Doctor: Burns are the worst

BLUE EARTH – Dr. Joanne Roehr of United Hospital District in Blue Earth has seen what fire can do to the human body. She says it’s one of the most disturbing things she has witnessed as a doctor.

That’s why she’s concerned about the Fire Challenge – when people douse themselves with flammable liquid, light themselves on fire, tape the event and post it on the Internet.

“The worst burn I’ve seen associated with this [stunt] is a kid lit his stomach on fire and his shorts were flammable and the fire melted his shorts to his skin,” Roehr said.

“The important thing I tell kids is you cannot manage the fire; you don’t know how far it will burn,” she said.

Roehr says using a propellent is extremely dangerous.

“[They] burn at a much higher temperature,” she said. “This is not ‘I got into the bathtub and turned the water on too hot.’ It burns hotter than a cigarette on your skin.”

And the results can be devastating.

“Once the propellent is burned up, it’s not going to just stop burning. It will keep burning your skin once the propellent is gone,” Roehr said. “It can catch the small hairs of your skin on fire and catch your skin on fire.”

There are three levels of burns:

o First degree, in which the first layer of skin is burned. “Superficial,” Roehr said.

o Second degree, in which the burn goes through the skin and fat layers, but not the muscle.

o Third degree, “all the way down,” she said. “Skin, tissue, even go as deep as muscles, tendons and blood vessels.

Roehr is an experienced doctor who has seen accident trauma of all kinds, but still considers burns one of the most horrifying.

“Even though the fire is gone, you still feel like you’re on fire, that was what one guy told me,” she said.

The pain lasts a long time.

“The thing about burns, treating them, they have to remove the dead skin,” Roehr said. “The skin becomes leather-like and you have to remove that. It happens in tanks of fluid with brushes. It’s excruciatingly painful. People are usually sedated.”

And it’s not a one-time event, the skin usually has to be scrubbed several times.

Open wounds, including all burns, also are dangerous.

“You can get an infection really easily. Skin is a protectant layer,” Roehr said. “You don’t get an infection unless you have an opening in your skin. Significant burns leave you at risk for fluid loss because you’ve lost your protective wrapper.”

Healing doesn’t always bring relief.

“Sometimes you have to have skin grafts because you don’t have enough [skin] left on your body,” she said. “Any healing wound can leave scarring. You can develop keloids, an overgrowth of skin.”

After what she’s seen, Roehr isn’t sure why someone would want to take the Fire Challenge.

“My understanding is it’s for the notoriety,” she said. “I don’t know that they think all the way through it. If you thought through it logically, you wouldn’t do it.”