The first-hand account of a burn victim

PHOTO: The first-hand account of a burn victim

Jordan Saw is much like any other young man, an avid fan of cars. With him though, he walked the talk.

He was in his second year of and automotive technology course, and working after college as part of the pit crew for a local racing team.

However, his passion for motorsports was also to be his burden. During a 12-hour endurance race, a pitstop accident resulted in seven people being burnt, with Jordan and the team's chief mechanic the worst affected (details of the incident are not revealed because of a pending court case).

"I was conscious most of the time, but blacked out a few times. I must have been in pain because I remember crying and trying to scream, but I had inhaled some fire as well, so I couldn't really talk.

"I remember someone asking for a phone number to call, so I managed to give my sister's number. Then the next thing I remember, I was on the stretcher."

Receiving the news

His mother, Datin Jenny Saw, recalls that she and her daughter Joanna had gone out to celebrate Joanna's birthday that night.

"As we were getting ready to go to bed, I got a call from Jordan's friend, who asked if I was in the country (Jenny's husband, Datuk Saw Ching Hong, was then Malaysia's ambassador to Kazakhstan)."

Upon finding out that she was, he told her that his brother, who was at the racing circuit, would be calling her shortly.

A couple of minutes later, she found out the bad news that Jordan had been burnt very badly.

The person in charge of the students on the racing team also got in touch with Joanna with the news.

The two of them immediately rushed to pick up Jordan's girlfriend from her home, and then, sped to the Putrajaya Hospital, where Jordan was being sent.

"We actually arrived about the same time as he did," says Jenny.

"He looked like a roasted pig with all the skin dropping off and the oxygen mask on him," she recalls frankly.

Jordan had been burnt over 65 per cent of his body. The areas involved included the right side of his face and neck, his arms, legs, abdomen, back and buttocks.

Around 32 per cent of the burns were third-degree - the most severe type of burn. In addition, about 30 per cent of his lungs had been burnt due to fire inhalation.

At that time, the emergency room doctor had told his family that Jordan had about a 25 per cent chance of survival.

But later on, Jenny found out that Jordan actually had had only a 1-2 per cent chance of survival that night.

She confesses that she asked the doctor at Putrajaya a "silly" question that night.

"I asked if Jordan's 'ding-dong' (penis) was alright, since I couldn't see it as it was covered with a cloth.

"The doctor laughed a bit, then went to check. When he came back, he told me it was all okay," she says. Her reasoning was: "He was so burnt everywhere, I just wanted to know that there was some part of him that wasn't burnt.

"And I was thinking, that for a young man, if that part is okay, he will be alright, he will have the will to survive."

In the hospital

As Putrajaya Hospital did not have the long-term facilities to treat burns, Jordan was transferred to the Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysian Medical Centre (better known by its Malay acronym HUKM) after he had undergone an emergency escharotomy and been stabilised.

At HUKM, he went through a few escharotomies and debridement operations to release the pressure of the eschar (tough, inelastic burnt tissue) on his body and help restore circulation, as well as to remove the dead skin.

He also had two skin graft surgeries to cover up the most severe open burns.

He recalls that for the first month, he was drifting in and out of consciousness.

"I would get bits and pieces of what was going on around me, and my mind would put it together into these very vivid hallucinations. Like, for example, I thought that the hospital I was in was a family-run hospital," he shares.

Once he fully regained consciousness, Jordan remembers being very weak. "My muscles had atrophied by then, I'd lost about 13kg and I could barely move.

"It took me about two to three weeks before I could sit up, and I got dizzy very easily."

Even walking from the shower to the dressing room nearby in the ward could cause him to black out.

But showers were a good memory for Jordan, as by the time he was well enough to do so, his scars had become super-itchy, and the shower helped massage them.

This was in stark contrast to his first bath, which he remembers as being indescribably painful. It was so painful that all he could do was scream his lungs out.

"The painkillers they gave me didn't seem to have an effect, so I just told them not to bother the next time," he says with a humourless smile.

As he was intubated most of the time, as well as recovering from fire inhalation, he could only speak in a very coarse whisper.

Jordan also had a literally heart-stopping moment on the ninth or tenth day of his admission.

"My lung collapsed, causing my heart to stop, so the doctors had to stick a tube in my side to let the air out."

Jenny says that to this day, the doctors never really told them what happened that night. "Every time the nurse would pass us (outside the ICU), she would just tell us to 'sembahyang'. Then, a few hours later, she told us, 'Ok, boleh tidur sekarang'."

After that came the battles with various infections, which got into Jordan's bloodstream, skin and lungs, not too mention the little insects that appeared out of nowhere to feast on his dead skin.

Support from loved ones

Jenny claims that one of the special foods she bought for him did the trick in "chasing" the insects away.

"I gave a few doses of porcupine bezoar (guliga landak or hao zhu zao) to Jordan when he was able to sip water, and at that time he was still having the second attack of bacterial infection with high fever.

"After the third dose, his fever went off, even the little flies disappeared from his room," she says.

In addition, Jenny also boiled items like haruan fish and bitter gourd with frog for hours to get them down to their essence and fed Jordan with it regularly.

He also had three home-cooked meals everyday in the hospital.

As the Saw family did not have a maid at that time, Jenny's sister, who had actually just left Malaysia for her home in the United States a couple of days ago, purposely flew back all the way to help them out.

Even one of Joanna's friends from the US used up all her leave to fly back and help take care of Jordan.

Jenny recalls those 87 days in the hospital as being quite hectic. "It was just go, go, go all the time. You cannot think of yourself.

"We were like zombies. Everything we did was for him. Even eating and drinking we did because we knew we needed the energy - we couldn't taste anything."

She adds: "We died inside every time we looked at him. My husband said, now we really know the meaning of sim tiah (Hokkien for 'heart pain')."

Still mending

Now, one-and-a-half years later, Jordan has recovered much physically.

Some of his movements are restricted, but not limiting enough to prevent him from carrying out most of his usual activities.

However, he has to do various stretches daily to ensure that the tightening of the scars does not limit his movements.

Treating his skin also takes up a far amount of his time and energy, as he has to really knead the oil into the thick scars with his knuckles.

He has also lost certain sensations like light touch and temperature differentiation over those areas, and because of that, has to be alert to his surroundings.

Emotionally and spiritually, Jordan has not quite recovered though.

"I guess I'm more spiritual now; I'm more aware of God," he says.

"But in a lot of things I do, the spark is gone. Emotional obstacles, I guess." He pauses.

"Even in swing dancing, which is one of the loves of my life... after the accident, it's not quite the same. Everything seems a bit less personal."

He adds: "For me, the things that are somewhat real are relationships with people - with family, friends, my girlfriend."

He has tried going back to college to finish off his diploma, but "I don't feel like I fit in".

At first, it was because of self-consciousness - the feeling that everyone was staring at his scars.

Then he got chicken pox, and was out of action for two weeks, hence, invalidating that semester's work because of the attendance requirement.

Now, he feels awkward as his coursemates all graduated last June, and he would have to take classes with his juniors.

However, he is determined to graduate.

But what comes after that is still up in the air. "In my current state of mind, I'm not sure where I'm going."

However, his love of cars remains strong. "Whatever I do, I need to be doing something with cars, whether as a career or as a hobby."