by James Lake
The staff at The Alfred hospital burns unit are awesome.
They’re a really caring, generous and fun bunch of surgeons and nurses to hang out with.
They’re the people who are always honest and have your best interests at heart.
They’re the people who push you to try harder every single day in your recovery.
They’re the people who literally clap and cheer you on with every new milestone.
They’re the people you would want to invite to your Australia Day BBQ.
But here’s the catch…
They’re not the people you want wiping your backside, because you cannot get out of bed to go to the bathroom yourself.
They’re not the people you want giving you daily injections in the stomach to prevent blood clots, because you’re immobile.
They’re not the people you want getting in the shower with you to clean your burns, because the pain means you cannot touch them yourself.
They’re not the people you want waking you up multiple times a night to check your vital signs and top up your pain medication, because without it… you don’t want to know.
They’re not the people you want coming with the news you will need a 3rd, or 4th or 5th surgery because healing burns are complicated and take a lot of work.
These are just some of the realities of winding up in the burns unit at The Alfred hospital. This is where I found myself two weeks ago.
I was burned in an accident with a camping stove. I was with a mate, who was doing something as innocent as trying to boil some water to make us a cup of tea. Both of us are extremely experienced, always extremely careful in our use of such appliances, and have never had problem before. But this time was different, ending with burning methylated spirits spraying on me. Both my legs caught on fire from ankle to the top of my groin, as well as both my hands.
At this point the primary school fire-safety lesson of “Stop, Drop and Roll” kicked in, but it turns out that doesn’t work with fuel fires. My quick thinking mate had me wrapped in a towel in a matter of seconds, and the flames were out, but the damage was done. The ambulance arrived as quick as it could, and a little over half an hour after the fire was out, I was being airlifted from Gembrook to The Alfred.
The lesson here isn’t about how awesome the Victorian Ambulance service is, or great the burns care at The Alfred Hospital is. The lesson is about the unpredictability of fire.
We’ve all seen the familiar images after a bushfire, where the flames destroy one house but leave the neighbours home a few meters away completely untouched. Well, small fires for making a cup of tea can be just as unpredictable.
We were not even playing with fire, like many of the patients who find themselves in the burns ward. Many of them are young men.
The Alfred burns unit gets an average of 4 new patients admitted every Australia day with acute burns. Meantime stats for this financial year show the hospital is in for a record number of burns admissions.
In the 4 months from last July to October 2017, there were 118 admissions to the burns ward. 81 of them were males, while 37 were female. Of the total 333 admissions last financial year, 138 were from fires involving accelerant – like in my case, methylated spirits. There were also 17 patients injured by gas bottle or BBQ malfunctions.
So take this warning seriously. It doesn’t matter how experienced you think you are, or careful you think you’re being, accidents can still happen. It was an accident that means I’m writing this article from a hospital bed. It didn’t matter how many times my mate and I had used the same fuel and same stove to boil some water, the fire still got out and came at me.