Posted: Tuesday, September 14, 2010 8:53 am
By JOHN BRANNON
Puzzling indeed are the words from a trauma surgeon who treats burn victims in Nashville.
“We get several repeat customers,” said Dr. Jeffrey Guy, director of the Burn Center at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
In his 11 years as director, Guy and a staff of about 80 have treated hundreds of patients brought in with second- and third-degree burns. “We get the worst of the worst,” he said.
Most are referred to the center because of severe burns sustained in an auto accident, a house fire or other unfortunate circumstance.
The 29-bed facility receives referrals from throughout Tennessee and from portions of Mississippi, Arkansas, Alabama and Kentucky. It is one of the nation’s largest burn care facilities.
The only other burn care center in Tennessee is a seven-bed facility at Regional Medical Center (The Med) in Memphis.
Long road back
For patients with severe burns, the healing process is usually long and painful. As you might imagine, some recover, some don’t. Those who do recover get on with their lives as best they can. The odds against their being in another accident and burned again are undoubtedly astronomical.
Yet it happens.
Who are they?
Who are these “repeat customers” that Dr. Guy mentions?
They are cooks of another kind — those who mix, or “cook,” a variety of household items to produce a deadly and potent stimulant called methamphetamine — “meth” — for personal use and/or sale on the street.
Their clandestine workshops — “meth labs” — are places where untrained minds and unskilled hands mix volatile chemicals, some of which are anhydrous ammonia, red phosphorous, starter fluid, hydrochloric acid, drain cleaner and lithium metal.
Sometimes their backwoods chemistry has an unexpected and premature ending. What they get is not meth, but a sudden explosion and subsequent fire. Thus do meth lab “cooks” get killed or severely burned. If they can cling to life long enough to get to a hospital and thence to a burn care facility, they stand a good chance of recovery.
On the rise
At this writing, a third of the 29 beds at Vanderbilt’s Burn Center and the seven beds at The Med’s burn care facility are occupied by victims of meth lab explosions.
“We’ve seen an increase (in meth lab explosion victims) the last 18 months,” Guy said. “We’re seeing a lot of the new one-pot method they call ‘shake and bake.’ Just last week we got two really large meth burn (patients) and another two