As a Physician Assistant, I did a rotation in the Burn Unit, which was akin to a Torture Chamber, as far as I was concerned! I worked at a major New York City hospital, for many years.
They were well known for the care and treatment they provided, for patients with severe and extensive burns. It was not uncommon to hear patients crying out in agony, as you passed thru the double doors leading to the patient treatment area of the Burn Unit. Family members were noted grieving at a patient’s bedside or sitting quietly, crying in the waiting room. It wasn’t fun!
One afternoon, a mom pushing her infant in a carriage, along with her seven-year-old boy and his grandmother, were walking on the sidewalk in Manhattan. Without warning, a manhole cover blew up onto the sidewalk. It was the result of a gas line explosion.
The boy’s mom and his infant sister were killed instantly. The grandmother sustained minor injuries, The seven-year-old boy was severly burned but, still alive.
He almost died. Maybe, he should have. I admit that I asked God to take him. It was too much to bear!
The extreme pain and agony the little boy endured, not just from the initial injuries but from the treatment required for the 3rd-degree burns he sustained, were beyond words!
It was horrible!!!!! By far, the worst encounter of my life!
The treatment for massive burns is horrific, unimaginably painful! The goal is to stabilize the patient’s airway, get IV lines in place to hydrate the patient and infuse medications. The next step involves treating the burns with topical medications, followed by debridement and grafting if needed. Debridement involves the process of removing the affected dead skin, that’s caused by the burns.
Burns can be caused by fire, heat, extreme cold, electrocution and chemicals. Treating burns as soon as possible is paramount. The burnt skin is often black or white in color. It’s called “Eschar”. Patients in need of debridement, are placed into a large stainless steel full body bathtub. It’s called a debridement tank.
The sight of patients recovering from severe burns would bring tears to your eyes. It’s not for the faint of heart. It’s the stuff nightmares are made of. I have great admiration and respect for the medical staff that work in burn units, across the country, and throughout the world. It’s a tough job!
Patients with severe, large percentage body burns, are taken to the Operating Room. In the OR, dead tissue is excised. Healthy skin from any viable area of the patient’s body, or cadaver skin if needed, is excised. The damaged skin has to be replaced. This is all dependent on the extent and degree of the burns. A healthy piece of skin once harvested, is put thru a small device (called a MESHER). The Mesher stretches the skin and puts holes in it. It transforms a small piece of skin into a larger piece, for covering more surface area. The mesh is then attached to viable tissue. This is called skin grafting.
Your skin is an organ. Its purpose is to protect the body. Without it, you would be susceptible to various bacteria resulting in fatal infections. The causes of death following a severe burn result from a sequence of events: airway damage, internal organ damage, dehydration, infection, sepsis.
I often sat with the boy at his bedside. I would try and talk to him. He was medicated due to the extent of his burns. Every attempt was made to offer him pain relief. It was difficult to think of what to say. He was a brave little boy. He was into action figures: HE-MAN and SKELETOR. That’s what his grandmother told me. I bought him a few figures. He was able to hold one, which made me happy. But, it wasn’t about me! It was about a little boy fighting for his life.
After close to a year, he was discharged. He had survived the accident but was terribly scared. Further treatment would be required with a plastic surgeon. He would still need to endure multiple surgical procedures and psychological intervention would be needed, as well.
He had not only been severely burned but had lost his mother and baby sister.
Bottom line…. Life is short!
Count your blessings!
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