As a former Disney Imagineer I can reveal to you that all their rides and movies follow a simple pattern: things are great, then they go awry and finally everything is resolved in bunnies and rainbows (or as the Brazilians say, “We all eat pizza together.”) Befitting that framework here is the story of my Burn Adventure Ride. The usual caveats apply since I am not a medical professional – but I can read and learn the sciences – so just remember that in the trades we teach that hot steel looks just like cold steel. Put in the time to learn for yourself. Be smart and remember as well that doctors started from the beginning. You always want a studious and equipped person at your side!
You know the typical outdoor grilling commercial during the Sportsbowl where some guy squirts lighter fluid into his charcoal BBq to edge it on and it erupts in a fireball? Imagine that in my living room at the fireplace but with Zippo lighter fluid (naphtha). But unlike the commercial, the flame travels up the stream and catches the can on fire in my hand. I start to shake it and blow it out to no avail.
But the naphtha did manage to splash onto my T-shirt which then became a candle wick and burned up my neck. It took me about 40 seconds of wild effort to douse the flames. I was… shocked. What the heck just happened?
Catching my breath I reverted to my training. Calling to my wife I asked for ice packs which to apply directly to my neck. I was running all the military management protocols in my mind while trying to laugh it off to her. Well, she wasn’t buying it and looked at me with deep concern.
Warning: The following photos are graphic, but not overly gruesome.
Here is how I looked 45 minutes after the event. You can see the preference of the flame up the left side of my face. And yeah, that’s not a happy face. A few minutes earlier I had a nice goatee on my chin.
Your skin in the largest organ of your body and it prevents the good things from getting in, the right things getting out and regulation of temperature. The world is a hostile place and our bodies are well adapted to managing the panoply of pathogens that see us a resource to exploit. But at around 7% surface compromise I started up on a regimen of Augmentin which is a combination of amoxicillin and clavulanic acid. My goal was to hit things hard to prevent a possible sepsis (blood infection). That was the internal effort plus Naproxen Sodium (Aleve) for the pain on the horizon.
My topical tack was Silvadene (silver sulfadiazene) which I had used 30 years earlier on a chemical burn on my back. So I had it in the med cabinet. Silver is a powerful antimicrobial. I suggest you get a few tubes of it in the 1% concentration.
My neighbor is a retired pharmacist so I rang him to come over and take a peek. He was pretty stoic. “There are some hard 2nd degree burn parts. This will really hurt you when you start healing. And that is good because it means the nerves aren’t dead.”
I awoke in the arms of my wife, looking at the ceiling. After exiting the shower I apparently crashed out three times with low blood pressure. “You also banged your shoulder against the bathtub” which explained a vague pain I felt on my back. Shock had finally hit me. I am quite prescient and I can tell you I never saw it coming.
She called EMS and after they instrumented me the conclusion was… a wry puzzlement. “Silvadene? Augmentin? In stock? Who the heck is this guy?” they asked my wife. At this point I wanted to say that “Well I got rigged up to protect others” but I was shaking uncontrollably and my arrogance did not match the reality of my bodily response. But in my mind… I smiled. She asked if there was anything else a visit to the ER would have done to treat me and one guy replied “Yeah, send you home with a large bill!”
You can be 100% willing to go total Jocko Willink – “Get up, dust off, reload, recalibrate, reengage” – but your body may not respond. I was honestly shocked at my inability to execute that morning. I dunno, maybe it was because I was in my temperature-controlled living room and not a cold forest possibly about to die from enemy gunfire.
Honestly I didn’t know what step two would be other than a) analyze and adapt, and b) execute a protocol to avoid infection while my body unwound this shock and started to repair itself. I messaged a friend who is an ER doc and her unofficial response was “add a tetanus shot.” So I assembled myself and headed to the neighborhood pharmacy for a TDAP. Driving my Rescue Green Jeep was not easy since my neck was starting to scab and I couldn’t easily turn my head.
I had an abdominal gauze pad taped to my neck which I had, ironically, picked up a box of two days before at the local thrift shop. Meant for others but apparently God intended me to go first.
The pharmacist was entirely cool when I walked in, as if dudes with burned necks came through his doors all the time with gauze catching the drippings. He didn’t have more Silvadene but he did suggest a tube of Theriac topical ointment. I got my TDAP, my honey-based balm and headed home.
The recovery was essentially uneventful. My skin healed. I thought I would lose a part of my left nostril due to necrosis but it was okay. I reflected upon a comment from one of the EMS guys: “Good thing you didn’t inhale the flames.” I kept on with the Silvadene until I was fully scabbed over and then shifted to the Theriac – which is a wonderful formulation.
I probably looked the worst at four days. The extent of the burns were revealing themselves. And I did lose my left eyebrow.
At ten days I was starting to go crazy with my itchy beard. Even when backpacking in the High Sierras I’d managed to shave over the past 35 years of trips! I washed my face a few times/day with the great soap that Tober makes herself at Nature’s Complement since I knew it didn’t have any bad chemicals in it and it wouldn’t hurt me. My procedure was to gently wipe a wet washcloth down my face to pick up the loose scabs that were ready to go.
Shaving was the hardest but sure felt the best.
I healed up (obviously since I’m typing this). Here I was at 39 days.
Isn’t it amazing what your body will do if you maintain a positive attitude and give it a hand with the right kit?
Some actionable items for you:
- Stock up on augmentin (alldaychemist.com), Silvadene (ebay.com), Theriac (theriacheals.com) and of course switch all your soaps and shampoos over to the great stuff at Nature’s Complement (naturescomplement.com)
- Get the latest copy of Dr. Weiss’ book on travel medicine and read it completely.
- No matter how much gauze you have in your stores it is not enough. I spent three weeks carrying around 4”x4” pads in my pocket. Whatever you have, double it.
- While you’re at it get some Xeroform gauze (inexpensive) and some PolyMem Silver non-adhesive pads (expensive). I learned about these later in the game after discussing things with EMTs and medical professionals. They would have made things nicer.
- Train and plan. Times fifty. Be ready to act. If you are thinking “Yeah, I should really get some of this stuff” then just ask yourself if you’re just playing around and kidding yourself. The issue you treat may be your own!
One of the guys in my Bible study suggested I attend counseling since I “likely had PTSD” from the event. I have none and that’s likely due to the involvement of people around me, mostly positive. Sure there was the boss who insisted I show up for work at my desk and “just wear a turtleneck” and the family member (in the medical field) who commented “You looked horrific!” but they were the exception.
My thanks to Dr. Scott Graverson who publishes the Journal of Special Operations Medicine and the articles that taught me the necessary skills, my neighbor who gave me his opinion without embellishment, Dr. Charon from a neighboring emergency department who identified the tetanus shot as a gap in my self treatment protocol and lastly my wonderful wife who never once averted her eyes from my recovery and repeatedly stated “You look better today!” – talk about love given corporeal form.
Twenty years ago I managed an R&D group. One of our projects was to reinvent the hospital room. In an early briefing I learned that a great failing in modern healthcare was that everyone in that play had a role: the patient lays down in a bed, the doctor arrived in a white coat with a stethoscope around his neck and the nurse provided 24/7 care. It was like a television show.
A smart person on the team suggested that the patient not act like an invalid if they were not and instead, conduct life to a level of normalcy they could bear. Sit in a chair and work on your laptop while, say, you get something through your IV or your surgery heals. And your muscles don’t atrophy to boot.
You could laugh at this and reply “It is just a mind game!” And I can’t point to any randomized clinical trials to validate that not playing the role of victim helps you heal faster but in our collective experience of that project it certainly seemed to be an obvious outcome.
I chose from the start to never embrace the role of victim. It served me well in completing this adventure. And now I have some real skills to help others. And genuine empathy.
Editor’s Closing Note: Training and stocking up to treat burns is particularly important for us, as preppers. In the event of a major disaster, a huge number of inexperienced city folks are going to be fiddling around with campfires, various sorts of gas and liquid fuel stoves, barbeques, and fireplaces. That will mean lots of burn accidents. Oh, and a lot of hatchet mishaps, too. So stock up and train up!