Post-Fire: Update

To get to the best news first, Carl’s been steadily improving over the last few days and will be released this afternoon to go to Buffalo and work with the burn center there, closer to our father’s home.

In more specific news, on Tuesday he came off the oxygen and blood pressure monitors and, after some concerns about possible infection, his temperature finally stabilized yesterday. The risk of infection in burn patients with open wounds is very high and can immeasurably complicate and extend the healing process, so it’s excellent that he’s avoided any so far.

Also on Tuesday, they removed the several sets of stitches from his forehead and the scars are clearing up. He has a long set of stitches up one ankle and calf, some in his feet and many in his hands which will remain in for at least another week. His nose was almost torn off as he went through a window: that line of stitches has left a pirate-like scar running across his nose, but they are optimistic that it too will heal to near invisibility. Alternatively, Carl will do well in biker bars.

His vision remains blurry, more so on the left than the right. His corneas were burned, so they’ve been keeping the pupils constricted and the eyes soothed with ointment and drops to facilitate healing. His left side was exposed to the flames more directly so that side will take longer to heal but they expect a complete recovery.

His lungs are almost clear – he still coughs some and that’s normal, but they believe he did not sustain irreversible lung damage from the smoke.

The burns on his face, head and neck are healing gradually and should leave very little, if any, scarring. The skin on his face now looks like a very pink version of normal.

His hands sustained by far the worst of the damage. Breaking through super-heated glass twice (a door and then a plate-glass window) left him with severe burns and some very bad gashes. At admittance to the burn unit, they classified them as extreme second degree burns. The right hand is particularly bad with a couple of long and painful sets of stitches in addition to near-total burn coverage. For the first several days, the burn/trauma team was on the fence about reclassifying them as third-degree burns and therefore in need of skin grafts, which would have required a much longer hospital stay. On New Year’s Day, they decided to keep him at Mercy for the week and see if, with aggressive pursuit of burn therapy, they could pre-empt that. After a few more days of work and a considerable amount of pain for Carl, they were ready to call it a success and he’s officially out of the woods on the graft front. His hands will heal on their own.

Carl is going through two particularly painful daily therapies. The first is hydrotherapy, a process in which they remove the bandages on his hands and scrub free all the previous day’s medications and any dead tissue on the burned areas. This prevents infection and scarring, a critical concern, particularly on the hands, which must remain scar-tissue-free in order to maintain mobility, especially for playing the piano. The hands’ health is determined by the presence of nerves, which – good news – he has. The down side is that, as there is very little skin to protect these endings, the scrubbing requires considerable pain medication and endurance on the patient’s part. It took almost a week to sort out what meds he needed and when he needed to take them for maximum effectiveness – it’s been an exhausting and complicated process but Carl’s borne up very well under it as we pressed for consistency, new meds, different meds, different intervals and on and on and on.

The second process is physical therapy which is also designed to limit the build up of any scar tissue or banding on his hand joints, his palms or between his fingers. This is also a very painful undertaking, as it involves manipulating burned and stitched skin, but he’s not only kept at it with the therapists but is constantly scrunching his bandaged hands between sessions. He’s even whaled on a piano a few times, a recommended dexterity exercise. The staff is very pleased with his progress and tenacity.

A note on Mercy hospital might be in order here: the burn unit is excellent and the staff both responsive and good-humored. The nuns (it’s a Catholic hospital) converted the top floor of the hospital into a small, spartan inn for relatives of patients – it used to be the psych ward, which seems appropriate. Our father, his wife, R and I have been staying there for a week and a half on and off and are very grateful for it. They have a kitchen, laundry, an attentive staff and Carl is three floors down so we have been able to keep tabs on him and his care eighteen hours a day.

We could not be more delighted that Carlo is doing so well. I was not able to get back from Europe and to Pittsburgh until some thirty-six hours after the fire and when we saw him, he was in the burn ICU, swollen and barely whispering. The progress he’s made in ten days is extraordinary. He has a long way to go to regain full function in his hands, but his treatment from here will be on an outpatient basis in Buffalo. His long-term recovery is certain but the duration is still an open question: the doctors have said anywhere from five weeks to six months. It’s both understandable and frustrating that they can’t pin it down more specifically.
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On a much sadder note, some of you have asked about memorial services for Vivy. They are being planned for both Mt. Jewett and Philadelphia (where much of the Carlson family lives) – I will send those dates as they are set. Losing her is a source of immeasurable grief for the family. The additional loss of the farm and the family’s history in that house is difficult. I know I speak for the family as a whole when I say that we appreciate your thoughts and prayers.

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Categories: News, Nuisance, Miscellany

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2 Comments on “Post-Fire: Update”

  1. Dasha
    January 13, 2007 at 5:56 pm #

    I just read your update…I hope you will write more. Thanks, Emma. He is a strong man and I am hoping he will recover sooner then anybody can expect.
    Dasha

  2. January 16, 2007 at 4:52 am #

    hallo Emma!
    I hawe read all about the terrible fire and I am so sorry and I think of you all in the family. I hawe met Vivi at least four times vhen we hawe been in USA. I really enjoy talking Svedish to her my english is not so good. She vas a wonderful person and I will always remember her. Giwe carlo all our love, he stayed in our house many years ago. Dale Anderson Ridgway hawe sent the e-mail to me. Ingerkarlsson Öxabäck Sweden.

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