- First Aid
Not your average, everyday wound
IT'S NOT WHAT ONE WOULD CHOOSE TO DO so very early in the morning, but then if you live long enough almost anything can happen, and often enough, at some point, it just does.
It was early September, his son's second day of high school, and the man had arisen before 6 a.m. to make coffee, as he did nearly every single morning. Just the wife and he who do the coffee drinking, and one or one and a half cups are fine for the two of them. So they settled on a French Press, which is a 10" high glass cylindrical carafe with a metal plunger. Simple, easy. You put in 3 or 4 scoops of coffee, add boiling water, wait about 4 minutes, plunge the wet, flavor-activated grounds down, pour, and drink. Hot, fresh, good. And fast.
Now this is something he had done for about 3,000 mornings and something he could do it in his sleep. Or so the man thought. But this morning, two days after the end of summer vacation and a trip out West, with not quite enough sleep, and surely not yet used to the sunrise high school morning drill, he made the wrong move. A very, very wrong move.
At a bit after 6 a.m., the very tired dad poured the boiling water into the French Press, covered it, but with the plunger still up went to reach for a paper towel. Pre-caffeine, part-zombie, he pulled the paper towel roll toward himself, and it hit the raised plunger, instantly knocking over the Press with it's boiling water and steaming hot coffee grounds directly onto the longtime jogger's tough, cable-tight left thigh.
Just twelve feet down the hall, his wife heard him right away, but fortunately his son was already in the shower downstairs, so the young teen didn't have to hear the most blood-curdling scream ever let out. The pain was immediate, intense -- monstrously intense -- and the scream was so loud that the house almost shook. It was not a voluntary scream.
The next few things were a blur... His wife helps him peel off soaked jeans, slip out of the rest of his clothes and guides him into the shower... cool water from overhead goes directly onto the badly burnt thigh. The unfathomable pain subsided fairly quickly, but what he would not know until about an hour later -- as he stood there in a strange, motionless stupor -- was that his half-century-plus body had gone into literal shock, the physical kind; a type of auto-shutdown that nature provides to protect the brain, its other organs, the adrenals, and perhaps even one's very soul. You just go numb.
After the shower, they weren't sure what to do next, so thoroughly modern and wired, the wife and her stupified husband went online and Googled Burn Care; deciding to cover the animated, shape-shifting, three giant blisters with Neosporin and a large bandage. No harm, no foul. The great, chest-ripping, nerve-killing pain had largely subsided. They got their teen onto his bus and off to school on time. The new Freshman missed the main event and its immediate aftermath, and so was not distracted or otherwise made distraught so early in his high school career. He did however get to witness the recovery phase, which over three months later, remained fully in evidence, and in living color.
NOW A BURN IS AN ANIMAL. It moves, it's alive, it changes constantly, it has its own unique characteristics, it silently howls now and again, it changes attitude and shape.
Four days later, on the Saturday, the newly burned man went to see his GP and the doctor said, Yep, that's a second degree burn alright, and reassured them that that they had done the right things, keeping the fresh wound covered, and taking steps to avoid the real horror of a serious burn -- potential infection. He handed over a script for what he called "the standard of burn care," SSD, 1% Silver Sulfadiazine Cream, which was right off a soothing, healing miracle of modern science. As they would say in the military or on the street: the shit works.
The area on his left thigh that was badly burned was initially about 4" wide by nearly 7" deep. It was large and ugly, but here's what happened next... The burned man went jogging for two of the first four days after The Burn and not because he was some sort of a macho marvel, but because, as his doctor told him when he finally went to see him: "It doesn't hurt now (you old fool you) because the nerves there are dead! Just wait until it starts to heal. Then you're really going to feel it."
Sure enough, that very afternoon, the doctor's prediction came to pass, and the healing pain began. It was like a mini earthquake in reverse; the new skin was stretching itself closed. It was not a benign experience. The rough old fellow could feel nature's stitching, and it wasn't the fall of rose petals. It hurt. The body healing itself after a serious wound is hard work, and you get to go along for the ride, and it's bumpy.
Another thing the man quickly found out: a healing burn is like the Lon Chaney Sr. of wounds. It goes through more guises, more changes, than a kaleidoscope. It looks different every three days, and not always for the better. Fortunately, he had bumped into someone at a nearby office condo park who had also burned her thigh years back when she was a teen, and she told him it will seem sometimes that it is devolving, and not getting better, but worry not it is. A burn goes through different stages of ugly en route to better (and this is a second degree baby; one can scarcely imagine what a third degree brute, and over an even larger portion of the body, would be like. Horrific is scarcely a sufficient adjective).
Back to the pain. The man told his friends and family that It only hurts like hell for about five minutes, until you can get The Burn under cool water. But the first minute, and then the following few are insane pain. The young math wiz asked what it was, and his father told him an 11 out of 10. The boy who took his SAT's at 12, and did well in the mathematics portion, told his father that was impossible. His father assured him, firmly, that it was not. He put it this way: "A punch in the gut is a five, a hard kick in the nuts is a nine, and being beat over and over with fists to the head and face is a ten." His son nodded in that blank, open-mouthed yet still attentive teen way. "But a burn," he continued, "is another kind of pain entirely. It is off the charts, son. I had a pinkie crunched in football that's still bent 40 years later, and I've been kneed really hard in the tailbone, seeing more stars than the black night sky of Yosemite. I broke my right hand swinging and connecting on someone's hard head (that would be the captain of the football team), but in the pain department all of those puppies paled in comparison to this thing".
Later that night he said to his wife that he wished this kind of pain only upon terrorists and child molesters.
Two days later, glad to be whole and in a lighter mood, he came up with a new helpful slogan, a simple homily, inspired by The Burn, and it was: First thing in the morning, I suggest you splash cold water on your face. Don't pour boiling water on your leg.
According to the man, The Burn is much smaller now, less angry, and is healing nicely. He figures it should be all gone, or nearly so, in another few months, sometime in the New Year. When I asked him recently how he was, the final thing he told me was this: "I am not only okay, I also feel fortunate. The boiling water missed my face, and neither did it spill three inches to the right. I still like my legs. All three of them."
**BACK IN THE WORLD, SOME IMPORTANT FOOTNOTES: First, if you are not sure whether you have a second or third degree burn, go see your doctor immediately, or if he or she is not available, drive to the emergency ward. Next, after my shower I sprayed on some Bactine before applying Neosporin. It happened to work for me, but it is not the standard of burn care. You use what you have (but definitely not oil or butter, that's an old wives tale). As for the jogging and exercise -- if you can, do it. Getting blood and oxygen to the wound can't hurt, and many doctors say it really helps. This too worked for me. Again, when in doubt, check it out. A burn is no scratch, scrape or baby blister. It is, as our Vice President famously said, a big f**king deal. Again, just don't burn yourself. That's the single best course of action. As for why I wrote the above in the third person -- because Hub's editors insisted that we not write in the first person, as in what happened to us, personally. Go figure.
(c) 2012 Ken Taub
First Aid: Burns
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