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Burn Injuries

Thinking about the future

This section covers:

  • Focusing on the short term
  • Impacts on plans and expectations
  • Worries about the future
  • Hopes for the future

It can be an overwhelming time when someone has been burnt, and it can raise questions about what may lie ahead. There can be impacts on plans for the future, and concerns as well as hopes for the future.

For some people we talked to, there weren’t many long-term impacts from a burn. In the early days, however, there could be uncertainty about what the future held. Raffaella had found it difficult when she wanted information about her recovery and future but “everybody answers… “We don’t know””.

 

Sinead spoke to two surgeons separately who gave different outcomes after her daughter had been burnt; she had “a glimmer of hope” which “then the next day” was dashed.

Sinead spoke to two surgeons separately who gave different outcomes after her daughter had been burnt; she had “a glimmer of hope” which “then the next day” was dashed.

Age at interview: 43
Sex: Female
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I remember somebody telling me, a surgeon, that she’d be able to play the piano, she wasn’t going to lose as much of her fingers, and he thought she’d be able to play the piano, and I was like ‘Oh my God, thank God, she can play the piano. That’s amazing!’ And then, the following day, another surgeon came in and said, ‘You know, I know you’ve been told this, but she’ll never be able to play a piano.’ And I burst out crying in, like, despair of my child wouldn’t be … my six-month old baby won’t be able to play a piano! It’s … it all sounded so … I was so disappointed and a couple of hours later me and my husband were walking down the corridor and I burst out laughing and he said, ‘What are you laughing at?’ and I said, ‘I can’t believe that we’re crying that she won’t be able to play the piano. Like, there’s no-one in our family that can play any musical instrument.’ So, I don’t know why it had become so important at that time that … it was like somebody giving me a glimmer of hope that she wasn’t going to lose all her fingers and then, the next day you’re told ‘Oh, actually she won’t be able to play the piano anymore’ that she could never play to begin with.

Focusing on the short term

For some people, like Holly, the initial focus was on “getting through every day” in “survival mode”. She explained, “at that point, with a two-month-old baby who doesn’t sleep and everything, it was literally day to day, hour to hour”. Tom also told us he “didn’t really have much time to think about anything other than the immediate” situation.

 

When her son was burnt, Holly told us she needed to take things one day at a time.

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When her son was burnt, Holly told us she needed to take things one day at a time.

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I think because he was only two months’ old as well, when you’ve got a baby that’s that young, you’re not really thinking long term future, you’re just like ‘Let’s get through each of these days.’ So, I can’t say, I think once I saw, once I went to [city] and I found out it was going to be a longer process, I felt very sad. But I can’t, I wasn’t, at that point, thinking sort of future.

I think because he was a baby and when you have a baby, especially that young, and who had these health, we didn’t, we knew he wasn’t right but it was literally getting through every day, because he was screaming all day, every day because he was obviously in so much pain from his stomach, it was less “Let’s think about the future” and more like survival mode almost. So, yeah, I guess at the time I didn’t really think about “Oh what’s this going to be like in two years’ time.” I just, I think as time went on and I saw that it was going to be quite a thick scar – and I guess that would’ve been about six months to a year after – that’s when I started thinking a little bit more about the future and, you know “What’s it going to be like when he takes his clothes off and goes to the beach or …”.

Others thought ahead right away to the future impacts of a burn. When Abi’s son was burnt, she told us she felt anxious about the future and immediately assumed her son would need long-term treatment: “I assumed, in all honesty, that it was going to be skin grafts, a hospital stay, perhaps operations and then, obviously, scarring”.

Over time, there could be a realisation that there might be ongoing or longer-term impacts. This could be a daunting realisation. As Raffaella explained, “I remember my consultant said to me ‘You know, this is going to be a long journey’ and I was like ‘What does he mean, a long journey?’ Like, you know, I couldn’t quite understand”. She had originally expected that everything would be “done” once her bandages came off, before realising “this is for life”.

Impacts on plans and expectations

Burn injuries had significant impacts for some people we talked to. Gary, who was burnt in a road traffic collision which required surgery to amputate his lower right leg, initially felt his “life was over, 100%”. Before the accident, Gary was a keen footballer and had ambitions of playing professionally. He said that he felt his future had been “taken away” from him and he found this “really hard to deal with”.

Helen Y also felt like her future had changed after she was burnt and that she would never be able to play tennis, “the sport she loved”, again. Soon after her injury, she donated to charity lots of her clothes which would have shown her burn scars because she was worried about other people seeing them.

 

Gary initially felt like the future had been taken away from him when he was burnt.

Gary initially felt like the future had been taken away from him when he was burnt.

Age at interview: 36
Sex: Male
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Yeah. I thought my life was over, 100%. Because again, it was like, because I had a couple of, like, avenues that I could go down, do you know? Just to say for an instance, I didn’t make it as a professional footballer because, again, this was a question that my head of year asked me before I left school, he said to me, because at end of year we have like, we had an interview with our head of year to see if he could sort out apprenticeships and things like that for us, so I can remember going in and he said “You alright Gary? So, what is it you want to do when you leave school?” I said “Oh, I’m going to be a footballer sir.” He said “Oh, I’m loving that you’ve got that kind of confidence but it’s very hard to become a professional footballer.” I says “Yeah, I know sir, but I want to become a professional footballer” and he said, “Oh come on Gary, what else do you like?” I said “Well, I don’t mind like a, I wouldn’t mind to become an electrician.” And he went “Right, ok, I’ll write off to an electrical company and see if they’ll take you on as an apprentice.” I went “Alright, no worries, sir but I am becoming a professional footballer.”

And then, like, so we had a little laugh and that about that and then I left and, like, obviously, it was only a couple of weeks after I left school that I had the accident and it was like, whilst I was actually in the hospital, my mum come in and she had the letter from the electrical company saying that they were happy to take me on. But again, because I’d lost my index finger because I weren’t sure if my eyesight was going to be as good as it used to be, and I’d lost my leg and so I just thought it’s like every avenue that I thought “Maybe I could go down that” it’s like it was just taken away from me and that was really hard to deal with.

Natasha felt that, as she grows older, there is more of an impact of her burn injuries in terms of how she feels about her appearance: “it’s a shame that it’s affecting now more than it has ever, but I think that’s just come with the growing up process of being a woman in her 20s”.

Worries about the future

Some of the parents we spoke to were worried about how their child’s burn would affect their health, confidence, or appearance as they grew up. Amy and Chris Y said that, although “at the moment” their son William was not bothered by his burn, they were concerned that one day he would feel self-conscious about it. They were worried that William’s scars would affect any future romantic relationships, and Abi initially had concerns about this too, when her son was burnt.

 

Chris Y and Amy were worried that their son would feel self-conscious about his burns in the future.

Chris Y and Amy were worried that their son would feel self-conscious about his burns in the future.

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Chris: One of the things that you asked William earlier – does this affect him and what his outlook is – you know, one of the things he didn’t mention was what happens when he does decide he’s into girls, or into boys, it doesn’t matter. You know, how is that going to affect his appearance? Is he going to be bothered by it then? It’s not come up now because he’s not interested. But he’s 15, he’s not got to that point in life but, you know, it will come. Is that going to be another set of conversations we need to have with the hospital? Is that conversations we need to have with William? It’s certainly conversations he’s going to have with whatever, whatever prospective partner he’s going to have.

Is this a concern that you have, as his parents?

Amy: Yeah, I think, that he might suddenly-

Chris: Become, he might suddenly become very conscious of it. At the moment, it’s not an issue but he might suddenly become really conscious of it and actually, you know, it then affects his outlook on life or affects how he goes about-

Amy: He likes swimming, so I wouldn’t, we wouldn’t want it to put him off swimming because of what other people might think.

 

Holly, whose son was burnt as a baby, worries about how he will feel about his appearance as he grows up.

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Holly, whose son was burnt as a baby, worries about how he will feel about his appearance as he grows up.

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I am concerned about when we have to have the conversation with him about what happened. That’s something that I can’t say I sort of look forward to doing. I mean, even the psychologist said to me, and a number of people have said to me ‘Oh, boys love a scar’ but that’s … that’s not necessarily the case and you don’t know how MY boy, how MY [son] going to react to it. Which, I guess, is a bit, I don’t know, it’s a little bit … I know everyone’s trying to be nice saying that but it’s a bit stereotypical and it doesn’t reflect necessarily the society we’re living in nowadays where you say ‘Oh, yeah, you should see the other guy’ sort of thing and, you know, ‘I got it in a fight’ or whatever and, you know, the story behind it. Um, I know people are trying to be nice but yes, most people have said that to me including members of the NHS, um, in a jokey way perhaps but it does make me think ‘Yeah, how will he deal with it?’ It might be that he literally couldn’t care less, or it might be that actually he is very looks-orientated and very sort of self-conscious of its. So, it will be interesting, but it’s also something that I think about, of how he’ll cope with it. Because I know there’s always going to be things that you’re … that anyone who has something that they’re self-conscious of, so it’s whether that is his thing or whether he just thinks ‘Oh well.’ It remains to be seen, doesn’t it?

After the shock and upset of a burn, some people felt worried about other accidents happening to them or their family in the future. Since her son was burnt by hot water, Abi and her family have become “very wary” about things like hot drinks around children. She explained, “everyone’s like, “Let’s just drink them in the garden away from him completely”. We won’t even leave them in our hands or on the table. So, everyone’s a bit affected by it”.

Hopes for the future

Some people, like Raiche, felt that it was important also to think about how things can improve in the future – for example, with ongoing recovery. Gary described pushing past “lots of thoughts” doubting himself, such as about living independently, as he considered what mattered to him and his future: “I want to prove it to myself more than anything nowadays”. Although his injuries had impacted upon his career plans, he described the enjoyment he now feels volunteering to make a different with young people.

 

Gary volunteers with the fire service who saved his life after he was involved in a road traffic collision.

Gary volunteers with the fire service who saved his life after he was involved in a road traffic collision.

Age at interview: 36
Sex: Male
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Once I’ve come out of hospital and that I wanted to give something back to the fire service, so when I was actually on a Princes Trust course that was being run by two firemen and we got talking and that and I was telling them how I want to give something back to the fire service and they said ‘Well, there is a voluntary arm of the fire service, it’s called the Community Action Team, would you like me to arrange an interview for you?’ So, I said ‘Oh yeah, we’d love that.’ Anyway, I went for the interview, like got taken on and all that and then, within three months of volunteering for the Community Action Team I got nominated and won The Most Valued Member of the Fire Service.

So, but again, it was like when I joined the fire service and just being in the environment with the-, it was just because of the affiliation that I had, especially with the fire station that it was, because it was the fire station that pulled me from the car, so it felt like ‘I’m home.’ Do you know what I mean? This is where I needed to be kind of thing. And from just the confidence that being around people that was always like ‘Oh, aren’t you doing well?’ or just always bigging me up kind of thing, that really raised my confidence and, yeah.

Natasha, who finds that her burns impact on her confidence at the moment, hopes this will be an evolving process and that, “as time goes on, I’ll be able to reflect on that and hopefully I’ll become more used to it and start liking it”.

You can read more here about people’s reflections on finding positive meanings from their experiences with burns.

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