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The Stages of Healing After a Burn Injury




A fireman working to put out a large fire

In 2017, US public fire departments responded to 1,319,500 fires. Every twenty-four seconds a fire department responds to a fire, and a quarter of those call outs are to houses.
House fires are responsible for 77% of all deaths from fire. These are shocking statistics, and behind each are real families and people whose lives have been devastated by fire. 
For those survivors, recovering from a severe burn injury can be a complex, long and painful journey, as burn injuries impact how the body not only looks, but how it functions too.

As your body heals, the scarring will go through three distinct phases:

      1. Wound healing

Generally speaking, the faster a burn heals, the less scarring there will be. It is important that you learn how to keep your wounds clean to help the healing process progress.

     2. Scar formation

Over the next few months, your skin will become darker and stiffer. You will be given instructions on how to keep the skin malleable; you will be given stretching exercises, massages and pressure garments that can all help to encourage your skin’s flexibility. 
      3. Scar maturation
This phase takes a couple of years, and as your new skin becomes more settled, you will be able to use makeup, clothing and even have a hair transplant to improve the area’s appearance. You can see how hair implants can be used on the Vera Clinic Blog.
Causes of body image distress
Body image distress is not just about how you see your body, it’s about how others perceive it. There are different aspects of body image distress:
  • Grief for changes to appearance and physical abilities
  • Anxiety about social scenarios or intimate settings when scars will be seen
  • Anxiety about how to cope with the stares and questions that people ask
  • Needing to be with someone when out in public to protect you

A third of survivors suffer from severe distress about their body image, and while steps can be taken to alleviate the outward signs and scars of burns, feelings of grief and trauma can take a longer time to heal.
Grief is a natural part of the healing process and is a distinctive response to loss, and with time, you will be able to work through the emotions and return to some semblance of normal life. There are seven stages of grief
  1. Shock 
  2. Denial
  3. Guilt
  4. Anger and bargaining
  5. Depression
  6. Reconstruction 
  7. Acceptance

Your journey through grief is not linear, you may even experience every stage at different parts of the day, but it is important for you to recognise that your feelings are normal, and a natural path for healing. 
Trauma is different: it is a response to an event that evoked the fight or flight response and feelings of intense fear, helplessness, or horror. Symptoms can take weeks if not years to become evident. Trauma requires ongoing assessment, care, and psychological treatment. 
In the wake of serious burn injuries, life will be challenging. You will be faced with physical and mental injuries that will require you to dig deep to overcome them. By identifying the stages of healing, you will be alert to what you can expect. Always seek real-life support and advice from your medical team.

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