Home > Health > Visiting the Burn Unit

Visiting the Burn Unit

March 30, 2010

by Lisken Van Pelt Dus

for jJ


Who hasn’t been seduced by a campfire,
its lust for oxygen,
its lick, its hiss, its color-coded heat.

But that’s not this story.

Put on a gown and gloves before you enter the patient’s room.
If you leave, even for a moment, put on a new gown and new gloves when you return.

This story is bare feet in the street
and nothing in your hand
but a remote mistaken for a phone
when you woke to flames eating the kitchen
and the power out —

Behave as each staff member requires you to behave.
This goes for the patient also.

My cat! Find my cat! you begged the firemen.

Do not allow the patient to drink water.
She needs calories to rebuild her skin.

Lisken, you say, as if confiding a secret: the flames
were beautiful.

Patient can aid healing by elevation and movement.

You dance with your hands in the air.


Face blotched with blisters and raw skin,
hair shaved back and singed,

Patient has mid- and deep-dermal burns
over approximately 18% of her body (using rule of nines);

both arms swathed like a mummy’s in white gauze.

Patient will require hospitalization, debridement
of devitalized tissue, and possibly skin grafts.

Knowing nothing, I was braced for worse.
Still —

Patient should be monitored for burn wound conversion:
it may be a week or more before the wounds fully reveal themselves.

As if the fire were still smoldering in your flesh.


Back home, I climb Monument Mountain
to a view of parallel ridges,
a horizon announcing elsewhere.

Do not expect us to explain everything.

I am out of breath.

It will take time for us to know everything.
It may also be in your best interests not to know everything.

So much existence at once.

Do not say burn victim. Say burn survivor.

My eye focuses further and further.
You are far to the west.

Beautiful, you’d told me: the colors,
and on such a scale.

Download the podcast

Lisken Van Pelt Dus is a poet, teacher, and martial artist living in western Massachusetts. Her poems can be found in numerous journals, including Conduit, The Comstock Review, and Main Street Rag, and her first poetry collection, Everywhere at Once, was published this year by Pudding House Press.

Categories: Health Tags:
  1. tamam Kahn
    March 30, 2010 at 10:31 pm

    Very powerful poem — Well done, Lisken.
    I especially enjoyed hearing you read it to me.
    wonderful work,

  2. Heather Reid
    March 31, 2010 at 5:06 am

    Amazing poem, it feels very real. The last two lines are perfect. Thanks

  3. Jennifer Clement
    April 1, 2010 at 7:11 am

    I will be thinking of “Using rule of nines” for days and days. Thank you1

  4. April 10, 2010 at 2:48 am

    Perfect poem — in layers and layers. Thank you.

  1. No trackbacks yet.
Comments are closed.
%d bloggers like this: