After the pandemic delayed my first season of college soccer, I was excited to play last fall. I prepared for the season by playing summer league games, lifting in the gym and working on my fitness more than ever before.
I finally felt like I was back to my football routine with daily practices, team activities and in-person lessons. Everything was going well and our team was functioning well. Then my whole season changed with a cup of Earl Grey.
I was at the Dobbs Common Table (DCT) making a cup of hot tea in early September. I didn’t see any cup sleeves so I held the cup by the lid as it was too hot to hold at the base. Suddenly my tea fell from under the lid and directly onto my foot, soaking my shoe and sock. I felt nothing at first, with my adrenaline pumping and in total shock. Then the pain set in and I cried out in agony. My instincts made me rip off my shoe and sock, and I watched in disbelief as my skin ripped off along with my sock.
I was extremely uncomfortable, digging my fingernails into the palms of my hands and clutching my face to distract myself from the unbearable pain. I couldn’t even walk because the skin on my ankle and the top of my foot had peeled off like melted candle wax.
I was lucky enough to be near the Woodruff Physical Education Center (WoodPEC), so I hobbled as fast as I could to ask my amazing coach for help. There, an Emory doctor was able to quickly prescribe a burn cream for the injury. I was sent to the burn unit at Grady Hospital where I learned that I had suffered second and third degree burns to my foot.
I had to adapt to my injury in many ways. I had two appointments with doctors at Emory Student Health Services. I have crutches and bandages for my foot. I had to shower with my foot hanging out so it wouldn’t get wet. My roommate gently applied burn cream to my foot and wrapped it daily. When it rained, I had to tie a bag over my foot to keep it dry. I was in excruciating pain, both physically and emotionally.
When the reality of the situation set in, a question came to mind: when was I going to be able to play? This abnormal accident shocked me, as well as my teammates and my coaches. I thought I would be out for the rest of the season.
My mental health deteriorated rapidly. As a student-athlete, my sport is a big part of my life, which brings me both consistency and excitement. Football is what got rid of all the problems I had in my life. I waited so long to play after my first season was canceled – now it had been taken away from me once again.
To say I was frustrated, emotional and helpless would be an understatement. I started seeing an Emory psychological and athletic counseling provider. It helped me understand what was going on and find ways to deal with it, but it was still hard to be on the sidelines. I decided to do everything possible to support my team by encouraging and committing myself. This setback would not derail my enthusiasm for football or the rest of my life.
Fortunately, I recovered from my injury in record time after two weeks, even though it felt like the longest and most painful two weeks of my life. I took care of my injuries, saw the doctors I needed to see, mastered walking on crutches to get to class on time, and was determined to heal as quickly as possible. possible in order to be able to return to the field. My teammates, friends, family, doctors, coaches and trainers have all fueled my resilience. I realized that having and using a good support system is the key to resilience.
As I tried to better understand my injury, I saw parallels with the now famous McDonald’s hot coffee case. In 1992, 79-year-old Stella Lieback knocked down a McDonald Coffee on his knees and suffered third degree burns which required skin grafts. She sued McDonald’s for the cost of her medical bills, but McDonald’s declined. After going to court, she was awarded $3 million, more than she originally asked for. The suit revealed that McDonald’s had received more than 700 prior reports of injuries from its coffee, including third-degree burns.
These are cases that you usually read about and could never imagine happening to you, until it does.
I contacted Emory administration about this incident because I did not want other students to suffer my injury. Dining room water should never be hot enough to cause second and third degree burns.
After reaching out, DCT staff answered my questions and apologized for what happened. According to the DCT, the water is kept at 190 degrees Fahrenheit, which is the standard temperature for dining. My parents and I have requested that the appropriate person on campus re-evaluate hot drink temperatures and enforce safer temperatures. We requested that the temperature of hot beverages on campus be lowered to a range between 130 and 160 degrees Fahrenheit, considered the safest and most preferred by consumers in a to study published by the Institute of Food Science in 2019. The study notes the important safety distinction between “brewing” and “serving” temperatures, with DCT water falling just below the 200-degree brewing threshold Fahrenheit.
We also emailed the Dean of Emory College, Michael Elliott, who said that one of Campus Life’s directors would be in touch after reviewing the incident. He wrote that he was confident that our concerns were taken seriously and that the catering manager was consulting with appropriate industry, health and safety standards and internal risk and safety offices.
Dave Furhman, Senior Manager of Campus Life, then emailed us stating that Food Services had found that the brewing temperatures at Emory for coffee and hot water for tea met the standards recommended by the ‘industry. He did not recognize the request to lower temperatures.
I am upset with the University’s reluctance to change its policy regarding water temperature standards. Instead, the DCT placed ‘warning signs’ near the hot water dispensers, which was insulting. These signs do not solve the problem. I was scalded by water served just 22 degrees below boiling temperature, not because I didn’t know it was hot.
Although the catering services did not break any safety rules, the drink temperatures seem totally unnecessary. I hope the Emory administrators, who claim to be committed to student health, don’t hide behind industry standards and take appropriate steps to prevent future accidents.