The Hungry Engineer

The Burn

01 Oct 2008

I guess anyone who spends any real time in their kitchen will eventually wind up with a few cuts and burns. We’re working with dangerous stuff here: sharp knives, heavy pots and pans, hot metal, and often open flame. Even the most cautious cook will eventually have a momentary lapse in judgement or a seemingly unavoidable slip or bump that causes an injury. I happen to not be the most cautious cook. Consequently, I am routinely recovering from (generally minor) cuts and second degree burns. After creating an ugly and very painful new welt on the underside of my left forearm, it occurred to me that it would be wise to have a better grasp on the appropriate first aid such a burn might require.

In addition to being notoriously accident prone, I’m horrible for being too busy to stop and fuss with whatever injury I’ve just sustained. If something happens while I’m cooking, odds are good that there are a lot of things going on that need more attention than that pesky burn on my arm/finger/etc. Consequently, I have more scars that I probably ought to and have probably suffered a fair bit more discomfort than I would have had to had I simply taken care of my injuries properly.

I was baking a loaf of bread on a cornmeal dusted half sheet pan. When it was finished, I wanted to transfer the loaf to a cooling rack. So here I am with my oven mitts grabbing this loaf and trying to twist it free from the sheet pan to which it is ever-so-slightly stuck (all because I didn’t want to dirty a spatula, mind you). In my gentle twisting and prying, for the briefest fraction of a second my left forearm bumps the edge of the sheet pan. I look at it and already it seems a bit blistered. I curse my stupidity quietly under my breath, grab a spatula, and transfer the loaf to the cooling rack. After taking plenty of time to make sure my oven is turned off, my thermometer is cleaned and put away, and my apron is hung up, I run my now considerably larger blister under some cold tap water for about 15-30 seconds. MISTAKES #1 and #2 - I should have treated the burn immediately to minimize blistering and I should have run my burn under the water for more like 5 minutes to have done any actual good. Next, I proceeded to tidy up the kitchen for several minutes, attempting to ignore the pain. Then I checked my email and poked around on the web for a bit. Finally I looked at my arm again (thereby acknowledging the awful throbbing), and sure enough an angry red halo had formed around my huge blister (aren’t you glad I didn’t post a photo??!!). The pain was pretty pronounced, so I grabbed an ice cube and rubbed it around the blister. It had the desired effect of dulling my pain, however, MISTAKE #3 was committed. I shouldn’t have used ice on my blister. I’ve already killed some of my skin by cooking it; I really don’t need to do further damage by giving it frostbite. By now I couldn’t operate without worrying that my blister was going to pop and get nasty blister juice all over my couch / clothes / food / whatever (it’s gross, I know, I’m sorry). To remedy this, I very methodically punctured and drained the blister, treated the wound with antibiotic ointment, and dressed it with non-stick material (taking care not to get anything adhesive on the burned skin). MISTAKE #4. I should have left my blister alone. The antibiotic cream and the dressing were fine, but to puncture or open a blister is to invite infection. Your body builds that fluid-filled clean-room there for a reason - it’s part of the healing process.

I’m sure that you all are smarter than me and take better care of yourselves, but just in case, let’s review. 1. Treat your burn as soon as it happens to minimize impact. 2. Cool your burn by running it under cold tap water for about five minutes - this will make it feel better and help diminish blistering. 3. Do not put ice on a burn. 4. Leave the blister intact, and treat the injury with antibiotic ointment and a dressing that won’t stick to it. Here are some other tidbits I’ve discovered in my reading. A second degree burn (blisters / hurts like the devil) should heal within about two weeks. If you begin to develop a fever or your burn starts to get red and swollen, or if your injuries persist longer than they should, see a doctor. If your burn is large (2 to 3 inches in diameter or larger), see a doctor. I am not a doctor - if you are in doubt about whether you should see a doctor, it’s probably best to see a doctor. Home remedies (butter, petroleum jelly) are discouraged. However, aloe vera is widely accepted as good treatment for small burns. Here are a couple of the resources I used in researching how I should have treated my burn: Mayo Clinic First Aid for Burns and Personal MD’s First Aid for Second Degree Burns. Obviously the best course of action is to be more careful, and I’ll certainly try, but failing that, at least I’ll know how to take care of my injuries as I sustain them. (Next I should follow the prevention vs. cure route and work on my knife skills before I shorten a finger.)

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