As I was unpacking at my parents’ condo in Colorado at the beginning of a two-week family ski trip, I turned on the gas fireplace and tested the glass doors with my hand after a few minutes. They were warm, but not hot.
I finished unpacking and joined the family as my parents entertained my 1-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter. Later, as we were getting ready for dinner, I watched my son Lucas walk up to the fireplace and put his chubby little hands on the glass. He immediately started screaming. That glass, which was just barely warm when I first turned the fireplace on, was now too hot for me to touch, and my mama heart sank.
As I was holding his hands under cold water, they started to turn white and blister. I gave him ibuprofen and rushed him to urgent care. We were in the mountains, 3 hours away from the nearest children’s hospital, and the other (adult) patients in the waiting room at urgent care were clearly distressed while my 1-year-old screamed. I wanted to teleport us back to Columbus to be seen by the Burn Center Team at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. I was kicking myself, thinking, “I watched him. I watched him walk toward the fireplace and put his hands on the glass as any curious child would. I could have stopped him.”
The urgent care staff did their best to comfort Lucas. They called specialists at the local children’s hospital, who advised them to put salve on his hands and wrap them up. I got an appointment for Lucas to be seen there first thing the next morning. Working at a children’s hospital, I know how critical it is to be seen by pediatric specialists. We got up at 4 a.m. and made the 3.5-hour drive through snowy mountains. I really just wanted to get on a plane back to Columbus.
One of the pediatric specialists assigned to us was an Ohio State alum who had trained at Nationwide Children’s. He immediately put me at ease, assuring me we were all on the same “One Team,” and I knew Lucas was in great hands. Lucas had a procedure called a debridement, where they removed the dressing from the night before and then removed blisters and dead tissue from his hands. I watched his face, and my husband watched the procedure. All three of us cried. We returned twice more for another debridement procedure and hard casts.
We flew back to Columbus just after the new year. The dermatologist on the Burn Center Team at Nationwide Children’s said Lucas’ hands looked good. He has scarring on two fingers, but it’s not terrible, and we continue to do hand massages at home for scar management. Lucas is currently being seen monthly by the Burn Center Team for scar monitoring and they have become a second family, providing both medical and emotional support.
I could have stopped him. A lot of people – me before this incident included – don’t realize how hot the glass on the front of a gas fireplace can get. We don’t have a fireplace at home, but I tell people who do to take some precautions. Simply saying, “we don’t use it,” is not a solution for safety. There will come a time when your child, babysitter, friend, or family member turns it on without thinking, so be sure your home is set up for safety. Take my word for it: the glass on a gas fireplace is too hot for adult hands, let alone children and babies.
Read this for ideas on how to make your fireplace safer if you have kids living in or frequently visiting your home, or if you’re visiting friends or family or staying at a vacation home with a fireplace.
Elena Chiappinelli is the Administrative Director for the Institute for Genomic Medicine.
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