It should have been the best day of his life, but on his wedding day Nigel Scown was lying in a Waikato Hospital bed with burns to 26 per cent of his body.
The Taranaki Rescue Helicopter had flown the Hurleyville earthmoving contractor there nine days earlier after Nigel’s singlet literally burnt to shreds as he was cutting the top off a 44 gallon drum.
“I was going to use the drum as a rubbish bin, but its previous contents were a bit more flammable than I realised,” recalls Nigel. “Sparks caught my shirt, but I was able to pat them out. It was then I realised my singlet underneath was on fire and burning my torso.”
Home alone, Nigel immediately got the hose and doused himself in water. As he was trying to plan his wsletterxt move of calling 111, his partner Kathryn and their three-year-old daughter Georgia returned. “The burns didn’t seem too bad so we thought about driving to Hawera A&E but that was 30 minutes away. Kathryn then suggested we call an ambulance and he was there in no time. We were still thinking the burns weren’t too bad, but the ambulance officer’s face told a different story.”
Nigel kept the pain of his burns under control with a steady stream of water from the hose, though he says cold spring water at 5.30pm on a September evening in South Taranaki was pain of its own. It was then the ambulance officer told Nigel and Kathryn the Rescue Helicopter was on its way.
“When the helicopter arrived the crew tried to give me some pain relief because man the burns were starting to hurt, but I have very hard veins to find. Eventually they just said, ‘let’s get going’.”
Within 50 minutes, and utilising Night Vision Goggles, the Rescue Helicopter had delivered Nigel to Waikato Hospital. He didn’t return home for a month.
“I had 26% of my body burnt and the burns ranged from superficial to mid and deep-dermal burns. During the first nine days I was in theatre three times so medical staff could scrub all the old skin off to let the new skin grow. They needed to avoid the old skin sitting under the new skin as that can cause infection.”
One week into his stay, with his fiancé and daughter at home in Hurleyville, Nigel admits he hit a low point. “The incident happened on the 20th of September and we were meant to be flying to Rarotonga on the 29th to get married in front of 50 friends and families. That was pretty hard.”
Furthermore, the incident happened so close to their departure date that Nigel and Kathryn were unable to get a full refund. Combined with his loss of income – as an independent earthmoving contractor Nigel was unable to work – times have been tough for the couple.
“We have lost a whole lot of money, but as Kathryn said she’d rather that than pay for a funeral.”
Nigel has since been cleared to go back to work and says he has healed amazingly well. “My torso is still pretty tender and the skin is soft but there’s not a blemish on it. I was lucky enough not to need skin grafts. I think even the medical staff are surprised at how well I’ve healed. I’m not sure why that is but some of it is probably down to the amount of time I kept the water on the burns so soon after the accident,” he says.
Nigel also says he can’t speak highly enough of everyone who cared for him, from the ambulance officer to the Rescue Helicopter crew, the Waikato Hospital staff to his occupational therapists.
Georgia is also pleased to have her father home and recently had the opportunity to visit the helicopter and crew with Nigel. “I think it was pretty tough for Georgia to see the helicopter fly away with her daddy and not return. The other week when I was given the all clear to go back to work we popped up to the hangar with a cake to say thank you to the crew.”
“We always donate to the Rescue Helicopter what we can and when we can. They’re first on my list of donations. I’m now telling everyone else to donate because you don’t realise how important the service is until you need it.”
Nigel and Kathryn have set their wedding date for 13 January 2018.