As a fifth year medical student, I spent an afternoon in burns outpatient clinic, in an outer suburb of Melbourne. It was my first contact with “suburban burns.” Stupid adult after stupid adult presented with essentially self-inflicted injuries. Petrol, pyromania (and probably alcohol) were the major contributors to most of these injuries – it seems fires are just more fun if they explode in a rush!
This early experience and others, set up my expectations of burns patients, and I have not been really disappointed to date. People who get burns are generally doing stupid things. Up until recently, I felt no compassion.
Almost a year ago, my hungry 8 month old pulled a bowl of boiling porridge off a table onto himself. We were right there. We had even positioned his stroller, not even considering that he could reach that far. (We have since found out that he has super-powers, and elastic arms is one of them.)
Mr J is fine. But we made a big mess with cold water in the cafe, and spent the day in the local emergency department. And we got to listen to his screaming, simply because we were distracted for an instant.
Two weeks of silver dressings were required, and I needed to attend outpatients as a patient. I had to admit that I had allowed this to happen. Then I had to admit to friends and family what had happened and imagine them with my own prejudices.
Now I don’t contend that I love all burns patients now. Adding petrol (and alcohol) to fire still makes you stupid. But people who do stupid things aren’t always proud of them afterwards. And that was an important lesson to learn.
Postscript for medical voyeurs: MrJ had 4% superficial burns to his arm. They healed after two weeks of silver dressings, and he has a small residual “tough sticker” scar on his forearm.