Saturday, May 21, 2011

Part Two: The Surgery

I almost wish I hadn't started this story 
but because I did, I need to finish it.

The burn unit gave us strict instructions how to care for Ian's face, neck, and arms. This picture was taken within two weeks of the burn. We had to vigorously wash Ian's arm three times a day with a special antibacterial solution. This caused Ian an enormous amount of pain because we had to hold him down in the bathtub and scrub his wound a special way so it wouldn't get infected. It took two people to do it properly. He screamed and screamed and screamed every time we did it even though we gave him pain medication before the procedures. As soon as it was wrapped back up, he would be OK. This was extremely difficult for me to do because I knew I was causing him pain every time I washed his wounds. That was heart breaking for me and Ian had an extreme fear of any kind of pain for many, many years. He especially did not like doctors.

I was instructed to wash his face and neck and apply Bacitracin and keep Bacitracin applied to it so it wouldn't get infected. I received a book for a wedding gift called "Let's Have Healthy Children." That book was a great gift. There was one entire chapter on burns and Vitamin E treatment. I read that chapter long before Ian was burned but I never forgot it. Uncharacteristically for me, I did not follow doctor's orders. I only applied the Bacitracin for about a day. From then on, I slathered Ian's face and neck as often as I could with Vitamin E oil. That stuff was amazing. Really and truly, it worked. His face and neck began to improve immediately and the effects of the Vitamin E oil was worth defying the doctor's order.

The burn unit doctors were very concerned about the burns on Ian's arms however. They were deep second degree burns and they said he might have to have skin graft surgery. We hauled Ian to the hospital every other day for two weeks. They debrided his wounds and checked the progress every time. This was an awful time for Ian and an awful time for me. The stress of not knowing if he would have surgery or not and the daily cleansing/scrubbing of the wound were a nightmare for all. After seventeen long days, they decided that Ian needed the skin graft surgery. Thus began the new nightmare.
Ian had the surgery and was in the burn unit for five days.
He was not a happy camper and it was very hard on me.
This normally happy toddler was 
not much into smiling anymore. 
The red port on the far right was for the administration
of antibiotics directly to the skin graft.
In this picture, Ian had an IV in the right arm tied to a board and his left arm immobilized on the other side where the skin graft was. They took the skin graft from his bottom on the left side. The first pass they took was too small so they had to make a new second pass to get enough skin. His arm was then covered with the new skin but his bottom became as if it was a brand new burn. It had to be treated the same way as the arm did prior to the surgery.

Three times a day for two more weeks we had to put him in the tub and cleanse his bottom wound the same way we had to cleanse his arm wound prior to the surgery. Two more weeks of intensive screaming. God bless that child.

Finally, finally, finally we could stop the cleansings after about 33 days total. Ian had to wear a special tight burn stocking on his arm and leg for about 2 1/2 more years so the skin grafts and skin graft site would heal well and lay flat.

He never liked having to have the stockings
put on but they were part of life.
This isn't a great picture but it shows that the burn and skin graft went from the top of the left arm to the elbow with about an inch at the bend of the elbow not affected and then from the top of the lower arm to the wrist. As he grew bigger, the spaces between the areas lengthened. Those areas always tan really darkly compared to the other parts of his arm. I'm sure he's somewhere in Brazil telling stories about those skin grafts. 
 As bad as everything was, life went on. 
I love this picture of Ian here smiling and laughing. 
We all adjusted, but I never forgot.
This is a picture of Ian's third birthday. 
His face had healed beautifully as well as his neck.
I have been forever grateful that he
didn't need skin grafts to his face or neck.
He has a beautiful face.
The Vitamin E was extremely effective.
And he grew into a very, very handsome young man 
with a very handsome face. 
This was his senior high school picture.
And somewhere in Brazil is this very good looking missionary.

When we left the burn unit for the last time after about 2 1/2 years of treatment, I told Dr. Morris that if he ever saw me walk in the burn unit again that he should shoot me on the spot. That was a very, very hard time for me. I learned a great deal of things I never wanted to learn. I learned you can't let a toddler out of your sight. I always put pots on the back burners from then on out and always with the handles facing to the back. I was told that you have 30 seconds to make a difference in a burn, that's all. Those 30 seconds have to be used to the best of one's ability. 

When Ian had his surgery, he was in the hospital for five days. I stayed with him but asked for no visitors. The guilt I had over his burn and not protecting him well enough consumed me. I didn't want to talk to anyone. The Sunday morning I was there, I went to the chapel for an LDS service. I was so depressed, it was really tough. The speaker that morning talked about the card game UNO. He said that sometimes when bad things happened, it was like a game of UNO. He said, "You have to play the hand you were dealt, you can't give the cards back." I have never forgotten that. I had wished Ian was never burned. I had wished I had gotten to him sooner. I had wished a hundred different things, but that speaker helped me. From that moment on, I knew I could not "undo" the burn. I had to live with it. Ian had to live with it for the rest of his life. I had to play the hand I was dealt on poor Ian's behalf and learn from it and learn to forgive myself.

The Lord helped me through that time. I learned that He loves mothers very much. I was grateful for priesthood blessings and kind people who helped me. I was and am grateful to a good husband who was a great strength to me during that time. And I am grateful that this wonderful son has healed. He didn't heal the way I thought he would or the way I wanted him to, but he healed and is well and is happy and always, always has my heart.


  1. I honestly had no idea. I had a hard time reading and not crying at all the pain that was felt. What a scary time.I am going to always try to remember to put the back burners on my stove to better use. Your council will help someone else like me learn from the experience.

  2. I like the lollipop picture up at the top. We'd give Ian those lollipops and stick them in his hand so that he'd have to bend his arm.
    I show these pictures to my students every quarter so they know not to leave stove handles hanging over the stove.

  3. How hard it must have been for you to put this in words for all to see! I cannot imagine what a difficult time you had back then. But I would say that you did well with the hand that was dealt. I have never met a more courteous, well-mannered, thoughtful, gospel-centered young man than Ian. And he is soooo good-looking on top of all that! You are blessed parents and some day there is going to be a young woman who will be blessed to have him as a husband. And then he will be a father and pass on all of these wonderful characteristics to the next generation!

    1. Hi there, I know this is an old post-and im so happy to see your Son is grown up and hhopefully this nightmare is fully behind him. Mine however is very real at the moment and I was wondering how your son's scars are now? My baby was scalded on her leg by a flask of boiling water a few months ago, I trusted a family member with her so I was not even with her. I unfortunately know all too well the agonising wait for the skin graft decision and the agony our poor babies went through. My daughter did need grafts and it's very much like your son's arm above-3 areas where her leg was bent in car seat and so back of knee/fat folds spared. She wears a pressure garment and silicone gel sheeting underneath that, and will do for at least another year. I massage her twice a day for 20 minutes but the trauma is still very raw and I really do fear for her self confidence and I find myself full of anger and sadness almost constantly. She has some hard scar tissue that they hope will flatten out, and the overall scar is fading, although is very wrinkled and will be paler than her other skin (and she's very pale anyway). So can I ask how your son's scars developed over his life, did they get proportionately smaller? Hard scar tissue go away if any? Noticeable now? Psychologically affected at all? I hope you don't mind me asking-finding similar stories is actually very hard to come by

    2. Hi. First of all may I say how very sorry I am for your daughter's burns. My heart goes out to her as she heals and I know all too well about the emotional roller coaster you are going through. The guilt and sadness I experienced took forever to go away, but the raw emotional aspects did eventually end. Someone helped me by telling me about playing the card game Uno. They said, "you have to play the hand you were dealt, you can't give the cards back." That helped me deal with the nightmare of trying to wish it never happened.

      My son is 23 now. Yes, the grafts softened as the years went on and became proportionally smaller. They used to touch near the top of the shoulder, almost to the elbow notch on both the upper arm and forearm, and almost to the wrist. He has a good 3 inches of separating those points now. Functionally, he has no problem using his arm, but we had to be diligent about getting him to use/stretch the arm for a good year or year and a half. The skin grafted areas always tanned much darker than the rest of the arm in summer so sunscreen is a must. Yes, they are still noticeable, but not too much. You look at his arm and can absolutely tell where the skin grafts are, but if he uses sunscreen, the colors match. He says nobody really asks about them anymore. The grafts are tougher than the other skin. I recommend Vitamin E oil every time you massage, you will notice a difference. I am a big proponent of Vitamin E oil. The reason you can't see the burns on his face is because I used a lot of Vitamin E oil on those areas. Psychologically: My son was terrified of pain or impending pain, ie. getting shots of any kind, etc the entire time he grew up. He eventually outgrew it. I always used as much love and care I could when it came time for doctors. None of the other kids ever made fun of his arm/scars that I recall. Mostly people were just curious. He made up a lot of stories as the years went on for fun. They generally asked once due to curiosity and that was it. The scars never affected his self-esteem in any way that I am aware of. Not long ago I took a good look at the graft areas. I have to say that they look pretty much like they did after about a year and a half or so except softer. The red edges around the graft where they sewed it on and trimmed eventually goes away.

      Be diligent about the burn stockings, they help a lot. I don't know what your daughter's leg looks like, but as time goes on, it will heal considerably more than what it is now. In time, it wouldn't hurt to seek a consult from a plastic surgeon to see what, if at all, can be done about her long term outlook. My heart really does go out to you. The situation is complicated on many levels, and the emotional roller coaster is tough to deal with.

      I hope I helped a little. Take care. My very best to you and your daughter. Thanks for reaching out. Liz

    3. I did write a long reply but it didn't post and disappeared instead! But yes thank you for replying, it has helped-I wish I had a crystal ball sometimes as I do fear for her. Ill try and post a picture but not sure how to on here?

      Some people have said the graft wont grow/stretch, and the surrounding skin will-do you think your son's grafts have stayed a very similar size? I know you said the gaps bigger, I was wondering if that also meant they have stayed the same size. That's strange about the tanning as ive been told grafts don't tan, but to obviously put on a high factor throughout her life anyway as it's delicate skin.

      Ill try the vitamin e oil, did you use that on his arm too? It's a relief to hear he's not suffered any bullying/negative remarks about it. I can't help but worry it's different for girls..

    4. The skin grafts themselves absolutely grew or stretched, hard to tell exactly what the mechanism was. He was 15 months old when he was burned and he's 6'2" now with big, muscular arms. They grew/stretched a lot.

      Yes, I put vitamin E oil on the surrounding reddened skin. It took quite a while to heal.

      I don't know about other people's grafts, but my son's tanned a LOT. They got very dark and once the tan started for the summer, if we had forgotten to put sunscreen on, the tan was there for a long time.

      I still can't help but think a consult with a plastic surgeon after all the healing is done might not give you the direction you are looking for. Her skin will never look seamless as if nothing ever happened, you will be able to tell there were grafts.

      My son's experience was over 20 years ago. With the advances they make in medicine all the time and with the age of your daughter, it only makes sense to me that you have other avenues to explore and other opinions to seek, ie: a plastic surgeon when the time comes. I am not saying that something more can be done, I am just suggesting that it wouldn't hurt to ask.

      I think there isn't anything to bully frankly. Friends/classmates etc. were just curious. "What's that?" they would ask. Ian would tell them or make up a story and then they'd say, "Oh" and that was it. They understood he had skin grafts on his arms from burns. Once they had their curiosity appeased, that was always the end of it.

      Good luck to both of you. There's always lots of hope ahead and when you see how happy your daughter is years down the line, the worry and pain and anger you experience now will find a place in your life's history. When my son was first burned someone said, "He'll never remember, but you'll never forget." It is so true. He and I had a talk about his burns recently. He remembers nothing, unfortunately I remember everything. I explained it in great detail what happened to him because he wanted to know. It was if I was telling someone who didn't know the story because he had no memory of it although it is seared into mine. I told him, "It was my fault you know." (I was pushing the last bit of something down the garbage disposal and didn't reach him in time to stop the pot from tipping over on him). He said, "I know." I told him I was so sorry." He acknowledged that between the both of us and then we just moved on in the conversation grateful he is so well and happy and has a functioning arm. It is was it is, the tragedy and grief is what they were and times heals a lot of things. I wish I could take away your pain, I really do. I wish my son was never burned, but he was. All I can promise is that it will get better. Take care.

    5. Thank you, I do think things will be easier once I see my daughter being 'ok' about it. Apart from the red parts atm you couldn't tell it was scarred in SOME lights, but in sunshine/some angles the bumps and taughtened look is clear. Just finding a picture via dropbox but it's being very slow so will send once uploaded.

      I have read SO many cases of toddlers needing grafts/being burnt at that curious age, you are over the worst now but please remember that unfortunately it's so common. Like falling down the stairs! Burns just leave such lifetime scars both emotionally and physically. What I find hard is that my baby was fast asleep-too young even now to be at the stage of 'dangerous', and my guilt for letting her out with someone else is awful, especially when you've grown them, birthed them, fed and loved them with all your heart-then someone else can hurt them so much. Anyway, time is a healer. I bought some vitamin e capsules today and have used the contents on her scar before bed. The burns team say they'll only perform additional operations/cosmetic things if really needed...but at the moment we have to wait the two years. The scars are about 3 inches by 2 on the side and back of knee, and then 1inch on upper calf. Tiny bit on upper thigh but that should be hardly noticeable in time.

      Thank you again

    6. - This is her leg now 6 months on. It gets more purple/red when standing. The burn initially went from half way down her calf to her nappy line

    7. Wow, I have to tell you, I think those grafts look really good. I can tell your daughter has a long way to go in the healing process yet, so you are by no means done. I think the outcome in the end will be quite good and you will be pleased. It's important to keep her burn stockings on to flatten the edges. I think my son had to wear his for two years, but they really work. Don't ever neglect them.

      Just so you know, you can buy Vitamin E oil at any pharmacy and most grocery stores sell it too, it comes in a bottle. It's the same stuff as in the capsules and it's easier to apply that way. I am never without a bottle of Vitamin E oil in my home now. I use it anytime I get a little burn or a scar, works every time.

      I think you are on your way, really I do!

      In time, your heart will also heal. Normal grief take two years in most instances and sometimes you just have to work through the grieving process in all its stages, which includes anger unfortunately. My very best to you and your daughter. Liz

    8. Actually, the burn stockings flatten the whole thing, not just the edges.

    9. Thank you Liz :-) it's nice to hear your reassurances, thus far it's just been 'ohh yeah wow, that's bad' when I've shown people to which I want to say 'no please don't say that! You should have seen it 6 months ago...that was awful'. She wears the stockings 23-24 hours a day-religiously. My only issue at present is that this lot (as she gets new ones every 3 months) seem a bit loose-so im phoning tomorrow to ask for tighter ones. I find the garments hard to deal with emotionally-especially with summer, my first baby, being a little girl, cute outfits I can't dress her in and im afraid to admit I get very jealous of the other babies being 'free' from the garment...but I know it's the emotions attached that are the problem, if she was wearing it for eczema then I wouldn't feel that bad at all.

      Thanks again Liz, maybe if I can still find this thread in a year ill update you. Take care