What to Do When You Burn Yourself

Last week I had my first signifigant kitchen accident when I accidentally poured boiling water over my leg. I've had some finger slices and lots of little burns, but this was the first time I really considered a visit to the ER.

I thought I knew what to do if I got burned. I'm sure we covered it at some point when I was in school, and considering I occasionally firespin as a hobby, I really should have known. I was clear on putting burns under cold water, but I thought that was to manage the pain level. Since the burn was on my thigh and water was less convenient, I went for what I thought was a great option  -- the doctor-prescribed burn cream that a friend of mine had given me.

Apparently, that was the worst thing I could have done. Getting a burn under cold water isn't just for pain relief; it is, to put it somewhat morbidly, to prevent carryover cooking. When you burn yourself, the burn keeps burning until it cools off. Putting anything oil-based (this includes butter, which I remember being a treatment used when I was young) on a burn insulates the heat and pushes it deeper, causing more damage. My doctor informed me that it is okay to BURNFREE gel if water isn't available -- paramedics use this in the field -- but using any other cream immediately after burning yourself is a no-no.

If you've got a mild burn, using burn cream later for pain relief is fine. My mother also recommended making a paste of baking soda and coating the burn. She said that she's used this on a number of bad burns and never even developed a blister.

The Mayo Clinc has a good burn guide that gives an overview of the different types of burns and what to do about them. I had a hard time deciding whether or not to go to the hospital. I wasn't in pain, but the burn was big and nasty, and I was afraid the lack of pain meant nerve damage (it didn't, I was just lucky). Apparently, the rule is that if you have a 2nd degree burn (top layer of skin gone plus blistering) that is larger than 3 inches in diamater, you should get medical treatment. Even though my burn was large, I felt okay and decided to wait and call my doctor in the morning. If you've lost a large area of skin due to a burn, seeing a doctor is important. The risk of infection is high, and your doctor will most likely prescribe a round of antibiotics to help keep you safe while the burn heals.

When working in commercial kitchens, I felt like I was much more aware of the dangers of cooking. At home, I forget. I cook in bare feet and pajamas, and tend to get a little casual about safety. I burnt myself because I drained a big pot of pasta too quickly with the pot facing toward me rather than away, and the water sloshed out of the sink and onto my leg. You're supposed to drain hot water slowly and facing away from you, but I was in a hurry, and I wasn't thinking about it. So remember, the kitchen is a dangerous place and if you spend a lot of time there, you're probably going to hurt yourself at some point. Be more prepared than I was. Educate yourself on basic kitchen safety, and make sure that you have some idea of what to do if you should find yourself in an emergency situation.

Stay safe, and happy cooking!