Sunday, 12 April 2015

Of burns and bereavement

When a blogger fails to post for a long time, regular readers may wonder what is happening in real life to cause such silence. I rarely post about family events but on 9th February my mother died, following a long, debilitating struggle with ischaemic dementia which left her unable to move, speak or see. Death is a journey we all face alone and those who watch and share and wait can only wonder and hopefully grow through their own lessons offered during this time.

In my last paid employment, I spent eight years travelling around England training various organisations, including community nurses and army welfare officers, how to cope with loss and bereavement. I learned a great deal from the stories people shared and was able to make suggestions about things to look out for following bereavement.

The first was the lowering of immune health by grief which often causes the first twelve months to be fraught with viral infections and other more serious conditions, especially if a carer has neglected their own health to look after the person during the final period of their life.

The second was a propensity towards accidents and other events caused by a lowering of attention span or inability to be “sensible” or even to process information.

You could say that my gall bladder issues have stemmed from providing support to my parents over the years and neglecting my own health. On Thursday, March 26th 2015, I managed to burn/scald myself by tipping an overfull pan of boiling bolognaise sauce over my left thigh whilst trying to keep our back door from flying open in the wind. Whilst I was more concerned about losing half the contents of the saucepan, the accident provided a wonderful opportunity to learn about treating burns at home with herbs and other household products.

The general UK advice about treating burns can be found here It  says
  • Stop the burning process as soon as possible. This may mean removing the person from the area, dousing flames with water or smothering flames with a blanket. Do not put yourself at risk of getting burnt as well.
  • Remove any clothing or jewellery near the burnt area of skin. However, don't try to remove anything that is stuck to the burnt skin because this could cause more damage.
  • Cool the burn with cool or lukewarm water for 10 to 30 minutes, ideally within 20 minutes of the injury occurring. Never use ice, iced water or any creams or greasy substances such as butter.
  • Keep yourself or the person warm. Use a blanket or layers of clothing, but avoid putting them on the injured area. Keeping warm will prevent hypothermia, where a person's body temperature drops below 35ºC (95ºF). This is a risk if you are cooling a large burnt area, particularly in young children and elderly people.
  • Cover the burn with cling film. Put the cling film in a layer over the burn, rather than wrapping it around a limb. A clean clear plastic bag can be used for burns on your hand.
  • Treat the pain from a burn with paracetamol or ibuprofen. Always check the manufacturer's instructions when using over-the-counter (OTC) medication. Children under 16 years of age should not be given aspirin.
What it doesn’t tell you is anything to aid the cooling or healing process. Nor does it identify first (reddened skin) or second (blisters) degree burns but only tells you when to head for hospital for
  • large or deep burns – any burn bigger than the affected person's hand
  • full thickness burns of all sizes – these burns cause white or charred skin
  • partial thickness burns on the face, hands, arms, feet, legs or genitals – these are burns that cause blisters
  • all chemical and electrical burns
Also get medical help straight away if the person with the burn:
  • has other injuries that need treating
  • is going into shock – signs include cold clammy skin, sweating, rapid shallow breathing and weakness or dizziness
  • is pregnant
  • is over 60 years of age
  • is under five years of age
  • has a medical condition such as heart, lung or liver disease, or diabetes
  • has a weakened immune system (the body's defence system), for example because of HIV or AIDS, or because they're having chemotherapy for cancer
Although my burn measured the distance from my knee to a hand’s width up my thigh with two blisters measuring 1” by ½”, I decided I preferred to stay at home rather than spend up to four hours in a crowded A&E department.  It’s been a while since I looked at first aid treatments for burns so I was unaware of the advice to cover with clingfilm. I did know the aim was to keep the skin intact if possible to reduce the chance of incurring infection.

After dropping the saucepan I removed my socks and trousers and rushed upstairs to kneel in the bath with my thigh under a running cold tap for as long as I could. I moved, reluctantly, when my toes told me they were developing frost bite. Then I sliced off two large aloe vera leaves from the triffid which sprawls over our upstairs window and lay on the sofa daubing the juice from the centre of the leaf onto the entire area of the burn.

It is amazing how aloe vera removes heat from burns. It is also really important NOT to treat a burn with any oil or salve until ALL the heat has gone. This is because oil traps heat underneath the application.

If you don’t have any aloe vera plants or juice then look to other cooling herbs – elderflower, rose, chamomile, bergamot (preferably wild monada fistulosa). These can be applied as a tea, herbal water or diluted infused herbal vinegar.

After a couple of hours, I used a St John’s wort salve that I had to hand since St John’s wort is specific for healing burns. I covered the burn area with clean cotton fabric (I use a piece of old sheet for most of my first aid treatments!) fastened at each end with micropore tape. I wanted the burn to be open to the air so it didn’t become soggy.

I didn’t take any painkillers because the soreness disappeared after the first night of sleep and the burn itself was only painful thereafter if pressed.

I continued treating with St John’s wort for three days. I was concerned that the blisters were still filled with liquid, so on the fourth day decided to try a honey poultice. I mixed calendula (for skin healing), St John’s wort and yarrow( to reduce any inflammation) oils with a teaspoon of honey (a gift from Cornish herbalist, Nick Jones, last August) and spread it over the wound. When using an oily poultice like this you do need to add a plastic backing unless you want stains all over your clothes!

Two days after applying the honey poultice, all the blisters had dried up and the burned skin area was diminishing. I then made up a salve from calendula, St John’s wort and yarrow and this has been applied twice daily ever since.

It takes at least three weeks for a burn to heal. I’m really pleased with how my burn is progressing.  It itches occasionally which tells me new skin is growing.  I try very hard not to scratch!

Two things I might have done differently would be to have applied a cooling vinegar or flower water after the aloe vera and not applied the salve until before bedtime (around 12 hours after the accident).  Knowing now how effective the honey was, I would have applied the poultice sooner and maybe made two applications (one per day) for two or more days.  If the wound had been worse I could also have applied a marshmallow root poultice to keep the area moisturised.

This summer I am also going to make a burns honey from apothecary’s rose, bergamot and evening primrose flowers. I made a jar several years ago when Kiva Rose Hardin first posted her recipe but no-one suffered with any burns so I ate the honey instead! Kiva Rose recommends the honey for burns where there is a chance of infection. Given how successful ordinary honey is at drawing moisture from a burn blister, I can see how an infused herbal honey would be even better.

Everyone hopes accidents will not happen but if they do, they provide a useful opportunity to learn new skills.


Ninny Noodle Noo said...

I'm sorry to hear of your loss. x

Pattypan said...

So sorry for your loss Sarah. Its never easy the loss of loved ones. Ouch that was nasty accident. I have burnt myself badly with scalding water but not to the degree of your accident. I used cold water and then aloe vera for cooling down the injury site and then honey after the tissue had cooled down as I had some nasty blisters that had burst and did not want any infection. I use honey a lot. However it is interesting to see the use of cling film makes sense really must bear that one in mind. Please take care.



Lyssa Medana said...

So sorry for your loss. It was very interesting to hear about the honey as a doctor in A&E @ 1980 recommended that to my mother when I scalded myself. I hope you continue to heal well, despite the grief. And thank you so much for sharing that really useful information. x

MelodyA said...

Mercy unto you and peace and love be multiplied. Jude 1:2 I am so sorry for your loss. Take care and hopefully no more dreadful accidents. How blessed you are with all of your knowledge and we are blessed that you are sharing it with all who read your blog.

Trish Fearnley said...

Just in case you wanted it here too. Happy to share Sarah. In January I badly scalded my tummy, just above the pubic bone so no pictures 😉. I knocked a freshly made cup of the famous don't give a s!*t tea from the kitchen worktop onto my stomach! I did give a s!*t! Like Sarah, I removed clothes and got the area under cold water for as long as possible. As soon as I I stopped the cold water the pain was intense, the area was bigger than the size of my hand and blistered. I applied St. John's wort oil, calendula oil and a pre bought aloe vera gel and used a slightly defrosted ice pack wrapped in a towel as cold was the only thing that lessened the intense pain. That evening I continued to apply more of the oils and gel mix whenever the area felt like it was drying and I needed to keep the cold pack on the area for several hours. In the early hours the pain suddenly stopped unless the burn was touched and by morning all but a few of the blisters had emptied without bursting. Because of where the burn was I couldn't use any kind of dressing over it to protect it so it remained uncovered throughout the healing process apart from very loose clothing. I continued with the same concoction for a couple of days then stopped using the aloe gel and once the burn was no longer tender to the touch I dropped the St. John's wort oil. All in all the burn took about 10 days to heal. The area was pink for a while longer and now is much smaller and slightly discoloured but that is fading. By medical guidelines I guess I should have had a medic look at the burn and I've no idea what their treatment might have been but what I did worked and I'm happy to have dealt with the problem myself.

Jane said...

I'm sorry about your mother, Sarah. It's never easy on those left behind, no matter what.

That was a nasty burn...and wonderful that you know so much about healing with herbs. I hope your leg is much better now.

selina said...

wow you were very lucky it could've have gone a lot worse,
glad you are okay & healing well
i use aloe vera for all burns & will just keep applying it til healed, as that is all i have growing here atm
sorry to hear of your mothers passing & you have no more accidents
take care of yourself
thanx for sharing

rose of Walk in the Woods - she/her said...

Blessings to you for your recent loss.
And burns can be tricky, but I've experienced some great healing with our generous botanical friends! I've never used honey, but hear ~ over and over ~ what a wonderful topical medicinal it is. I always have some nice local honey around ... so that's a plus!

Take care. Mend and heal. All of you.