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Saturday, June 4, 2011

Girl burnt by hot metal sheets

Sulaiman Kamal | 12:13 AM | | | | | Best Blogger Tips

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ON THE drawing, a big head sits atop a stick-figure body of a girl. The eyes are wide open; the mouth forms an "O".
The body is only about 10cm tall, but the head takes up half the A3-sized drawing paper.
"Help!" is scrawled eight times above the figure's head with a yellow marker pen.
"Ahh!" is written in bright red at the top right corner, and dark jagged lines cut the paper in two uneven halves.
The drawing, done during a hospital psychiatric session, may appear bizarre, but it provides a glimpse into little Gladys Tan's anguished emotional state.
The 10-year-old was sent to KK Women's and Children's Hospital (KKH) after she was discovered lying on a hot metal sheet on a road pavement at about 1pm on May 21, opposite Yangzheng Primary School, where she studies.
Till today, it's unclear if she had fainted or had fallen, as she is unable to recall what happened and no witnesses - if there were any - have stepped forward so far.
Gladys, a Primary 4 student, suffered second-degree burns to the left side of her face. Her left ear, arm and leg were also burned by the metal sheet, which had been baked hot by the afternoon sun that day.
Even though her burns are superficial, she still needs at least two weeks of recovery before she can return to school, when lessons resume after the June holidays.
Also, Dr Evan Woo, associate consultant at KKH's Department of Plastic, Aesthetic and Reconstructive Surgery, said that there are chances of "some scars from her burns".
Skin graft
Gladys underwent a skin graft yesterday afternoon, where skin was taken from her left inner thigh and grafted onto her left elbow.
Her mum, who wanted to be known only as Mrs Tan, 39, a housewife, said: "I was told that sometimes the new skin is red, and that the doctors cannot be definite on how little scarring there will be. "I'm worried that she will be teased, and that people will stare."
Mrs Tan is also fretting about the mirrors at home as Gladys has asked her to remove them.
She said: "We have mirrors everywhere. The dining room, the living room, the toilet...And they are big, ceiling-to-floor mirrors.
"I don't know how I'm going to remove them."
Her husband, who wanted to be known only as Mr Tan, 47, is relieved that some of Gladys' medical expenses will be covered by her medical insurance.
However, the housing agent who is taking a break from work is still worried about money because he does not know how long it will take for her to make a full recovery.
Already, the bill is almost $14,000, said his sister, Ms Margaret Tan, 50, an insurance agent.
Mr Tan said: "I don't know how much the insurance will pay, and I don't know how much the entire bill will be. But right now, my focus is on letting Gladys get better."
To allow Gladys to fully focus on recovery, the Tans had initially not intended to show Gladys or tell her about the extent of her injuries until much later.
But she found out on her own.
According to her parents, she was fiddling with her aunt's phone three days after the accident when she saw her reflection in the phone's screen as well as some photos of her injuries.
The photos, taken before treatment began, showed her arm and leg red and raw.
Said her aunt: "When I let her use my phone, it didn't occur to me that she would see her reflection or the photos."
The next day at lunch, Gladys remarked to her mum that she knew her injuries looked like "cooked meat".
Later that day, when she used the toilet for the first time since her injuries, she stared at her left hip, which was also burnt.
Said Mrs Tan: "Her arms and legs are bandaged, so she can't see them. But her hips couldn't be bandaged, so some sort of a clear film was placed over them.
"She stared at it for a really long time without saying a word."
Deleted photograph
The next day, Gladys snapped a picture of herself with her father's phone. But after viewing the photo, she quickly deleted it.
Her parents aren't exactly sure what she thinks about her facial injuries as they don't want her to dwell on them. So, they don't probe too much.
Mrs Tan said: "I don't know if she needs to undergo plastic surgery, but if she needs to, that will happen in the future."
She also continues to hope that there will be witnesses who can step forward to explain the sequence of events.
The Tans want to find out how long Gladys had been lying on the hot metal sheet before she was found.
Mr Tan said: "The school told us that two schoolboys found her and ran back to school to call a teacher.
"The teacher asked Gladys if she was okay, but didn't move her out of the hot sun.
"I don't know how long it took for the boys to get the teacher there, and how long it was before another pedestrian carried her off the hot metal sheet."
Ms Tan said they hope to speak to the teacher to find out exactly what happened.
Meanwhile, Mr Tan keeps vigil by his eldest child, offering her food and drink, and most importantly, comfort.
The couple also have three-year-old daughter.
On Friday, at about 1.30pm, Gladys was taken out of her ward to have her dressings changed.
About three hours later, a nurse approached her parents, informing them that Gladys was crying and screaming.
Anxious, the Tans rushed downstairs.
An hour after, the family returned to the ward, with Gladys trembling and traumatised by fear and pain.
According to Mr Tan, anaesthesia is administered when they are changing her dressings. As such, the pain hits home once the drug wears off.
Gladys then sleeps off the pain, with Mr Tan comforting her with his hands on her forehead and shoulder.
Explained Mr Tan: "Placing my hands there lets her know that I am here. It makes her feel secure."
Each night after her dressing is changed, Gladys gets a high fever that lasts a day or two, her mother said.
When her fever subsides, it is another round of changing her dressings.
Said Mrs Tan: "It's a cycle, and I can't do anything about it. When she screams in pain, I leave the room because I know that my face will show how scared and worried I am.
"I don't want her to see my reaction. It's already very tough on her."
Staying strong for her daughter hasn't been easy.
Mrs Tan found trouble sleeping the first night as images of her daughter's exposed flesh kept popping into her mind.
She said: "The next day, I had a headache and I felt nauseous. After that, I told myself that I really needed to be strong for my daughter."
 Her skin is likely to heal nicely: Doctor 
PLASTIC surgery or skin grafts may not be necessary for superficial second-degree burns.
When asked to comment on Gladys' injuries, Dr JJ Chua, a plastic surgeon at Mount Elizabeth Medical Centre, said: "(The new skin on her face) will look pale in the centre with a dark margin for a few months.
"But there will be minimal scarring if the wound is well taken care of."
Dr Chua explained that there are three degrees of burns, and that second-degree burns come in three grades - superficial, middle, and deep.
He said: "For any type of burns, whether they are caused by metal plates, exhaust pipes, hot irons or anything made of metal, the severity of the burn depends on how hot the object is and the amount of time the object comes into contact with the person.
"Hence, it is an interplay between heat and time."
Irregular and sometimes protruding scarring occurs when it is a deep second-degree or third-degree burn.
He said of Gladys' recovery process: "Being a young girl, her skin will heal very nicely.
"Let the scar develop and over time, it will naturally fade. Pigmentation might appear, but with proper cream and if she avoids the sun, it will fade in six months to a year.
Permanent scar unlikely
"It's very unlikely that she will have a permanent scar," he said
He attributed the need for a skin graft to be done on her elbow to the possibility that it was a deep second-degree burn.
It would take about two weeks before they would know if the skin graft was successful, said Dr Chua.
He continued: "After that, it will take months of physiotherapy.

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