Rebuilding Lives: Does The Public Understand?

By: Michael Appleman, M.S.


Depending on the severity of the burn injury and the individual who suffered the injury, the recovery process can take anywhere from six months to two years. Your skin has the greatest number of nerve endings of any organ on our body. This can cause an extensive burn injury to be extremely painful.

Hospital Visits:

Many burn victims suffer serious burn injuries that cover a large percentage of their body surface. This type of burn injury usually causes the individual to be taken to a hospital that has a specialized burn unit. Many times the family and friends are not able to visit their loved one inside the burn unit. A loved one can still offer love, friendship and support from a distance. One of the most important things you can do is make contact in some way or form in order to let your loved one know that you are there. In order to do that you should speak with the burn unit team and find out what your options are at the current time. If you cannot go into the room to visit your loved one, you can send a card, find out if you can talk by telephone or make a recording. Let him/her know that you are not only thinking about him/her but you are doing what is needed at home and everyone not only loves and misses him/her, but is waiting for him/her to be released and return home.

When a burn patient is in a coma, suffering from severe infections, emotional distress and pain, being prepared for surgery, in the process of having wound care or rehabilitation or heavily medicated, the doctor may limit or not allow visits. Many times only family members are the only ones able to visit and their time may be limited. There have been times when a doctor increases visits from certain people who can offer the burn patient the positive energy and positive emotions needed to continue the long and hard fight to recovery.

During the recovery process, family and friends need to work together. You might want to volunteer your time and help bring something needed by the burn patient to the hospital, take the children to school, run a few errands for the family or bring a meal or two to the hospital for family members.


Both the burn survivor and the family members go through emotional trauma. Many suffer from depression, stress, anxiety and post traumatic stress disorder. It is very hard for others to understand not only the feelings that a burn survivor and family member suffers from, but also how they should respond.

It has been found that a many burn survivors are not comfortable discussing anything relating to their burn injury. It may remain that way for weeks, months and possibly years. It's a good idea to let the burn survivor or family member begin the conversation about the accident, hospital stay and recovery. If they begin to talk about the burn injury, you should offer love, support and be a good listener. If they do not want to talk about it, you should not pry. Wait until your loved one is prepared to open up.

Remember that each day you can go home to the usual way of life, knowing that their loved one is in a burn unit, rehabilitation center or nursing home, fighting for their life. The burn patient is left in the hospital working through the pain and emotions that remain.

Sympathy vs. Compassion:

If you are talking the burn patient and say "I know how you feel", do not be surprised if he/she responds in an angry way. The burn patient/burn survivor may tell you that you do not understand. You may be told that you are not suffering the pain and emotional agony that he/she is suffering. He/She may not understand that emotionally you are also in pain. You must try to understand that your loved one may have a clouded view at the time. This may cause him/her to not understand the emotional pain you are suffering.

You might what to say "I can see that this is a really difficult time. I love you and will be here for you." This may help the loved one to understand that you love and care for him/her.

If you are sympathetic to the burn survivor, he/she may take this as if you are looking at him/her funny or you feel sorry for him/her. You may not even be thinking that. As a family member or friend, you will need to continually remind yourself that your loved one is suffering from an unexpected traumatic injury and that he/she will work through this anger and pain in time.

You should also watch your nonverbal cues. Most burn victims/burn survivors are self-conscious of their appearance. You will need to be aware of the messages that you may be sending with your body language. This can cause a negative reaction by the burn patient/burn survivor. Try not to look shocked or afraid. Do not be afraid to make eye contact with them. But remember that staring and averting the eyes can be upsetting to patients.

Coming Home:


Many people assume that when a burn survivor is released from the hospital and returns home, the worst part of the recovery is over and soon life will return to "normal." That is not usually the case. Most burn survivors have said that the hardest time for them is when they first go home from the hospital. This is due to the fact that the burn survivor usually does not have as much help and support as they did during their stay in the hospital. The family will have to speak with the burn unit staff about the work that needs to be done. They may want to also speak to the doctor about having a caregiver come to the home.

Recovery Process:

During the recovery process both the burn survivor and family member can suffer from emotional difficulties. They must deal with the fact that their lives have changed forever. The burn survivor goes through both emotional and physical changes. He/She must find the energy to do what use to be extremely easy. Many things that were in their normal routine cannot be done. Family members must work through their emotions and learn how to their loved one.

Family Friends Part of The Recovery Process:

Most burn survivors say that a strong support system of family and friends is one of the most important factors in their successful recovery from the burn injury. The family members and need to find a new direction in life and the support needed to work through the emotional issues and public difficulties.

When an adult, child or teenage burn survivor leaves the hospital, after suffering through the physical and emotional trauma relating to the burn injury, the burn survivor now has to deal with coming home and facing the areas of his/her usual life that he/she is unable to take part in. Many need to deal with going back to school, work, finding different responsibilities at home or filing for disability. Others must continue the recovery stage both physically and emotionally.

The family members need to learn how to adjustments needed and at the same time work through their personal emotions and deal with the loved ones feelings of pain and anger.