Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Getting My Arse Cooked

Back when I was a student in medical college, in the trauma section of one of the textbooks, there was a photograph of a child with its buttocks scalded raw.

According to the book, this wasn’t a particularly rare thing to see in a burn unit, and the usual explanation is that the child sat down in a bucket of hot water. According to the book, this is something that almost never happens in real life, so it should immediately arouse suspicions of child abuse.

Well, actually, it does happen in real life. It happened to me.

I was at that time very young – I must have been less than three and a half years old, because my grandfather was still alive. It’s not my earliest memory, but it’s one of the earliest.

It was a hot and sunny day, just short of noon. My dad had bought a goat’s head from the butcher’s and was dissecting it out in the yard, and I was a very interested spectator. Meanwhile, my grandfather was preparing for his bath.

In order to comprehend what happened next, one needs to understand the (now thankfully long extinct) process by which men of my grandfather’s generation bathed. They’d first strip down to a dhoti or lungi – a cloth like a sarong, worn around the waist – rub themselves over with mustard oil, and sun themselves for an hour or so. Then, they’d take a bucket of hot water and pour it over themselves, without the use of any soap. That was their idea of a bath.

Anyway, so there I was bending over the fascinating goat’s head dissection, when someone put something down just behind me that I saw only a shadow of, out of the corner of my eye. It looked to me like a low cylindrical stool of the kind we used to use back then, and without a second thought I plonked myself down on it.

It wasn’t a stool. It was a bucket of boiling water, all ready for my grandfather’s bath.

I remember a white hot flash of agony, and I think I remember screaming. The next thing I knew, it was late afternoon, and I was lying in bed, sedated, and looking out at the yard where the goat’s head still lay, half-dissected. My arse was cooked, but good.

That’s why that book doesn’t know what it’s talking about. 


  1. Oh! Poor boy!

    And strange customs. I imagine the mustard oil burns the skin too. Especially in the sun. And then hot water... Was there no lake or river with cool, clear water?

  2. Sorry to hear that you were the exception to the rule! In most cases, though, I would still immediately suspect child abuse.

  3. You know, with your true story blogs, it's often the things you don't dwell on that arouse the most interest in me.

    For example, referring to folks as "specimens" rather than "patients" in one of your recent blogs. I've never heard that before, and have been wondering whether it was a cultural thing for weeks. I almost asked my dentist about it last week!

    This time out, it's the goat head. I know I OUGHT to be focusing on the burned ass, but... What was your father intending to do with the goat's head?

    1. Nothing; I'd wanted to know what was inside a goat's head, so he was trying to show me.

      The "specimens" thing is just a personal quirk. A long time ago, on Multiply, I'd written why I call them specimens. Now it's just a term I like to use.

  4. You write the most interesting stuff. Sorry for your arse, though.


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