Two and a half year old Kugan was playing with his older brother Sujith just a few days before Christmas. His parents had promised them some hot vadai and so between their play they kept running in and out of the hut to check if their favourite snack was ready. Their mum, a housewife in a village about 20 miles from Vellore, was heating the oil in a deep pan on the wood fire on the floor of their backyard. The vadais needed very hot oil to cook just right.

Little Kugan was unaware of the dangers of running around that pot of oil. No one expected the pot to tumble and the boiling oil to spill over and cover him from the neck downward in an instant. It took his horror-struck mother minutes to recover from her shock and take up enough courage to wash off the hot oil from the screaming boy. Being illiterate she was told by a neighbour to pour some ink over the wounds. Kugan’s father was sent for. He works in whichever field he can get work in as a manual labourer and earns around £25 a month. After the incessant rain in Chennai and Vellore over the last month, work had been scarce as most fields were flooded.

Kugan was brought to the CMC hospital paediatric casualty. There a nasal tube was placed to ensure he was kept fed, and his burnt skin washed and dressed. He developed a high fever soon after he was brought to the burns unit and required expensive antibiotics very early in the course of the treatment. Kugan hardly felt like eating and all the nutrition he got was from the nasal tube that was placed into his stomach.

He had days when his skin looked like it was healing but then it would often worsen as he frequently became septic from the extensive dead and burnt skin. The dead skin was removed as often as it looked ready to come off. A dedicated burns nurse was assigned just to Kugan to ensure he got his feeds, dressings and was kept clean. The skin over his thigh, buttock and leg as well as the front of his tummy was burnt. With so much burning, his arms and legs became contracted and bent. The burning also caused extensive damage to his urinary passage.

His parents have spent all their savings on his treatment. His father has spent the past two months in the hospital sleeping outside the ward and so unable to earn an income. Kugan’s mother has been in the ward trying to console the constantly crying boy. Kugan’s only solace is when his older brother visits. Their hospital bill has exceeded £2000 with the Government health insurance paying only about £270. They have hardly been able to eat a normal meal themselves and are evidently struggling. They have been warned that this battle may be futile but all they can do is hope for the best and help in any way they can. They do so by collecting willing village friends to come and donate blood for Kugan, and they have learnt how to make his porridge and raw egg that is used to feed him.

Burns sadly affects the poorest of our society and requires the most expensive of treatment. The expense is because of the need for long stays, antibiotics for long periods and time in intensive care every time the child becomes septic. Often parents give up, because there is a lot of demand on the care givers both emotionally and financially. This story was written up in February. However, very sadly, Kugan died that month from his injuries. If he had survived them, he would have benefited greatly from the attention of an occupational therapist.