Where there is smoke…

Paraplegics and quadriplegics with no feeling below the level of injury often tend to contract wounds, including burns. MARISKA MORRIS reports

Many people who have suffered a spinal cord injury remain unaware of their high risk for wounds owing to a lack of sensation below the level of injury. Most paraplegics and quadriplegics will develop some sort of pressure ulcer during their lives, whereas burn wounds can happen frequently and cause just as much harm.

These individuals are just as much at risk of burns from food or beverages or while bathing and showering as other people – but the problem is that they won’t feel the injury and therefore may not notice fast enough to limit the damage. QASA CEO Ari Seirlis has had numerous encounters with burn wounds.

“I have always been aware of the vulnerability of my body to burns in the areas with no sensation. My enjoyment of a good braai has cost me some injuries to the knees for sitting too close to the fire. It resulted in some vicious blisters in the morning, which took some time to heal. Luckily, the burns were not too serious as I smelled the damage in time,” he explains.

Some precautions may be obvious – like avoiding sitting too close to a fire, or cleaning up spilt coffee right away – the causes of other burns can be quite unexpected. In a report published in The Journal of Spinal Cord Medicine, Dr Cheryl Benjamin and her fellow researchers highlighted the case of a 26-year-old man with paraplegia who contracted burns from a car seat heater.

The man burnt his hip while driving a vehicle for 30 minutes with the seat warmer set on high. Unfortunately, he only checked into a clinic two weeks later. If you suffer any form of burn, it is important to get medical assistance immediately as an unattended burn wound can become infected quickly or lead to more serious harm.

Seirlis says he, too, has experienced some strange burn wounds. “One Sunday morning, while riding my adapted quad bike, my foot slipped from its usual position and rested against the hot motor,” he says. “I had quite a serious burn on my ankle, which I didn’t notice until the end of a 60 km stretch of road. My next destination was the hospital to get some burn treatment.

“This did take quite a while to heal and I still have the evidence of that enjoyable Sunday morning. There was a lot of swelling in the recovery process, but at least I can say the burn was from enjoying myself.”

He has also suffered a burn to his back from a failed hot wax canister that took a long time to heal and left a scar. However, Seirlis remains good-humoured: “Luckily, I have a Superman tattoo on my back to deviate your attention.”

On another occasion he suffered burns from a foot spa. “I didn’t realise how hot the bottom of the foot spa was and my feet put a lot of pressure next to the element,” he explains. “These burns were serious and required months of treatment. It was a very expensive venture. Beware the foot spa device!”

To help avoid serious burn injuries, keep away from open fires or hot elements. Dress warmly rather than sitting close to a fire or making use of a seat warmer, heater or warm water bottle. Clean up any food or drink spills immediately. Ask your caregiver or a friend or family member to make sure the bath or shower temperature is acceptable before you get in.

Moreover, make a point of inspecting your body regularly for any injuries of which you may not have been aware, and keep a first-aid kit handy to treat any wounds as a matter of urgency.

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