Saturday, October 16, 2010


When I was eighteen, I burned my left foot while working the closing shift at a fast food restaurant called Good Times.  For those of you who haven't graced the wonderful landscape of Colorado, it's a burger joint that tries to differentiate itself from the McD's of the world with "better tasting," "fresher," "faster" food.  That night I was lifting the meat warmer full of hot water off the preparation table in order to dump it into the drain on the floor.  My upper body has never been the strongest.  No matter how much weight I may gain or toning exercises I may do at the gym, I'll always have "chicken arms."  But, I'd somehow done this little procedure before and didn't expect that night to be any different. 

I guess I was a little weaker than usual that night, or perhaps worn out from the combination of my college courses, my work study position at the library, and my 30-40 hour a week job.  As I was lifting the warmer off the table, it somehow slipped, spilling the scalding water onto the floor and my left foot.  I didn't scream, even though the pain was unbearable.  I think maybe I was just in too much shock to have any kind of aggressive reaction.  But then again, my reactions have always been strongly internalized. 

My boss didn't know what to do.  She didn't know how bad it was because I didn't really either.  I tried to put on burn ointment from the first aid kit in the bathroom, but wasn't too successful.  I just tried to fight back the tears, ignore the sense of being on fire, and finish my shift.  I don't remember if I was still walking on that foot, but I don't think I was.  I was fighting my way through an obligation.  I was being stubborn.  I was attempting to ignore something that I didn't want to fully acknowledge.

Luckily, I was still living at home that year and my mom heard me crying in the basement bathroom, trying to somehow fix my own wound.  At least one of us had some sense that late evening.  She took me to NCMC's ER-second degree burn with some scarring likely was the diagnosis.  My foot was bandaged, I couldn't walk on it, I was given crutches and a prescription for pain medication.  I also couldn't work, couldn't go to class, and had to endure painful follow-up procedures with my doctor for a few weeks.  Believe me, that pain medication didn't work too well.  Especially that first night-my foot literally felt as though it was stuck in a pit of fire and all I could do was cry.  It didn't help that we were still living in that house-the one with the haunted basement.  The spirit or spirits that inhabited it weren't "Casper" by any means. 

I still have that scar-a somewhat raised keloid across the front portion of my left ankle.  It's not as purple or red as it used to be.  It's kind of a light pink now-sometimes almost white.  My left leg and ankle are still not as strong as they were before the accident.  At least it seems that way.  Maybe my right leg learned to be stronger while I was on crutches for those two and half weeks, and it's never forgotten.  Kind of a battle wound I suppose.  A reminder of an event that got you to pay attention. 

No one really sees that scar because it's easily covered by a pair of socks and shoes.  No one except me and those close to me, when the socks and shoes come off.  Of course, most don't even stop to look or notice.  You'd have to be a sort of pedicurist to do so.  A lot of times I even forget that it's there.  Life goes on as if that night didn't really happen.  Recovery happened-in its own way, in its own time.

I used to worry about that scar-what people would think, how I was damaged, how it made me feel less of myself, what I could have done to prevent it.  But it's silly to think that recovery means being able to take a magic wand and somehow erase the bad and rewind the pain.  We all have our imperfections-some of them are visible and some of them remain hidden inside our own souls.  Not even nature is one hundred percent symmetrical, but that's what makes it beautiful. 

Years later, when my mom was still engaged to "J" and we used to make the drive over Berthoud Pass to join him in his "mountain town" for a weekend of hiking and cross country skiing, I didn't think about that scar either.  I didn't let the remaining slight weakness in my left leg and ankle stop me from trying something new and dangerous. 

Dangerous in the sense that you could get hurt if you tried, but also in the sense that you could get hurt if you didn't allow yourself to be free.       


1 comment:

  1. Helen I just love this whole post....oh the pain of lessons we learn in life...and i think the last line just sums it all up perfectly...we cannot let fear of being hurt interfere with growth. :-)