Two years ago I got 2nd° burns on my upper thigh and 3rd° burns over my ankle joint. My camping stove collapsed on a camping trip and boiling hot water spilled on my inner thigh and foot.
Without a doubt this was the most physically excruciating experience of my life. I let out some of the loudest screams and felt surges of the most horrific pain shoot through me.
It was six weeks before I could put any weight on my foot and eight weeks before I could take my first step. During every waking moment I was very, very aware of the pain in my foot. There were times when a slight breeze would cause me to go from being in a medium amount of pain to being in really intense pain. If someone or something got too close to the exposed nerves of my burn I would feel the slight brush for hours.
During this injury I learned an incredible amount about the experience of pain in general and about myself. Excruciating pain makes a lot of people lose their will to live and my empathy for people who live with chronic pain deepened everyday of my injury. I often felt defeated but simultaneously one of the biggest things I learned about myself was that I really, really value my life-and that I was willing to fight hard to get it back to normal.
I had four main goals at this point. I wanted the wound to heal, I wanted to prevent infection, I wanted to regain mobility and I wanted to not be in pain. Unfortunately sometimes these goals were at odds with each other. For example, pharmaceutical painkillers might help with short-term pain but are said to slow down wound healing. Another example is doing physical therapy exercises which was essential for my mobility but was often intensely painful. Every day I was trying to find the balance of short-term pain relief and long-term healing.
My acupuncturist showed up on the night I burned myself and used a technique used in China to move heat from one side of the body move to the other. He showed again and again using different techniques for pain relief. It was remarkably effective and truly dulled the pain and helped me sleep.
I worked consistently with an herbalist and a nutritionist. I ate high-protein meals to help with the wound healing. I took tinctures, teas, and supplements internally to prevent infection. I used herbs, nutrition, and supplements alone and I never got an infection.
Topical poultices and preparations were made for me to help with pain and wound healing. I used manuka honey directly on the deepest part of the wound every day for weeks to help with the wound healing. I came out the other side with a some discoloration on my foot but I made it through the injury with no skin grafts and no long-term nerve damage.
My commitment to being an acupuncturist, to working with herbs, and to my own health deepened during this time. While future burn prevention seems easy enough (I hope!) pain is something many of us will be wrangling with in many different ways throughout our life. As an acupuncturist sometimes I am able to provide complete pain relief and other time it is pain management I must focus on. There are also times that what I am providing is treatment to prevent pain. I can also provide space to discuss the role that herbs, nutrition, and emotional support play in pain relief, prevention, or management. Nobody has ever seen me for an acute burn injury but the lessons I learned from my own injury have informed and improved my work as an acupuncturist.