Caution – Fireplaces Can Burn Your Child

My blog title sounds a little obvious, doesn’t it? I mean, who doesn’t know that a fireplace gets hot? Well, the fact that gas fireplaces are hot didn’t stop our toddler from getting second-degree burns on his hand with four adults within 10 feet of him. Knowing the fireplace was hot didn’t prevent the burns. Part of the blame lies in us not knowing HOW hot the fireplace could get and in not letting it seem possible that our child would touch the fireplace at all.

Yes, two weeks ago Jonah fell or leaned toward the glass over a gas fireplace at a relative’s home and burnt his right hand (I’m still not sure how it happened, even though I watched it happen). We were only going to be there for ten minutes, and for some stupid reason neither Zachary nor I thought we should turn the fireplace off or sit between it and the kids. Jonah, now 15 months old, approached it a few times and we’d say, “No, Jonah,” and he’d smile and walk away from it. The third time, however, I’m not sure what happened but both hands hit the glass and within a split second he was shrieking.

We could see his hands were red, so we ran him into the bathroom and ran them under cold water. My poor baby was screaming so frantically, I don’t think I’ve ever seen one of my kids in so much pain before. I got relatively mild burns on my hand in college when I was waiting tables and I was a huge wimp about it – it hurt, badly – so all I was thinking about was how much my tiny child was hurting.

I wanted to go to the emergency room immediately, but Zachary thought we should assess the situation. While he asked my relatives for a first aid kit I called his mother for advice because she’s a nurse, and, well, sometimes you just want another mother to weigh in on these things. Especially a mother who is a nurse.

She agreed we should take him to the ER, if for nothing but pain management, and at this point I certainly was willing to do just about anything to take Jonah’s pain away. He was in rough shape. He just didn’t understand what was happening, I think he thought something was on his hand, because he kept swatting at it like he could rub the pain off.

While we were bundling the kids up we noticed the tips of Jonah’s fingers on his right hand were blistering, which made me panic. Traffic on the way to the hospital was excruciatingly slow, or that’s how I remember it, anyway. Zachary sat next to Jonah and I heard him say, “Oh wow. Oh no.” Jonah’s entire palm was turning into one big, puffy blister.

We were brought to a room right away at the ER, no doubt because of the way poor Jonah was howling. It was clear the little man was in agony.

In the room the nurse wrapped his hand in wet gauze, covered by a wet washcloth, covered by a dry washcloth, and then secured it with a bandage. They gave Jonah a shot of morphine in his leg. It took about ten minutes, but once the morphine had a chance to kick in he stopped screaming and shuddering and fell into a fitful sleep in my lap.

There wasn’t much they could do for the burn except tell us how to rewrap it the following day, give us a prescription for Tylenol with codeine, and make us an appointment with a burn clinic.

Luckily for all of us, once he’d been medicated and wrapped up Jonah seemed to feel fine. He was wobbly on his feet, both from the drugs and the balance-ruining effect of having a large, wet washcloth strapped to his arm, but he was smiling.

The burn happened on a Sunday. On Tuesday morning we saw the blister on his palm had opened up but didn’t really look at it. So we were ill-prepared for our appointment at the burn clinic that afternoon – when they removed the bandage it was as if Jonah had a big, gaping hole in his palm. I am not a squeamish person, but this was my baby we were looking at, and it was difficult to view. I thought Zachary might pass out (he is squeamish, plus this was our baby we were looking at), but he held strong.

It wasn’t until we saw the burn, raw and open and savagely red, that we realized how bad the burn was. I expected our referral to the burn clinic to be a formality – that we’d go and they’d look at it and say, “Yep, he’s fine, you can go home.”

But he had second degree burns, and because the injury was to his hand, he had to be watched closely so that the skin on his palm wouldn’t heal with his hand closed, meaning he wouldn’t be able to open his hand all the way.

So Zachary and I had to go back to the burn clinic two more times, and in between visits wrap and splint his hand ourselves. Once the burn had mostly healed and the new task became growing new skin, the burn clinic released us entirely. Now we have to keep his hand very well moisturized and splint his hand every night to ensure that the skin gets stretched out enough while it heals. Zachary was working late a few nights and I had to do this on my own, and let me tell you, trying to get a young, strong toddler to sit still while you manipulate his hands into a splint is like trying to wrestle a minnow. He’d cry, I’d want to cry, and I was having to rewrap his hand three times before I got it right because of all the squirming.

But his hand is looking much better now and he’s using it well enough to eat, give high fives, blow kisses, and throw blocks and books to the ground. We have an appointment with a plastic surgeon next week, but the good folks at the burn clinic said there shouldn’t be any reason Jonah actually needs plastic surgery, and for that I’m grateful. From what we were told, many kids who come in to the burn clinic with burns from touching fireplace glass suffer third degree burns and need surgery and skin grafts, so things could definitely have been much worse.

During my extensive research (I mean thirty-second Google search), I found a site that sells screens that go over the glass on gas fireplaces. On their FAQ page they state that the glass on a fireplace can reach over 400 degrees. For some reason, though I knew you could be burned by touching the glass on a fireplace, I assumed it would be like the type of burn you get when you quickly touch a curling iron, or a hot pan from the oven. I had no idea they get as hot as they do.

So please, don’t be like us – know that the heat on a gas fireplace is no joke, and assume your child will try to touch it. I think the best bet is just to turn it off entirely, but if you can’t or don’t want to ask someone to turn it off, set yourself directly in front of the fireplace so your child cannot get to the fireplace at all. Jonah’s hand touched the glass for literally a split second and it’s caused weeks of pain for him, pain that could have been avoided.

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Comments

  1. midwestkids says:

    My Goodness. I’m glad he is healing well. I can only imagine the screams and can picture him batting his tiny hands!

    Thankfully Syd doesn’t show a bit of interest in our wood burning fireplace. We still however have a nice tacky gate (http://www.diapers.com/product/productdetail.aspx?productid=9885) that blocks it off from her interest if she ever decides to show some!

  2. My son just did the exact same thing and this sight really gave me a good idea of what we have to look forward to in the following weeks

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