Non-Critical Illness on Shabbos
10. [The following applies to] a wound that is not critical (2): one may
not place a medicated dressing upon it on Shabbos, even if it was prepared
from the day before, nor may one place anything on it that serves as a
remedy ("refuah"); this includes a leaf (that is known for its medicinal
properties), or an old, dry piece of cloth (3), for it too aids in the
healing process (4).
However, one may, on Shabbos, place something upon it which will prevent it
from being scratched (or irritated).
If there was a medicated dressing on the wound from before Shabbos, one may
open one end of the dressing and clean the wound, and then do the same with
the other end of the dressing. However, one may not smear the [medication
which is on] the dressing itself, because that would be performing [the
melacha called] "memareach" ("smearing") (5). If the dressing fell off the
wound onto the floor on Shabbos, one may not put it back on the wound (6);
however, if it fell onto an object, one may put it back on (7). If one is
suffering a great deal of discomfort (as a result of the dressing falling
off), one may ask a Gentile to put it back on. However, it is prohibited to
ask a Gentile to prepare a dressing on Shabbos, because the preparation
involves smearing [the medication], which is a biblically prohibited
activity, and is even prohibited when performed by a Gentile, if the Jew is
not completely ill (8).
(2) This applies to a wound that is neither life-threatening, nor does it
cause severe pain, or threaten the normal functioning of a limb. In any of
these cases, the prohibition against applying a medical remedy on Shabbos
would obviously not apply.
(3) The Talmud implies that old, dry cloth (that has never been used before
on a wound), somehow aids in the healing process. Since the Talmud was
written about 1500 years ago, its medical advice should not be relied upon
without consulting a qualified physician.
(4) Of course, one can and must do whatever is necessary to prevent
infection or other deterioration of the wound.
(5) One of the Biblically prohibited activities is "Memareach"
("smearing"), which applies to rubbing or spreading moldable substances
(such wax, tar, cream) to give them a smooth surface.
(6) The Sages were concerned that one might come to inadvertently smear the
medication which is on the dressing (Mishna Berura 328:81)
(7) This is equivalent to it slipping slightly off its place, in which case
it is certainly permissible to re-adjust it.
(8) Either bedridden or sick enough that one feels like lying down.