Don had his right pinky and palm operated on 2/3/12 in a 3.5-hour outpatient surgery at the University of Colorado Hospital. We are so excited that this is his last surgery related to the burn injuries. Much like the left pinky, the surgeon cut into Don’s right pinky and released injured, scarred ligaments that were causing his pinky to curl inward, preventing him from being able to straighten the finger and would just curl tighter over time. We’re very fortunate that his fingers were operable — many burn patients’ fingers were so badly burned that there isn’t much they can do to fix some of the worst damage, or even worse, they have to have fingers amputated.
The surgeon also fixed Don’s palm – specifically the soft tissue area between his thumb and forefinger. He had a large contracture there — a thick, root-like scar that had developed when Don’s skin regrew after the fire. It was such a strong scar that it was pulling Don’s forefinger and thumb toward each other, preventing him from being able to full extend his hand.
For the right pinky, unlike the left hand surgery on 12/5, no grafting was required. But for his palm, the doctor needed a relatively large piece of skin to graft in where he removed the scar tissue. He took the skin from Don’s right hip (left hand surgery he took skin from his left hip) creating about an eight-inch incision which the doctor sewed up with dissolvable stitches, taped up with surgical tape, then covered with a big sheet of Tegaderm (a clear sheet of plastic tape that covered the entire wound area). Within the first 2 days, a fair amount of blood pooled under the plastic but not so much that it leaked out. We were instructed to keep the plastic on for 2 weeks. At one point about a week after the surgery, Don was getting out of the car and felt the stitches pull painfully and caused a bit of additional bleeding.
Eleven days after the surgery we ended up removing the Tegaderm early. Based on what we researched on the topic, we realized, without getting too gross, that it should come off. It was a bit nerve-wracking and we ended up pulling off some skin around the wound since it wasn’t quite ready to come off, but we got it off. Underneath we saw that sure enough, he had pulled two stitches and they had created two oval shaped open areas along the incision line – it looked like when you wear a too-tight buttoned cardigan and gaps form above and below each button.
Almost two weeks after the surgery, on 2/16, Don’s surgeon removed the gauze that had been stitched into his palm to hold in the skin graft leaving a triangle shape indentation that looked like a piranha had taken a bite. The Occupational Therapist made a splint for his forefinger/thumb/palm to keep the skin stretched out so it would heal with his fingers in the extended position. He still has the pin in his pinky until 3/2 so she made a plastic cover to protect his finger from hitting the pinhead coming out slightly from his fingertip (ouch!).
He’s still wearing a stretching contraption on his left hand for that pinky, so he’s full of splints/contraptions on both hands.
We’re very excited to have completed our training, testing and badging and are now official volunteers at the University of Colorado Hospital, trained to work with burn patients and their families. We’ve already met with one patient, a fellow cyclist. He was struggling with a potentially fatal blood infection and still recovering from massive burn injuries (over 80% of his body), which included a partial foot amputation, but perked up considerably talking to Don about cycling. It’s emotionally challenging work, but very fulfilling when you can bring even a little positivity to a patient’s day.
We also attended the monthly SOAR (Survivors Offering Assistance in Recovery) meeting last night and met several new people and enjoyed catching up with some we’ve met a couple times before. Our goal as participants in the meeting is to share our story of the accident, the hospital stay and recovery and to help those just starting down this road to see the light at the end of the tunnel and to answer any questions. Of course things are still unfolding for us too – this is a marathon, not a sprint after all and we’re only 16 months out. Often in the monthly meetings there are those that are several years past their burn incidents and they certainly have a much broader perspective to offer. But regardless of the individual’s situation, there are so many common experiences and feelings that it is of great comfort just to go around the room and share what is on your mind. Last night we talked about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and how fear of another burn-inducing incident can paralyze your life. Don does sometimes feel a little stress when he’s in the furnace room and hears the hot water heater click on, but it’s a fleeting feeling. I was going to say how lucky he is but it isn’t luck — he chooses to feel positive, to not live in the past, and he works hard at making positive steps forward in his recovery each day.