Health Parenting Uncategorized

Bear had a terrible, serious treadmill accident and received a full-thickness friction burn when he was 4 years old. My parents had a treadmill at home but we never knew how dangerous that could really be.

I was recently reminded of Bear’s accident when a friend suffered terrible burns and was hospitalised. She spoke of not knowing if her skin was dead or not – the whiteness of it and I immediately knew what she was talking about. I remember seeing the white skin after a burn and what that could mean.

It’s taken me years to get round to writing this. I’ve wanted to write about it since the day it happened as I don’t want another family to go through what we went through but a number of reasons stopped me. I also want to add that I have asked Bear’s permission to write about this. At first, he said that he thought this was a bit private and so I said I wouldn’t post it but when I explained that I had only written this to try and stop it happening to someone else, he said that he wanted that too.

*If you know Bear personally, please don’t comment with his real name as we both want anonymity for him on the internet – thank you*

For the first couple of years, it was trauma that stopped me. Then life got in the way and we moved on.

However, as well as hearing that my friend had suffered terrible burns (not related to a treadmill) I have also seen a Tik Tok that has become really popular. Sweets are put onto the treadmill in a snake like shape, it’s turned on slowly and people lay down at the end of the treadmill and eat the sweets as they fall off the end.

via GIPHY

First of all, GROSS (how much sweat must be on that tread) and secondly, if a child wanted to emulate that and they had long hair that became tangled, their faces could end up looking like my son’s wrist.

We need to go back to 2014. My Mum had a treadmill in the attic. There had been times when she had used it when Bear was at the house (accompanied by me) and of course he was fascinated by it. We had been so careful to explicitly state that he must never ever go on it and had answered his questions about the safety stop cord etc and Mum always turned it off at the plug.

On the day in question, May 10th 2016, I was in a good place physically and had enrolled on a computerised accounts qualification until 2pm, in the hope of returning to work. Bear was at Montessori pre-school until 1pm, my Mum was working that day but my Dad was more than happy to collect his grandson and play with him for an hour or so. He would take him to their house, where he was also keeping my dog company and if I was late for some reason, he had mentioned that he might take Bear to an indoor play centre near my house and he’d drop the dog off at my house.

My course finished a bit early. I got into my car and rang my Mum and Dad’s house phone to just check that Bear and my Dad were there. I’d said that I’d call when I was on my way .

No answer.

I rang my Dad’s mobile. At this time, my Dad’d mobile was basically an ornament. He never answered it or took in anywhere with him, but I tried it nontheless.

No answer. As I’d expected.

I continued with the 30 minute journey. Using my bluetooth voice control, I kept on trying my parent’s house phone just incase. I tried my house phone in case they were there. No answer either, but I didn’t expect that.

I continued to my parents house. They must be in the garden or they had maybe walked up to the park. There was nothing to worry about.

I arrived at Mum and Dad’s house. Dad’s car wasn’t there. They must have gone to the soft play near my hose. How flipping annoying! My course was 10 minutes away from my house and because Dad hadn’t taken his mobile with him as usual, I’d had a massive wasted journey!

I heard the dog (Bella) barking. She’d heard me arrive and gave her usual 10 decibel greeting. Why was the dog at Mum and Dad’s house if Dad and Bear had gone to my town? Dad would have taken the dog with him, dropped her at my house before going to soft play, where I would meet them and Dad could then drive home. He wouldn’t have left the dog as then someone would have to collect her.

I let myself into the house and went straight into the living room to calm the dog down., I called my Mum on her mobile. “Do you know where Dad is? His car’s not here but Bella is. Have they gone to soft play? I’ve driven all the way here and of course, he’s not got his mobile with him”

Mum hadn’t heard from them and suggested there was nothing to worry about, wherever they’d gone, they would be back soon. I hung up and sat waiting with Bella for 5 minutes. I felt uneasy. I knew something wasn’t right but Mum was a very calming person and had convinced me that they had popped to the shops or something.

I decided to get a drink. I went into the kitchen and found Bear’s nursery bag. Ok, so they were definitely somewhere local. I then saw Bear’s brand new sandals.

“Mum” I said as I phoned her again. “Bear’s sandals are here. Where have they gone without him wearing anything on his feet?” I remember saying that I had a really bad feeling. Something wasn’t right.

The dog was here. Bear’s bag was here. Bear’s sandals were here. Where on earth were they?

This is when I started to worry. I panic when I don’t know what is happening. I’m really good in an emergency or accident – I can keep calm and just deal with the situation but when I don’t know what I’m facing, I get scared.

Finally, Dad’s car flew into the drive. Maybe he wasn’t at speed but all of sudden it was there. I opened the door as Dad got out of the driving seat.

“There you are! I wondered where on earth you were and what had happened!”

I think I had a big smile on my face. Maybe a bit of annoyance.

Dad looked exhausted. His expression was worried.

“You’ve got to go to James Cook hospital Hannah, there’s been an accident. Bear got his hand stuck in the treadmill”

“Ok.” I said. “Don’t worry. Its not your fault Dad.”

Bear was asleep in his car seat, on the passenger seat of Dad’s car. As I grabbed his bag from the house and moved my empty car seat into the passenger seat of my car (If he was upset when he woke up, I wanted him beside me as we drove the 40 minutes to the hospital) my Dad told me that Ripon hospital had washed his arm, wrapped it and given him pain relief. I had a letter to take with me but they had phoned ahead and they would be expecting me.

I went to my Dad’s car and gently woke Bear up. As soon as he opened his eyes, he started to cry and told me that he’d hurt his arm. We had a big cuddle and then I popped him into my car and off I drove, asking Dad to call Mum and tell her what had happened.

I don’t really remember the drive. I can see it in my mind’s eye but not much more. I can’t remember how, but I know we somehow made it to the children’s ward. Bear had been on this ward when he was two years old for tonsils, adenoids and grommets.

I remember waiting near the nurses station. We had to wait for ages for a specialist to come and see him. I called my Mum and used a month’s worth of data on my phone so that Bear could watch Paw Patrol on my phone.

Finally, after hours, we were seen. Taking the bandage off was so traumatic for Bear. Thankfully there was nothing sticky (he even hated plasters at this age as they pulled hairs out when taken off) but he was obviously in pain and scared. That’s when I got my first look at his wrist.

third degree burns from a treadmill friction burn

To be honest, I think I was expecting a great big fluid filled blister, blood etc but although the pink bits looked sore, it didn’t look as bad as I was expecting – that’s because I wasn’t familiar with burns. All the white skin is dead. The dark brown, also. The pink bits were superficial. Although incredibly painful as the nerves hadn’t been killed, they would heal with very little intervention.

What you’re actually looking at is a friction burn. The belt of a treadmill is basically sand paper. It helps your trainers to grip. The thought that still makes me feel sick and haunted me for years was sandpaper constantly wearing away at the layers of skin, not only causing pain but also generating heat – the friction. Bear laying there, stuck, in pain, in fear, screaming for help.

The Dr, I think a registrar, decided that it was severe enough to call the consultant in. When he eventually arrived, it was decided that Bear would need surgery the following morning so that they could cut the dead skin away and perform a skin graft.

They x-rayed his hand to make sure that no bones had been damaged and thankfully, none had.

4yr old left hand xray
No broken bones.

A nurse dressed his wound. As she did, I asked if she had ever seen an injury like this before – from a treadmill. Surprisingly, she said yes. I was shocked. I’d never heard of it. I just presumed that if a child got hurt on a treadmill, it would have been a fall, a bang on the head maybe, but not a friction burn. They gave Bear some antibiotics and sent us home, to come back early the next morning.

Bless his heart, poor Bear was exhausted and slept ok that night. I packed a bag and we set off back to hospital for about 8am.

When it was time, Bear went into surgery. This was the second time he had been given a general anaesthetic and I knew what was to come – he refused a canula, even with magic cream. There was no reasoning with him. He’d had magic cream and the plastic dressing that you put on top before, for blood tests and it was an incredibly traumatic experience. Mostly because he hated sticky dressings but also because of a intense fear of needles.

So, he was put to sleep using the gas mask. I lay with him in my arms and I sang to him and talked to him as the gas took effect but as is very common in this situation, just as they are about to go under, they fight. Arms and legs flailing, trying to pull the mask off. It’s not pleasant.

I waited, to find out that all had gone well, and had he had a partial thickness skin graft or full-thickness.

The difference between the two is that in a partial thickness skin graft, a thin layer of skin is shaved off and area such as buttocks or thigh – they use an instrument that is a bit like a cheese grater to take off a piece of skin like a concertina. It’s used for burns that and injuries that have not harmed all the layers of skin but the site where the skin is taken from can be quite sore as it’s like a graze. It’s a less invasive procedure but can be more painful to heal. A full-thickness graft is where all layers of skin are taken – a piece of flesh is cut away and then the edges are sewn back together. It’s used for more serious burns and injuries and is less painful to heal.

The surgeon came out to find me. The surgery had gone well. They had taken a full-thickness graft from his groin, there was a good blood supply to the new skin on his wrist and the wound was clean and should heal well.

treadmill friction burn after skin graft surgery
After surgery

Thankfully, it had gone so well that after he came round, used the bathroom and ate, we were allowed to go home that day.

Now it was time for recovery. We had to drive back to the hospital every 5 days for a dressing change. This was the first opportunity to see the graft. Taking the dressing off was as traumatic as expected. They had a fabulous spray that dissolved all the sticky dressing residue but it was still painful for him. Initially, he had a splint as part of the dressing so that Bear couldn’t bend his wrist but after a couple of weeks, this was taken away and he just had soft dresssings.

treadmill friction burn full thickness skin graft
First dressing change, 5-7 days post skin graft.

Seeing the graft for the first time – it looked so painful. Looking at the darker area’s and all the stitches in the middle of the actual piece of flesh that they took, it was hard to imagine it healed and not looking so angry but we were assured that over time, it would fade. You would always be able to see it but that it wouldn’t stand out.

treadmill friction burn after surgery adapting
Adapting to playing the wii with his less dominant hand!

Initially, he wasn’t allowed to go to Nursery and he wasn’t allowed to run around in the usual fashion that he would (he was a very active outdoorsy boy who had already mastered riding a bike without stabilisers) and so we had to find creative ways to keep him entertained. It took him a few hours to be able to master racing Mario Kart on the Wii with his right hand. Oh yes, did I mention that he is left-handed? Brilliant. Of course, that’s the hand that he hurt.

treadmill friction burn after full thickness skin graft healing

Thankfully, there were no complications with the healing. No infections, no issues with blood flow to the new skin. It took time but it healed amazingly. Sadly, the psychological scars took a lot longer to heal.

Bear wouldn’t let me tell anyone about the accident if he was in ear shot. We couldn’t say the word ‘treadmill’ for years. He hated people looking at it. For me, I felt sick if I ever told anyone about the accident. I still, but less often, envisage Bear, trapped with his arm in the treadmill. I imagine how scared he felt, the pain he was in, screaming for help and having to wait for my Dad to hear him, on the ground floor, run up two flights of stairs (my dad has a very bad back and drop foot on one leg so isn’t the fastest) get into the attic, get to the machine, turn it off and scoop him up. I can see him and the entire event in my mind’s eye and it tortures me to imagine it but I can’t not.

Within days, my Mum had got rid of the treadmill. She couldn’t use it again, knowing what had happened and she wanted Bear to feel safe at their house again.

To help him, we decided to tell anyone that asked (and a lot of strangers did) that he had been bitten by a shark. Bear liked the story and seeing the shocked look on peoples faces! A dinner lady at school even took me aside to find out if the shark attack story was true as he kept to it so well!

After a couple of weeks, the scar was deemed healed enough to be uncovered. Bear, however, thought different. The burns clinic wanted the air to get to it etc but Bear refused to have it uncovered. We became creative with our coverings. He needed a clean one every day, especially at nursery. We became very creative with coverings. Loose tubigrip, socks with thumbholes and the toes cut out and when he was eventually allowed to swim and we went abroad, I cut sleeves off old rash vests with sun protection and added a thumb hole. It kept the sun off the area and also sand.

treadmill friction burn after skin graft surgery healing
Months after the accident but still not allowing it to be uncovered.

Eventually, I think, if my memory is correct, it was when we were abroad, about 12 weeks later that we finally got him to have it uncovered for more than a few hours at a time. I remember talking to him about how it needed the air to dry properly otherwise it might get soggy and painful again. Slowly but surely he managed and that was that.

When he started school in September, 4 months after the accident, he wanted it covering again but only for a couple of weeks and then he was ok again. One thing that we have found, even 4 years later, is that the area of the skin graft seems to be a little more sensitive and being left-handed, when he writes, the area that was hurt, brushes against the paper constantly.

In the early days, on recommendation from a friend, I lathered the scar in a silicone ointment – it’s not cheap but it’s meant to be excellent for reducing the appearance of scars. It wasn’t recommended by the hospital but I did check that it was ok to use before doing so. Now, we still occasionally put some on after a shower and also use bio-oil but the healing has been incredible.

treadmill friction burn after skin graft surgery 10 weeks post op
Apologies for the quality of the image – this was approximately 10 weeks after the accident.
treadmill friction burn skin graft healing after 4yrs
4 Years later.

You will always be able to see the skin graft but it will continue to fade as time goes by. I think the skin will always be a slightly different colour due to it coming from a different part of the body, but it is no longer raised.

The donor site – where the skin was taken from Bear’s groin. That healed excellently – he never complained of pain and unless you look for it, you would never know it was there as it is a simple light scar but it is placed exactly in the crease of the groin.

So. Back to the reason why I have told you all about Bear’s accident.

He is not a one-off. In Australia, they even have a slogan “Learn don’t burn” for treadmill related friction burns.

Two plastic surgeons in Wales have produced a research paper into treadmill burns and found that the age range of children involved was between 1yr and 13 yrs and more than half of the children involved needed skin grafts.

There are further research papers – Oxford Academic and the US National Library of Medicine so if you are reading this and you have a treadmill in your home, don’t think that it won’t happen to your family as it as happened to lots of people before you.

The best advice to help reduce the risk of injury of a treadmill friction burn, comes from the Australian leaflet:

How can I reduce the risk of my child being injured?

How can I reduce the risk of my child being injured?

Supervise children’s activities at all times.

Take Steps to keep treadmill equipment out of children’s reach.

Use exercise equipment when children are not at home or are in bed.

Fence the area where exercise equipment is stored.

Playpens should be used when exercising with a toddler in the room.

Do not place treadmills up against a wall.

Supervise children’s activities at all times.
Take steps to keep treadmill equipment out of children’s reach.
Use exercise equipment when children are not at home or are in bed.
Fence the area where exercise equipment is stored.
Playpens should be used when exercising with a toddler in the room.
Do not place treadmills up against a wall.

http://www.wch.sa.gov.au/services/az/divisions/psurg/burns/documents/Learn_Dont_Burn_Treadmills_DL.pdf

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