No one who has not experienced a severe burn can fully comprehend the severity of the pain involved. If kidney stones and childbirth rank a 10 on the 10 point pain scale, hydrotherapy and debridement after massive burns and skin grafts can rank in the hundreds or thousands on the same scale.
There are no words to describe that pain. It is surreal. Only screams from the depth of the soul can express it. I know because I've been there.
And having been there and back, I encourage burn injury clients to see their cup as half full, to get on with normal life to the fullest extent possible.
In Georgia there are two excellent burn treatment centers:
Burn patients from anywhere in Georgia may be transported to either of these burn centers, depending on availability of space at the time of an injury.
For burn victims and their families, the road to recovery is likely to be both long and difficult.
There are four categories of burn injuries:
- First degree burns
- Superficial second degree burns
- Deep second degree burns
- Third degree burns
First-degree burns usually affect the outer layer of the skin, called the epidermis. A first-degree burn tends to be moist and red in color. A burn of this nature is generally resolved within a week. A classic example of a first-degree burn would be mild sunburn.
A superficial second-degree burn penetrates the entire epidermal layer of skin and extends down to the next skin layer, known as the dermis. Pressure on a second-degree burn tends to produce red blanches. The burn may appear moist and pinkish in color. A superficial second-degree burn also should heal spontaneously, often within two weeks.
A full thickness second-degree burn differs from the superficial second degree burns, because the tissue destruction runs deeper into the dermis. This type of burn is common in an explosion. A burn of this nature will be dry and whitish in color. It will not produce red blanches with application of pressure. This type of burn may take three to four weeks to heal. There is a risk that a deep second-degree burn will leave thick or hypertrophic scars.
Third degree burns are the most severe classification. This occurs when the burn destroyed both the epidermal and dermal layers of skin and extended down to the subcutaneous tissue. These burns may be physically depressed, charred, and often leather-like in appearance.
Ironically, a third degree burn may not be as physically painful as less severe types, because of the amount of nerve endings that were destroyed. These burns are very serious and often require skin grafting or other reconstructive procedures.
Burns are also classified into two categories: partial thickness and full thickness. Partial thickness burns include first and second degree burns, while full thickness burns are usually third degree burns.
These descriptions only describe the general burn characteristics. However, you should not attempt to diagnose the severity of a burn on your own. Instead, get prompt medical attention, because this can be important in minimizing pain and promoting faster recovery. In severe burn cases, immediate medical treatment may save lives.
Here are a few online resources that may be of use:
- Burn Resource Center
- Johns Hopkins Burn Center
- Practical Guidelines for nutritional management of burn injury & recovery
- Burn Rehabilitation article
A high protein diet is essential in recovering from a burn injury. An easy way to boost protein intake is to supplement meals with high protein meal bars and whey protein powder mixed into smoothies or other food can help.
Following burns and skin grafts, one typically must wear compression garments, sometimes for six months to a year. The custom-made compression garments can be terribly hot and uncomfortable, virtually intolerable in summer heat, and terribly conspicuous. However, patients sometimes come up with more comfortable options. For example, for burns on arms legs and torso, biker shorts, Coolmax running tights (available in Atlanta at Phidippides) and Under Armour Heat compression shirts (available at Dick's) may may provide the compression needed in a manner that both more comfortable and less conspicuous.
For some people recovering from burns, it is psychologically more positive to use protein supplements and compression garments that are designed and marketed for athletic rather than medical purposes.
Many burn survivors have very significant changes in body image and self concept, leading to understandable depression. There is a high incidence of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among burn injury survivors that may justify professional mental health care. Burn centers have burn survivor support groups that can be helpful in the recovery process for many burn survivors. However, this is a highly individual matter as some patients have enough of an external focus to recover psychologically on their own.
Of course, I am not a doctor -- just another guy who has been there -- and cannot give medical advice. All burn victims should seek medical advice and guidance from the physicians at the burn clinic where they are treated.
Following are some resources that may be of interest to burn injury victims and their families.
Medical & Rehab Information
Organizations / Support
Other Books on Burn Injuries