Practice Patient's journey

From burns unit to boardroom

BMJ 2006; 332 doi: (Published 20 April 2006) Cite this as: BMJ 2006;332:956
  1. James Partridge, chief executive (
  1. Changing Faces, London WC1E 6JN

    “It'll never happen to me.” Burns? I had never given them a thought. Facial disfigurement? Never heard of it, except in war films. Frightening, though.

    Born in the early 1950s, privately educated, emerging in late 1970 as an 18 year old with reasonable prospects, I was a carefree youth with high ambitions heading for a prestigious university. I took my looks for granted, traded on them, even saw them as the key to my future.

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    My life changed in a split second of bad judgment. I failed to see a bend in the road, the Land Rover toppled over, there was skidding and sparks, and the petrol tank exploded. I thought I was just singed. Lily Lewis, a former nurse travelling in the car behind, knew better. Thirty five years later, I salute her; she saved me.

    I had nearly 40% severe burns. My face was swollen to three times its normal size and my legs and left hand were particularly damaged. My sight, lungs, and other organs, however, had survived unharmed. The next three months were a blur of sedation, operations, and pain. My visitors didn't need to say I looked dreadful—I could see it in their eyes. Getting my face into focus in a mirror was the big problem, but it had to be done. Rightly, there were no mirrors anywhere, so three months after the accident I decided I had to choose the moment myself and make a conscious effort.

    What a sight: nasty scars, oozing scabs, redness, distortion, eyes hooded, mouth gaping. Words like “tarnished,” “devalued,” “disfigured,” and “deformed” came to mind, words I had never used, let alone applied to myself. “Not as bad as I'd expected” were my first stoic words, but hardly believable. What were my chances? “You'll be better in a few …

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