Area covered: Story on a day in the life of a burn victim

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Holiday in the Hospital

Although the scars on his neck and hands are still visible, listen to Muhammad Arif bin Farimin’s story and you’ll marvel at his courage, the speed of his recovery and what wonderful work his doctors at Prince Court Medical Centre (PCMC) have done. No doubt, he has the support of his family. The positive influence of his wife, Nurhasuna Khalid (29), is obvious when she puts a different spin on his recovery time when she says, “It was like a holiday in the hospital.”

On 14 December 2010, Muhammad Arif, an engineer, was not yet 30. At midnight, he was on an offshore platform off the eastern coast of Peninsular Malaysia. “The plant had to be shut down and operations were stopped,” he says. “We were carrying out a depressurising exercise in one part of the platform. I was with the technician. Suddenly, I saw a gas cloud. It was orange everywhere. And I was inside it.” Pausing to take a deep breath, he adds, “I was inside the fire.”

Though he was wearing fire retardant overalls and safety eye goggles, part of his skin was exposed. “I followed the evacuation routine,” says Muhammad Arif. At the area where the crew congregated to be taken off the platform, he remembers telling some of the others there that he thought he needed to see a doctor.

“I was conscious at this time,” he says. “I couldn’t feel any pain, but I felt very hot.” It was also very dark at the time. When he arrived at the sick-bay, the first thing he was asked to do was to lie down on a bed and an IV drip was inserted into his arm. Muhammad Arif remembers being ferried off-shore and taken to the hospital on the mainland. “Once I was in the ICU, that was it. The next time I woke up,” he says, “I was here, in the Burns Unit. In Prince Court.”

Nurhasuna interjects with, “When he woke up, don’t think it was a few hours later or the next morning.” She was in Kerteh, Terengganu, at the time of the accident. Having received a telephone call at 6.30 a.m., she rushed to the hospital. Muhammad Arif was already in the ICU. “He was put into a medically induced coma in Kuala Terengganu. He spent 1 week there and another three in PCMC.”

Pausing to take a deep breath, she adds, “When he came out of the coma, it was difficult. It wasn’t him.” She counts her fingers and throws a nervous laugh. “It took nine days for him to become him.” She elaborates, “At first, he didn’t know who I was. One day, he thought he was in New York. Another day, he said he had three children.”

“All this time, I was hallucinating,” says Muhammad Arif. “People ask me if I remember what happened during my coma. Actually, I don’t remember much. I remember going into a fire. It was like she says. Sometimes I was in New York. Sometimes Japan.”

Having emerged from his medically induced coma, Muhammad Arif spent a further two months in the Burns Unit of PCMC. “It’s different there, you know. It’s very sterile,” he says. “Even the air conditioning system there is not connected to the one for the rest of the hospital.”

Having to spend every day in the same manner, it’s not surprising Muhammad Arif is able to rattle off his routine in the Burns Unit. “At 8 a.m., the nurse brought breakfast. By 9 the nurses bathed me. Many people think that being in the hospital, a burns victim doesn’t need a bath. But, it’s still necessary for hygiene. The nurse will use a special soap. Then, at 10, they come to do the dressing.

They clean the debris, put ointment and cover the wounds with gauze. At 11, one of the therapists would visit – either the physiotherapist, speech therapist or occupational therapist. Then, lunch at 12. At 4, there was physiotherapist again. Remember, I had to learn how to walk again. To get back my co-ordination. Dinner was at 6. Visitors were allowed to visit after this. Either my wife or mother would come. Last, before sleeping, was another round of dressing at 10.” The routine, once Muhammad Arif was transferred to the ward, was similar; for example, instead of the physiotherapists coming to him, he took exercise in the gym.

Although time passed by slowly in PCMC, neither of them doubt the quality of care and attention given to them by the doctors and staff. “The psychologist used to come and see us once a week. It was a chit chat,” says Muhammad Arif. “They would give me confidence that things would get better.”

Above all, Muhammad Arif is unsure of how people will react to his appearance. He shakes his head when it’s pointed out that the scars are not so bad. “No,” he insists. “This has all healed,” he says pointing to his forehead. “Two years ago, the whole face was burnt. The mouth has just been widened. Now, the operation will be for the cheeks and jaw.”

Smiling he says, “I’ve become so used to wearing the pressure garment that covers my whole face all the time that I feel uncomfortable without it. The doctor says that I have to start going around without it.” Nurhasuna adds, “The nurses and secretaries also used to tell me stories of other patients who have recovered. That gave me hope.”

Muhammad Arif admits he cannot bring himself to think of going offshore at this moment. “The trauma is still there with me.” Having come this far, though, Muhammad Arif and his wife are determined to remain positive and look forward to a brighter future. This is most evident when he says they have one child and, with a small smile, he looks at his wife and says softly, “For now.”

List of doctors:
Dr Yap Lok Huei – Plastic & Reconstructive Surgeon
Dr Mohamad Nasir Zahari – Plastic & Reconstructive Surgeon

More:
The Fine Art of Caring for a Burns Victim