Healing: the Ugly Truth

On Monday, I slipped on the swept-but-not-yet-mopped remains of a dropped egg next to the open mealstream, an oven-like contraption. In an attempt to break my fall, my arm went for the inside of the open mealstream door. That wasn’t smart: it burned it in two places. On one the skin was just gone, on the other, some of the skin had been push to the side of a gaping wound and there was blistering on the other side. 2nd degree, I believe. What disturbs me most, even now, was the fact that it didn’t hurt – not then, anyway. So, I ran it under a cold tap for a bit then continued working. A while later, I’d say about 15 minutes, the stinging pain kicked in. I went on my break as soon as I could, mainly because every time I had to do something involving putting my injured arm near heat, the pain intensified. I spent my break hanging over the sink in the staff room, my arm aching-numb under the cold, running water, while leaning over to eat my sandwich in an attempt to not get crumbs in the basin. My co-worker told me to put cling-film on it and, seeing as we didn’t have any plasters big enough and I couldn’t come up with any better ideas, I did. Well, it kept it covered so I finished my shift. Then I went to the library to return and renew a book. The pain had lessened and they were due back that day.

By the time I got home, it didn’t hurt at all. But when I got it out to show my boyfriend for sympathy points, it looked a lot worse than I remembered it. The blistering had come up a lot and the hole looked rather deep for a burn. He said I should go to A & E. I was reluctant – this sort of minor injury would cost me at least 6 hours of waiting, probably more. He insisted I needed to get it looked at and it did look bad so I called my doctors – told them I’d burned myself ‘quite badly’ and would like someone to look at it. They got me an urgent slot appointment with a nurse at 4:50pm. It was then about 3:30pm. I figured if I went to A & E I’d be waiting way longer to see someone so I agreed.

The nurse was very unmoved by my burns and I guess you would be, as a nurse, although she did say I should have come in sooner and expressed surprise when I said I’d finished my shift. I was worried she was going to be one of those medical types who loves making things worse by prodding you where it hurts, usually saying something like, ‘does that hurt? how about that?’, so when she said she’d just give it a clean before putting the bandage on, I did have horrific images of her scrubbing it with some damp gauze while I writhed in agony. I was wrong to doubt her. She got me to lie down on the bed (not sure why) and poured cool saline on it, before dabbing it with some kind of medical cloth – none of which hurt at all. Then she stuck on two ‘bandages’ the colour of self-tanned human skin and the texture of elephant hide, which hurt a bit but nothing major. She said it would collect liquid underneath it, which would look white and was completely normal. I immediately labelled this liquid as ‘pus’ in my head and went on my merry way.

The next morning I woke to a disgusting sight: the pus was escaping. A lot of it had gathered during the day, much to my fascination, but I had not expected it to breed to levels of saturation. I guess I thought there would be some kind of magical barrier to stop it getting out, even if it did reach the edge of the ‘bandage’. The nurse had said I should come back on Wednesday, unless I was worried about something or there was too much ‘liquid’. This was definitely too much, so I made myself another appointment, impressed by my ability to do so for only an hour later.

I saw a different nurse, who was even less bothered than the first, and responded to the leakage as something that she could see would be ‘quite annoying’. I had been thinking along the lines of deeply disturbing but, hey. She said she’d only need to replace the one bandage, faffed about a bit, sat me down next to the bed and began to peel off the old, leaking failure. This took some time. I don’t want to say she was drawing it out deliberately but we all know that when removing a plaster, it hurts much less to just rip it off. She kept going on about how surprised she always was that it didn’t hurt. I’m guessing it was meant to reassure me but it didn’t. I had conjured horrible images of all that pus exploding out and was almost disappointed when I could hardly see any. I wonder where it all went. Anyway, the wound looked much worse than it had. All open and raw and remember how I said the skin had been pushed to the side? It was still there – clinging on like a shrivelled flap of dead skin to a wound. The nurse said she’d ‘pull that off next time’ and that ‘she was always amazed that that didn’t hurt.’ Again, I think it was meant to reassure me but, again, it didn’t. Then she said ‘I’ll just clean it and dry it so the new bandage doesn’t get wet.’ I couldn’t help but think it would get wet, looking at the other, still intact bandage with it’s bag of pus squatting in the middle but I wasn’t worried after the previous nurse had been so gentle. I was wrong to not be. She scrubbed it with some damp gauze. It hurt. A lot. She said ‘oh, I expect that’s a bit raw’, (probably because I was flinching in pain) whilst continuing to scrub it, before patting it dry at least 3 times – each with a different type of cloth. Finally she stuck the new bandage on, pressing it down much more than was necessary, and told me to come back on Thursday.

This morning I woke to a disgusting sensation: my arm was wet. The pus had again escaped. A lot. Out of both bandages. I’ve managed to sort of glue it shut with the drying pus so it has stopped now but I just found some dried pus in my hair. I must have somehow rubbed it in in in my sleep. I am amazed at how much pus two little burns can produce. I’ll be a good girl, though, and not go back in until tomorrow. Hopefully, I won’t be bathing in my own pus by then.

The healing process is hideous.

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