Back when I worked at Teeny-Tiny Hospital, it seemed we had more severe burns in the area than the population warranted. Part of it was that propane gas was a way of life. It was how people in the rural areas cooked, heated their homes and water. It had other uses, too. Many farmers had a portable tank they used to fuel a weed burner. Some tractors even ran on it, I believe.
Unlike natural gas, propane is heavier than air. So instead of dissipating, it tends to pool on the floor from a leak. One little mistake with it, and you were in a world of hurt. In the year and a half I was at TTH, we had three severe burns episodes, including one that involved two brothers.
The brothers were sleeping on the floor in the living room of a house when the propane heater exploded. Both of the boys were severely burned, and had to be airlifted to Denver. But not before I spent a couple of hours debriding (cutting the dead skin off of) at least one of them. This, of course, had to be done in the operating room, with sterile instruments. Then they had to be wrapped in sterile sheets to be transported to Denver. I think they both survived despite severe burns over a large part of their body, but I truly don’t remember.
Another burn came in with the genius who decided to fill his propane tank at the gas station, and light a cigarette. He got 1st and 2nd degree burns on his face and arms. The treatment in those days was a thick cream which had silver nitrate in it. It added insult to injury, as the silver nitrate burned and stung when you put it on. We would always have to medicate the heck out of him before we put it on.
But the real winner, and potential Darwin Award nominee, was the guy who was out burning weeds with his portable tank, and decided to light a cigarette and take a leak at the same time. He burned his face, arms, and ummmmm…his crotch. Badly.
I will leave to your imagination what kind of pain he was in. And what it was like when we had to go put the silver nitrate cream on. It was so bad, that we had a mask set-up with a short acting anesthetic we usually used for laboring women that we had him use when we got to …that area. And still he screamed bloody murder. I think I would have nightmares if all these masked and gowned women came ito my room, mad me breathe some nasty stuff, and then put something painful on my willie.
Another propane accident I remember, although it happened before I was a nurse, is the time my Dad blew himself up. He was working under a house, repairing some plumbing. Although propane has an oderant added so you can smell it, apparently he didn’t. He used his striker to light his soldering torch and BOOOM!! He was under a added on back porch, and it blew the porch off the house. He was burned on his face and arms. The worst part, though, was that the lady of the house was on the back porch doing laundry, and was thrown into the air, and suffered a spinal cord injury when she came down.
So, if you are working with propane, please remember that it pools around your feet. And don’t be a genius who decides to light a cigarette places where you never should.