Friday, January 13, 2012

Medical Emergency Preparedness?

       More than a month after "showering" in boiling water, I'm still limping around on a foot sporting third degree burns. The first and second degree burns on abdomen and legs have healed, but are still pink and may be so for the rest of my life. The experience isn't one I long to repeat, but talking about trauma is supposed to be therapeutic. I haven't attempted a blog on the subject before now mainly because I have no wish to gross anyone out, but there are some aspects of this experience that I think are worth sharing. I'm thinking emergency preparedness here. Would you know what to do in a similar situation? 

       After spilling the water, my first reaction was to get out of the area puddled with boiling water, then get out of the clothes and into the shower to cool the burns with cold running water. This is basic first aid. I would have known to do this even without my husband's coaching. I've never experienced trauma like this but have heard that when you're seriously injured, your body doesn't transmit the pain to your brain immediately, giving you some time to deal with it before pain incapacitates you. While in the shower I (foolishly) said to my husband, "This is going to HURT later, isn't it?"
One month after the accident. The worst burns
are to the right on the middle toes.
    Even as I stood in the shower, watching blisters grow and burst, starting to shiver from shock and cold, feeling nauseous and light headed, my husband was calling for an ambulance. The closest one is seven miles away, and should have been here in less than ten minutes, but that one was unavailable. Its backup was thirty minutes away. Thirty minutes! The 911 operator refused to contact the next nearest service because that didn't follow "protocol." No way could we wait! Riley drove me to the hospital. By the time we got there, I was in so much pain that I could hardly string two words together, let alone think coherently.
       They gave me morphine for the pain. I expected it to send me into a blissful, pain-free state. Okay, so I don’t know much about pain meds, never having needed them before. What it did do was make the pain manageable. It also made me nauseous and lightheaded. Morphine makes most people feel warm. This is a symptom of an allergic reaction that I didn’t notice. I was cold because the staff didn’t want to cover the burns until they were cleaned and treated, which couldn’t be done until the doctor gave the go-ahead and the meds took effect. The doctor’s go ahead was delayed because she had to fill out federal forms before treating her patient. Ironically, one of the dangers of burns is hypothermia; this is one of the reasons one you put dry bandages on burns.
       There was talk about sending me to the burn center at Michigan State in Ann Arbor because of the large burn area. There was also talk about sending me home. I didn’t want either, and was put in a room for observation to see which option was best. The next day I was admitted at the small hospital where I’d gone to the ER room and my regular doctor pooh-poohed the idea of going to Ann Arbor. During her morning rounds was when I got my first glimpse of my right foot. The blisters were huge, gray growths that looked like some sort of alien fungus. Unlike blisters elsewhere, they remained intact. The doctor said to leave them unbroken as that way they would remain sterile longer. I was still on morphine and feeling very little discomfort, except for continuing nausea. By noon the morphine was pretty much out of my system and I was taking only Tylenol. The nurse was urging me to get up and move around. I was released the next morning after my spouse received instruction for changing the bandages. I was appalled to learn that I'd gained fourteen pounds while in the hospital, from fluids to replace those lost from the suppurating wounds.
       I was delighted to be home instead of going to Ann Arbor, except that meant dealing with the dogs. Sam especially missed his mommy and was all over me, especially tending to step on that foot! It’s kind of amazing that the blisters didn’t pop until a day or two later. Even then there wasn’t much discomfort. That came two or three weeks later in the foot, after everything else had healed. The burns on my foot are deeper than elsewhere. Sometimes it feels like an electric volt is passing through the burned area, but it’s not a constant thing. I theorize that I was so focused on the burns on my body that the ones on my foot didn’t get enough cold water treatment immediately following the accident. Or maybe more water hit them. Anyway, I still can’t wear shoes even though those burns are healing well.
       The entire incident has opened the question of what would happen if professional medical treatment hadn’t been available. Raw honey is supposed to be an excellent treatment for burns. We don’t have any on hand. How would I have dealt with the pain? How about a supply of bandages for emergencies? Riley says one of the best sources for this sort of information is Backwoods Home’s anthology "Emergency Preparedness and Survival Guide." Do you have basic first aid training? Do you know how long it would take for an ambulance to reach your home under even the best conditions?
       Without immediate treatment for my burns (getting into the shower), I probably would have wound up as a major burn victim at the U of M burn center. That’s scary. Professional care is terrific when available, but when it isn’t right there, right now, it’s the individual’s responsibility to see to his/her own needs. How prepared are you?


  1. Oh my! How scary that must have been. Good question about being prepared. I guess I had better revisit that. Glad you are on the mend!

    1. My immediate reaction more along the lines of "how the h--- did that happen" and "what a stupid thing to do!" Scared didn't enter the picture, though I expect it may have if I'd been alone in the house. I knew I could rely on my dh to take care of me.

  2. Oh still looks so very painful..poor thing...I hope it starts to feel better soon!

  3. Pat - have you been using coconut oil any on the burn areas.... I had dropped a window fan on my foot last year and had a real nasty big hole in my foot.... And it was still kinda ugly 3 months later but had healed well with no infection (started by putting vicks vaporub on it and then switched to coconut oil because of the petroleum product in the vicks) I was giving myself a pedi the other day and really got to looking at the site and there is no scar tissue on the site 9-1/2 months later.... I've never had scar tissue disappear completely from that large of a wound so quickly.... I am also reducing gluten and that seems to be helping with inflammation issues (allergies) and getting the ph to about 7.2 (I started at 5.5 -- really acidic) I also take 2 tablespoons of coconut oil daily......

    I love your posts.... Keep up the great work... :-)

    1. I used a ton of shea butter all over both feet after the spill. I still have pink skin from the burns, but no disfigurement. Most of the time I have no discomfort, but sometimes, like today, working in the heat and getting grit in my shoes, the skin feels irritated. I take fish oil tablets. Thanks for all your support re my blogs. I really appreciate your continuing comments.

  4. Pat, I don't know if this will be helpful to you, but I had a few surgeries and was told I'd have scarring for life. I used the stuff from and now I can't see where any of the scars are- I used the copper stuff, it dyed my skin blue for a few hours so I used it before bed. My guess would be that it'd get rid of the pink spots and help the rest of your skin heal- it's actually used to help grow skin for grafts for burns.

  5. Thanks, Nerdy, but all pinkness is long gone. I'll make a note for future use and fervently hope I never need to use it!