I watched the fire truck pull up in front of my house and a female firefighter jumped off the back before it came to a complete stop. She took long, fast strides toward me. She was talking but I can’t remember what she said. She took the front steps two at a time and disappeared inside the house. She came back outside and told me it looked like the fire was out but they were going to walk through and check the entire house, including the attic, just to make sure. I thanked her and tried not to move. Moving was bad. Moving hurt. A few other firefighters filed off the truck and went into the house, another stopped to check on me. He asked if he could see under the towel. I nodded and he gently lifted it up and off, exposing my legs and feet to the night air and to my own eyes. It was the first time I really looked at the damage I’d done. My skin looked… melted. I can think of no better word to describe it. I realized I was twitching (fidgeting? squirming?) as he was talking. I have no memory of what he was saying. I was hurting. A lot. I don’t hesitate to write about how much it hurt because that pain is now the yardstick by which all other pain is measured. I smashed my thumb in the car door last fall and it hurt but compared to this? Cake walk.
I probably interrupted him to ask if anything could be done about the pain. He told me we’d have to wait for the ambulance because they didn’t have anything for burns on the fire truck. This struck me as completely ridiculous and absolutely hilarious. They don’t have anything for burns on the fire truck. Are you kidding me? I let that soak in and noticed my neighbors were all outside, mouths agape, taking in the spectacle. The next-door neighbor, the one I’d tried to wake, walked over to me just as the ambulance pulled up. They started the process of loading me onto a gurney and I called him over to ask if he would hang around until the firefighters cleared the house, and then lock up. They rolled me backwards into the ambulance and I watched the doors close. My first ambulance ride had begun.
When we got the ER, there were people everywhere. Doctors, nurses, paramedics, administrators… everywhere. It was overwhelming. Someone told me I had to take off my jewelry and it made me cry a little. I was wearing a bracelet with special sentimental value that I NEVER took off, but I had to anyway. I zipped it into the inside pocket of my purse, which someone promptly took away from me and put on the bedside table. I hated that. Questions were being fired at me left and right, including “Is there anyone we should call?” Damn. It was midnight by now. I couldn’t stand the thought of waking my parents until I knew how badly I was hurt. I was still oblivious to the fact that my burns were incredibly extensive. I called for a fire truck, not an ambulance. They’re making a fuss over nothing. So I told her not to call anyone. I also went into a spill about having an anxiety disorder and how important it was for them to be direct with me about what was happening.
Meanwhile, a team of nurses started debriding my legs and feet. For those who are unfamiliar, this means they were scraping off my skin. I tried not to watch but I couldn’t help myself. I’d watch for a minute and then look around for something to distract me. And for the record, the debriding was not lessening the pain. I reflexively pulled away a time or two and that’s when one of the nurses finally asked me a question I would hear many, many more times over the next few weeks: On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate your pain? Those who know me well know that my brain is always on. This is a blessing and a curse. Looking back, and based on his reaction, I should have just shouted “TEN” and been done with it but I didn’t. I had to think about it. Countless painful scenarios ran through my mind and I debated which of those might be more painful than what I was feeling (I know… I might be nuts). Based on all that, I decided my pain was a seven and told him so. He looked taken aback. “Seven?” he questioned. “Really? Are you sure?” “Well,” I explained, “there are people who get their arms cut off and people who have gunshot wounds. I figure those hurt worse than this so those are the tens… so mine can’t be a ten.” He smiled. “Fair enough,” he said. “But that scale is how they decide how much pain medicine they give you, so the next time someone asks, you tell them it’s a ten.” And he disappeared.
I guess he came back and gave me a shot of something because things are little foggy after that. The debriding was finished and they began the process of covering the wounds with silver paste. There were two nurses on each side of me, painting the stuff on with what looked like popsicle sticks. A doctor come in to talk with me while they were working. He shook my hand, introduced himself and told me they were sending me to the Burn Unit at UAB Hospital in Birmingham. “You said you wanted direct,” he said. “We’re just not equipped to deal with burns this extensive here but you’re an hour from one of the best Burn Units in the country so we’re going to let them take care of you.”
I don’t remember responding to him but I remember watching him walk out of the room. I remember watching the nurses wrap my legs and feet in endless white bandages. I remember grabbing my purse off the side table, putting my bracelet back on, and lying there in the ER waiting to take my second ambulance ride.
Next up: Part 3, The Blur.