There is nothing like adrenaline. It moves you forward without the bother of thought. It is pure in-the-moment and it’s been my life for the past two weeks. Just starting to come down a bit, dabbling in some ‘processing’ — playing out just how close to the worst it was. Maygan, my seventeen-year-old daughter, who was bound the following weekend for her freshman year of college, was in an accident with a bonfire. She tripped over a log, iphone at her ear, and fell backward into the flames. She tried to get herself out, but fell back in. Her friends quickly pulled her out, clothes on fire, she stopped, dropped, rolled.
I didn’t get a call until 1:44 a.m. from the emergency room at VCU Medical Center in Richmond, VA. To date, it was the worst phone call of my life. It was Maygan, sobbing, screaming, telling me she had made a mistake with her clumsy feet, and would pay for it the rest of her life. She was badly burned. Third degree all over her lower back, entire left arm and backs of both legs. A touch on her face, ‘just first degree or maybe some second degree there, mom, they think.’ I found myself in what I’m pretty sure qualifies as utter shock. I was at least two hours away by car, I was terrified and I was home alone — my husband and younger daughter were in New Orleans visiting family. I had to go right then. I made coffee and put a million things in the car. I had no idea what I was walking in to or when I’d be back.
I called my mom when I was on the interstate. I called my husband for the second time when I had a blow out on that same interstate. I got there about 5:30 in the morning. I would have crawled into that hospital bed with her if her body wasn’t in such pain. I mourned the fact that I couldn’t hold on to her tightly and rock her grown-up body to comfort. I did sleep right next to her for the next 14 nights. A stay in a trauma unit will change you forever. Your own personal tragedies are relative to the 82-year-old lady screaming in agony as they change her bandages and assure her her family will be there soon. When Maygan wasn’t crying in pain or sleeping it off, she was talking about how grateful she was. Crazy. Day two her eye was so swollen I was sure she’d go blind. They told me it’s happened to people. Push through. Just push. After three successful surgeries and the unbelievable plot twist that her skin was healing itself — that the large third degree burns were gaining feeling and the xenografting had worked — that she did not need skin grafting from her own body — we still could not believe it had even happened to begin with.
(Photo after her second surgery — yes, she told me I could post this)
Fast forward to today, to right now, and I’m sitting on my sofa and she’s sleeping in her bed. Lots of Oxycodone is helping with that. It’s our first 24 hours back in our house. It’s two weeks later and I still don’t believe it. My laundry is still here, my debit card still lets my buy groceries. Maygan is going to be okay. She’s going to be great. She’s a warrior. And if I could wish anything for my girls, it’s that. Because life is fragile and random. Those are the words that keep coming back to me about the entire incident. No matter how much you try to control things, set up the right path, the Earth spins and things just happen.
I finished reading ‘The Goldfinch’ this morning — the Pulitzer Prize winner this year for fiction by Donna Tartt. Truly a brilliant book. There is a quote in there I can’t get out of my head: ‘Sometimes it’s about playing a poor hand well’ — I stumbled on that line during her stay in the hospital. I read it over and over. In life I would hardly say I’ve been dealt a poor hand. Neither her. But in this particular case, well, let’s call it not the best of luck. She’ll miss her freshman semester. She may have serious scaring the rest of her life. She’ll likely never go to another bonfire. Warrior status is all you can do. You have to fight through.
I’ve seen my mom do it driving back and forth in her crappy car from New Orleans to Birmingham, AL to visit my dad who was stuck in a hospital for eight months awaiting a heart transplant that never came. He was in Birmingham because that’s where the insurance company sent him. She was in New Orleans because she had to keep going to work to pay for gas to drive to Birmingham. I’ve seen my brother do it. Cerebral Palsy, falling down steps over and over again and picking himself back up as the kids on the playground snickered. I’ve seen Maygan do it from the start. She once ran a footrace in 3rd grade, the kids Crescent City Classic, where she took a hard spill and was pulled off the course into first aid. Unknowing, I waited and waited at the finish line while the last kid came across. I panicked and ran back to the beginning to no her. Yelling for Maygan and looking in the crowd I still couldn’t find her. My heart was pounding. And then I saw her running with a bandaged knee toward the finish. That girl, she’s a mess on wheels.
I have never seen anyone in so much pain up close as I did during her time in the hospital. Screaming, crying, begging for something to be done. Apparently your skin is still actually burning 24 hours after the incident. There was no way out, but through it. At one point, I, myself fighting tears, told her if I could do anything it would be to trade places. I just wanted to take the pain away. And certainly the prospect of permanently damaged skin. Someone please let me pay the price for my own vanity! She stopped crying for a moment. She looked me right in the eye and told me she didn’t wish that at all. She seemed sort of scared and I thought even angry. Maybe I was making this too much about me? I asked her why not trade places and let me take away the pain. She sort of laughed and then teared up again, said she just didn’t think I could handle it. ‘I don’t think you could take the pain, mom.’ I knew right then she’d be fine.
Maygan will heal at home the next couple of weeks and continue treatment at the Burn Center at Washington Hospital Center. Starting in October she will take some classes at Northern Virginia Community College. In January she’ll move to Richmond to begin her studies at Virginia Commonwealth University where she’ll also likely get tattoo.
My Tinyletter updates on Maygan that friends and family have been following.
Something I wrote a few weeks ago, that I can’t even stand to think about, about her going off to college.