Clinical Review ABC of burns

When we leave hospital: a patient's perspective of burn injury

BMJ 2004; 329 doi: (Published 26 August 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;329:504
  1. Amy Acton
  1. Amy Acton is executive director of the Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors, East Grand Rapids, MI, USA.


    At the age of 18, I thought I had the best summer job possible, working outside at the local marina, with the prospect of going to college in a few months to become a nurse. In an instant everything changed. While moving a boat on a trailer, a group of us sustained electrical injuries when the mast hit a high tension power line. I found myself fighting for my life in a burns centre and mourning the loss of a friend. The physical healing was gruelling and at times overwhelming for me and my family, and the medical team was a great support for me. However, this article focuses on the problems I faced once I left the hospital, two and a half months later, because that was toughest part of my journey.

    My comments are both personal and from the perspective of having been a burn nurse for over 13 years. It is a shared story of healing the emotional scars of burn injuries because I have learnt so much from others. One such person is Barbara Kammerer Quayle, a fellow burn survivor and colleague I met after I became a burn nurse. She taught me how healthcare professionals could make a difference for survivors struggling to regain a place in their family and society. Many of the strategies I discuss are her life's work and are used with her permission. For some burn survivors these strategies are natural responses, but for others they have to be learnt and practised.

    Embedded Image

    Pressure garments stimulate reactions such as stares and questions

    Facing the world

    While in the secure cocoon of the burn centre, I received extraordinary social support and acceptance from staff. After my discharge and return to my community, however, I felt surprised, shocked, and sometimes completely overwhelmed as I realised I would …

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