Burn Unit I

Ten years ago I had the chance to do my internship in the National Institute for Children’s Health, also known as “Hospital del Niño”, during the first two months of the year. Being a high ranking student, I was eligible to be placed there and be one of the few lucky ones— quota was limited— in order to strengthen the clinical nutrition knowledge I received during previous semesters. Those were two months full of unique experiences, beyond academics.

I arrived at the hospital on the first day of January, a day when most people were resting after enjoying New Year’s Eve parties, but we the interns could not afford ourselves that, so I came in early to talk to Mrs. P. — the nutritionist in charge of monitoring my work — who introduced me to the nurses as the “nutrition intern of the month”. The fierce looks of these ones did not intimidate me, even more after finding myself with the friendly welcome of Dr. T., the one officially in charge of the unit and barely 27 years old, “I am here to help you in whatever you need,” said in a sweet tone of voice.

Then, Mrs. P. took me for a tour inside the unit, in which we walked into every room of it; some had small babies, sleeping, having certain parts of their bodies wrapped in gauze, others had bigger children, watching television, reading fairy tales, or entertaining themselves with toys. I could see that several of them had their scalps hanging off the side of their heads, later I would understand why.

There were some patients who caught my attention since the very beginning for various reasons, such as Amber, a 9-year-old girl who refused to talk to us, or Carla and José, a pair of little ones abandoned by their parents after having their faces disfigured due to an accident.

I also met Marilyn, a physical therapy intern from another university, with whom I established a beautiful friendship. She had to do the “dirty work,” i.e. she had to heal and clean the wounds of each child, change the old gauzes for new ones every day, and help them to do some exercise. My job as a nutrition intern was to make an inspection of every room of the unit, that is, to take note if a patient was discharged or if there was any new admission, to review certain clinical data left by the nurses in their medical histories, to determine what type of diet they needed and if they had to be given some special supplements, in addition to giving informative talks for the parents about nutrition.

Whenever I needed to speak personally with Mrs. P., the nutritionist in charge of monitoring me, I had to go halfway across the hospital and go down to the basement where the her colleagues were — usually laughing, eating fruit or talking about who knows what —, since their “headquarters” were next to the general kitchen hospital. Usually I bumped into Mario, the other intern of my class in the Gastroenterology unit, who used to complain about how lazy Mrs. P. & Co. were and that we practically had to do all the work for them. “One day I will take revenge, I will be in charge of my own interns and I will exploit them as they do now with us… remember what I say,” he told me, half jokingly and half seriously.

I remember that after finishing my internship in the aforementioned unit, I talked with a friend who was an intern in the same hospital in the past about my experiences. She was very surprised and could not believe that I told her all what I saw there so naturally, because the first day she entered the unit, she went out very frightened and almost crying, asking Mrs. P. to assign her the Gastroenterology unit instead, since she was too sensitive for the things she saw happening with the burned children. After she told me that, I questioned the fact that I may not be as sensitive as I always thought, but then I understood that the things that actually touched my heart and affected me were not the wounds, blood or scars, but other sort of experiences.