After the severe cold Monday night left him with blistered, swollen hands that cut off his circulation and left him feeling ready to “explode,” Louis Rash, 30, of Penn Hills, started Wednesday with a positive report at the UPMC Mercy Burn Center: His fingers may not require amputation after all.
“Doing better,” Rash said afterward, his hands still wrapped in gauze and gloves from ointment and treatments in which pus-filled blisters were removed. In fact, his left thumb was freed from gauze and appeared to return to normal. “They were white-and-greenish looking. Not good.”
Rash said doctors warned him that the frostbite on his hands would get worse before it got better and he said they were right. “But the surgeon said they may be able to release me in a day or so. And after some of the swelling went down and they cut some of the sores on my fingers . . .they may not have to amputate,” Rash said Wednesday. He’s scheduled Friday to return to the Burn Center for hydrotherapy – a steady stream of water washing away the burned, dead skin – “and they’ll see the extent of the damage, and go from there.”
Rash was one of five frostbite patients for whom UPMChospitals cared during the record-setting cold front that brought wind chills of more than 20-below Monday night through early Wednesday. Two frostbite patients were admitted to UPMC Mercy, Western Pennsylvania’s only Level 1 Trauma and Burn center, in the wee hours of Tuesday morning.
One of them was Rash, a Mississippi native who left that state barely four months ago to move in with family in the Pittsburgh area and work as a customer sales representative. Around dinnertime Monday, he was brushing snow and ice off his vehicle and waiting to get the car’s battery jumped when his glove-less hands were exposed in temperatures recorded near -4 in Pittsburgh. This being his first Northeast winter, he admittedly underestimated the weather.
Rash returned home and placed his numb hands under warm water, which he later learned was an issue – it’s recommended, when possible, to ramp up gradually from cold to warm. While he watched the Florida State-Auburn college football championship game, the pain and swelling worsened, and a trip to UPMC St. Margaret lead to him being directed to UPMC Mercy’s burn center.
“When it first happened, I was thinking that (the swelling) would go down and it wouldn’t be as bad,” Rash said. “When I went to the hospital and saw my fingers the next day, there was anxiety. I’m thinking the worst … amputation. I don’t play the piano.” He laughed. “But I don’t want to lose my fingers.”
His advice: Beware of any temperature below freezing, especially the wind chill. And “at the least, wear gloves.”