In A Flash - Our Burn Injury Story
Burn Injuries change your life - In a Flash!
Poof!...in a flash, that's how long it takes for someones world to come to a crashing halt.
For us it happened at 6:58 pm on August 6th 2002.
For us it started with an argument over lasagna on a very hot day and a dead Robin that did a kamikaze on the garage window. The argument prompted my hubby to go back to that day's work site to get a few more hours of painting done.
The dead bird prompted me to stay home that night instead of going to bingo. I admit it, I'm a superstitious Irish girl. In my family when a bird flys into a window it is considered a bad omen of the death of someone in the family...it didn't help, that during the argument we had, my hubby Scott, waved the dead bird around singing "I'm gonna die!" in an effort to make me mad by making fun of my superstitious nature.
Scott before the Accident
Life before the burn
Scott and I were married on August 3rd 1995.
We had known and hated each other for years
before we actually realized we were perfect for each other.
Scott always had a wild streak, loved to party,
loved motorcycles, loved extended
conoe-camping trips on the St. Croix River.
The first couple of years were a nightmare.
It's really a miracle we stayed together.
Scott was a serious Alcoholic...
and he was far from being a pleasant life of the party drunk...
No, Scott was an angry, crazy and suicidal drunk.
It wasn't uncommon for me to pack up the kids
and the dog at 3 in the morning to go sleep
somewhere else just to get away from him
when he'd go on his drunk and crazy rampages.
True we did have a lot of fun during those years too.
Our house was party central and we threw
the best Halloween parties in town.
Alcoholism is a progressive disease,
and Scott got progressively more crazy,
more suicidal and more drunk.
By the end of his drinking career, we were going
through a 16 gallon keg of beer every couple days,
not to mention all the vodka...
and even though we did have a friend of ours living
with us at the time, her and I were both light
social drinkers, so it was really Scott
consuming most of the booze.
In the end, jail and not being allowed to
come home until he sobered up for good
was what got Scott to stop drinking.
After that, slowly our lives got better every day.
His painting business started taking off,
I was working at one of the local Emergancy
rooms as a Health Unit Co-ordinater
and we started to get back on track.
Scott got his drivers license back,
after not driving for 13 years because of old DUI's,
we got caught up on all of our bills.
Scott got healthier every day.
On the morning of August 6th, 2002,
Scott had been sober for about 4 years
and life was going pretty smoothly for us.
And Time Stopped
Because of our earlier argument I had cancelled my plans to go to bingo that night.
Because of the dead bird I sat home waiting for the phone to ring and hoping that it wouldn't...hoping that Scott would come home before it did.
Scott didn't come home and at 7:05 pm the phone did ring. It was Dan, the guy who owned the apartment building where Scott was painting a vacant apartment.
His first words after I said hello were "now don't freak out."
Flash Fire Explosion!
It only takes a moment for burn injuries to change everything
At first I thought, it wasn't going to be as bad as I expected. Dan told me there had been a fire at the apartment building and that Scott had been taken to United Hospital.
I worked at United Hospital and I knew that United was a Level 2 trauma hospital, we didn't have a burn unit and that if they took him to United, that he wasn't hurt very badly.
I called the back desk at United Emergancy room, I worked at that same desk every night. I knew the girl who answered the phone. I asked her if my husband had just come in by ambulance? She said that they hadn't had an ambulance in over an hour and weren't expecting one, and said, "Bambi, you know all fire related patients go to Regions!"
Yes, of course I knew that, but I was still desperately grasping to any shred of hope I could find.
I called Regions Hospital, I told the woman who answered my name and she told me to please hold before I could even ask a question. She already knew who I was before I called. She had been expecting my call....I hung up and drove to Regions Hospital in a daze.
A nurse, a police officer and a minister were waiting just inside the emergancy room doors for me.
Sounds like the start of a joke doesn't it?
The Waiting is the Hardest Part
Scott's initial burn treatment took over 5 hours.
They took me up to the family waiting area of the Burn Center and said that someone would be out shortly to let me know what was going on.
I started making the phone calls. First my Mom, who said she was on her way. Then I tried to contact his parents, who were 3 hours away, but no one was home, so I called his sister Joy. He and Joy had been estranged for around 7 years, so I didn't expect her to come to the hospital, I just needed her help to find her parents, before I hung up she said she was on her way.
Fire Investigators and police and 3 different ministers came and went during the 5 hours we waited. By the time the Doctor finally came out to talk to us, we were quite a little group. My mom, Joy, Dan, my brother Robert and my oldest son Travis were there as well as the police minister.
Dr. Mohr came into the waiting room and basically just told us that Scott was in extremely critical condition. That he had sustained 3rd degree and deeper burns to 85% of his body and that he had about a 3% chance of surviving the night.
LIFE IS A NEAR-DEATH EXPERIENCE
Wei-ji means Crisis
A crisis is an opportunity riding the dangerous wind - Chinese Proverb
Never Give Up Hope
Everyone reacts differently to a crisis. Some people crumble and fall apart, some people go into shock...and some people you never expected to, actually step up to the plate and hit a home run.
I grew up in a dirt-poor working class family. My mom was a Murphy and our family lived Murphy's Law every day. I grew up always expecting the worst and because of growing up in a family that was always living from crisis to crisis, I was probably better equipted to deal with Scott's accident than most people would be.
This was a double edged sword, because I didn't collapse and fall apart, no one else stepped up to take care of me. Instead I ended up comforting everyone else around me. That ended up being okay for me, because it kept me very busy.
Just about everyone expected Scott to die, true the odds were stacked against him.
From the moment the doctor said 3% chance of survival, I just knew that Scott would be in that 3%. I immediately asked the Doctor how long until his odds increased. At which point he started talking in that voice peole use to explaine complicated things to children, and told me that most likely Scott wouldn't survive the night.
Well, I'm the first to admit it that I can be a real first class bitch. I immediatley used my "I'm the Mom and I'm in charge not you voice" and explained to the doctor that I worked at United Emergancy room and was very familiar with medical procedure and terminolgy and that he could just cut the crap and tell me what happens next and how long until Scott's odds improve after he survives the night.
That got me a real answer, if Scott could survive the night, which the doctor again insisted was highly unlikely, then they would begin surguries to remove the burned skin from his body. Then if the surguries somehow didn't kill him and he somehow stayed alive for the next ten days, that then he would increase Scott's odds to 10%.
Then he excused himself to go finish working on keeping Scott alive. You have to give the burn doctors and nurses credit, they worked on Scott for 8 hours straight that night just to stabalize him. After 8 hours we were finally allowed back to see Scott.
While everyone else who knew Scott was falling apart, giving up hope and waiting for him to die. Me and the boys were fighting negative energy.
We had found a copy of the "Phoenix Society Burn News" in the waiting room. Inside we found a story about a man named Tony Gonzalez, who had been burned over 99% of his body, had been treated at Regions Burn Center, who had been given only a 1% chance to survive and had beat the odds and survived.
Tony Gonzales became our hope for Scott. The boys and I knew that if that guy could do it, then so could Scott. We started a positive energy campaign. No one was allowed to cry in Scott's room, people who went in were told to tell him positive things like "keep fighting" and "you can do it".
At one point during those first few days, the boys and I were talking to Scott and telling him how much we loved and needed him and how strong he was and how we knew he could beat this. The nurse who was watching him that day was stupid enough to comment that he didn't see why we were talking to him. That he was in an induced coma and couldn't hear us any way and then had the nerve to say I was giving my kids false hope. That he had been in the Burn center for 15 years and that in his opinion Scott wasn't going to make it.
Well that was it for him. I went right to the nursing supervisor and insisted that he be removed immediately. He was removed, and never allowed to be Scott's nurse again, all future nurses were instructed that only positive energy was allowed. See I told you I could be a bitch.
Those who dance are considered insane by those who can't hear the music
Beating the Odds
Miracles happen every day
Scott survived. It didn't happen over-night.
Scott was intubated and kept in an induced coma for 23 days.
He had 3 surguries in the first 4 days to remove all of the burned skin.
Basically they skin burn patients alive, because the burned skin is full of germs and can get infected and kill them.
Infection is the leading cause of death to burn patients. In the past people burned as badly as Scott always died. This was because burn surgeons could only remove as much damaged skin as they had new-growth skin to use to graft the area that was removed. Someone burned over 85% of their body would take months to cover with new skin, by then the infections caused by the dead burned skin killed them.
INTEGRA - Dermal Regeneration Template
Life saving technology for 3rd degree burns
Integra saved Scott's life.
Integra is a skin replacement system for the treatment of deep partial-thickness or full-thickness burn injury to the skin.
Integra enables doctors to remove all of the burned skin and cover the body with artificial skin quickly, which reduces the risk of infection and gives the patient time to grow new skin.
Integra has 2 layers, the layer that gets placed on the open tissue, actually binds with it and creates a surface optimal to place grafted skin. The outer silicone layer acts as an artificial skin that keeps fluids in while protecting the covered tissue from infection.
Amputation is common with burn injuries
Scott lost all of his fingers and both thumbs
During Scott's recovery, one of the hardest things I had to do was sign the permission papers for the doctors to amputate Scott's fingers.
One of the burn doctors explained it like this; imagine if you grilled a hotdog next to a whole chicken and you kept that hotdog on the grill until the chicken was done. Well, that was what happened to Scott's fingers.
I knew they couldn't be saved, by the time they amputated, they were black shriveled up mummy fingers. Still, just the thought of living without fingers is indescribable.
Life at the Burn Center
We were at the hospital more than at home
Scott's recovery was a long, slow process. He had 14 surgeries, endured daily torture sessions in the burn tub, and fought countless life threatening infections.
We practically lived at the burn center for 4 and 1/2 months. My day consited of working an 8 hour over-night shift at United Emergancy room, then going to Regions Burn Center to feed Scott breakfast, then home to sleep a few hours, then going back to Regions in time to feed Scott dinner and keep him company until it was time to go back to work.
I went 8 months straight were I didn't once get more than 5 hours of sleep in a 24 hour period. Many nights at work my nurses would cover my station so I could get an hour of sleep in an empty patient room during slow nights.
Inside the apartment where Scott was painting
How Scott got his burn injuries
It took us months to put together what had actually happened in that vacant apartment on August 6th.
The Fire Investigator determined that it was a flash fire that reached temperatures of 1,000 degrees fahrenheit in a matter of seconds.
A flash fire is an unexpected, sudden intense fire caused by ignition of flammable solids (including dust), liquids, or gases. It is characterized by high-temperature, short-duration, considerable shock waves, and a rapidly moving flame front.
Flash fires may occur in environments where fuel, typically flammable gas or dust, is mixed with air in concentrations suitable for combustion.
"A rapidly moving flame front which can be a combustion explosion. Flash fire may occur in an environment where fuel and air become mixed in adequate concentrations to combust...flash fire has a heat flux of approximately 84 kW/m2 for relatively short periods of time, typically less than 3 seconds."
Unlike most people who wake up in the hospital and have no memory of the accident that put them there, Scott remembered every detail. Here in his own words, in a letter he wrote, is that story.
The Day I was Burned - By: Scott Watson
August 6th 2002
It was three days past our 7th wedding anniversary and 4 days before our youngest son's 13th birthday. I went to work just like any other day. I knew I had a shitty job ahead of me. That day I was going to spray 15 gallons of Kilz primer, which is basically just lighter fluid disguised as paint. I needed to get the stink out of a one- bedroom apartment that had been occupied for over 30 years by a chain-smoker. Kilz was the only thing strong enough to cover 30 years of yellow smoke stains on the walls, ceiling & cabinets.
I sprayed for awhile then took a break for a couple of hours, ran some errands & had pizza for lunch at a local joint. Then I went back and sprayed until I was almost done with the Kilz. I thought hmm, I'll finish the kitchen cabinets the next morning & then start rolling on the colored paint over the primer. Kilz is nasty stuff, the fumes alone can knock you out if you don't wear a mask or respirator. And even with the respirator on, when you spray Kilz it manages to soak into your skin & make you feel kind of crazy.
I went home to eat dinner. It was a hot humid nasty day and Bambi had made lasagna. The oven on in the house on such a hot day made it like walking into a sauna. Between the heat, the Kilz fumes & the lasagna, I blew up. Started a fight over the lasagna, because I'd had pizza for lunch & didn't want lasagna.
Earlier that day a Robin had flown into my shop window
and left its brains on the window.
It's body landed on a little table under the window. Bambi's family has a superstition that if a bird hits a window on your house or car & dies that it means that somebody is going to die. Bad omen kind of thing. I've seen her hit that one right on the nuts before so I knew there was something more to the bird thing than just superstition.
Well being mad at her about the lasagna anyway, I picked up that dead bird by the tail & started laughing and singing "some-ones gonna die...some-ones gonna die" I said I was going back to work, threw the bird down, said fuck you & went to meet my fate.
I went back to the apartment; it was dark & dreary inside. I had plastic covering all but one window & a fan blowing the fumes out of the open window. The air inside was thick and stunk like hell. I set up my tools in the living room and then went outside to have a smoke before spraying. I was wearing flimsy cotton pants & a T-shirt that were already soaked with Kilz over-spray. I put on my respirator & hat and went back in.
I picked up the sprayer handle
but don't remember if I sprayed or not.
I think it was just a few seconds after that, that the apartment exploded. It was like nothing I've ever seen before and hope to never see again. There was suddenly this huge ball of fire that appeared out of nowhere. It seemed like big walls of fire came from behind me, and down from the ceiling and up from the floor and all around. In a split second I saw the empty space in front of me with no fire, become engulfed with fire.
I felt the temperature become increasingly warm. At first like being in a boiler room, then hotter than anything you could ever imagine. I don't think even hell could be as hot as that apartment was. It was really fucking scary! I found out later that all of the windows were blown out, the refrigerator was practically disintegrated & my glasses were gone. But that was the least of my problems, because I was on fire.
My whole body was literally burning
Not just my shirtsleeve or something
Remember that I was wearing baggy clothes that were already saturated with Kilz. I was kind of like a wick in a Molotov cocktail. I ran down the hallway & pushed open the apartment door. That's where I fell & rolled up against the neighbor's door.
For a split second I thought this is it Scott and that I was going to lay there and die.
Somehow I managed to get up and run outside. I kind of remember screaming " help, help me, I'm on fire" I was running down the sidewalk, I have no idea where I was going except that I wanted to go home and see Bambi one last time. I didn't make it that far. I made it across the street and collapsed. I was still burning alive. As I was running I had noticed this liquid running off my fingers, like water runs off your body when taking a shower. My first thought was where is all this water coming from? I got a deep sickening feeling in my gut when I realized it was my skin melting off & pouring down my fingertips.
That's when I knew this was serious
I was unaware that it was National night out and that people enjoying a block party had witnessed my run out the building and into the street. But to this day I thank the powers that be for Jim who happened to be out watering his shrubs as I ran screaming across the street. He tried to run over to where I had collapsed but his hose was 20 feet too short.
Jim yelled for me to get up and come to him so he could hose me off. Somehow I managed to get over to him & he started putting out the fire that I had become. I was in & out of consciousness. I remember feeling like I was freezing, I'd never felt so cold, it hurt worse than the fire. So I told Jim to stop & he did. Then as soon as the water would stop I'd feel the incredible heat of the burn and ask him to run the water again. That happened like 3 times before the ambulance arrived. Later I found out that if he hadn't stopped watering me when I asked that I could have died of hypothermia.
I remember asking, "where's the ambulance?"
It felt like forever
I found out later that the ambulance was on the scene within 5 minutes of the explosion, but at the time it seemed so much longer. After Jim had doused the fire I had gotten to my feet and was talking to people. Explaining that I was painting the apartment, wanting to apologize for starting a fire. I was complaining about the pain, which wasn't quite as bad as when I'd been on fire.
As it turns out, along with my skin melting off my nerve endings had also burned off. In a bad sort of way, that was a good thing because without nerve endings you don't feel the pain. My shirt had completely burned off and most of my pants were burned off. I later heard from eyewitnesses that it looked like I had a severe sunburn, that my skin was cracked & sliding off my arms, chest & back. I had a Skull tattoo on my upper right arm. When Jim visited me in the hospital a couple of months later he asked me why I had two of the exact same tattoos on the same arm, that's when I realized the tattoo had melted & slid down past my elbow.
Finally the ambulance arrived, Medic 10, it came down Ashland Avenue, but had to back up & go back around the block because fire trucks were in the way. The paramedics came up to me from behind, I remember the way they stepped back in horror as I turned around to face them. I walked with them to the gurney & climbed on myself. Oh man did that gurney feel comfy, so warm & cozy. I finally felt safe & at ease. Help had finally arrived. I was sure I was going to die, but at least it was going to be in a nice soft place.
They slid me into the ambulance. I remember seeing the 2 paramedics standing outside the ambulance. They looked like shadows. I couldn't see their faces or make out colors anymore just shadows. The doors seemed to shut in slow motion & echoed in my head as they clanged shut. Then everything went black.
Laughter really is the best medicine
"You can turn painful situations around through laughter...If you can find humor in something...you can survive it." -Bill Cosby
The long Road to Recovery
Scott was in the burn unit for 4 and 1/2 months
Scott's recovery was a long slow process, full of infection scares, uncontrollable bleeding, 14 surgeries and endless hours of therapy.
Once Scott was out of the induced coma, the serious work of getting well again began. His days in the burn center consisted of long hours of therapy and 3 hour long burn bathes every day.
Scott said that next to being actually on fire, the burn baths were the most painful part of burn injury recovery.
Scott had bandages covering most of his body, so half of the burn bath process consisted of removing all of the bandages and then after each bath, putting new ones on again.
During the bath itself the nurses scrub the entire body (not gently) to remove dead tissue, scabs & anything foreign that is stuck. They also would remove dozens of staples from grafting procedures during the baths.
Scott also had to relearn how to do everything in new ways because of the loss of his fingers.
Scott was bed-ridden for over a month from his burn injuries.
Scott had to re-learn how to be upright before he could re-learn how to walk.
Standing up for the first time after his burn injuries.
The daily burn bath
They made a special cuff to fit around Scott's hand to hold a spoon or toothbrush
Scott re-learns the things we all take for granted
Visitors help stave off boredom and homesickness for burn injury patients
The therapists devise all kinds of torture to help Scott recover
Scott hated the masks and pressure garments designed to reduce scarring after burn injuries.
A new torture every day
Scott was a very motivated to get home patient
No privacy allowed in the burn unit
The first thing Scott wrote was a love note to me
Trying to fix the drop-foot
Every day Scott better and stronger as his burn injuries healed
Without humor everything would drive you crazy
As Scott got better he was able to leave his room
On thanksgiving Scott was allowed to leave the hospital for a few hours
Burn Injuries Re-unites Brother & Sister
After a 7 year estrangment
During Scott's drinking years he burned a lot of bridges, and at the time of his accident he had barely spoken to his sister Joy for around 7 years.
Joy was one of those rare people who really step up to the plate when tragedy stikes. She waited with me in the hospital waiting room all those endless hours until the doctor came out.
Then she visited Scott almost every day he was in the hospital, always giving him positive encouragement to get better.
It really meant a lot to both of us that she was there for us during Scott's recovery.
Since Scott's accident, their relationship has grown stronger and now they're actually happy to see each other at family functions and holidays.
Scott comes home on December 23rd
Scott was in the burn unit for over 3 months before the doctors would upgrade him past a 10% chance for survival, because until a burn patient is completely grafted, an infection can kill them quickly.
Scott was upgraded to 50% chance of survival right before thanksgiving. On December 12th, they upgraded him to 98%...the doctor jokingly said he wasn't giving Scott better odds than he had himself.
On December 14th Scott was moved up to rehab on the 9th floor. Rehab wasn't a good fit for Scott and after 9 days of fighting hospital administration, I was able to bring Scott home.
Right before Scott was released we all got to meet Tony Gonzales, at a burn center christmas party, and tell him personally how his story gave us hope during our darkest hours.
Home at last
Recovery from burn injuries is a long slow process
Bringing Scott home was a challenge. He still required pretty much constant care. Before I could even bring him home I had to prove to the hospital that I could take care of all of his needs, including the nightly 3 hour burn bath.
Having a medical background really helped, sheer determination took care of the rest. Bringing Scott home was twice as much work as just helping him at the hospital, there I had nurses and other hospital personnel to help. At home it was just me and the boys.
I don't know what I would have done without my middle son Dustin, from day one, he was my rock to lean on. He took on all kinds of extra responsibilities at home and helped me in every way he could and then some. I guess this experience is part of the reason we have such a great relationship now.
After bringing Scott home, my days consisted of leaving work at 7:00am and rushing home to feed and dress Scott before taking him to the hospital by 9:00 am for therapy. Then going back home to sleep until 2:30 pm when I had to pick Scott up from therapy at 3:00pm.
Then bring him back home and make and feed him dinner before starting his nightly burn bath at 7:00 pm. By 10:00 pm his bath finally done, I would start getting ready to go back to work at 11:00pm.
We lived that schedule until July, when his therapy was finally cut back from daily to weekly. By August, one year after his accident, he was finally completely done with tharapy too.
A Brand New Life
You never really go back to how it was before the burn injuries.
The next year of our lives was a time of Scott learning to be more and more independent every day.
Being his caregiver for over a year had altered our relationship to the point where I was like an over-protective mom. He needed to learn how to do things for himself and I needed to learn how to let go and let him do it himself.
Through everything Scott always had a fantastically warped sense of humor. One day while I was upstairs, he managed to use his walker to get himself out to the garage where his shop is. When I finally went out there to see what he was doing, I found him pushing a piece of wood through the band saw.
When I asked what he thought he was doing, he shot back "well, It's not like I'm gonna accidentally cut off my fingers." After that I just let him do whatever he needed to do to get himself better.
Every day our lives became a new kind of normal
In 2004 we attended our first World Burn Conference for survivors of burn injuries
Scott proved to himself that he could still do woodworking without fingers
In 2005 we attended our 2nd World Burn Conference for survivors of burn injuries
The Survivors Offering Assistance and Support (SOAR) Program
Scott is now a volunteer with the SOAR program and goes back to Regions Burn Center to talk to and help other people dealing with burn injury and amputation.
Our lives are pretty mundane now. Scott can pretty much do everything he could do before his accident. He can tie his own shoes, wipe his own butt and has even resumed his summer canoe and camping trips.
Losing his fingers was definitely the biggest challenge his accident presented. He still complaines when it takes him longer to do things that the rest of us just take for granted.
He doesn't have sweat glands any more, so he over-heats easily, but other than that life is pretty darned good!
Resources - helpful links
The Phoenix Society and the American Burn Association are excellent resources for burn survivors and their families.
Caring bridge is an amazing site for anyone who has a loved one that is hospitalized. There wasn't anything like caring bridge out there when Scott was in the burn center...so I had to keep everyone updated by phone, e-mail and weekly newsletters I had to mail out.
Since Scott's accident I've used caringbridge for my brother when he had a heart attack and 2 different cousins who were in auto accidents. Caring bridge is a wonderful way to keep everyone informed about your loved ones medical condition.
- Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors
Mission Statement To empower anyone affected by a burn injury through peer support, education, and advocacy.
- The American Burn Association
The American Burn Association is dedicated to improving the lives of everyone affected by burn injury through patient care, education, research and advocacy.
- CaringBridge website
Free, personalized websites that support and connect loved ones during critical illness, treatment and recovery.
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