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.