Friday, December 7, 2018

Gas Safety

            A few days ago, there was a gas explosion at a mall in Sarawak, Malaysia. The explosion killed 3 people and injured 26 people of which 4 are in critical condition. Read more: Several Injured After Explosion At Kuching Shopping Mall.

As a survivor of a gas explosion, it saddens me to read such a news. I hope in the future, the public will be more aware of gas safety and take extra precaution when handling gas tanks. When gas leak is suspected, try shutting the valve or pulling off the regulator. Don’t switch on any electrical switches as it may trigger a fire or even an explosion. 

When I was at the burn ward, a mother and daughter were also admitted as a result of burns from gas explosion. It was dark at that time, as soon as the mother switched on the light; the explosion happened. Luckily, they suffered less than 30% burn and was at the hospital for only a few months. It might have been worse.

It is important to disperse the gas accumulated by opening the windows and doors. However, this does not mean that the gas has totally disperse. More than a year ago, there was an interview with the assistant director-general of the Malaysian Fire and Rescue Department with regards to gas safety. 

During the interview, he stated that, “Even when you open your doors and windows, gas could still be trapped in the house because in terrace houses for example, ventilation may not be that good. And, we’re dealing with a ‘naughty gas’ that doesn’t disperse easily even after the supply is cut.” Read more  Its Not A Gasing Game

          In my personal opinion, if you are not sure whether the gas situation has turn safe, and the smell is still very strong; it is best to leave the house and call the fire station.  

          As a precaution, it is important to take the steps below to ensure that the kitchen is safe:-

> Before using a gas cylinder, check its condition. Pay attention to the rubber seal inside the cylinder head (after the cap is removed). The seal prevents leaks after the regulator is inserted.
> Replace the hoses and clips every two years, and the regulators, every five years.
> Avoid over boiling from pots. Spilled soup/gravy can get into/block the gas flame holes.
> The cooking area should be well-ventilated but don’t place it directly in front of windows/fans as the wind can blow the flame. 

> If the cooking flame is yellowish, it means not enough air is mixing with the gas. When the flame looks like it’s being blown from the burner hole, there’s too much air. Read the appliance manual on how to make the air adjustments/get help from the gas supply deli­very person. Read more from The Star online here:  Proper Checks Crucial

         It is indeed necessary to take proper precautions at home to save you and your love ones from harm. As for my family, we switched to induction stove after the gas explosion incident.



Monday, November 26, 2018

Hypertrophic Scars and Keloids

I was watching a Korean drama a few days ago when the protagonist in that drama was burn in a fiery explosion.  A year later (in the drama) after undergoing plastic surgery, the protagonist came out with a new face and hardly any scarring. I had to keep reminding myself that it was just a drama, and that it did not portray real life.

Many people do not understand that once skin is burn, the skin will not be the same anymore, depending on the degree of the burn. There is a general misconception that plastic surgeons can make the skin normal and smooth as what you see on television. Most of what we see on television are merely illusions. Once the skin is burn, depending on the severity of the burn, there will be scarring, hypertrophic scarring and in certain cases keloids.

What is the difference between hypertrophic scarring and keloids?
           Basically, hypertrophic scarring are visible and elevated scars that does not grow beyond the original wound, whereas keloids are raised scars that grows beyond the original wound and surrounding tissues. Itchiness is a common problem for hypertrophic scarring and keloids.

                                                              Keloids on grafted skin       
People who tend to get keloids are of Asians and Africans descendants. When keloids become too big, it may restrict movements at certain joint areas and turn into contractures. This may impede mobility or restrict the range of movement. During my stay at the burn ward, I kept hearing horror stories of contractures from the nurses that I began to worry that the same would happen to me. Despite the assurance from the plastic doctor that it is unlikely to happen, I was still worried as I have seen the effect on those who suffered from it. 
Do scars or keloids gets lighter in time to come? I have spoken to some burn survivors and those who have been burn years ago, it seems there are improvement on the colour of their scars. As for myself, I have hypertrophic scarring and keloids all over my body.  Even though my scars are less reddish now, I would probably have to wait for a few more years to see if there is any other improvement.     

The best way to flatten the hypertrophic scarring and keloids is to wear pressure garments and apply silicone gel or silicone gel sheet to soften the keloids. There are various products and brands in the market for silicone gel and silicone scar sheet. They can be quite expensive, especially when you have a wide area to cover. 

Example of different brands of silicone scar sheet products available 

Does silicone scar sheet and silicone gel works? So far, they do help to soften scars.  I don't expect miracles to happen with any products as I have scars all over my body. The best is to keep on experimenting to find suitable products. As long as the keloids stays soft, doesn’t grow bigger or too hard and causes restriction on range of movement, that would be good enough for me. 
Most of the burn patients are required to wear compression garment when the wounds are sufficiently healed. If possible for 23 hours per day. I have a love and hate relationship with my compression garments. I was informed that they are made from lycra. Initially, they can be really tight and difficult to put on. It does take time to get used to them.
          When I was first fitted with my compression garment by the occupational therapist, I was horrified when my arms and legs turn purplish blue. At that time, my blood circulation was quite bad due to immobility. We had to remove the compression garments and the occupational therapist had to modify them, to make them slightly loose. Sometimes I would alternate and wear a different type of compression cloth which is softer and less tight, especially when I don’t feel like struggling with my compression garment for the day. One of the brand that I use is Tubigrip. Depending on the length that you want it to be, it can be cut accordingly. This product is easily available at the pharmacy.
           It is indeed challenging to live with hypertrophic scarring and keloids especially when you live in a society that is constantly bombarded with commercials and mass media that emphasised on beauty and perfection.  If a normal person feels self conscious, what more a person with hypertrophic scarring and keloids? From my experience, I have learnt that self acceptance and loving myself is the key to living with this condition. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

The Lotus

            “The lotus comes from the murkiest water but grows into the purest thing”
-          Nita Ambani

From ancient times, the lotus has been associated with purity and beauty as it is difficult to believe that such a clean and beautiful flower can emerge, untainted by the dirty and muddy water. As a result of this, the lotus is often mentioned or used as a symbolism in many religions.

Around 6 months ago, a friend of mine from Kuala Lumpur visited me, bringing with her a lotus plant. It was a gift from herself and another friend who initially grew lotuses as a hobby, which then turn into a business. 

At first, I was quite apprehensive in receiving such a gift as we never had a lotus plant at home before and I was concern that it will perish from neglect.

My lotus grower friend however assured me that the lotus plant is quite resilient and that it needed minimal care.  However, he did remind me to put fertiliser (for aquatic plants) into the pot every 2 to 3 weeks and to add abate to prevent mosquitoes as I wasn’t keen on rearing fishes.  

Whenever the lotus blooms, it is indeed a beautiful and breathtaking sight. My amateurish photography skill does not do justice to the plant.  Below are some photos of the plant: -

       The whole plant is useful: -
·          The stems and roots can be eaten as vegetable
·         The leaves can be used to wrap Chinese sticky rice.
·         The flower petals and stamens can be used as tea
·         The seeds can be eaten and made into paste
·          The dried lotus pod can be used as a decoration
                                                          Make tea with the stamens

This is indeed a beautiful and useful plant to have at home. If you have the space at home, do consider planting a lotus plant. A big pot can be used if you have limited space.

In my personal view, a lotus truly represents that no matter how hard life gets or how badly it treats us; emerging as a better person despite our bad experiences is a choice that we can make. Don’t ever let bad experiences turn us into a bitter and pessimistic person. Instead, turn the bad experiences into lessons that help to propel us into a better future.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Blowing Bubbles

          Sometimes when life seems unbearable, don’t forget to breath and appreciate the present moment. When we are in pain and emotionally drain, we tend to ignore our surroundings and the beauty of life around us. 

            The first time I was rolled out in a wheelchair from the burn ward, it felt so good to feel the warm air outside. It had been really cold in the ward. Nearly freezing. Just to get out of the burn ward, felt so comforting, I could finally feel the gentle breeze outside.
            After a few times of going out, my sister bought one of those bubble soap toys.  This one had a Hello Kitty head on top of the long cylinder container.
“I am not strong enough to blow this yet. I’ll be out of breath,” I told her.
My sister replied, “This is not for blowing, it is for waving. You just need to wave your arm.”
So off we went playing bubbles at the hospital compound. Even though I was still hesitating, part of me was excited to try it out. Waving my hand for the first time, nothing happened. I dip into the bottle again and waved, still no bubbles.
“You need to wave harder,” my sister said. She took the stick from me and started waving. Multiple big bubbles came out from the waving stick.
Despite trying my best, I only managed to produce small bubbles. My arms were not strong enough. This was the most ‘fun’ exercise I had, compared to the other exercises that I had to do.    
Bubbles were flying everywhere. Disappearing as fast as we could make them. It must have been such a sight for the bystanders at the hospital seeing both of us waving our arms wildly while looking for the right wind direction. We even went upstairs, waving the stick at an open area. I felt like a mischievous child again. It felt so good that it didn’t matter whether we look silly or not. 
Looking back, I am really appreciative of my sister’s occasional effort in cheering me up. It was not easy to stay at the hospital for a long duration of time.  

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

You Never Know How Strong You Are

-          Bob Marley

I have met friends and even strangers who couldn’t imagine what I had gone through. Some even speculated that if they were in my position, they would probably be dead, depressed and etc. Such a bleak picture!

Most of the time, when something bad happens to others, we fear and worry that the same thing would happen to us or to our love ones. I had friends and relatives who quickly check their gas tubes at home and some even switched their normal gas stove to induction cooker after hearing the news of my accident. A few of my friends had even told me that my accident had forced them to reflect on their own lives and the lives of their love ones.

I feel that we should not underestimate our own will to survive in any situation. I did whatever I could to survive. I believe that everyone would do the same too.

When tragedy strikes, some would tend to blame God for any disaster that happened to them. Why me? Is the most common question. Well, why not? If it can happen to others, why can’t it happen to us as well?

We tend to be in our own comfort zone hoping that we do not face sufferings, setbacks in life. However, that is not possible. What makes us more special than the rest of the world’s population? In reality, anything can happen at any time. 

             I have seen people on social media ranting against God. Asking all sorts of questions when tragedy strikes, like why God didn’t save those people? If God is around, why didn’t God prevent the tragedy from happening to them? And when they receive no answers, they question God’s existence and make sarcastic comments to those who believes in God.

 In the first place, why are they blaming God for all the tragedies in the world? As humans, logically we should know that bad things happen all the time. It is up to us whether to complaint or do something about it.

When there is war, people blame God. What does God have to do with war when it is people who started the war? How about natural calamity such as earthquakes, tsunami, flood etc? Well, some are as a result of global warming (also as a result of man’s work) and some are just natural disasters. Whatever it is, shit happens all the time. We need to accept this, do whatever we can and move on.

           I believe that human beings are resilient. Tragedy does help to put things into perspective.  When faced with death, all the unimportant stuff and the petty squabbles will be forgotten. The most important thing left would be how you have lived your live and whether you have spent enough time with your love ones. Live life without regrets.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Sitting, Standing and Walking

Have you ever watched a movie where the hero wakes up a few years after a coma, being able to rip his tubes from the machine, immediately get out of bed and started walking? Or perhaps a science fiction movie about a near future where space travel is possible and a person wakes up decades from a deep sleep without aging?

Unfortunately for us, the above scenarios are impossible at this current time.

            After 2 and a half months of being in coma, I couldn’t move at all. Even lifting my hands were so difficult. It took me nearly a month to be able to lift my hand to my nose. I couldn’t even move my body to the side and had to rely on the nurses to move me.  

             Just like a child, I practically had to relearn how to do everything again. Due to muscle atrophy, moving seems to be a herculean task. The feeling of helplessness and dependent on others are fears that I used to have of growing old. However, I didn’t foresee that it would happen to me sooner rather than later in life. 

             With much effort and help from physiotherapy, it took me 6 months after my gas explosion accident to be able to sit. The physiotherapist had to instruct me step by step on how I could use my hand to slowly push myself up from the side of the bed. The first time I tried to maneuver my body, I was out of breath and had to muster all my energy just to sit up.

              Next, was the attempt to stand. Standing for the first time felt like blood was gushing out from my wounds, the pulling on the legs were very painful. My legs instantly became purplish black. The blood couldn’t flow back up after going down. Basically, blood circulation was very bad. It took 3 physiotherapists and a walker to help me to stand. I remember feeling fearful that I might fall, however the physiotherapists were very encouraging and they assured me that I would be alright.  It was very emotional for me at that time. Finally, I was able to stand.

              It took me weeks after that to be able to take small steps. Each step was painful. My legs grew stronger as time passed by but the pain was still there.  I found out later that this condition is quite common for burn survivors who have been burnt on the legs. That it may take years for the legs to recover and heal. Even then, nerve pains could still be felt. In the meantime, it is best to use walking aid for mobility when it gets painful to stand or walk.
              Sometimes I wonder whether I could have been more mobile at a faster speed? Did I take enough steps? However, part of me knows that I needed to give myself time to heal. My injury was not a light one. I needed to be patient with myself.  

               My sister kept on reminding me, “Don’t let the things that you can’t do stop you from doing the things that you can do.” I am indeed grateful to her for her encouragement, support and help at the time when I needed it most.

Monday, October 8, 2018

No Man Is An Island


    Burn Survivors not only have to deal with physical pain but also emotional pain as well. For many survivors, life has changed and will never be the same again.

    During my stay at the burn ward, a Mr. Lim a former patient at the burn ward, came to visit me. Years ago, he suffered 30% burn while burning rubbish using flammable material at his own home.

    Talking to him felt good as he knew what I was going through and the difficulties that I would be facing in the future. He was understanding and gave some good advice.  Seeing that he managed to get back to his life despite his challenges, gave hope and indeed inspired me.

    On the other hand, there was also a burn patient, a Mr. Tan who was burnt a few years before my accident. He had an epileptic fit while burning rubbish and was burnt on his face. He was admitted twice again for infections during my stay at the burn ward.

    I could clearly remember Mr. Tan telling me to exercise, to stand, to eat a vegetarian diet, to do this and that and the list goes on. At that time, I was still immobile, so I couldn’t escape. On his part, he meant well, just that I wasn’t ready to be lectured. However, I am still grateful that he made the effort to talk to me.

     Indeed, they were two different people with different approaches.

    In Malaysia there is no Association for Burn Survivors or any Support Group available. I find this quite strange as the number of people who gets burn yearly is not exactly low.

    One day, my sister came across Phoenix Society which is based in the USA while she was doing her research on burns. 

  “They have a chat at 9pm on every Wednesday”, she said.

    In Malaysian time it is on every Thursday at 9am. 

    Initially, I hesitated and thought that they would only cater for US citizen. My hesitation melted away on my first chat with them. They welcomed all burn survivors. I have been joining the chat group since January 2017, every once a week, whenever possible.

   The people there are so welcoming. It is good to know that I am not alone in facing my problems with regards to my burnt skin. Mostly it is emotional support for the grouses and the problems that burn survivors are facing. I noticed that most of the grievances revolves around people who are not so supportive or are unsympathetic towards burn survivors. They could be family, friends, colleagues and even strangers.  Basically, it boils down to ignorance of society with regards to burns. 

  The Phoenix Society is doing a good job in helping burn survivors and also in helping to create awareness of survivors. They even have annual conferences and burn camps. Hopefully in the future, Malaysia will have such a support system to help burn survivors and also to create awareness on burns.  

    If we can have a Cancer Society and Society for Dementia, why not a society for burn survivors? A place where burn survivors would feel that they belong and have activities together instead of feeling alienated and shunned by others. Assisting burn survivors to integrate back to society.  

  A month ago, the Phoenix Society for the very first time, held free live streaming of the World Burn Convention. Even though I had to stay up very late at night, the sacrifice was worth it.

   With the advancement of the internet, there are online support groups for most type of diseases or medical conditions.  We are not alone in dealing with our problems. Sharing our problems and learning from others is a step forward towards our own healing.