A very informative and heart-warming story came from the local newspaper in Portland, Oregon last week, related to the difficult process of emotional healing for victims of disfiguring third-degree burns.
The article explained the uplifting happenings that take place during a regular gathering of a group called Portland Burn Survivors Inc. In fact, the writer of the story seemed to be moved by one of the very first things the group does once everyone arrives at the restaurant–they make a toast that goes, “Cheers for being alive!”
The article goes on to say that until about 30 years ago, surviving a severe burn meant constant pain and medical complications that usually led to premature death. But technological advances mean that many more people today survive severe burns. The problem is, the emotional trauma of living with bad scars and other complications are very recent too, so there is not a lot of research about exactly how burn victims need to think and act in order to lead happy lives.
As for the regular meetings, “It’s better than hanging out around the house with my cats, watching TV, being isolated,” said one person. “When you almost die and then you come back, you think: I want to live.” But living normally will take a lot of mental strength every day.
The first week in February is National Burn Awareness Week. The American Burn Association encourages these type of meetings so that people make the first efforts to step out into the world again. The Portland Burn Survivors also tries to raise thousands of dollars each year to help survivors, whose care costs often exceed their insurance.
One member whose hands and fingers were severely damaged said what many in the group, and many other burn victims around the country, are surely thinking:
“People avert their eyes when they see me,” she said. But “I’d rather converse and have people talk to me,” which is part of the reason why she comes to the group. Then again, another member disagreed with her. “I’d prefer that they avert their eyes. I don’t want to see [them] gawking at me.”
Clearly, each burn victim is going to approach their condition differently in their minds, but it really helps that they are able to talk about the emotional aspects of having an injury that everyone can see, even years after the incident.
That member who wants people to not look at her much is a woman who escaped a fiery car crash. She was disfigured across her whole body, and surgeons reconstructed her face with grafts, and she wears a wig. What she has experienced from others is cruel, even if it is not usually intentional. People don’t just gawk, she said–instead, they blurt out, “What the hell happened to you?” Other members nodded about this, because they have had to endure that thoughtless reaction as well.
But these people are helping each other move forward, and do things they wanted to do before they were burned. One man is now volunteering at the local Humane Society, and is also writing a book. He’d also like to go to college one day. One woman adds that she is “so glad for today. The purpose, I think, is to be grateful for my family and my friends and to live with what you have the day you have it.”
There are some subjects that will always be difficult for members, like going on romantic dates again. One member said, “It’s hard to flirt when you’re the subject of pity.” This might be true, but each time these people come together and talk, they each get a little bit stronger, which will always make them attractive to people.
To read the complete article, which is outstanding, please click here.