They come in all shapes and sizes. Little and bigger. Some are freshly burnt, the raw and sloughing flesh tender; for others it is just one more in a long line of surgeries to restore structure and function.
The scarred flesh tells stories of multiple skin grafts. IV access is a nightmare.
Some of them are just babies. They come into the operating theater wrapped up like little mummies, barely able to flex their limbs. They give weak cries, drugged up on sedation and analgesia.
We search for patches of in tact skin to attach electrodes and stickers.
And then we put them under. We run a good ketamine infusion. We mix adrenaline and bupivacaine clysis. We do everything we can to prevent pain while they sleep and once they wake up.
Before the surgeons start, the nurse cleans. And it’s a good thing our analgesia is so good because cleaning a burn must be the worst thing you can do to someone. They scrub the wound til it bleeds.
Everything bleeds. The split skin graft donor site is shockingly pale for an instant, and then it, too, bleeds.
The surgeons do good work. The occupational therapists and physiotherapists do great work too, and weeks or months later the little mangled hands will deftly colour their colouring books and high-five the doctors.
But I don’t want to stand in awe of how we can fix them up. I don’t want to be inspired by their strength.
I want them not to burn.
I want mothers not to leave boiling water in places where a toddler can reach them.
I want paraffin heaters not to explode over the legs of five-year-olds.
I want candles and lamps not to fall over and burn down everything in the fire’s ravenous way.
I want South Africa to be a more child-friendly, child-AWARE society.
Burns are CRAP. We have some of the best burns-surgeons in the world because it is so prevalent here. I’ve been burnt – you know, a little blister from touching a hot iron. I can hardly imagine the pain of the burns I’ve seen.
No. May is burns-awareness month. I don’t want there to have to be a burns-awareness month.
We can dream, I suppose.