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Kris Biggs

Pain is Inevitable, Suffering Is Optional – In early 2009 I was an eager 20 year old that decided to start a new chapter in my life and make a change to my career path. I was fortunate to find a job as an electric apprentice. On May 5, 2009 nearly three months into the job, I arrived to work for 7am. My commute included a beautiful walk from Waterfront SkyTrain Station to my job site in Coal Harbour.

It was a reminder every morning how lucky I was to live in such a beautiful city. After arriving to work I was tasked with dusting and cleaning the large electrical components in the hotels electrical vault. This was to prevent arcing once the building was feed electricity by BC Hydro. This was a task I had done only a week before. I knew exactly what to do and I began right away. However, through miscommunication with my supervisor, BC Hydro had recently completed some work and energized equipment in the vault without any knowledge of that being passed on to me.

With the help of another apprentice we began dusting each cabinet, working from the outside cabinets towards the middle. Shortly after, I opened what I thought was a non-energized cabinet and began cleaning. Instantly an arc flash occurred, I was thrown back into a concrete wall and lost consciousness. I gained consciousness with first responders removing my charred clothing and cooling my wounds. Initially, I felt little pain. I lay on my back not knowing the extent of my injuries. I tried to convince the paramedics I was fine and I could sit up. Soon after, they raised my left arm making my burns on my left hand visible. I now became aware of the severity of my injury. The sight of my charred hand and the scent of the burning flesh increased the effects of shock on my body. I felt an intense cold and the pain was excruciating.

I arrived at Vancouver General Hospital still not knowing the true extent and origins of my burns. I was medicated shortly after arriving and experienced my first of many burn baths. My recollections from then on are very limited. The picking, pulling and cutting seemed to go on for hours. I sustained second and third degree burns to 15% of my body- mostly on my hands, arms, chest and neck.

For the next four weeks I called VGH home. I had the pleasure of meeting some wonderful people. The doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, occupational therapists were nothing less than amazing. They did everything they could to keep my family and myself comfortable throughout my four weeks with them. I have always had a positive outlook on life. However, it was a struggle to keep myself from feeling sorry for myself. As I became familiar with the hospital staff, I used humor as a method of dealing with the pain. Rather than worry about a future burn baths or surgeries, I would concentrate on ways of making it easier and that usually worked with jokes and laughter. I was fortunate to be surrounded by so much love- I could not have asked for more from my friends and family. My mother slept next to my bed every night, catering to my every need. I had home cooked meal three times and day and most importantly, someone always controlling the remote for the television.

I had two initial surgeries for skin graft, and three more to improve some over healing on my neck/throat. I was persistent with my pressure garments. Looking back now, I am so proud of myself for doing so. My advice to a newly burn survivor is to stick with them. The discomfort pays off. I attended physiotherapy for months following my discharge from the hospital and worked extremely hard to regain my strength and flexibility. My determination allowed my body to return to the state I was once at and I was quickly enjoying activates I love to do.

Throughout my time in the Burn Unit, I was approached with an application to the BC Professional Fire Fighters’ Burn Camp. Not knowing anything about it, I was hesitant and delayed sending in my application. After further discussion and convincing from nurses and counsellors from camp I agreed to attend. I attended as a junior counsellor and was instantly blown away with the support the camp provides for the children. I have returned the past two years and feel privileged to have the opportunity to go back and be a part of such an amazing week. In addition, with the encouragement from Ann Coombs, I am proud to be one of the SHARE representatives.

Moving forward, I just finished the Career Fire Fighting Pre-employment Program at the Justice Institute of British Columbia in December 2011. I hope in the near future I can serve as a fire fighter and help promote fire safety and awareness turning the pain and suffering in every way to a positive.