Nesta Summerhayes - Treatment of burns

Running time
3 min 1 sec
Department of Veterans' Affairs


And so there was a particular Australian, a young Australian soldier who'd been burnt, in Seoul. He had been stabilised physically and considered well enough to be air lifted by the air ambulance wing of the RAAF. They operated between the two, to the Britcom [British Commonwealth General Hospital in Kure, Japan].

In those days, that would be 1954, the accepted medical treatment for burns wasn't highly developed - the great strides that have been made these days in nursing or in caring for burns, healing burns - it was Vaseline gauze dressings called tulle gras. Which was basically just layers and layers, like a bed, of paraffin gauze and Vaseline. That strips of Vaseline soaked gauze was the healing product that had to be laid over the entire burned surface, left for three days, and then the procedure went through again. It had to be soaked off because the serum that oozes from a burn, you know, can become hard and sticky so that adheres to raw nerve ends. The only way to get it off in those days was to put the patient into a saline bath - actually a bath - and let them soak, so that when the dressing could be gradually lifted off. It was that stage, that I never get this out - the screams of pain. It wasn't through carelessness or cruelty, that was the technique, his nerve ends were still raw and he had to be deprived of the hardening dressings.

So that went on and on and on and I've never ever forgotten that. Now he eventually became well enough to be shipped back to Australia. I can't remember seeing him again but I am led to believe that he did recover.

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