Many things have gone through my head today on the anniversary of the fire that sent Don to the University of Colorado Hospital Burn ICU. One has been the time and order in which everything happened. I went back to the Verizon Wireless bill from October and saw that Don called me at 11:14am and we talked for 5 minutes — it was a typical “checking-in” conversation where we shared what we were doing. All was well. Then at 12:47pm he called me. Then again at 12:48 and again at 12:49 when I answered (my phone was in my locker at the gym while I worked out over lunch). I’m so thankful that I answered within 2 minutes of his first attempt, but am so distressed thinking of him frantically trying to reach me as he we trying to put out the fire on his body. He calmly told me the house was on fire and he had burned his hands a bit (huge understatement so as not to worry me). Then at 1:37pm, from Don’s phone, the sheriff called me to make sure I wasn’t planning on coming to the house. She told me it was surrounded by fire trucks and I should go to the hospital to meet Don. It didn’t occur to me until I saw this phone record, but at 1:37pm, a full 49 minutes after Don called me, he was still at the house (the sheriff did not go with Don to the hospital) and the paramedics had not yet taken him to the Littleton hospital (closest Trauma 1 hospital). What were they doing that long?? Why didn’t they get him to the hospital sooner? I know we’ll never know, and it all worked out, but it bothers me.
I remember meeting the helicopter pilot and co-pilot in their Flight for Life jump-suits at Littleton hospital and asking them to fly carefully and take good care of Don. I worried about the flight because I could comprehend that danger, unlike the terrifying mystery of Don’s burned body, which at the time I chose to believe was quickly fixable.
After seeing Don wheeled out to the helicopter and it take off to the east, Jane and I started driving toward the University of Colorado Hospital (UCH) on 225 and Colfax. I remember thinking it had been years since I’ve been on 225 because I don’t particularly like that narrow, rutted stretch of highway…the odd thoughts that go through your mind at a time like that. At 2:13pm I called my Dad in Maine (my Mom was down in Boston for some commitments while my Dad stayed up in Maine) and talked to him for 5 minutes, telling him the little I knew. Then I called my Mom at 2:18pm. I couldn’t answer all their good questions and promised to call back when I knew more.
Neither Jane nor I had ever been to UCH so we thought the best thing to do would be to go straight to the ER. We didn’t notice the Flight for Life helicopter that we must have driven within feet of on our way to the Inpatient building. In the ER they told us burn patients go directly to the third floor Burn ICU so we found our way to the lobby, the elevator bank, then the third floor “Trauma/Burn ICU”. We had to call and get buzzed into the Burn ICU, then inside the doors, we each put on a mask and gown to protect the patients from our germs. As we walked along side the long nurse’s station toward Don’s gurney, I asked the helicopter pilot and co-pilot who were filling out paperwork behind the desk, how the flight went (not sure why I was making small talk – maybe avoiding the diagnosis). Don was out in the hallway next to the nurses’ station, awaiting the doctor’s arrival (in hindsight I’ll bet the doctor was over in the adjoining Outpatient building at the Burn Clinic’s Thursday interdisciplinary clinic appointments). I told Don “everything will be okay, I promise. I love you and will be right here.” They take new patients into a special exam room equipped with a metal tub and water hoses coming out of the ceiling so they can remove burned tissue and determine the extent of the injuries (the patient is given intravenous painkillers). I can’t imagine the things these doctors, nurses and burn technicians have seen.
When they took Don back into the exam room, Jane and I were asked to go out to the waiting area outside the locked Burn ICU doors. Don’s daughters arrived and we all waited for the doctor’s diagnosis.
I remember when talking to the doctor that he didn’t seem to be in any hurry as is a common experience with busy, over-booked doctors, but wanted to make sure I felt comfortable with the information he was giving me. He felt that Don’s injuries were not too bad and that he would eventually make a full recovery (my mind translated this to mean a “quick recovery”.) His initial estimate was that Don had been burned over only 15% of his body, but cautioned me that burns continue to deepen and “declare themselves” and initial views can be very misleading. He sat and talked to me for at least 20 minutes, making sure I had asked all the questions I had at the time (which weren’t many given how little I knew to ask at the time.) I did ask if Don was going to make it, which the doctor assured me he would. I didn’t know at the time that the combination of Don’s age and percentage of burns (which eventually revealed themselves to be 45% of his body) meant he statistically had about a 50% chance of surviving. I’m really glad I didn’t know that.
Today was a beautiful fall day – sunny and 70 degrees. We had a great bike ride. Then we went out to a sushi dinner where we talked about the year we’ve been through and about all our years together and how grateful we are for every minute of it.