I was attended to on my ride to UAB by an extremely kind paramedic. I wish I knew his name because he humored me the entire trip. Of course I couldn’t make it easy for him and just sleep on the way there. I was far too wound up so I spent most of the trip convincing said EMT to let me look at my chart, as if I knew how to interpret it… but I asked enough times that he eventually let me see it. I didn’t find “HOPELESS” printed in bold, red letters so I relaxed a little. Come to think of it, maybe I did sleep on the way there. Or maybe the poor guy dosed me with something so I’d leave him alone. Either way, the only other detail I remember from the trip is that I apologized to him for having them out and on the road in the middle of the night. And he responded by telling me that I had helped him out (See? Kind) because they made good money for doing transports and I was stable so it was good, easy money.
The surgeons at UAB told me I’d have to heal for a few days before they put their plan into action so they released me the next morning. A dear friend and her family drove over to Birmingham and retrieved me, then took me home. And I finally called my parents. I think they were on the road and headed in my direction in less than an hour. My mom cleaned my kitchen as best she could then cooked my favorite meal. I was bandaged hip to toe on both legs. They went about handling business so that they could do an extended stay with me and we waited for the day I’d go back to Birmingham.
I’m not sure how many days went by… it was somewhere around a week before I went back to UAB for my first surgery. The plan was to take good skin from my left thigh, stretch it, and use that to create grafts over the burned areas so I could heal. Once the surgery started, it was determined that the wounds had not healed enough to graft using my own skin. The surgeon felt the chances of the grafts detaching was too high, so they grafted pigskin instead. I woke up with vacuum hoses attached to both legs. I stayed like that for another week while my body worked to heal itself. They pumped me full of steroids, food, and morphine (so I could tolerate being awake). The actual grafting happened next and I stayed in the burn unit for about another week after the grafts were done. At this point, I was ready to go home, mentally-ready anyway. Physically, I needed to be released by the surgeon once he was satisfied that the grafts had all taken and could survive with only home care.
Two things had to happen before I could check out of the burn unit — I had to get off the morphine pump and my staples had to come out. Given all the horror stories I’ve heard about addiction to pain medicine, I was afraid the former would be the more difficult of the two. I was SO. VERY. WRONG. When one of my nurses told me that I couldn’t go home until I was off the morphine, I told her to turn it off. She suggested that perhaps cold turkey wasn’t the best method but I insisted, so item #1 was off the list. Next up, I had to survive having 127 staples pulled out of my freshly-grafted skin. They put you in a sound-proof room for that. Seriously. I still maintain that they should put you UNDER for it. Having those staples removed was by far the most painful part of this whole ordeal, and that includes the first bandage change that took over 12 hours to complete. It’s the only time in my life I recall screaming from pain and the only part of the experience I wish was a blur. My dad joked that I was on the 10th floor having the staples out and he could hear me screaming from the third floor. At least, I think that was a joke… maybe not.
After that I was released and allowed to go home.
Next: Part 4.