Today, February 17th marks one year from the day it happened.
It was six o-clock in the evening. John had just gotten home from work and was helping me keep an eye on our girls so I could get dinner together. Chloe, our four-year-old, was keeping herself occupied with toys and a Netflix show in the living, but 17-month-old Sophia was roaming the house looking for something more interesting to get into.
I grabbed an instant noodle bowl for myself, filled it with water, and stuck it in the microwave. After having just experienced two miscarriages, four months apart (one in August, the other in December), we had recently learned I was pregnant yet again. The evening sickness this round had driven me to one particular noodle dish that soothed my nausea like nothing else could do.
With this nausea deterrent heating up, I turned my attention to dishing up food for the girls.
The microwave dinged.
I grabbed the noodles from the microwave and set them on the counter to cool. A nagging sensation urged me to check and make sure that I hadn’t set them too close to the edge – didn’t want them to spill.
Nah, they were fine. Fortunately, the counter was high enough that Sophia couldn’t reach it… or so I thought.
I turned my attention back to finalizing the last of the food for the girls.
And then, that scream.
My heart still threatens to stop at the memory.
I turned around and my eyes took in the scene while my brain instantly interpreted the details.
Sophia screaming. Standing at the base of the counter where the noodles had just been. Noodles covering her clothes. Steaming water soaking through.
John was at my side in an instant.
“Get her clothes off!” I yelled.
We worked as fast as we could to remove the hot clothing that was now burning her skin. Her piercing screams shot through the house.
At one point, John started to remove the noodles that had fallen on her skin, only to realize that it was loose, unattached, burnt skin — not noodles — that was covering her right arm and chest.
At this point, my brain began to go into shock and John’s reasoning took over.
“Get some ice on her!”
“Grab a blanket!”
“We’ve got to get her to the hospital!”
With the hurriedly gathered items, we ran to the car. John buckled Chloe in while I jumped in the front seat with a now whimpering toddler. We were breaking the law, but at that moment, it was the least of our concerns. It was the longest drive of my life. Her skin was raw, red, and hot. I could see parts of it hanging off. I forced myself not to cry. I forced myself to be calm for her sake.
We made it to the Emergency Room, and I ran inside with Sophia while John parked the car. The staff took one look at us, checked us in, and then ushered us on back to begin preliminary treatments.
The IV was torture. Our little girl cuddled up to daddy for safety and protection while a tech gave her more pain (put in the IV) in order that she might have less pain.
My sister, Holly, met us soon after our arrival to take Chloe home and stay with her.
The first six hours of our night were spent in a room at the ER with Sophia hopped up on pain medications while her right arm and shoulder were wrapped in gauze.
Soon after midnight, we were transferred by ambulance to a local children’s hospital where Sophia’s arm was re-examined and re-wrapped. She was diagnosed as having 1st degree burns on most of her arm and some areas of her chest, and 2nd degree burns all around her elbow. By this time, she was snuggling up to me for comfort.
It was a long, restless night. At one point, the poor girl threw up from the high dosage of pain medications she had been receiving. John tossed and turned on the narrow couch in the room while I laid in bed with Sophia to comfort her and keep her from messing with the IV.
The day wasn’t much better. Many of the nurses seemed just as nervous as we were about her injury and acted as though they were afraid to touch her or administer any kind of treatment. We kept being asked about why we had been transferred here (to a children’s hospital) and there was the general impression that the staff was unaccustomed to, and unprepared to, treat third degree burns on a small child (I guess the rarity of it is a good thing, right?). Finally, a nurse arrived who had experience dealing with such injuries. Her calm presence and confidence went a long way to calming our nerves.
Meanwhile, we were also having a hard time finding childcare for Chloe. Over the years, without realizing it, we had let many of our relationships and acquaintances slide until the only people we really knew and interacted with were those who attended our small church. Of those in our church, only one family stepped up to willingly offer their help (to be fair, one family was away for the weekend and another was busy moving). This family could stay with Chloe that Sunday night, but no more. My sister was now unavailable.
We felt scared and alone.
Questions of the unknown plagued our thoughts.
How bad were Sophia’s injuries?
What would they have to do to help her?
Would she need a skin graft?
What would she have to endure in the healing process?
How long would we have to stay in the hospital?
How long would the healing process take?
How were we going to take care of Chloe?
There was always the option of John going home, and we knew he would probably have to if we were in the hospital much longer, but I was scared. I knew the stress the situation was putting on my body, and in the back of my mind was the fear that it might be enough to trigger another miscarriage.
But what could I do? My little girl on the outside needed me.
John stayed with me again on Sunday night.
Sophia slept a little better but still stirred and protested any time the nurses came in to check her vitals.
The initial shock of the situation seemed to be wearing off for Sophia. She began to get restless. She was in a new place and wanted to explore.
Two problems: her left arm was attached to an IV, and her dominant right arm was thickly wrapped in gauze.
Her energy presented its own set of problems. I was constantly afraid that she would rip out the IV. To prevent this, we had to follow close behind her with the IV pole as she chased after a ball and played with various other toys we had borrowed from the hospital’s play room. In addition to this, her dressings kept slipping down and away from the burn areas. This meant more frequent, painful, dressing changes and adjustments.
I wondered how much more we would be able to take.
That afternoon, we met with a wonderful doctor (I wish I could remember his name). He had a warm and confident presence and Sophia warmed right up him. He listened to our story, looked at Sophia’s arm (it was the only time she didn’t cry when someone took off the dressings), gave a more optimistic report, and promised to do everything he could to get us an appointment with a burn specialist.
That night, John returned home to stay with Chloe.
It was just me, Sophia, and the little life within me. Thankfully, although I was awake much of the night, Sophia slept much better than she had the previous nights.
I remember moments of peace – moments of crying out to God in my fear and loneliness and feeling a sense of calm – knowing He was with me, knowing it was going to be ok, trusting Him with my life, the life of the baby within me, and the life of the injured child I held.
About mid-morning, we learned that the doctor from the previous day had followed through on his promise. Somehow, he had been able to get us scheduled for discharge that morning with an immediate appointment at an outpatient burn clinic.
John returned to the hospital soon after I received the news.
We were out by noon on and on our way to the burn specialist. After the fear displayed by many of the children’s hospital staff, it was a welcome relief to see the calm and unconcerned demeanor of the burn specialist. He was pleased with how clean the wound looked and the way it was already showing signs of healing. For treatment, he wrapped Sophia’s arm in a piece of silver foam, secured it with gauze and a sling-type sleeve, and ordered us not to touch it until we came back for a second appointment in a week. Then, he sent us on our way.
Those days in the hospital were among the toughest days I have experienced. In my days as a single woman, I had learned to trust God for my own safety and well-being. Now, I was learning to trust God for the well-being of my children as well. I still have a ways to go in that area. In fact, the anniversary of this event has prompted me to watch my kids a little closer and hold them a little tighter. But those days in the hospital helped me to realize how close God is, how much he cares, and how much I can trust him. When people couldn’t be there for me, when the medical staff was uncertain, God was there. He was my peace.
Now, a year later, Sophia’s arm has completely healed. Only if you look very close can you see a slight discoloration around her right elbow where the second degree burns were. The baby that was within me at that time is now a strong and healthy five-month-old cutie.
Next time: what I learned about pain through this experience.
*Edited Note: It’s interesting how our minds remember things. When I first wrote and posted this blog, I was sure that Sophia had been diagnosed as having third degree burns. I even recorded it as such in my journal months after the incident. It was only now (a week after posting this), when I was looking back at my initial Facebook post of the incident that I realized they had been 2nd degree burns. Regardless, it was still a scary time.