I didn’t know it was happening until it was in fact happening. I didn’t see it coming. It was the searing pain that alerted me. And by the time I realized what was going on I was involuntarily emitting a guttural sound of which I didn’t know I was capable, or as my son later said (who was in the next room at the time) a “blood curdling scream.” I had been squatting down rotating loaves of bread in a lower oven when a five gallon pot of chicken stock on an adjacent stove—which someone had set on the edge—fell, covering much of my left leg. But I’m jumping ahead.
Kitchens, like many occupations, can be dangerous places. They are full of hot surfaces, large pots of boiling liquids, and really big razor sharp knives…and often staffed with over-worked, under-paid, and sometimes inexperienced people rushing around trying to complete their tasks. The first time I took stitches I was a mere sixteen-years-old and working in a diner. I was cleaning a meat slicer unsupervised. Then in my mid-twenties, while working in New Orleans and frantically prepping for Sunday brunch, I sliced the tip of my finger off in one fell swoop. Thankfully it was able to be sewn back on and for the most part has recovered. But it was nothing like this. Because while this was initially excruciatingly painful, this could have also been much worse than it is. This could have been truly debilitating, if not even life threatening.
The incident only lasted a few seconds, but when everything settled the entire room steamed with hot broth and I—or at least the lower portion of me—and the surrounding area were covered in steaming bones, fat, vegetable scraps, and of course the viscous liquid. I landed on my butt, sort of sprawled, and my kitchen clogs lay across the room. I’m not sure but I think I may have kicked them off in desperation.
Co-workers, of course, came running. Everyone was bringing me ice. Before I even stood up I lifted my pant legs, which were stuck to me. My left calf was the worst, but I didn’t think it was that bad; maybe it was denial. Everything was red…bright, bright red. Like a bad sunburn. And there were a few silver dollar-sized places where the skin was just simply gone. After changing my pants, and refusing rides from people (as I didn’t think it was as bad as it was), I actually rode my bike to the ER—with my pant legs rolled up to my thighs—as Buffalo General is only three city blocks away.
As I sat in the ER waiting to be seen (and they didn’t take long as they knew I was in pain) I took inventory of my body. My left calf took the brunt of it, and it was white hot and actually quivering while I sat. There were a few other “dots” of burns on my other leg and foot, but nothing like my left. Keep in mind that at this point I was still thinking it wouldn’t be that bad…maybe some medication and some creams, I thought. But what I didn’t know was that serious burns are progressive, meaning they can keep progressing for up to 48 hours after the actual burn. And mine did. At least on my left calf.
By the time I was seen my skin was fully blistered. I was cleaned, bandaged, medicated, prescribed, and sent home. Two days later my left leg looked like something out of an apocalypse zombie movie. So I paid a visit to the ER at ECMC which is known for their burn clinic. After the doctor cleaned the wound(s)–i.e. removed the dead skin—I was horrified when I looked at it…large areas of my calf simply looked like raw meat with the skin removed. But alas, that was a week ago and I am improving.
So why am I telling this tale, you may wonder? Am I looking for sympathy? No, absolutely not. The outpouring of offerings has been so incredibly moving. So many people have offered me help and in so many ways, but I have been able to get around pretty well even when it was really bad. And in the same way that I feel uncomfortable with compliments, so is true when people sympathize with me (though I am so moved to tears—literally—by the amount of people who have offered to help. And not only did I accept rides from people I actually asked for them, too). So why, then? Why, am I writing this? Well, in a short sentence…because I am grateful.
Because while it was a truly horrific experience, and yes it hurt immensely, I am also fully aware of how bad it could have been. And oddly I was aware of this at the very first moment, as I sat stunned in a puddle of steaming bones and chicken viscera. Much of the skin from my left calf was wiped away. So what? I am still fine. If it would have hit my face or neck—which were unprotected—I would not be typing these words right now. And while sitting in the waiting room of the burn clinic and seeing some poor souls brought in on gurneys…well, I don’t even need to say anything on that. I am just so grateful it wasn’t worse.
And while I am not the type of person that abides that “all things happen for a reason,” I do believe that in most things there is a lesson to learn. And the lesson I have learned here is that I need to remain centered. That in all of the hustle and bustle of life it may be the journey itself that is most important.
So now as I sit in a cool low-lit bar eight days after the accident with my leg elevated on a bar stool and self-medicating with pints of beer, I am thankful not only of the relative low severity of my wounds but also of this insight. Would I be feeling grateful like this if the boiling liquid hit my face or neck and washing away my skin? Doubtful. I can’t even imagine. But it didn’t happen that way. And for that I am grateful and truly thankful. I have in fact thanked our Creator more times that I can say (and in a way am thanking Her/Him/It right now with these words). But I am truly thankful. It could have been so much worse. It’s the journey that really matters, the little things that I take for granted every day. Those are the things that matter. Because they are all part of the journey.