NSLHD Year in Review 2020

RNSH burns unit staff being photographed by The Sydney Morning Herald


Two days after the White Island Volcano erupted in New Zealand, Royal North Shore Hospital staff had to jump into action to receive six Australians medivaced to its burns unit.

A serious burn can take up to five years to fully recover. Senior Physiotherapist Julie Bricknell said starting burns patients on movement therapy as soon as possible was really important, even if the patients not conscious. “When you get a burn your body is essentially trying to make that wound smaller, so what happens is that skin starts to contract,” she said. “If we were to hold off until they were completely healed they’d have perfectly healed skin and absolutely no function, they would potentially have a lot of disfigurement, but they would also have limitations to their movement.” Burns Unit Acting Nurse Unit Manager Tracey Hurley said they give the patients a lot of pain relief so they are sedated.

The 12-bed burns unit was already busy treating patients from the terrible bush fire season. Head of the burns unit Dr Rob Gates anxiously waited to receive the six patients to the ward. In an interview with The Sydney Morning Herald he said he didn’t quite know what we were going to receive. He told the Herald some of the patients wounds looked as though they had been received from the theatre of battle, and he knew they had to act fast as the burns themselves were “quite toxic”. People who receive severe burns have complex needs so the RNSH burns unit is made up of a skilled multidisciplinary team including specialist nursing and medical staff, physiotherapists, occupational therapists and social workers. Burns patients can spend months in hospital but treatment is ongoing and can go on after they leave hospital from one to two years.

“The process of removing old dressings three times a week and cleaning the wounds and redressing them can take a team of nurses up to three hours,” she said. Recovery from burns is not just physical it also involves a lot of psychological recovery. Senior Social Worker Julia Kwiet said all her patients face huge adjustments and need support as they are at risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder “The treatment itself adds to the trauma because it’s painful and incredibly confronting,” she said. “Patients are still in trauma as every time they move or do anything it hurts. “I prepare people when they first look at their wounds and then debrief after with them about it.” Julie said following patients through their recovery, seeing them make improvements and getting back into their lives, made the job rewarding.


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