BURN WARD

When last we had left our intrepid chemist, he had flash vaporized the skin of his upper torso, face, right arm, and hands in a Class D chemical fireball. After being hauled into the Emergency Room where the doctors got to use drugs and equipment normally reserved for hostile government interrogations, his still smoking but stubbornly vital remains were wheeled to The Burn Ward. Our story continues.

The Burn Ward is a placid refuge at 0400 hrs. The nurses are in the nurses' station munching on candy bars and counting the holes in the acoustic tile. The patients are in their beds floating on within a jackbooted State compassion-ordered insufficient bower of chemical enchantment. All was quiet except for the lump in the corner who tried to punch out by dousing himself with gasoline and flicking his Bic. With more than 90% of his surface cooked off and his lungs seared to mush, he lay twitching in the corner, hooked to a noisy respirator, surrounded by an electronic cacophony visibly and audibly reporting his moment to moment survival. He would be kept alive for another annoying week, four in all, before his remains irreversibly terminated. Silence is golden.

They eased me into my berth, hooked up a bunch of stuff that was mercifully silent, hooked up more stuff, hooked up more stuff, and departed. Over the first three days of my two week stay in Intensive Care/Burns, I was to receive more than 40 pounds of IV juice. More than 16 bags piggybacked through a bank of four peristaltic pumps, whirred away night and day because burned skin does not hold in fluid, and hypovolemic shock (or electrolyte imbalance, or osmotic shock, or...) kills. I mentally drifted for three hours, riding the first four pages of my 26 page pharmaceutical bill, and morning struck.

"How bad can it be?" I thought. The situation was grimly painful, but the morphine, tranquilizers, histamine receptor blockers, and burn cream took some of the edge off. A nurse came over, did morning things, and told me I was scheduled for Hydrotherapy in an hour. They were going to unwrap everything, soak me in a Jacuzzi for a while, scrape off exudate and dead tissue with a stainless steel windshield wiper, rewrap the remains, and we would proceed from there. "YOU'RE GONNA DO WHAT!"

They wheeled my equipment and me into a large room with doors so thick they were on rollers (you'll see) and unwrapped everything. Now there was a bit of basic mind-consuming and infinitely prolonged agony. They maneuvered me into a steel tub filled with warm bubbly medicated water, which was not so bad. They washed me down much in the manner of Thai bathhouses featured during ratings week on the Travel Channel, which was not so bad. They shot 10mg of morphine sulfate into my IV line, which was not bad at all. They took 304 SS debridement tools, little slivers of grey steel about three inches long, and started scraping off the eschar - dead tissue, crusted exudate, and yellow adherent gooey stuff. The worst part is the start, when your entire mind is demolished in a violent frenzy of escape. This is nothing. It gets worse and worse, the torment spiraling into infinity, finding no lack of new and blistering anguish to blast through your skull. They start on your fingers, blackened nails and hanging shreds of char, and you scream.

Screaming is generally viewed as being in poor taste, putting the other patients off their feed and perhaps distressing the annual budget when an even thicker door for the Hydrotherapy Room must be requisitioned. You get a pause, a swig of cold fruit juice, and they continue. You quiver and hyperventilate, your eyes bulge from their sockets, your tongue swells, and you scream. Tummy, chest, neck, face, ears, arms, hands and fingers are all scraped down to clean, raw living tissue. It makes for a long 90 minutes.

Let us interject a heartfelt round of applause for Adrian, Beth, and Sarah and their staff who scraped me for two weeks running, without compromise or oversight. Everything healed neatly and mostly unsullied, a happy ending well beyond the medical community's initial expectations. Stay as far away from doctors as possible. it's the nurses who keep you alive.

When clean, pink, and pretty you finally exit that tub, dozens of gallons of water now rich with biological debris and thick with floating clots of your dead hide, the cold air hits and you are naked in an Arctic blizzard. MacDonalds has no difficulty keeping its burgers warm, but a major metropolitan hospital cannot be so bothered, letting the burn patients goddamn freeze! The world is a glacial misery when you have no skin! Anyway, they cover you with creamed gauze, slap on more burn cream by the handful, wrap you with mesh, and haul your sorry carcass back to the ward for a quiet day of opiates, tranquilizers, and all the juice and food you can pound down.

This was Sunday. While the coming week(s) extrapolated as being possessed of limited recreational desirability, how much worse could it get?

The very next day I learned how to eat 7000 Calories/day the hard way, and the special significance of Monday Mini-Rounds. Hydrotherapy was beyond belief. Hydrotherapy on Monday was beyond astonishment. The saga continues...


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