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Faye-M
04-18-2014, 11:05 PM
Hi, all! I'm new here, but I thought I'd jump right in and ask this question that's been bugging me for a while...

My main character, for reasons pertinent to my plot, purposely grips a very hot pipe in her hands and holds onto it until the skin on her palms and fingertips is burned. My question is - what kind of long-lasting effects are these burns likely to have? Would she still have feeling in her hands? I need her to be able to use them, so how severe can these burns be before she loses mobility?

Any information would help! All I can get from Google is how to avoid burning your hands, how to treat them if you do, and that this is a Very Bad Injury that should receive Medical Attention Right Away or Very Bad Things will happen. Which is all so very helpful to a writer, right?

MDSchafer
04-18-2014, 11:28 PM
It depends how deep the burn is and how she's treated.

Faye-M
04-18-2014, 11:31 PM
It depends how deep the burn is and how she's treated.

That's exactly what I'm asking - how deep can the burn be before she loses mobility?

Old Hack
04-19-2014, 12:57 AM
You write that your character


purposely grips a very hot pipe in her hands and holds onto it until the skin on her palms and fingertips is burned

If the pipe is "very hot" then it's only going to take a second or two to burn her skin.

A couple of years ago I dropped the lid of our Aga onto my hand when putting the kettle on. It was only in contact with my skin for a second or two, but it burned the back of my hand quite badly.

My instant reaction was to pull my hand away from the pain. I couldn't have held on to the handle of the kettle even if I'd thought about it: the instant I contacted with the hot metal, I yanked my hand away.

I straight away put my hand in cool running water, and held it there for twenty minutes or so. When I got to the hospital an hour later they told me that this saved me from having permanent damage to my hand.

The burn was on the back of my hand and started at the joint in my index finger nearest my knuckle; it passed over my knuckle, and curved down along the back of my hand, and was maybe four inches long.

It felt very sore, and it was instantly tight, so I couldn't make a fist. Even now, two years later, when I make a fist I can feel the skin pulling a little there and I still have a darker, discoloured, silvery scar there.

However, I didn't ever lose mobility in my hand, or lose any of the dexterity I have. Except the dressings got in the way.

I hope that helps.

jclarkdawe
04-19-2014, 02:21 AM
Firefighters are taught to feel for heat with the back of the hand. That's because if you try grabbing it, you can have an involuntary reflex to clench your hand around the hot object, causing severe burns. So she might have problems releasing the hot pipe.

Burns depend upon duration and heat. The hotter, the longer, the deeper it gets into the hand and the more damage. It can result in complete loss of function in the hand. If it is hot enough and long enough, you'll actually smell burning flesh.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

King Neptune
04-19-2014, 02:38 AM
The Old Hack has a very good point. Your character wouldn't be able to hold one; she would pull back instantly. I had a similar experience, and I was in contact with the hot object for no more than a second, but that was long enough. The only permanent damage was loss of fingerprints on three fingers.

MDSchafer
04-19-2014, 02:46 AM
There's no magical formula that says if something is X degrees I can touch it for Y number of minutes before I reach Z stages of burns. Obviously you'd benefit from a burn or wound specialist, which I'm not.

Burn stages:
Stage One: Sunburns fall into this category, it happens a lot of time when cooking with boiling water. The primary identifying factor is if the skin is red and there are no blisters
Stage Two:
Can divided partial and full thickness. Partial thickness is when the entire epidermis and the top layers of the dermis. Partial thickness burns can heal with medical intervention. Full Thickness typically needs surgical intervention and often skin grafts. Typically treatment is fairly extensive, but much of it outpatient.
Stage Three:
Goes through the epidermis, dermis and into the subcutaneous layer. This always needs skin grafts in order to heal properly and can cause nerve damage
Stage Four:
Goes down into the muscle or bone. There will be irrepairable damage.
I've heard that there are fifth and sixth degrees of burns as well, but from what I understand only medical examiners use those levels because they're not survivable.

You can have nerve damage with second degree partial and full thickness burns. Since you're talking about your character's hands the chance for permanent damage is greater because the hands are such a fine instrument and highly innervated.

So the answer is "How hot is the pipe?" and the answer to your question is ,"Not long, maybe a minute?" Especially because if she's hanging from a pipe it increases the pressure on her hands which will make the burn go deeper faster, I think.

Shadow_Ferret
04-19-2014, 02:46 AM
My son fell and put his hands out to stop his fall when he was at his sitter's. They had one of those crappy, uninsulated apartment stoves, and that's what stopped his fall. He had second degree burns and the doctor was talking about possible skin grafts. We kept it bandaged for weeks, with socks over the bandages so he wouldn't play with them. And we had to lather them up in this zinc oxide cream several times a day. Luckily, they healed ok and we didn't need the skin grafts.

sheadakota
04-19-2014, 02:47 AM
If the pipe is 'very hot' as described and she holds onto it, she is most likely going to receive third degree burns- just touching it would result in second-
Now i am going on the assumption that 'very hot' is at least 140 degrees F. at that temp it will take 3 seconds to receive a second degree burn resulting in pain, blisters but no lasting damage. 5 seconds to receive a third degree or full thickness burn. this burn will leave permanent disfigurement and especially in the hands will be affected. the skin in the fingers will either fuse or contract as scar tissue is formed causing devastating immobility. when a third degree burn occurs it burns all the way through all seven layers of dermis and muscle. you may survive the burn but the area burned will never function properly again particularly a mobile area like the hand.

Faye-M
04-19-2014, 03:12 AM
Thanks, everyone, this is exactly what I needed to know!

I'm thinking maybe I shouldn't go with a pipe, then? I hadn't thought about her having trouble letting it go.


I had a similar experience, and I was in contact with the hot object for no more than a second, but that was long enough. The only permanent damage was loss of fingerprints on three fingers.

This is exactly the result I'm looking for - loss of her hand prints. Maybe laying her hands flat against something hot would be a better way to go?

Canotila
04-19-2014, 04:04 AM
This is exactly the result I'm looking for - loss of her hand prints. Maybe laying her hands flat against something hot would be a better way to go?

Aluminum cookie sheet? I reflexively caught one straight out of a 350F oven as it fell toward the floor. It glanced off my forearm and only took an instant to leave a 3rd degree burn. Still have the scar.

I saved the cookies though!

Faye-M
04-19-2014, 06:52 AM
Ouch! Good idea, thanks. :)

benbenberi
04-19-2014, 11:45 PM
When my brother was very small he pulled himself up one day by putting his hands flat on a hot-table (a very useful thing that used to exist, looks like a bar-cart only with a hot surface for keeping food warm). The palms and fingers of both hands blistered up badly and he was in bandages for weeks, but healed without scars.

Faye-M
04-20-2014, 06:40 AM
When my brother was very small he pulled himself up one day by putting his hands flat on a hot-table (a very useful thing that used to exist, looks like a bar-cart only with a hot surface for keeping food warm). The palms and fingers of both hands blistered up badly and he was in bandages for weeks, but healed without scars.

Ouch, poor little guy. Thanks!