Burned

IMG_0337My baby brothers and I, we have all been burned.

Baby brother Butchie was first.  In 1970 he was a toddler and the men were drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon on a Sunday, using swear words and smoking filterless Winstons and taking apart a car’s innards in our gravel driveway.  I remember the scream.  A baby’s scream.  One minute he was waddling down the driveway, clad only in a thin t-shirt and his disposable diaper, and the next thing his rear end was glued to the red-hot engine and he could not, on his own power, move.  The smell of burning plastic.  Our mother’s panic.  Her baby boy in her arms, charred diaper falling, melting over her arm.  Running.

Fact #1:  Second-degree burns are more serious because the damage extends beyond the top layer of skin. This type of extensive damage causes the skin to blister and become extremely red and sore. Some blisters pop open, giving the burn a wet appearance.

Baby brother Chuck was next.  He’d just started walking.  We were living in the white house on Georgia Street, the one with the heater in the floor.  Our parents were about to divorce.  Chuck walked barefoot across the grates and fell into the hallway, red-face screaming.  Our mother’s panic, again.  Another baby boy in her arms.  Weeks of baby Chuck not-walking, pained, both feet and ankles wrapped so tight in pure white gauze.  Talk of skin grafts.  Talk of blame.  Prayers we don’t need grafts.  How innocent and comforting the gauze looked; how soft; how excruciatingly painful when we peeled it off.  The constant, oozing changing of bandages.  “Be good,” our mom would say, looking over her shoulder at Butchie and me.  “Be good, can you?  Help me.”

Fact #2:  Due to the delicate nature of such wounds, frequent bandaging is required to prevent infection. This also helps the burn heal quicker. Some second-degree burns take longer than three weeks to heal, but most heal within two to three weeks. The worse the blisters are, the longer the burn will take to heal. In some severe cases, skin grafting is required to fix the subsequent damage.

I was 11.  Grandma Ann and I were up late at the house on Locust Street, watching Dracula movies.  It was Summer, 1976, and I was sleeping over on a Saturday night, like I often did, and we opened the red and white can of Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup and poured it into a pot.  It boiled.  And boiled.  The boiling made it taste better.  I had the bowl on my lap, on a pillow, and it spilled right away while we were watching the start of a Dracula movie.  I screamed.  Grandma was alarmed, then visibly pissed.  “Goddammit, is that on my couch?!?!”  I threw the now-empty bowl on the floor.  Now it was on her rug, too.  Boiling soup had poured over my left thigh; blisters rose.  Grandma ran to the kitchen and grabbed a towel which she soaked in cold water and pinched off her aloe vera leaves and, after running cold water over my thigh in the tub, swabbed cold fresh aloe vera gel over my thigh.

Fact #3:  As with first-degree burns, avoid cotton ball wraps and questionable home remedies. You can generally treat a mild second-degree burn by: running the skin under cool water for 15 minutes or longer; taking over-the-counter pain medication (acetaminophen or ibuprofen); applying antibiotic cream to blisters.

My baby brothers and I.  Where are they?  What are they doing?  I wonder if I’m the only one who remembers.  If I’m the only one who thinks about how we were all burned, if they remember the screaming, our running mother, the pain, each other.

Burned, the damage extends beyond the top layer.  The worse the blisters are, the longer the burn will take to heal.

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18 thoughts on “Burned

  1. tedstrutz

    Now, what brought this on? I enjoyed your writing style and the way you included medical facts. I got the floor heat vent grid burn. “now it was on her rug too”… some great lines here Teri.

    1. Teri Post author

      You have to wonder who thought those floor grids were a good idea, right Ted? Ours was tucked into a corner, but still. It was shocking how hot those vents got.

  2. patricia

    Your story certainly drew me in. Painful experiences from childhood remain so vivid. Your questions and thoughts in the last two paragraphs are very touching. Thanks for sharing.

  3. donnaeve

    I loved the way you’ve recounted these events and it’s no wonder they stayed with you, right? When I hear about any sort of burn, I always, always cringe. Probably b/c I remember too well how it feels – and looks.

    In chronological order, here are my brief burn memories. My mother standing near the grill. My father squirting gas from a can onto briquets, then handing the can to my mother. He strikes a match and throws it. A strange arc of fire flares from the grill, through air back to that can held in her hands. Her hair is full of hairspray. She catches fire – only her head. I remember my mother running, her head engulfed in flames. MY father chases her, grabs her and pulls his t-hirt over her head. She has second degree burns and I’m afraid of her. She looks like a monster. No eyebrows. No eyelashes. Huge, glassy looking blisters. I hid behind the couch. I was three

    My face was burned too. Another second degree case all because of teenage stupidity involving water, a sunlamp and a crazy older cousin. My mother was so pissed, she made me go to school with my faced pockmarked with blisters. Thank God for Vitamin E gel.

    A young friend my brother and I played with occasionally had a horrible burn on his chest. It was a perfect replica of the coiled burners on a stove. The skin of his left nipple drooped, like a melted dollop of chocolate. Now that I’m older, I’ve often wondered if this was a case of child abuse, or simply an accident.

      1. Teri Post author

        Okay, first, what a strange scar —- he either layed down on top of the stove, or someone layed him there. How horrible. And the image of your mother, running with her head on fire. I can’t even imagine how scary that would be for a 3 year old. What was her healing process like, Donna?

      2. donnaeve

        The boy’s scar of the stove burner – I don’t know if he fell on it or what. Now, I believe he was held down to it. And yeah, HORRIBLE thought, that.

        I think the healing process was long and arduous. I just remember her lying on the couch for days after and me – always hiding behind it, peeking at her and recognizing her voice but not that face. I found out later she cried b/c I didn’t know her. Her skin is perfect today. You can’t tell it.

  4. amyg

    This post feels like the beginning of something to me when I read it. So powerful, and the writing is so intense – I want it to go on and on.

    I have a loved one who survived a horrific fire. During the first days following the fire we had no idea if he would make it – he remained in an out-of-state burn unit for more than 6 mos. He is now married, has twins and works as a physician’s assistant. He tells the younger cousins he lost the fingers on his left-hand to an alligator. When I think I’m not going to be able to do or finish something – I think of him and keep going.

  5. James F. O'Neil

    I remember getting a bad burn from a deep fryer splash of hot oil. My dad grabbed my burned hand and put it in the oven. That was before knowing about the cool-water treatment. Then, with a hot-hot hand, I was buttered. Something like fighting fire with fire? I guess. No burns after that–except for those occasional forty-years-later-cancer-producing sunburns. Thanks for bringing these memories back to me. The love parents showed was true; they were trying to make things better.

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  7. Jackie Hillyer

    Some memories you wish you could forget. The year was 1976 and our son was 3 years old. It was a Sunday afternoon, we had finished grilling out, the dishes were done and we’d settled in for a little relaxation, when I looked and there was Josh carrying a hot coal in a spoon across the patio. Naturally being a panicked parent I screamed JOSH. He dropped the spoon and then stepped on the live coal and let out a loud cry. My heart sank as I realized I in reality had caused him to drop the spoon. My husband being the calm, sane person at this moment in time, scooped Josh up, loaded him into our orange VW “Thing” and rushed to the hospital. He had a second degree burn. Poor little guy had to crawl on the floor again until it healed.

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