Back in October 2012 I was doing really well. I had just temporarily downsized my growing small business with the intention of relocating close to Melbourne. I had planned some down time to help my mother with a café that she had taken over and had given up my house to move in with her to live cheap while I helped her out for a month or two. All was looking great, the world was my oyster, I was looking forward to making some major and well needed changes in my life and then disaster happened.
I was on the last day of moving out of my house and I had a few boxes of personal documents, magazines and general papers etc to get rid of. I like to throw my bills into the bin to prevent identity fraud, so I had been looking to burn or shred them. Most of the time my environmental conscience would stop me burning anything, but the folks were doing their pre summer burn off of old tree branches etc. so I thought what the hell, they had to go. After the boxes had been burning for approx 15min, I was standing about 2m away from the fire talking with my mum and sister when all of a sudden BANG!!!! The next thing I know my hair is on fire and burning debris if falling on top of me. It turned out that somehow a full can of spray paint had been thrown into one of the boxes. A stupid, but easily done mistake. I managed to put my hair out and bolted for the nearest tap to dive under. By the time I got to the tap I remember looking down to see the tip of my left ring finger peeled back and large chunks of skin hanging off my wrist. At this point my sister is behind me throwing a bucket of water over me because apparently I was glowing the whole way to the tap. After this she realises that she is also burnt and it’s time to get help. Amazingly mum got away with one little burn in her jumper despite standing so close to me.
Being in a small town with only voluntary ambulance services and that we were next to the unattended ambulance centre, logic and panic told us it was better to jump into the car and haul ass to the hospital, that was only one min drive away. It was in this time and through being briefly out of the water that I started to realise the extent and coverage of my burns. Once in the hospital I was thrown under a shower and while the first nurses were wonderful, a long list of colossal fuck ups began. I was stuck under a cold shower for over an hour waiting for the doctor. No pain killers were given until after he arrived and then I was only panedine forte that took forever to kick in. Being under the shower for so long put me into shock and gave me slight hypothermia. I collapsed in the shower shaking uncontrollably but without painkillers I couldn’t leave the water. When the doc finally arrived he attended my sister first. Her burns were minor so they got her out of the way. Finally I was seen and painfully taken out of the shower to suffer while the painkillers slowly took effect. Then I was smothered in silvadene to help the burns…..face included…..later found out it can send you blind…..it was in my eye!!!! The wonderful nurse who had been caring for me had suggested that I might be put onto the air ambulance and taken to Adelaide. Being the control freak that I am and being I shock I was like “no! I’m going home!” it wasn’t until I was out of the water that I looked down and saw the state of my body. I knew then that I was in trouble. There were two moments of shock in this ordeal. This was one of them. My left arm was burnt from the top of the shoulder right down to my fingertips all except a strip on the underside about an inch and a half wide. My face and neck were burnt as were my back where my racer back singlet had left skin exposed. Thank goodness I was wearing a cotton top and not a synthetic one. (can I also mention it was a Random Ally top) So at this stage I start to panic and my sister is wheeled into the room so we are easier to manage. We were then told we would both be kept in for observation overnight and offered a warm drink and that was about all the care we were given despite our injuries. In hindsight alarm bells were ringing, but I was not in any condition to do anything about it. What should have happened was I should have been put on a drip, given decent pain killers and tetanus shot and put on that plane to a hospital that was trained to handle my injuries. Instead my doc was out of his depth and stuck his head in the sand and ignored the seriousness of my injury.
Once we were put into our beds we were told we couldn’t have any more meds for 6hours (Panic) and were left to it with ice packs to sooth our burns. My sister’s burns were only mild and only over her elbow and slightly up her arm. Poor thing, in any normal case that is well worthy of sympathy, but she was overshadowed by my burns and she still had nerve endings so she felt everything. I remember having to talk her through her pain at one stage. By 1am I had cracked and was bawling in pain, by this stage a new nurse had come on and made it very clear that I was disturbing her night and reluctantly rang the doctor who had gone home by then, to see if I could have anything else. I was then given one endone, but nothing else until the morning. I did feel better for about an hour though and got a little sleep. But the pain management was joke in comparison to what I would later be on.
By the next morning I was coping on the low level drugs I was back on and spent the day waiting for the doc to come and look at me and discharge me. Basically he looked at my arm and said go home and let it heal. I was shocked and being me, self-doubt crept in and I thought toughen up princess, it can’t be as bad I thought and stop being a baby and get on with it. I was referred to the community health nurse in 2 days’ time and my arm was wrapped up in all the wrong gear and sent home to sort myself out.
The next day the health nurse rang to arrange my appointment and I told her I was uncomfortable with everything plus my dressings were coming apart. So she got me in that day and the look on her face said it all. My arm was twice the size of the other one and was just horrific. So she sent me to the doctor’s clinic to see the same doctor. Because I didn’t have an appointment I had to wait for an hour and a half to see him. Sitting there with my burnt face was so upsetting. Everyone knows you in a small town and everyone thinks it’s their right to know your business. I just wanted disappear there and then. So I get into the doctor thinking he would do something and he looks and says “why come in, go home and let it heal” WTF! So back to the nurse I go, she dresses it properly and sends me off home with a horrified look on her face. I see the nurse daily, each time she attempts to get the doctor to pay me attention. On the 3rd day she bites the bullet and goes over the doctor’s head to ring the burns unit at the Royal Adelaide. They asked her to send pics and 2 hours later I’m told to get in the car and drive 350km to Adelaide with the warning I may need surgery, but they want to look at it anyway. I got it out of her that it was much worse than that. I have to say that I owe so much to the nurse, Anne. She was put in a very difficult position with the doctor and not having dealt with severe burns before was not able to just make a call on how bad I was burnt.
It was during the trip to Adelaide that I realised I was not well. Infection had started to set in and I was hallucinating for most of the trip. I wasn’t able to sleep but I was out of it and having the most disturbing dreams despite still kind of being awake. Once in Adelaide I had to go to emergency to be admitted. It was 11pm by the time I was taken to the burns ward. I had fainted while in emergency so they had to deal with that, do tests, especially on my eyes. I had to see a plastic surgeon and everything else they do and then I was taken to the burns unit and that was the 2nd moment of shock. Ithadn’t hit me that I was a burns victim until that moment, this is the very ward that people from the Bali bombings were taken, these were the same doctors and nurses who helped them. That was horrifying to realise I was in that same ward. But I also realised at that moment that I was one of the lucky ones.
Pic 1: The can
Pic 2: My arm at day 2
Part 2, The Burns Unit
So to Recap, I’m finally being admitted to the Royal Adelaide Hospital, with burns to my face, neck, the entire length of my left arm/hand and back of the left shoulder. Because my burns had not been treated accurately in the past 4 days, infection had reared its ugly head and I was quite sick. I don’t think that I mentioned in the earlier part that while in the RAH Emergency room, I fainted while someone was attempting to put an IV needle into my right hand. Turns out that while being sick, and also being fasting, in case I had to have surgery that night, had taken its toll. Plus I hate needles. So a quick fix was to give me a sandwich to top me up before a second attempt. Now, I had not eaten at all that day and it was about 8pm, I was starving and although I was given just a plain old sandwich that was probably made that morning, it was the single tastiest sandwich I had ever eaten. Yep just a little off the plane!!!! The thing that got me was the mustard pickles. Of all things. I still talk about that sandwich now and just can’t replicate it. LOL sometimes you just have to laugh at things.
Once I was admitted into my room in the RAH burns Unit I was told I had to shower. My room was a sterile environment and I had to scrub myself before I could do anything to wash away all the badness of the outside world. I was really freaking out at this stage. It was nothing like the treatment I had had so far. Everything had to be sterile. Anyone who came into my room had to wear gowns and hair nets and scrub up before entering the room. Once I was into bed I was given decent drugs for the pain…..OH HAPPINESS!!!! And then it was time to have my wounds looked at and dressed. The nurse got stuck into cleaning my wounds and began popping the larger blisters as they are a haven for infection. Once she popped one the skin just started falling off. I was horrified and so were my mum and sister who also got to watch. She peeled me from my shoulder to just below my elbow. Once the air got into the fresh raw skin the pain set in. But along came more pain killers…BLISS!!! It was the total opposite of my earlier experience. By midnight the painkillers had made me quite dopey and it was time for everyone to leave. I was mortified at being left there alone knowing surgery was to come. I didn’t sleep that night, more laid there in a drugged out state. But at least I wasn’t in any pain.
So the next morning I went in for surgery to have my 5 day old “dirty burns” debrided and whatever else they did to me. At this stage the depth of my burns was unknown. My face was going to be ok, but they didn’t know if I would need skin grafts on my hand or arm. Going into surgery was horrible. I kept thinking “what if I wake up” I don’t know what made me think of that, but it stuck and I was so scared. I just kept trying to focus on my breathing and staying calm. I was really lucky that the nurse that was with me in the waiting area was there to talk me through it and calm me down, I kept trying to focus on when I woke up and it all being over. I knew the surgery would only take about 30min unless I needed grafts, which was becoming doubtful and I was told that I would be waking up as I was being wheeled out of surgery. Well when I woke up it was over an hour and a half later and the first thing I saw was the clock and knew it had been too long. Then I noticed the nurse that took me in hanging around me. She quickly saw the panic on my face and informed me that I had taken an hour longer to wake up than I should have. Oops!!! I was the talk of the wards that day. On the positive side, I didn’t have any skin grafts. Lucky for me there was enough skin left after the debridement to allow a bit of skin cover to remain and regrow. My burns were mid to deep dermal (2nd degree) on my arm, hand and back. While my face and neck were mostly flash burns and were cleared up in surgery. Well let’s say my face was almost as new and I didn’t ask questions.
So for the next 6 days my world was my little bubble of a ward. Everything I needed was in there. It was a private room due to the need to keep everything sterile, so that was nice. I had a large bathroom/toilet connected. My bed was comfy most of the time and I had my phone and laptop there when I needed. For the first 2 days my mum and sister stayed in town and spent time with me but I was barely conscious for parts of it. I also didn’t sleep for the first 3 nights and during the day I would doze a little. The infection, antibiotics and pain killers kept me bedridden for most of it. I watched dvd’s that I barely remember and listened to music that had no vocals because I didn’t plug my headphones in properly. I remember thinking my favourite band MUSE, had really lost the plot with their new album until I plugged the headphones in properly. On the bright side I got to listen to their album for the first time twice.
I only left the ward twice during my stay. The staff encouraged me to get out and about. But I really felt quite weak form the infection and preferred to stick to my room. I did have visitors drag me out of my room and up to the hospital café with the promise of coffee at the other end. The first time was with the family before they headed back down the coast. Really the coffee was not worth leaving my room for. lol and the second time was with my friend Casey, who I went to Uni with and hadn’t seen in five years. We spent a good part of an afternoon together, catching up and have made more effort to see each other since. After that I had run out of visitors to bring me my daily coffee and I was only three days in.
Every second day I had a routine of pain inflicting dressing changes. To start I was given 2 endone (oxycodone hydrochloride) and told to have a shower to help the dressings come off. Then I got back into bed and was given more painkillers so the nurse could remove the dressings for me. The first time I had no idea of how my arm looked, and let’s say it wasn’t pretty. Imagine having all of your skin shaved off of your arm. My hand looked like a rubber glove that had been blown up. The back of my hand was more round than flat. I then waited for the doctor with a cover over my arm to protect it. Pretty soon I had developed some eschar (Dead skin that’s come away from the surface of the skin) and that needed to be removed. There was talk of potentially more surgery, but first they gave me more pain killers and successfully attempted to remove it while cleaning me up. But there was still concern and I was defiantly not going home in the time expected. Each time I was wrapped back up with the acticoat (silver antimicrobial barrier dressing) and left to slide in and out to delusion land thanks to all the painkillers I needed for each change. Apparently my pain tolerance is really quite good. I thought I was on too many painkillers, yet apparently I could have had double if I really needed it. I was wondering why they kept offering me more.
I don’t clearly remember how everything went exactly. But after the first 3 days of visitors I was quite happy to hide away in my room. I had also started physio by this stage and soon discovered that I had absolutely no movement in my hand, but the physio insisted that it was there. I still remember on the first day when he told me I could form a fist. I was concerned the skin on my fingers would split. As soon as he had finished telling me that it wouldn’t happen, I felt the skin on all four fingers give way. The look on both our faces!!! Yet he still made me continue.
The nurses tried to coax me out and suggested I go for a walk, but I was happy on my own. Plus after my visits to the café I was worried to venture out on my own especially when the drugs hit me so hard. So I just concentrated on my physio and on resting. Also my infection was still being a pain. My temperature was up and down and making me sick. The injections of antibiotics were irritating the vein it was going into and it was just too hard to get dressed. I couldn’t even brush my hair or put it up to hide the mess.
On the 6th day I had what was to be the final check up from the doctor. I knew there was a chance I was going home and my brother had offered to come pick me up as soon as I gave the word. So I went through my usual routine of Drugs, Shower, Drugs, Wait, Doctor and Dressings. This time i was going home. They needed the bed and my eschar had reduced. And my temp had stabilised from the infection. Luckily because my vein had collapsed from the antibiotics and it was so painful to be given the huge injection that irritated the vein. I had however developed the biggest scab I’ve ever seen over my forearm. Because my lower arm and hand needed more surgical attention and the eschar and weeping that it caused, a scab developed. This was a minor concern, but I was promised it would heal and lift. It was strange to be going home, especially when my arm was looking its worst. My hand was swollen and red and I was convinced it would never look like a real hand again. While I was waiting to be wrapped back up I had a phone call. As I reached for my phone, the cord to my laptop slightly touched the back of my hand and my skin was so delicate it split open with blood going everywhere. Then in came the physio to suit me up with my pressure garments before I was sent home.
All decked out in my Pressure Garments.
I left the hospital that day about lunch time. My brother picked me up and off I went. I really didn’t want to leave the comfort of the burns unit. I had a perfect routine and anything I needed was just a buzzer away. I knew I wouldn’t get this support at home, everyone was just to busy. I was sent home with all the dressings I needed to get me through. The burns unit didn’t trust my local hospital to have any in stock. Each sheet of Acticoat cost around $200. I was allowed to go back to the nurse who pushed to get me into the ward though. Lucky they were willing to release me into her care, otherwise I would have had to travel 150km every 3 days for a dressing changes, because that is where the nearest trained nurse was stationed.
Thinking back the burns unit was fantastic, and probably spoilt me for any future hospital visits. Being a burns patient, I was given/needed a private room, excellent care and staff dedicated to the small number of us and our specific needs. The staff were wonderful and caring, even at 3am when they would come to check my stats and offer me orange juice with my pain killers. I even got hugs when I left. But I also think that I was one of the more positive patients. I was not anywhere near as badly injured as others and I was able to chat and laugh with them. I am really grateful to the staff at the RAH Burns Unit. I was very lucky to be admitted to one of the best Burns Units in the world and I think the staff are equally world class!