ruining your body/limb/skin and i think some research into this wont kill anyone :) i hope im wrong

  • concerned

    oh and as long as we are on the subject, properly used, sugar makes for a great field dressing, but needs to be kept dry if im not mistaken. and rather than pull these things out of your ass and/or read watch on the net, why dont some of you actually take a first aid/emt course? read the US army field guides for guerilla warfare/urban warfare, which both have great survival techniques if im not mistaken.

  • Ray Barnes

    My Mother became weary of hauling us off to the Doctor’s to get a new gash stitched up and bought herself some catgut and a needle. Just clean the wound thoroughly and sew it together. I’ve used superglue a few times, it works well.

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