Aliens in This World

An ordinary Catholic and a science fiction and fantasy fan.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Important Safety Tip: Hot Things Burn

It's a good idea to make sure that burners really are off, and cool, before you touch them. I didn't follow this advice, and therefore spent a good chunk of my day in the emergency room yesterday with second degree burns across the fingertips of my left hand.

Lessons learned: If you're standing right next to the freezer when you burn yourself, possibly you should get out some ice while you're running water on your hand. Also, the bathtub faucet puts out a lot more cold water than the kitchen sink.

To make matters worse, it was going on eight in the morning. I had to call sick into work, too, and that's always a long drawn-out process when people aren't at their desks because they're working. (We have to talk to a live body of appropriate management rank.) So I called my mom and asked her to please call in for me, which she did. Then I set out for the emergency room.

Going to the emergency room without a car is an interesting project. Especially since the thing about second degree burns seems to be that they don't bloody stop hurting, no matter how long you run cold water over them. (Or rather, they do ease up, but only as long as you have them under cold water or on ice.) Fortunately, the hospital here is within fifteen minutes' walk. But that's a long time, particularly when you've just realized you have insufficient quantities of ice to get you anywhere. What I ended up doing (in case you are low on ice sometime) was filling a big 20-oz foam cup with cold water and dangling my fingers inside it. The only problem with this approach was that it took only about five minutes for the water to turn lukewarm enough to bother my burns. At this point, I resorted to twiddling my fingers to bring up colder water from the depths of the cup. Which worked okay for a while; but by the time I reached the hospital, I was practically crying from the pain.

I admit, maybe I shouldn't have gone to the emergency room. If I'd been at my parents' house, with plenty of ice and really cold water, I probably wouldn't have bothered to go to more than Urgent Care. But Urgent Care is a half-hour bus ride away, and a good fifteen minute walk to the bus stop first, plus an hour's wait.

But it honestly was the worst burn I've ever had; some of my skin looked blistered and some of it scaly, and that spooked me. Beyond that, though, I was really really in pain. If I never feel worse pain than that, then I still think I'll have felt plenty.

So anyway, I arrived in the emergency room and was relieved to find the place deserted. I got some more cold water, talked to the receptionist, and settled in to wait. (There was one patient ahead of me.) I must admit that the emergency room is one place where it's better to have to wait than to have to get immediate service. I ended up getting treated for my burn inbetween other cases (there was at least one person already back there, and another who came in while I was waiting). I'd brought a book, though, and they'd gotten me an icepack pretty soon, so I didn't mind waiting.

Lesson learned: Elevate burns, too! I admit this makes sense; you don't want blisters to swell up, either -- but I'd never heard this.

In the end, I got a tetanus-diphtheria shot (to help against infections when my blisters burst, which they probably will) and individual wrapped fingers. This was the result of some very nifty engineering. They had a little wire "finger", onto which they pulled a tube of gauze. Once they had a sufficient quantity of gauze, they put the wire finger over each of my fingers in turn, using it to pull on the gauze and keep it straight and unsnarled. I don't know why this impressed me so much, but it did.

I also got a prescription for Vicodin. I would like to thank the makers of Vicodin. I didn't need to use more than one pill, as it happened, because after that the heat was finally out of my fingers and so was the pain. But until I took the Vicodin, I was in serious pain. Also, it didn't really zonk me out like some pain pills do. (Not that I'm suggested you run out and drive heavy machinery under the influence or anything.)

My mom and dad came and picked me up afterwards. (They would've come earlier, but my dad had already left to do some errands when I called my mom. We are not a cellphone family.) I spent the rest of the day with them, mostly sitting around with my icepack for company. Our Irish wolfhound, Liath, was extremely curious about my icepack and my wrapped-up hand. In fact, toward the end of the afternoon, she tried licking my icepack (not much good, since it was cloth on the outside). Then she decided to try a pull at the end of one of my gauze fingers. Suddenly Liath found herself holding a long snake of gauze, which she then did her best to ingest in the second before we stopped her. I wasn't much help, as I was busy laughing.

(Btw, she did this all very delicately; my own finger wasn't hurt at all.)

This morning, I was surprised to see how well my burns were doing. In fact, they looked like they'd been healing for several days. I don't know if the blisters will burst after all; they look more likely just to heal. Whether this has more to do with my impassioned prayers in the bathtub to Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, or the skill of the emergency room folks, I don't know. Either way, the only real problem is that my burns don't look very dramatic now -- they only needed Band-aids this morning -- so I feel a bit embarrassed about taking off yesterday!


  • At 10:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Just a comment on hot things being hot. You did the right thing calling in to work and visiting the E.R. Burns properly treated are really a minor issue, major pain but minor issue, Burns improperly treated are a serious matter. And if you work with your hands, Say, playing a Guitar, And it's your fingertips that get burnt it can be a carreer ender. You'd never know it to look at me but I had serious 2nd degree (and a bit of 3rd degree) burns face, hands, arms (I've since re-burned the arms in a couple of small spots) and more. I can show you the difference between properly treated and almost properly treated. (I can no longer show you improperly treated, though I used to, seems the burns I got 25 years ago re-burned that spot and fixed it) But the differences are rather dramatic.

    (John Davis, Detroit)


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