Last week we went to the September SOAR (Survivors Offering Assistance in Recovery) burn survivors’ meeting at the University of Colorado Hospital outpatient building. The meetings are run by the hospital burn unit’s psychologist and are basically a round-table where burn survivors and their families can share experiences, ask questions, get advice and just listen to others’ struggles.
Burn survivors talk about their burns in terms of the percentage of their body that was burned and the degree of burns they received — Don was burned over 45% of his body with mostly third-degree (“full thickness”) burns and a few areas of second degree with deep partial thickness burns. Wickipedia does a good job detailing the degrees of burns and other facts: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burn. Don’s legs were third degree and are grafted from butt to ankle on both legs, primarily the backs of the legs but his right leg is also grafted on the shin. He was very fortunate that his leg burns were not circumferential because when the skin is grafted all the way around an extremity, it can cause many additional problems in recovery – the limb cannot swell and contract properly impacting circulation and nerve recovery. Don’s right leg had about a half-inch of skin on his shin that had only 2nd degree burns, saving him from a graft covering the entire circumference of his leg.
In last week’s meeting there were 5 burn survivors (including Don), and 4 family members (including me). One survivor, there with his mom, was probably only about 18 or 19 and he had been burned on his upper body and neck and having a really hard time accepting his injuries and his scars. His neck was still quite raw – this just happened 2 months ago. I’m not sure if he couldn’t turn his head or just didn’t want to move his neck and risk breaking up the healing skin. Either way it was significantly hindering his range of motion. He was also emotionally having a very difficult time and had to leave the room at one point when Don was answering a question about what it was like in the hospital when family would react to seeing the burn scars for the first time.
When he returned to the room Don told him about J.R. Martinez – the burn survivor currently competing on Dancing with the Stars (DWTS). Don urged the young man to watch DTWS and see what is possible. JR was a soldier over in Iraq when his Humvee his a land mine. He was burned over 40% of his body and has significant scarring on his face. He is an incredible dancer and a beautiful person inside and out and truly an inspiration. I am not a dancer, nor am I an avid follower of DWTS….but last night’s performance (Monday, 10/3/11) by JR brought me to tears – he danced to Tim McGraw’s song “If You’re Reading This” which is a song dedicated to the wives of fallen military men. Check out the dance performance here: http://latino.foxnews.com/latino/entertainment/2011/10/04/dwts-jr-martinez-cries-pays-tribute-to-military-gets-standing-ovation/.
There was also a family member in the room whose wife was currently in the Burn ICU in a medically induced coma. She was burned over 80% of her body and her kidneys had shut down and they weren’t sure she’d make it through the night. (As an aside, burn patients almost always have kidney issues during hospitalization – as strong as Don was going in, he ended up having a brief period of time during hospitalization when he needed insulin because his kidneys weren’t working properly). This family member was understandably quite distraught at the prospect of losing his wife and wanted to know, if she makes it, what’s next? That reminded me of myself back in November of last year. I always make sure I have a solid plan in place to manage things and create an optimal outcome. But when something like this happens, you just can’t make a long-range plan. You have to take it one step at a time. He heard what we were saying but I’m not sure he was ready to accept it. I wasn’t either back then — I thought I could force the situation and come up with a plan anyway. I learned differently when the unexpected kept happening, throwing me off course — infections, rashes, pain, house restoration problems for months on end. But it changed me for the better and taught me that life can be so very rewarding and fulfilling not having a plan for everything. Not knowing is okay. It even enabled me to leave my company after 12 years to figure out what I really wanted to do when I grew up. I’ll let you know when that happens……