For the past three months, I've been treating a girl who has full-thickness (formerly known as Third Degree) burns on her thighs, chest, neck and over half of her face. While her chest and facial burns are still in the healing stage, those on her legs are almost open-wound-free, which means she's moving into the scaring phase.
If we were in the US, she would already have been measured for compression garments and fitted for a mask.
But we're not in the US. We are in Niger. And we have no compression garments. Nor the capability to pull a face mask. Both of which would significantly help minimize her scaring.
For her first two months in the hospital, she refused to come to my office for therapy. Dressing changes were extremely painful, even with strong meds, and she wasn't willing to take the chance. But since I've had so many (awesome) kiddos for the past six weeks, I've been doing a pediatric group every afternoon.
One day, she showed up.
And that was all it took.
The other kiddos embraced her, despite half of her face being covered with bandages. There was no staring . . . no laughing . . . no pointing . . . no comments. She was an injured child, just like they were. Didn't matter that her wounds were much more visible then theirs, nor impossible to hide without a veil.
For the past month I've watched this little girl transform. And it's been beautiful.
But today, a man stopped by my office while the kids were playing . . . I mean, having therapy . . . he had been a former patient, also with full-thickness burns. He came because he now has severe scaring on his hand, forearm, and chest. While my patient and I chatted about his options, the kiddos kept on. I thought they weren't paying attention.
But she was.
When he finally left, I turned to find her curled up on one of my treatment tables, staring out at nothing. I went and asked her if she was suddenly feeling sick. No, she said, as a single tear rolled down her cheek.
It had taken her two months to feel safe being seen with her face covered in bandages. But today, for the first time, she realized what is coming. She saw what will be . . . only for her, she won't have the option of hiding it with a shirt. No, she will wear her scars where all the world must see.
With tears in my eyes, I climbed on the table next to her, and whispered in her ear that it is okay for her to feel sad. But what do you say to a ten year-old-little girl who will never again look at herself in the mirror and like what she sees?