On February 17, 2018, my 17-month-old daughter pulled a bowl of hot noodles down upon herself and received 1st and 2nd degree burns all along her right arm, shoulder, and parts of her chest. You can read the full story here.
*Note: It’s interesting how our minds remember things. When I first wrote the earlier post describing what had happened, I was sure Sophia had been diagnosed as having third degree burns. I had even recorded it as such in my journal months after the incident. It was only now, 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.
Anyway, a year later, I am finally starting to really process everything that happened and what I learned from this experience.
So, here are my first-time contemplations.
Painful Experiences Teach Us to Be Aware
Before the accident, John and I were relatively relaxed parents. We trusted that our kids would be ok. The accident revealed the dangers within our own home. It taught us to be aware of what we were doing in the kitchen and prompted us to institute a “no kids in the kitchen while mom is cooking” rule. It also instilled a greater awareness of our environment in general.
However, as far as Sophia is concerned, given her age at the time, she is no more aware of the dangers of the kitchen now than she was at the time of the incident. This has caused me to question the whole, “Let your kid stick their hand in the fire so they learn not to do it again” philosophy.
General Lesson: An increased awareness of the dangers of life doesn’t seem like a bad thing. It can even serve to protect us in the future as we recognize the red flags and danger signs, and then respond accordingly.
There are Different Degrees of Scars
1st degree burns are like a mild sunburn. Although they feel painful at the time, they only affect the outer layer of skin and then fade quickly without leaving any long-term evidence.
2nd degree burns affect the first two layers of skin and are very painful. These burns look swollen and bright red, may result in blisters and scars, and may cause your skin to be permanently discolored.
3rd degree burns burn all the way through the first two layers of skin and damage the nerve endings, resulting in a lack of pain to the area. These burns may look black, brown, white, or yellow.
At first, Sophia’s arm was red, inflamed, and angry looking (2nd degree burns). As the days and months went by, the redness faded and the swelling decreased. By the time we arrived at our 6-month follow-up appointment with burn clinic, you could barely tell where the burn had been. Only if you looked really close could you see a slight discoloration around her elbow. In spite of this initial appearance of complete healing, the doctor cautioned us to continue to take extra care of that area by putting strong sunscreen on it anytime Sophia would be spending time outside.
Now, a year later, there is no immediate outward indication that anything ever happened. However, if the burn area is exposed to any kind of heat, it still gets noticeably red again.
I feel like that physical description applies to my spiritual scaring. For a long time after the incident, I was hyper-vigilant and protective of Sophia. I wouldn’t dare to even go to the bathroom unless she was safely contained in the pack-and-play. Slowly, gradually, I began to relax my ultra-protective stance. A year later, I have relaxed significantly enough to allow her to be out of my sight in familiar environments, or with trusted caregivers, for periods of time. However, there are certain times and environments in which my guard and alertness go way up again – anytime there in anything hot in the area that she could potentially burn herself on. And I still can’t touch that particular noodle dish.
So maybe I run the risk of being called an overly protective parent, but that’s my scar, and right now, there’s not a whole lot I can do to change it.
General Lesson: Some of the emotional/spiritual scars we get fade quickly, like 1st degree burns. Others go deeper. Unobserved most of the time, these more severe scars linger just beneath the surface, ready to expose their existence under the right, pressurized conditions. Meanwhile, there are other scars which simply become a part of our life that we learn to live with.
Knowing Others Have It Worse Doesn’t Make Your Pain Feel Less
Our daughter had 2nd degree burns. Sure, we knew, even at the time, that other children have received 3rd and 4th degree burns and both they and their parents have suffered more than we were in that moment. This knowledge, however, didn’t change the fact that Sophia was physically hurting, and we were emotionally and spiritually hurting right along with her.
General Lesson: Pain is pain. Knowing there is worse pain doesn’t lesson your own pain, though it can serve to develop in you a greater compassion for those who are in the midst of difficult circumstances.
Sometimes, Feeling Some Pain is Better than Not Feeling Any
For Sophia, the fact that she was in pain was a whole lot better than if she hadn’t felt any. It meant that her skin layers were still alive. It meant that her wounds were less severe. It meant that there was greater hope.
General Lesson: Pain is sometimes good. It is one of the signs that we are still alive. Emotional pain means we care, that we haven’t become hardened or been so deeply wounded that a part of us has died.
Painful Experiences Reveal Where Our Trust Lies and Helps Us Readjust if Necessary
What do we put our trust in? Who do we put our trust in? Do we trust in certain people, the safety and conveniences of our time? Modern medicine? Traditional medicine? Home remedies?
At a time when many of the medical professionals were uncertain, and we didn’t know who to turn to, God was there. He showed himself worthy of our trust.
General Lesson: Even if we have the best community and support system, the most stable, reliable, and loving person to place our trust in is God.
Painful Experiences are Much Easier to Endure if You Don’t Try to Cast the Blame
It would have been so easy for me and John to blame ourselves, each other, or even God for what happened. After all, I was the one who had placed the noodle dish too close to the edge of the counter. John was the one who was supposed to be watching Sophia at the time and had turned away for a moment to look at his phone. God was the only one watching at the time – surely, He could have prevented it.
Thankfully, although we each recognized the unfortunate, unintentional part we had played in the whole incident, we didn’t dwell on it. We didn’t tear into ourselves, each other, or God for what happened. Instead, we leaned on each other and drew strength from God to make it through the coming days and weeks. I can’t imagine how lonely and miserable it would have been to have isolated myself from my primary means of support by being angry with them or myself.
General Lesson: Blaming others, yourself included, separates and prevents you from receiving the necessary amount of love and support.
A Calm Presence and Reassurance Goes a Long Way
We were incredibly thankful for the nurses and doctors who demonstrated a calm presence. They were outside the situation. They had experience in dealing with these kinds of wounds. Their presence helped us feel more settled and reassured.
General Lesson: I have heard that when someone is hurting, you need to enter into their hurt and be there with them. And while there is certainly a time for that, I am now convinced that there is also a time to be a calm and hopeful presence to someone who is hurting – to be able to point them to the hope of a light at the end of the tunnel.
This accident was without question a difficult and painful time for us. Yet we made it through – tired, weakened, and worn down, but alive with each of our daughters. Some of the effects still linger, but we are growing and continuing to learn what it means to trust God with each passing moment.