Originally written for ‘Growing Today”

I have just finished reading a tongue-in-cheek article about the numerous hazards to body and mind, of gardening. I laughed, but at the same time I identified strongly with the description of the weary gardener returning home after a productive day, suffering scratches, puncture wounds, septic rose thorns embedded in tender skin, aching shoulders, stiff back etc etc. In fact anyone who works outside suffers numerous annoying injuries and sometimes – rarely I hope, more serious problems. The other group of people who regularly suffer physical injury are children. They throw themselves wholeheartedly and with great recklessness into their experiences and frequently require doctoring up. I also want to look at First Aid for simple health problems.

Since I became interested in herbs, and then later in homeopathics and Bach flowers, I have felt much better equipped to deal with the everyday disasters. I like too, the feeling of having a way of easing pain and discomfort, without resorting to pain killers. I feel empowered by the experience.

All of our children, left home equipped with a basic homoeopathic first aid kit and it’s not unusual for us to courier odd parcels of herbs, lemons and honey to them when they are sick. We still have my Mum at home, & with Geoff and myself we deal with such things as secateur inflicted injuries, sore backs, tummy upsets, impending colds, headaches and the usual selection of irritating health problems we all suffer from.

You can look at your first aid resources in 4 areas, your garden, your kitchen cupboard, homeopathics and practical supplies. A small travelling kit is an invaluable addition for the car, outings, holidays etc and of course in case of earthquake and or other disasters.

The Garden: There are a number of useful herbs which frequently grow wild in gardens (in other words, weeds); it’s good to leave just a few plants unweeded in case of emergency. Many medicinal herbs make attractive additions to the gardens, so if you don’t have a specific area for herbs you can still fit a few plants into your borders or the edges of your vegetable garden.

Yarrow-achillea-millefoliumYarrow

The most common way to use herbs is to take them internally in a tea, or tisane. This is a simple infusion method. It’s as easy as making a pot of tea, remember to use an enamel, glass or earthenware container with a lid; this allows the volatile oils and compounds to condense. Put your leaves, and/or flowers, in the pot and cover with boiling water. Put the lid on tightly and leave to stand 5 – 10 minutes. I like to sweeten with a little honey, you may like to add a slice of lemon and in some cases ginger or cayenne powder. Most of the herbs I mention are perfectly safe, you don’t need to measure quantities exactly, a handful of leaves will make 4 cups or so. Some herbs are more potent and if I’m at all unfamiliar with a plant’s uses I follow directions from a book. Excessive use of any plant should be avoided, it’s common sense not to drink gallons of herb tea at one go.

My rules of thumb are:

Use all things in moderation.

A little of what you fancy does you good – listen to your body and if you find yourself craving, garlic, a feed of greens or only hot drinks, or whatever, it’s good to take notice.

Some of you may need to balance your bodily urges with a dose of common sense. My sister used to crave hot milky drinks and chocolate whenever she had a head cold and took considerable persuasion and a sinus infection to give up the habit.

DECOCTION – is the method used for extracting compounds including mineral salts and bitter principles from woody material, roots, seeds and bark. The volatile elements and vitamins are usually destroyed in this process. Basically it involves boiling for some time, sometimes preceded by steeping in cold water or leaving to stand once boiled.

MACERATION – is a method used to extract active principles which are soluble in cold water. It may take several hours of soaking the plant material in cold water – especially effective for mucilaginous plants, comfrey or marshmallow roots for instance. It extracts most of the volatile ingredients and small amounts of mineral salts and bitter principles.

POULTICES – are a useful external application which can be both soothing and healing. I always use bread as the base and add plant material which has been chopped and softened with boiling water. If the heat is not enough to wilt the leaves I give them a quick blast in the microwave. Use the liquid as well. A simple recipe which is excellent for drawing out boils and infected areas includes sorrel leaves and grated carrot. When mixed with bread it should be about the consistency of stuffing, not too sloppy. I fold an appropriate amount into a paper kitchen towel. When cooled, place on the problem area, lay a piece of Gladwrap or plastic bag over the top and then bandage in place. Leave until cool, repeat twice a day. Spare mix can be stored in the fridge for a day or two. A poultice can not only be used as a drawing agent, but where appropriate can also soothe or irritate depending on it’s ingredients – for example the traditional mustard plaster, used for chest complaints.

Making A Poultice

COMPRESS – A compress is a very simple method of applying a herbal remedy externally. Make up a standard brew of herb tea – whatever herb is appropriate, soak a bandage in this mixture and then wrap around affected part or soak a piece of cloth in it and wrap or hold this in place. Leave for 10 – 20 minutes. Apply cold for inflammations and hot for joints and swellings, warm for muscle tension, spasms and cramp. Alternating hot and cold can help to draw out abscesses.

The plants I rely on in the garden include Aloe vera, Agrimony, Peppermint, Thyme, Sage, Rosemary, Elecampagne – (for chest colds,) Balm of Gilead, Comfrey, Yarrow, Fennel and Lemon Balm. A good herbal book will specify how to use each plant. Herbal products I like to have on hand; Arnica cream, Plantain & Chickweed Ointment, Comfrey & Calendula Ointment, St Johns Wort Oil or cream, Hypercal lotion.

Some herbs you can dry when available and store in a cool dark place in airtight containers. Labelled, of course!

THE KITCHEN CUPBOARD – Contains a number of useful items, baking soda can be used for stings, pumpkin seeds, raw carrot and garlic as vermifuges i.e. they kill internal parasites, round worm in particular. Ginger is great for tummy upsets and also helps ease cold symptoms. Ginger, cinnamon and cayenne are reputed to be natural antibiotics, mix ginger and cinnamon powders together in equal parts and add about 1 part cayenne to 10 parts mixture. Add a pinch to herb teas in the winter to help keep colds and flus at bay. Helps to increase the circulation and keep you warm. Cider vinegar and honey drinks – mix equal parts of each and then dilute with water as needed, about the same amount as adding cordial. This brew is excellent for tummy upsets, food poisoning or fear of it and as a preventative when tummy bugs are around. We had a bout of Giardia here about 12 years ago and found it also effective in relieving its unpleasant symptoms, something to do with its potassium content I think although I’m not 100% sure. Honey on its own has numerous properties and is great to suck for soothing a sore throat. A spoonful with your evening meal can help you sleep better; it can also be taken at that time to ease the problem of bed wetting. I always put honey and an ice cube on bee stings.

Simple Remedies from the Pantry

HOMOEOPATHICS – More and more people I talk to these days have heard of taking homoeopathic Arnica to lessen the effects of surgery or dental procedures, we even dosed our dog with it when we had her speyed. Many people are wary of this branch of medicine because it’s seen as something weird and hocus pocus. I think that there are probably hundreds of things we don’t understand that serve us very well – including many “traditional” medicines, as far as I’m concerned the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and I for one am convinced of the efficacy of homeopathics, especially for simple injuries and ailments, where choosing the correct remedy is simple and frequently the results are amazing.

OK, I bet you’re not convinced, so I’ll give you a few examples. My Mum was performing some strange operation on a pair of scissors, using a small screwdriver. Unlike most people I know, instead of putting the scissors on the bench, she held them in her hand and then pushed very hard with the screwdriver. Next minute she’s on my door step, dripping blood, the screwdriver had gone right through her finger and out the other side. Deep breath for me. Sat her down, gave her a squirt of rescue remedy (gave myself one as well). Filled a bowl with hot water and a couple of droppers of hypercal tincture, put her poor finger in to soak. Dosed her with Arnica 1m strength. After soaking a while I put a liberal smear of Comfrey and Calendula ointment on both holes and wrapped her finger with a bandage. The Arnica was followed a few minutes later by Ledum 30C. I gave her painkiller as well because I imagined a sleepless night of agony to follow. I told her to take Ledum 30C once an hour if it was sore and to cut back if her finger felt OK. In the morning I was expecting Mum to report that she’d had an awful night’s sleep and that her finger was black and blue, but no – she said it was a little tender when she dried the dishes but otherwise fine. I don’t know about you but I was impressed – her only complaint was that the painkiller upset her tummy – oops!

We have had a lovely shaggy beardie dog called Oscar for the last five years, alas a few months ago he was killed on the road. Before his demise he had a seasonal problem with barley grass in his feet. It’s a mean little seed, barbed almost, that inches its way into the hairs between a dog’s toes and then into the flesh. When I worked in a vets, years ago we would sometimes track grass 6 or 8 inches up a dogs leg from its point of entry. I quickly learnt to clip Oscar’s feet in spring and check his toes regularly (he hated it). Once or twice though I missed the tell-tale signs and only realised he had problems when he started gnawing at his foot. There was an obvious swelling but no grass ends I could catch to pull out. I decided to give 24 hours on home treatment before going to the vets. I dosed him on Hepar Sulph 30c strength, twice a day. After his night dose, the next morning I could see a change, the area looked more swollen and weepy so I decided to wait a bit longer. By that evening and 2 more doses, I could just see some fine hairs of grass in the hole where the grass had entered. I gently pulled with tweezers and out it popped. Oscar and I were greatly relieved. I soaked his foot in Hypercal tincture and water and then put the trusty Comfrey and Calendula ointment on. Next day he was pretty much right as rain. Incidentally I used Hepar Sulph once on him for a splinter in his eye, again setting a time limit before we went to the vets, and to my relief the following morning his eye was clear.

One last instance that springs to mind was when Giles our youngest was about 2 years old. He was playing about with a piano when the lid fell on his hand which was on the side near the hinge. He was extremely upset and showed us his poor squashed fingers, with a big dent down them and already swelling up. We dosed him up with Hypericum 30c one tablet and another 15 minutes later. Before the first tablet had dissolved he was back laughing and playing with his friends – much to our amazement and relief.

If you try one Homoeopathic remedy let it be Arnica, get 1m strength if you can. It’s the only remedy we buy in that strength. You can keep it in your First Aid kit, as long as you don’t have strong smelling substances in there, especially camphor based substances.

Arnica and homeopathics in general are available in tablets or drops. We prefer tablets because we can put them in little self seal bags and give them away, or pack small packets for our holiday kit. Don’t touch the tablets, tip one into the lid of the bottle and then tip that into your mouth and pop it under your tongue. For children and animals one tablet can be crushed between two teaspoons and administered as a powder. This applies to all homoeopathic remedies.

Arnica can be used after any injury to lessen shock, it’s a remedy for bruises, sprains, bleeding, injuries caused by blunt objects and speeds recovery from tissue trauma.

Arnica also helps to combat physical exhaustion after sustained exercise.

Dosage

  • For acute physical ailments take 1 tablet (1m for Arnica or 30c for other remedies listed) every 15 – 30 minutes. You should notice improvement within one hour for physical injuries. As a general rule, don’t repeat the dose while improvement continues.
  • As symptoms begin to recede, stretch the time between doses to every couple of hours – often at this stage I don’t take a remedy unless I become aware of discomfort again.
  • If need be the dose can be reduced to 2 or 3 times a day if there is some residual problem.

These guidelines are for first aid problems; to select a remedy for more complex health problems, like coughs and colds, it really helps to have a reference book. There are some straightforward books available – one listing ailments rather than remedies is easier and quicker to refer to. To select remedies, a range of physical, emotional, temperamental signs are taken into account, also which circumstances help or worsen symptoms.

If you are interested in a broader base of remedies the following are very useful additions: In 30c strength.

Aconite: Eye pain caused by injuries – also used for very first symptoms of colds and sore throats that come on after exposure to cold winds.

Apis: For beestings.

Belladonna: The classic symptoms of Belladonna are a red flushed appearance and throbbing headache. Used for sunstroke and ideal for children who are flushed and excitable after a long day in the sun, especially at the beach.

Euphrasia: Potentised Eye Bright can be helpful for inflamed eyes which burn and sting, conjunctivitis, hayfever, and I find it works well for me as I’m allergic to dust. I really am allergic to housework and sneeze the place down, taking Euphrasia at the first snuffle helps.

Hepar Sulph: Expels infection so helps any injury that tends to suppurate; and abscesses. Can be used to treat sinus infections, cold sores and conjunctivitis.

Hypericum: For damage to areas with lots of nerve endings – squashed fingers or toes, tailbone injuries, puncture wounds from nails, splinters etc. Dental treatment with nerve pain. Any injuries with excessive pain.

Ledum: We use this for puncture wounds, wasp stings and wounds which are bruised as well and for old bruises which are yellow and painful.

Rhus tox: A classic do-it-yourselfer’s remedy for the effects of over exertion and strains. The discomfort improves with gentle movement and tends to seize up with rest.

Ruta grav: Especially helpful for bone injuries involving bruising and aching pains in the bones, as well as tendon damage.

Symphytum: Homoeopathic comfrey, used for bone injury especially fractures.

INDEX OF AILMENTS & SIMPLE REMEDIES:

(Ho) indicates Homoeopathic Remedy.

Abscesses:

Poultice made with bread and any of the following:

  • Carrot
  • Sorrel
  • Puha
  • Cabbage
  • Onion (raw, grated)
  • Sage
  • Marshmallow root,
  • Calendula flowers
  • (Ho) Hepar Sulph

Bites:

Animal:

(Ho) Aconite – with great pain

(Ho) Ledum – for puncture wounds

Soak in hot hypercal solution, if clean dress with Comfrey and Calendula ointment.

*  See your doctor if you do not have a current tetanus jab, and of course if you are at all concerned or needing stitches.

Insect:

To relieve itching and redness from bites, like fleas or mosquitoes. Plantain and chickweed ointment is effective. Rescue Remedy and Rescue Cream will help. (Ho) Apis is taken for bites and stings which are red, painful and swollen. Especially effective for bee stings, don’t forget to remove the sting sack immediately to minimise your reaction. Apply honey and ice cube or baking soda. (Ho) Ledum for wasp stings, apply vinegar externally.

Boils:

Apply poultice – see abscess suggestions.

(Ho) Hepar Sulph especially if tendency for every little injury to turn septic.

(Ho) Belladonna where boils are very red and hot, ouch! If skin is broken, soak in Hypercal solution; keep covered and don’t fiddle!

If boils are a recurring problem look at taking some blood purifiers – eg Echinacea, stinging nettle, burdock root. I swear by cider vinegar and honey drinks for cleansing the system, one cup once or twice a day.

Bone Injuries (See also Fractures)

Broken bones:

(Ho) Arnica

(Ho) Symphytum and of course prompt medical treatment

Bruised bones & dislocations:

(Ho) Ruta grav.

Compress of comfrey root or leaf tea applied warm on a cloth.

Arnica ointment if skin is not broken – especially good for old bone injuries eg broken ribs that hurt a long time later.

Comfrey or Comfrey and Calendula ointment will help soothe bruising and pain especially if skin is broken as well.

Bruises:

As above – (Ho) Arnica, Arnica ointment if skin is unbroken.

Witch hazel lotion on a cotton wool pad, cools and soothes.

Comfrey and Calendula ointment or cold compress of comfrey.

Yarrow compress – cold for fresh bruises.

(Ho) – Ledum – deep bruises which are slow to heal and yellow.

Burns:

Run under cool water immediately – don’t be staunch and wait until it really hurts! This instant cooling will help a lot, leave it in water for up to ten minutes. This advice stands for more serious burns too and can be carried out while medical help is summoned.

Aloe vera applied fresh helps to cool and soothe minor burns and seal from infection.

(Ho) Aconite and/or Rescue Remedy can be used to treat shock.

Grated raw potato soothes burns.

Calendula ointment or St John’s Wort ointment can be applied to prevent infection and promote healing (Ho) Cantharis (not mentioned in my list) can be taken immediately for pain relief.

Honey has a reputation for promoting healing and preventing infection when applied to burns. I had friends whose son burnt his feet running over a buried bonfire at the beach, the father was a doctor, and used honey even while the boy was in hospital, with excellent results.

By the by – did anyone see a documentary some time ago about hospitals in India making burn dressings out of potato skins?

Cuts & Wounds:

Most of us know at a glance whether a cut is serious enough to warrant a trip to the doctors or hospital. If this is the case, cover the wound with a clean dressing, a sterile sanitary pad makes a useful dressing. If bleeding is profuse apply pressure and raise the limb if possible. I’m speaking from personal experience having cut the base of my thumb at Christmas and needing several stitches. Take Rescue Remedy for the shakes and (Ho) Arnica or (Ho) Hypericum if extremely painful. (Ho) Ledum for deep cuts. Cuts you can deal with at home, firstly bathe in Hypercal solution and let bleed a bit to flush out any foreign bodies. If it’s a slice-type cut that looks like it will gape use skin closure strips available from the chemist. My Dad worked in a glass factory in England and I became adept at an early age at putting on “butterflies” as we called them. Stick the tape on one side of the wound, allowing about 1” of tape each side, then gently pull across the wound so that it closes and stick firmly onto the skin. If you don’t have any special tape you can cut tiny strips of sticking plaster as a temporary measure, although its best to replace it as soon as possible. You can leave these strips on 2 or 3 days and put Comfrey and Calendula ointment on over the top. A telfa dressing taped firmly on all sides will keep any bugs out, and you may want to add a bandage on top to give a bit of protection. To take off the “Butterfly” gently ease the strip off from both sides towards the cut, if you pull it off in one direction, you’ll undo your good work and open the wound up again.

Grazes:

Grazes hurt so much, I’m amazed how children put up with them – maybe I’ve just got soft with old age!

Bathe well with Hypercal solution – especially if there’s gravel or dirt in it, it may need several sessions to get clean. We’ve discovered these little tins of gauze dressings in paraffin wax which don’t stick to cuts and are excellent for grazes. If the graze is clean you can put on some Comfrey and Calendula ointment, then the magic gauze dressing, then a layer of dressing on the top, or a sticking plaster.

Treading on Nails:

A hazard of many DIY workers and also of living on farms. I’ll assume you’ve all had a tetanus shot so you won’t be fretting about Lock Jaw striking you down. We’ve discovered whilst renovating our house that a foot bath of strong yarrow tea works wonders. My Dad kindly offered to test it out several times in a month or so – Geoff and I ended up nervous wrecks, compulsively cleaning any floor space before Dad got there. Anyway, steep your foot for as long as possible, topping up with hot water from time to time. (Ho) Ledum is excellent for puncture wounds. (Ho) Hypericum comes into its own for nerve damage so use if its a particularly sensitive area. (Ho) Hepar Sulph will expel any foreign bodies and infection.

Yarrow, Calendula Footbath

Dental Problems:

(Ho) Arnica after extractions, take for several days especially for wisdom teeth. I alternate hot salt water rinse with hot Hypercal solution rinse.

(Ho) Hypericum – nerve problems, drilling that stirs up the nerves, root fillings, toothache in general but that doesn’t mean don’t go to the dentist.

Ears:

As we all know we should not put things into our ears, and as they are such delicate pieces of anatomy one should use only the gentlest methods.

Moths – don’t laugh, it does happen from time to time that an insect gets in your ear – the simplest method of dealing with it, is to turn your head, moth side up and put in several drops of olive oil. This stops the maddening fluttering immediately and with luck the insect will float to the surface. Any problems – see your Doctor. I’ve read that Hypercal solution works the same way for insects, beads etc – but haven’t tried it. (Ho) Hypericum for tenderness after object is removed. (Ho) Arnica if surgery is required to remove an object. Bleeding from the ear is a serious situation and help should be sought, meantime half sit the injured person so that blood can drain out of the ear. Rescue Remedy for shock and fright. (Ho) Aconite can be administered for blows to the ear.

Eyes:

Small foreign bodies – wash from eye with gently running water, then bathe with Hypercal solution – useful stuff isn’t it? Any persistent problems or obviously serious injuries – don’t hang around, head to your nearest GP. Meantime you can take (Ho) Arnica for injuries; (Ho) Symphytum for injuries from blunt objects. (Ho) Ledum if pain persists after taking Arnica but is eased by cold applications.

Eyes inflamed and watering – (Ho) Euphrasia.

Eyelids swollen, especially lower lids – (Ho) Apis.

Fractures:

In our years in Pukehou, we have helped out with a number of fractures, most common are wrists, from slipping over, or falling. We’ve also had a broken leg and Giles broke his collar bone at Ruapehu. The thing that struck me with these incidents was that there was no obvious injury, no bones sticking out or legs going askew. Initially we were hesitant that an injury was a fracture, but experience has shown one clear indicator – pain. It may sound obvious but usually after a fall the pain recedes quite quickly whereas with a break the pain remains intense and becomes much worse at any attempt to move. I don’t want to go into details of dealing with major breaks like thigh bones which require careful First Aid, I just want to look at minor fractures. It pays to have a good First Aid book at home just in case, I must admit they make depressing light reading, but it is reassuring in moments of crisis.

Ok, say someone slips over and lands on their hand, jarring their wrist. Intense paint and discomfort. Have them stay where they are, if practical and trot off to get your First Aid requirements. (Ho) Arnica Rescue Remedy, something to brace the area, soft padding and a triangular bandage, tape or ties.

Administer the Rescue Remedy and Arnica, then very gently secure the limb with cardboard, a magazine or whatever, some padding inside, then a sling to take the weight. The aim is to immoblise the area to avoid jarring and movement, until medical help can be sought.

Take the Arnica tablets with you to the hospital, administer every 10 minutes until shock wears off, then every 8 hours for up to 4 days.

(Ho) Symphytum can follow the Arnica after 4 days, take 2 or 3 times a day for up to 3 weeks.

Decisions about driving to hospital or calling am ambulance are often hard to make when you live out of town, but remember if an ambulance comes to you, the injured person is stressed less on the journey and can have pain relief and treatment on the way. If you are at all concerned about travelling get them to come to you.

Hiccups or Hiccoughs:

I swear by doing backward rolls, Giles reckons chocolate or a spoonful of sugar, our acupressure book tells us there are points level with the bottom of the shoulder blades and about 2 finger widths out from the spine. Once I cured Giles while I was still trying to find the points, but it doesn’t seem to work every time. My parents used to make me drink from the wrong side of a glass of water, breathing in a paper bag is another option.

Squashed Fingers or Toes:

(Ho) Hypericum at 15 minute intervals until pain recedes. Apply cold compress of comfrey, then apply Comfrey & Calendula ointment.

Sunburn:

Mild sunburn can be eased with Aloe vera gel, Aloe vera ointment or Calendula ointment.

(Ho) Belladonna where redness, heat and throbbing are symptoms.

(Ho) Cantharis – after a day in the sun when a reaction is expected.

If the skin blisters it may require medical attention due to fluid loss and risk of infection.

Tummy Upsets:

Food Poisoning & Bugs – Cider vinegar and honey drink can be taken to settle tummy, but also as preventative.

Nausea – Green ginger tea, peppermint, bergamot, lemon balm tea.

Indigestion – Peppermint tea, decoction of fennel, dill or caraway seeds.

Diarrhoea – Bergamot, savory and peppermint tea. When improved eat only easy foods, acidophilus yoghurt, bananas and apples. Cider vinegar and honey drink.

Generally – keep fluid intake up, cooled water and herb teas. Avoid dairy products for 48 hours, yoghurt is ok.

Sprains & Strains:

I learnt at a First Aid course to treat these injuries with the RICE System – Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation. The difference between a strain and a sprain is that a sprain is the overstretching or tearing of ligaments which bind joints together and a strain is tearing of muscle fibres. A crepe bandage can be soaked in Arnica solution 10 drops tincture to 0.25 litre cold water and wrapped around the joint.

(Ho) Arnica one every half hour for up to 10 doses. Follow after the Arnica with (Ho) Ruta for tendon and ligament damage;

or

(Ho) Rhus tox for torn muscles, hot swollen joints, which are more painful on starting to moving but improve with gentle motion.

or

Joint swollen, cold and numb. Cold applications help (Ho) Ledum.

List of practical First Aid Gear:

  • Sterile gauze or Telfa dressings
  • Crepe bandage
  • Couple of smaller bandages
  • Roll of sticky tape – there’s a white paper-like one that lets your skin breathe
  • Triangular bandage
  • Packet skin closure strips
  • Small tin paraffin gauze “no stick” dressings
  • Safety pins/pair of scissors/needle for splinters
  • Sticking plasters – waterproof and elastoplast
  • Thermometer
  • Couple of pairs of disposable gloves, especially useful in the car if you come across an accident
  • First Aid booklet for larger emergencies
  • Eye bath

The St John’s provide First Aid courses at night or over a weekend and cover CPR and how to deal with crises such as car crashes, electrocution, poisons etc – money and time well spent.

For some of you this will be old news, but for others I hope you find these notes useful and reassuring. The transition from using traditional methods to more alternative methods can be a bit unnerving but once you have a few successes, you will become more confident in your own resources and those of mother nature. I think we can all be enriched by learning to take care of ourselves and to make some of our own medicines.

Note: This article although advocating self help is not suggesting that you ever put yourself at risk, ignore help from your Doctor or hospital when needed, or give up medication without consulting your GP. Common sense should be your ally.

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