Burnt Leg - tentatively related to Saint Anna Schaffer (who burnt both her legs)

Burnt Leg

As I previously mentioned in my post on working in a foundry, I, like Anna, had an industrial accident where I burnt my leg.  When I was 19 and working in a foundry, I was mixing iron which was 1500 degrees C (I had just tested the temperature), when some spilt down my leg and into my boot.  Fortunately, the boots were designed to be quick release for this reason, and they were also too big for me as women did not work in foundries in 1987 (well not many of us).

I remember kicking my leg and my boot flew over my shoulder somewhere, to be honest, I did not give it a great deal of thought, “it hurts”, was really my only thought.  I seem to remember there being a bucket of water (probably not clean) close by and shoving my leg in that and then being taken to the first aid room.  I was initially taken to Chelmsford hospital but quickly moved to the Burns Unit at Billericay hospital by ambulance (we even had the lights and sirens at one point) where my trousers were cut off at the knee and the damage could be assessed.  Incidentally, that was the first and so far, (let us hope it stays that way) the only time, I have travelled in an ambulance.

I had first degree burns from my knee to my ankle on my right leg. The test to see if they were worse than first degree was to use a safety pin and poke your leg, if it hurt it was first or second degree only.  Reflex is a funny thing. As I was being poked with a pin, I said ouch but then realised it had not hurt … that was not a good thing!  I had third degrees burns in some areas of my leg down the front.  I had my leg soaked in water for a long time, wrapped in cling film and then finally wrapped in bandages, when I could go home. 

I had moved out from Mum & Dad's home a few months eariier but I needed care so  I drove to their home from the Foundry in Braintree to Colchester.  I had been given some pain killers, so I guess that was how I managed.  The hospital had given me an appointment for 4 days later and instructions to sleep with a box with a hole in it, so the bedding did not rub on my leg.  I do not think I told mum and dad that I had an accident until I arrived home as I knew they would worry. 

By this point I was in some pain, but the smell was even worse, I smelled like burnt pork, it was horrible.  I went back to the hospital 4 days later and was left with my leg in a bucket of water to try to soak the bandages off, the burns had been weeping badly so the bandages were truly stuck.  They eventually got them off and they assessed the burns again and booked me in for a few days later for a skin graft.

I remember being terrified of being put under (I still am), and a nurse held my hand until I was knocked out.  A priest was at the end of my bed (by chance) when I woke, and I remember saying, “it’s OK I’m not dead”.  I was not a Christian at that point in my life, but I do remember he had a chat although I was in that sleepy post-op stage, so I have no idea what about.

I thought it was all over, I knew the skin was being taken from the top of my left leg and that the hospital were trialling pig skin on the area where the skin was taken from (they eventually took a biopsy of that area with what reminded me of a pastry cutter).  I assume the skin had been placed on the burns on the bottom of the right leg.  I was confined to bed … not something an active 19-year-old takes easily.  I was busy studying at college and had arranged for work to be sent to me so had plenty to do.

I do not really remember much more about the op day, but I remember the next day.  Mum and Dad had come to visit, and the Doctors came round while they were there.  They explained that the operation had been successful but now they had to place the skin on my leg which my parents were able to stay for if they wished.  This came as a shock to me … anyway, I did not have much choice but to allow it to happen.  They had cleaned the burn up on my leg while I was out, as well as taking the skin from my other leg.  They had also cleaned another much smaller burn at the bottom of my left leg that was not healing well.  The skin had been left in the fridge overnight to do whatever it does.

My mum stayed for the procedure, my dad stayed for about 2 minutes before feeling queasy and getting out before he became the next patient.  He had seen some sights during his army days and now does not like anything ‘medical’.  It was weird to watch the skin being placed, I had a local anaesthetic so did not feel anything, but then was not allowed out of bed for 10 days.  That was hard.  Everyday, the skin would be checked for healing, which it was doing, although I got threatened with leeches at one point as the wound was not cleaning quickly, fortunately that never happened.

On the tenth day I had to take a bath, it is a test to see if the skin will hold, however, the first thing was to learn to walk again.  Even in 10 days there is a lot of muscle wastage.  Of course, being a relatively fit 19-year-old I did not think I would have a problem … wrong, I would have fallen to the floor had it not been for the support of a nurse.  Anyway, all was good, and I was soon able to go home, although had another 3 months off work, and still must be careful about not getting sunburnt on the skin graft.  I was lucky, the physical wounds healed, the redness eventually went and now it is hardly noticeable … although it is nearly 33 years later.

The mental scars were harder to deal with.  It took me a long time … about 20 year, to be able cook on gas with a naked flame, to go to near a fire and to watch fireworks, and the smell of pork can still turn my stomach.  I also had to find another job quickly, I was never comfortable being near the furnace again.

While I was in hospital, the Kings Cross fire happened, I felt so sorry for those involved.  I cannot imagine what people like Simon Weston and Niki Lauda, and thousands of people who are not famous went through.  Burns hurt, they smell, and I do not recommend them to anyone.