A person taking care of patients suffering from burns should be extremely careful and mentally strong.

Nurses in burn units undeterred by scorched flesh and disfigured faces
Features Invisible Heroes Wednesday, October 12, 2016 - 16:46

This story is a part of TNM's 'Invisible Heroes' series. The series aims to give voice to the people who perform some of the most thankless jobs in our society.

Working in a hospital, seeing sick people and death at close quarters on a daily basis, can be dispiriting. But imagine working in the burn unit where the patients are not just ill but also suffer from extensive disfigurement. The smell of scorched flesh and singed hair, the sight of raw skin, fused limbs and faces dissolved by the flames – these nightmarish scenes are part and parcel of the average day for those who work in these specialized units. 

It’s a trial by fire of another kind.

What could motivate someone to work in such a place?

“Getting burned all over the body is the most painful thing a human being can experience. I feel that attending to such patients is of greater service than usual nursing,” Jilsy George, a nurse from Kannur district of Kerala, who takes care of patients at a burn unit, says.

In most hospitals, it’s the staff nurses who attend to patients suffering from burns but in a few government hospitals, there are NGOs who offer assistance too.

Jilsy says that a person taking care of these patients should be extremely careful and mentally strong.

“Some patients come with more than 75% burns. The dress and other things worn in the body would be stuck firmly to the skin and even a small mistake could cause severe damage. Since the skin is burnt, we can’t even hold them. So this is a job in which we should be extremely careful and mentally prepared to do anything to help them,” Jilsy explains.

 But doesn’t she find the work disturbing? Jilsy says, “The sight would be disturbing, but that is only an initial obstacle. Once we are experienced, we can take care of the patients without any hesitation.”

Anjana R from Kalamassery Medical College, shares her first experience at the burn unit when she was doing her final year in Nursing: “I remember attending to a patient with almost 80% burn injuries. He’d tried to commit suicide by setting himself on fire. I attended to him along with a senior nurse. Looking at him, I ran to the washroom and threw up. Then I returned to the ward and helped others to apply cream on his body, clean him and so on. It has been almost three years now since that day and I’m still attending to burn injury patients. Earlier it was difficult to clean the pus in their body, but now I do it with passion as I think who else will help them in this situation?”

Jini, a nurse from Ernakulam, recalls her painful experiences in dealing with such patients: “When somebody gets burn injuries, people don’t know what to do. Many a time, I have seen people trying to remove the clothes from the person who has suffered the injuries, making the skin and flesh come out. We have to struggle hard in such critical situations. Every day, we have to clean the patients using water mixed with medicine and remove the pus. You should have patience, passion and a stable mind for this job.”

Private hospital nurses who spoke about their experiences in burn wards state that their salary is not commensurate with their services.

“For the last one year, I’m working in the burn ward here. You will not believe me if I tell you what my salary is. We are not praising ourselves, but the management should think how many can do the job we do here,” says a staff nurse from a private hospital in Thiruvananthapuram.

However, despite the tedious nature of the job, the strain it places on them emotionally, and the insufficient monetary compensation, all of them consider their job at the burn unit to be a service they are willing to continue performing.

“We chose it, we wanted to serve people in their difficult times. When they are cured and go back, we are happy. And when they succumb to their injuries, we grieve the loss,” Jini says.


Edited by Sowmya Rajendran



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