In this article, our previous client, and burns survivor, Charlotte Adderley shares her personal insight into the road to recovery following a burns trauma injury, as a part of National Burns Awareness Month 2018.
Recovering from a burns trauma injury is empowering at best, but debilitating at worst.
Take it from me; I spent over five weeks in an induced coma and over two months on the Professor Stuart Pegg Adult Burns Centre at the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital recovering from the early stages of my injuries.
Of course, that process doesn’t stop when you walk out of the burns ward doors. Most burns trauma survivors spend months, years – the rest of their lives healing.
It might surprise you, but most people I meet tell me that they have a relation to someone with burns. It’s incredible how many people’s family members, partners, friends, or friends-of-friends have suffered injuries from boiling water, open flames or hot surfaces.
So, this Burns Awareness Month has me reflecting on the different aspects of burns recovery, how they impact those around us, and why it’s important that everyone understands the process.
- Physical burns and scarring
A burn can be categorised under a number of different causes, namely; thermal, radiation, chemical, and electrical. While these types of burns are very different to one another, the skin reacts in a similar way no matter the cause.
As your body attempts to close an open wound and protect itself from infection, it replaces normal skin tissue with rapidly generated scar tissue. There are many variables affecting the severity of scarring including the size and depth of the wound, blood supply to the area, and the thickness of the skin. Scar maturation can take six months to two years.
There are three major types of burn-related scars:
- Hypertrophic: thick, raised, and often described as leather or rope-like; confined to the original area of the burn injury.
- Keloid: thick, raised, and may limit mobility; extends beyond the original limits of the injury.
- Contracture: permanent tightening of the skin that may affect underlying muscles and tendons; limits mobility.
- Impact of injury on the burns patient
A burn injury can have both significant physical and psychological impacts on the burns survivor. As a result, people experience a range of different emotions. It can take time for people to come to terms with their physical changes and accept their new self.
Often the reality of living with a burn injury initially involves having to make compromises. The burns survivor may have to adjust their daily routine, deal with physical difficulties, and overlook their sense of independence to ask others for help.
It’s important for them to be able to make sense of how they’re feeling, so that they can become happier and healthier as they physically recover. It’s also important for family members and friends to try and understand how their loved one is thinking and feeling to help each other get through the recovery process.
- Impact of injury on the family
A burn injury is a sudden and traumatic experience for all members of the family unit. For many, the injury affects all aspects of daily life. Each family member will react differently but, working together, families can provide much-needed support to the burns survivor while balancing the demands of daily life.
The whole family may need to learn to re-adjust family roles as well as maintain daily activities, routines, and communication throughout the recovery process.
- Adapting to life at home and day to day planning
Returning home from hospital after a burn injury can be an exciting but potentially daunting experience as it can take time to adjust to new surroundings and changes. Not to mention the back and forth the patient might have to the hospital for check-ups and specialist appointments; this can really disrupt home life.
Some ways to make time at home easier include; making modifications (including installing any needed equipment), staying active with a rehabilitation program, ensuring the patients has everything they need to maintain skin protection and scar management; and taking some pressure off of day-to-day chores and planning.
- Getting back into the community
This is the fun part – when a patient starts getting back into doing the things they loved to do before their injury. Yes, this can come with some psychological and physical difficulties but it’s an incredibly important step on their road to recovery.
It’s critical that they make every effort to get back out into their community and embrace social encounters – these things become easier as time goes on and the burns survivor becomes more comfortable in their surroundings.
Overcoming any hurdles depends on the person’s self-perception and the way in which they interpret social encounters. Carers, family members, and friends can act as a support network by; normalising burns scarring and reinforcing the idea that scarring is superficial; helping to explain the burns recovery process to people around them; and helping the survivor get out and about as much as possible. By having friends, family members, and the general public appreciate some of the aspects of burns recovery, it’s easier for a burns survivor to feel understood and embraced at home and within the public sphere.
I feel incredibly lucky to have many people around me who have supported me since my injury, including Gouldson Legal who have been at my side the entire time. I hope this helps you get to know a little bit more about what it takes to make a happy and healthy recovery from burns.