Just last week, going to the grocery store was easy, it wasn’t aggressive or nerve racking. Within a couple days it all changed, it turned into who can get in line earliest, get down the aisles fast enough and how much of one item a person can grab while trying to sanitize and create a perimeter. This feels different than anything I have ever experienced, probably not the only one feeling that way. It’s overwhelming. It’s overwhelming trying to not break down and freak out. Constantly feeling uncomfortable while trying to grasp onto anything that feels normal. It’s the thought of not being able to see my parents in fear I could get them sick, the worry that I could get sick and not realize how sick I am or that it isn’t allergies and get my boyfriend and his daughter sick. It is so uncomfortable to have so many different scenarios playing in your head and not having an end, not having a solution. Every time I get the chance I squeeze my boyfriend just a little bit tighter. I am trying to stay in better contact with my family. I wish I would be like that even when there is a ridiculous pandemic. But that’s the question that seems to not be asked, what happens when this ends? How does this end? Does it end? There is so much more I want to say, but I am not ready to acknowledge all those thoughts yet. Not today.
Looking back at everything at this past year gave me a chance to refelct on everything that I have been able to experience because I have had the time off. I can’t imagine going through what I went through wihtout the support of all of these people in these pictures and there are quite a few I didn’t have pictures to add to this collage. A lot of where I am today is because on my bad days I had a best friend to text with, a cousin to gripe with, a mom to cheer me on and a boyfriend to hold me close. I am so grateful for everything I have been able to experience this past year, the holidays, the birthdays and just the sweet little moments with people I love. Looking back through all these photos there was always a constant in each, love and happiness. I can’t tell you how many times I had broken down and cried because I wasn’t handling my situation well, but those memories don’t even compare to any of the good that I have experienced. I am so lucky that I was the able to spend time with people I loved. It’ll be a year since my accident, hardest and best year of my life. Thank you to everyone who had reached out or supported me, I love you more than you know. To my best friend, cousin, mom and boyfriend, I love you guys, thank you for being there at my weakest.
200 lbs, It was seven months after my injury and I had gained thirty pounds. I was round, things didn’t fit and I didn’t feel like me. Who is this woman that I am staring at in the mirror who can’t fit into anything, and who eats anything and everything in sight. I didnt know her, and it made me feel worse because I couldn’t hide it or blame it on anyone or anything but me. This was who I had become, who I let myself become. There was one person brave enough to confront this new person I had become, my boyfriend. He loved me enough to call out my excuses and my overeating and pretending that it was ok that I would finish a giant batch of nachos. I couldn’t see it. I saw it, but I didn’t see it. We went to celebrate Halloween and I dressed as a cockroach in a costume I had made myself. I wore a unitard, I wasn’t afraid of wearing said unitard until I looked at the pictures that from that night the next day, I was so embarassed and grossed out and in shock.
All I could see was my belly. I already had some crazy scar on my hand and now I was a giant blob also. I needed something different, I needed to change my ways because what I was doing wasn’t working. I started researching different ways to eat and how I could lose weight. I looked up Keto and Whole30, Keto I could eat cheese… do you know much cheese I can consume in one sittin.. ha, that wasn’t going to work. So, I researched more of Whole30 and the challenge seemed acheivable. I told myself that I was going to do a 5k the weekend before I started my Whole30, I was 200 pounds and out of shape, but this was my start. I finished my 5k at 44:20 which was so exciting.
I started Whole30 and the food… was something I wasn’t used to, but I did it and after a week I was used to every meal not having cheese or bread. Week two came, I wanted a cocktail, week three came and I could fit into clothes better, week four was coming to an end and I went down a pant size. The weigh in came, I was 183 pounds. I couldn’t believe it, the pickiness, the strength to say no to drinking or giving into convenince. I did it, and I kept doing it, I made dairy, gluten free foods for thanksgiving and for christmas. I kept it going and I lost 30 pounds. There have been a lot of times throughout my life where I let food be in control. I had an eating disorder for most of it, binge eating was how I would get through my days. Here I am after finishing my second Whole30 and I am 40 pounds down, I am wearing size 8 pants and can consecutively run three miles. This woman that stuggled through her first 5k in November could now run 3 miles. Everyday has become a success, every day has been a challenge but I am so proud of the person and woman I have become when it comes to food.
There is a lot to deal with when you are dealing with trauma, you feel out of control for certain things, but this, I took control of because I refused to let myself go further down into a rabbit hole of self hatred. If you feel like life is impossible, weight is impossible, please reach out.
It was April 3rd, 2019 at 11:23 pm and I was in our bed. The thoughts of this past year passed through my head like slaps. The thoughts of what I went through as a chef all of the good and the bad, all of the cooks I had taught my techniques to and all of the cooks and chefs that had taken their time to teach me theirs. I laid there watching Grey’s Anatomy thinking about how lucky I am to be where I am today but yet still feeling so much anger. I kept thinking about how I used to take kickboxing classes and how one of the trainers used to tell me my right hook came naturally to me. I was thinking about the first time my boyfriend and I took our child to go bowling and how he saw how good I was at it. I thought about the family in the lane next to us that shared their pizza with her even though she had just had dinner with us but was never able to turn down food. I thought about how I used to go to the batting cages when I was upset and hit the ball perfectly back at the machine and how my dad had seen that when I was actually on a softball team and his eyes lit up. I thought about the first time I had seared scallops perfectly and feeling that smile, that rush of that feeling of I can do this. The thoughts of being told by so many people early in my career that I would never amount to anything because I was too nice. I remember picturing the chef of my senior semester every single time I got a raise or a kudos because he was my biggest nay-sayer. I thought about all of those cigarettes I smoked by myself outside of whatever restaraunt I was working because I had felt so guilty about missing whatever family function or holiday it was that I was working, again. All of the times I had to laugh off being groped or made to feel that I was less because I was a female in the kitchen. That feeling of walking into a new kitchen not knowing where anything is and the feeling of accomplishment when you finally realize where the bowls and pots had been. That first breathe right after a huge rush you thought you were never going to see the end of or be able to pull through, and that thought of I did it. All the times I would call my best friend to tell her about the new job or position I had gotten and basically just saying holy shit I’m doing this! The first day of being pastry chef. The first day of being sous chef. The first day of being the chef. The first day of starting all the way back at the beginning to prove myself all over again. The first second of being burned and the fifth hour after things started to set in and I realized I was never going to be a chef again. The first time I was all by myelf after I was burned and the thoughts. I worked for fifteen years and made a name for myself and missed things and lost things and I always wanted to be a wife, a mom and a chef. I never planned anything but that. I planned on being that mom that was able to bring her kids to her kitchen and show them all the dishes I created and they would sit in my restaraunt in awe thinking my mom is a fucking chef hero! But, that is not what is going to happen. AND I AM SO FUCKING ANGRY I WANT TO PUNCH SOMETHING BUT I CANT BECAUSE I COULD DAMAGE MY HAND. Do you know what it is like to end your career that you worked half of your life pushing for and showing people they were wrong in thinking you wouldn’t succeed. Do you know what it’s like to know that your plan isn’t your plan anymore and that people tell you that it could have been worse. DO YOU KNOW WHAT ITS LIKE TO BE TOLD THAT IT COULD HAVE BEEN WORSE. fuck you if you have ever told that to me, or anyone that has dealt with a trauma. For those people that said they were my friend but were no where to be found when I was at my worst. To those people that were actually there and understanding and loving, I hope you never felt like I spewed my feelings all over you too much. I apprecite you being there for my breakdowns and my ups. To my best friend constantly in texting, facetime and phone call converstaions with me. To my cousin who never told me it could have been worse and has been a pilar in my recovery. And thank you to the love of my life for being there for me every single step of the way and for listening to me last night and not making me feel crazy for saying that I miss punching things or bowling or swinging a bat and that my kids will never know that I was a chef and just being there. Tomorrow is eleven months. I keep asking myself what it means to be at a year after being burned. And I don’t know. And that has to be ok.
I feel like its hard to write the rest of my hospital stay in the correct order, most days blended or felt like they didn’t exist at all. I remember when my surgeon came in a told me I would be able to get the blue towel unstapled from my leg, I was so excited, until they pulled the staples out. There were quite a few in my leg but only one was mangled and pulled my thigh in many directions as the nurse fought with it to get it out. After they were done taking it off they told me I would have this yellow patch of gauze on my leg until my scab had healed for the most part. Now, it was time to see my hand. I wasn’t ready, prepared, however you want to say it. It wasn’t my hand anymore, or just my hand, it was a mixture of a piece of my thigh mixed with stitches. I was told not to move it because he had put the graft over the knuckle of my index finger, even though he and I discussed before the surgery that he wouldn’t. I don’t know why but I felt a little betrayed when I saw that, but what the fuck was I gonna do now? I was told over the next few days I would have this crazy plastic contraption attached to my hand/arm until my graft was a little more healed. But, I wasn’t ready to put away this new hand of mine.
I had a lot of emotions that I didn’t know how to express so I went back to telling jokes. The surgeon told me he scored my graft so that it would heal better. As soon as I heard the word score and saw the tiny lines throughout it I thought of all the dough I had scored in my career. My little knife that I called “greenie” and wondered if the knife he used was similar. I don’t remember getting the giant plastic contraption put back on my arm but I do remember accidentally hitting myself in the head with it a few times and also being terrified that I would scrape my newly scraped thigh. I was alone quite a bit during the day when my mom would have to go home and I would be waiting for my boyfriend. One of the few times is when my case manager came in to introduce herself. She told me she was the liaison between myself and the workmen’s comp insurance, she was on my side.. our first meeting didn’t feel like that. After she introduced herself to me she asked why I spilled hot oil on my hand. If I were able to throat punch her, I would have at that very moment. I had to explain to her how the accident happened in detail. Explain to her how I might never be able to do what I loved again. Explain to her that she better not approach me like that ever again. She left. The only food I remember ordering was chicken tortilla soup.. I ended up getting chicken broth with overcooked tortellini. I typically love pasta, but that was horrible. I was stuck there, I was stuck taking slow steps to the bathroom, stuck hearing other people’s conversations near by, stuck waiting for my family and friends to reach out or my boyfriend to come over after work. It felt like an endless cycle. I couldn’t even sleep well, every night when my boyfriend stayed on the fold out chair I would watch him sleep. It turned into this thing where I would get anxiety if I couldn’t watch him sleep because I was irrationally afraid he would die. I didn’t poop for five days because of the pain meds they gave me right after my surgery. My stomach started bloating and hurting and nothing was helping, no food was sounding good and I was silently falling into my own depression. I kept telling joke, I kept smiling and acting like I was ok. When I couldn’t sleep I’d put sounds of the ocean on and close my eyes to act like I was in front of an ocean, until I would move and have to readjust everything just to make sure that my blanket didn’t go over my thigh while simultaneously making sure that I didn’t hit myself with the giant plastic contraption. I remember the day they released me. I remember being terrified. The last time I had been sent home I basically did a turn around trip because of the infection. The feeling of “oh, fuck” was amazingly overwhelming. But, I missed home. I missed my own comfort, I missed sharing a bed with my love. It was time to go and the last nurse that helped me was Frieda, the one that had helped me that first night I was ever in the hospital. I took it as a good sign. My boyfriend pulled my car around and I was wheeled down to the front of the hospital. I remember getting out of the wheel chair babying every limb on the right side of my body, I was terrified to close the door, I was terrified to go over bumps, on the freeway, really, anything. I just wanted to get some carne asada nachos and be home.
It was May 7, 2018. It was around 3:00 PM. I didn’t have to wait as long to get a room in the burn unit, luckily. I was immediately put on antibiotics and told that I probably won’t have surgery until the next day so I should eat something. My mom got me baker’s since it was down the street, my favorite grilled cheese, fries and a chocolate shake. I didn’t know that would be the best meal I would eat over the next few days. She sat with me while I text my boyfriend, he was at work, that I was admitted and having surgery the next day. There is something peaceful when you are in a bad moment in your life and you can see your mom. She wasn’t even doing anything special, she was just there, and it was the best. I met my new nurses, and told them I guess we all need to be friends now cause I’ll be here for a while. I had a new room, no roommate, again. This time I was right in front of the nurses station, I could see and hear a lot of conversations. I feel like this day was the easiest, I did nothing and I had other people that knew what they were doing washing my infected wound. The nurse offered me a shower, she said that because I am having surgery the next day I wouldn’t be having a proper one for while. So, she wheeled me in my bed to the shower room. I didn’t even know what to expect it to look like but I wasn’t expecting that. You know in scary movies where people are taken to a medical room that is completely white, tile and everything, that’s what it reminded me of. They told me they could help me if I needed it. It took a minute for me to remember how awful the shower the night before was, so I put my pride aside and asked for help. Because of how swollen my hand was I couldn’t even get the oversized gown off of me. I felt like I needed to distract them from the task at hand and kept throwing jokes at every way. Even up until the time my nurse was wheeling me back to my room, I dont remember what I was joking about but I remember her stopping the bed because she was about to pee her pants while simultaneously almost running me into a wall. Like I said, that day was easy. My mom left and I was alone, I had my iPad to watch movies on and everyone else’s business on social media to keep me distracted until my boyfriend got there. It was dark and late, and I couldnt sleep. He got there about 10 pm and the night nurse made him a bed on the pull out chair. My boyfriend kissed me goodnight and slept. I watched him, ya, I sound like a creep, but I couldnt help it. I had this growing fear that he would disappear, that he would stop breathing, or that he just wouldnt be there. So, I couldnt sleep. Around three am the nurse came in and told me I really should get some rest, I took her advice, turned in my bed towards the part of the room my boyfriend was sleeping, watched his chest rise up and down and closed my eyes. I woke up to him getting ready to go home and get ready for work. Dammit, I love this man. He told me that he would be in contact with my mom and that the surgery will be just fine and he’ll be back after work. He left, I cried. My mom came in a little while after, then the doctor and the anethesiologist came to tell me about my surgery and as soon as they have the room we are going. I took a breathe. They told me they would be taking skin from my right thigh and tranfserring it to my hand. I had questions, the first one, will the hair from my thigh end up on my hand and I’ll have a hairy hand?… The looks I got, no, we dont go that deep under your skin. Second question.. will my cellulite transfer to my hand and I’ll have a fat hand?.. Those looks continued with a little bit of laughter, thankfully, the answer was no once again. Alright, lets do this, I can do this, you guys know what you are doing. Waiting and waiting. I could see all the nurses and my surgeon talking by the nurses station, I dont think I took my eyes off them for a good hour. I got word I was going in, I saw my mom’s face with worry, concern and love. A different anethesiologist came in this time, she looked young and like she waas having the worst day. Her scrub hat was on crooked covering only half her head, the case she was holding looked like things were about to fall out and she asked me if I was ready to go… In my head I thought to myself, oh fuck, she is gonna kill me. Yes, sure, lets do this. They wheeled me down a different hall and my mom walked with me for as far as she could go and we said I love you. The surgical room was intriguing, there was the nurse I had asked to over see my surgery since she was a student, I told her I wanted her to learn. The doctor that had originally scraped the skin off my hands, the med students that had been following my surgeon around the room. It felt like a really weird reunion and also very calming. I made it to the surgery table and they gave the anaesthesia, count backyards they said, I dont think I had the chance. I woke up in this room where there were some kind of colorful curtains surrounding me and a nurse looking at me, everything was blurry and oh fuck the pain! what the fuck, I was screaming so loud and I went to move my leg and there was something pulling from the top of my thigh across to the lower part of the stomach. There was a staple and I asked the nurse why it was there in between screams and she looked horrifed. Shesaid she didnt know and pulled it out immedicately. For a second I was ok and then that pain came back again, but now on top of my thigh and I looked an there it was a blue towel stapled over my donor site. And its burning, the type of burn you get when you skin your knee as a kid on hot gravel but on top of my thigh and so unexpected. The nurse went to grab help because I was so overwhelmed and kept losing my breathe and passing out. She found nurse Robyn, my hero. She was a burn unit nurse and she explained everything that I was going through and helped me understand what I was feeling and calmed me down. She told me that I need to remind myself that the burn was traumatic and I had a long recovery ahead of me physically and mentally. I think I blacked out after that, I felt peace. I woke up and saw my mom, she told me the surgery took longer then expected. But, I was back in my room with part of my thigh missing and a giant white plastic cast thing on my hand. The day went by quickly and my boyfriend was back and he checked out my thigh and gave me kisses and hugs and told me about the outside world while telling me how strong I was. I just wanted to go home and be held. Now, how do I get up to go pee with a blue towel stapled to my thigh that everytime I step pulls in every direction and burns and tears and hurts? Persistence.
It was May 6, 2018. It was 1:45 AM. It was 8 hours and 15 minutes after my burn. My boyfriend was sitting next to me, for the first time in the past 8 hours it felt like time was normal. The seconds were not going slower or faster like they were before. Time was just passing and I could see his face and his smile trying to convince me that ill be ok. He brought my phone charger and I was able to have a text conversation with my mom and reassure her I was in good hands and he was with me and she should sleep. My mom is never up that late, I was worried about her. I knew my boyfriend was tired because he had woken up early that day to go to work. He sat in this really uncomfortable looking chair next to me with his back against this white curtain that separated us from the next trauma patient. A young doctor came down and told us he worked with the burn unit and wanted to see my hand and how bad it was. He told me he would have to scrape my hand, I had no feeling in my hand. The hot oil saturated my hand for over 8 hours, and my nerves were affected. At this point, I was only on a saline IV drip because they were trying to hydrate me, and I refused pain meds because I found them unnecessary . The doctor filled up this white plastic little tub with some kind of pink solution and wheeled it over on a small silver table. The doctor took out, what I thought was gauze, dipped it in and started to scrape the white fried skin off of my hand. Slowly, gently. It just so happened that my boyfriend was sitting on my right hand side.. my bad hand side. I just remember watching, maybe a little too close, my skin just falling off with each swipe and it was mesmerizing. My boyfriend and I had front row views of the skin that was hidden under this disaster. I was breathing slowly and controlled as I watched patiently, until he got to my index finger. He pulled the bad skin too far and yanked healthy, unburned, unsinged, unnecessary pain, skin. I wanted to throw up. I felt like the wind had been stolen out of my lungs and I felt the tears come back up like a rush of water. It bled, it bled a lot. I could see in my boyfriends eyes that “oh, fuck” look. I might have even said those words out loud. I took a breathe, and another and another until I could manage my pain and let him keep going, he was almost done. I was happy when he said he was done, I felt like I could relax a little and there wouldn’t be another chance for him to pull good skin. He explained to me that the white is the deepest part of the burn. There was a little bit of red that surrounded circles of white. The doctor pushed down on the white parts, he asked me if I could feel it. I couldn’t feel anything. I looked at him puzzled. He pushed again in a different spot and I felt nothing. There were so many thoughts going through my head, what does this mean, why cant I feel anything, when does it come back. Can I please just cuddle with my boyfriend and fall asleep? He said he would check on my room in the burn unit, that was around 2:30 am. It was just me, my boyfriend and everyone else dealing with trauma. They had the lights down low which was such a change because everywhere else seemed so bright. They told me I should get some sleep and I told them I wasn’t able to but to get a blanket and pillow for my boyfriend because he was exhausted from working all day and now being here with me through the night. He slept, he looked so peaceful and I couldn’t help but smile cause he was there. I fell in and out of sleep. When I would lay on a chord connected to a monitor or IV wrong it went off like I was robbing a bank. I texted my mom and told her I was in a good place and that she could come see me tomorrow and I would let het know what was going on. My mom never stays up that late. I laid there and laid there and laid there. Finally, around 4 am a nurse came down and said the room was ready for me and we could go up. Freida, that sweet, sweet nurse named Freida. I instantly felt comfortable and like I was home when she introduced herself with her smiling face and giggling speech. I caught her up on what happened and she caught me up on what was going to happen from now on. She looked at my hand and laughed at the wrap that the doctor attempted to do on my hand as it unraveled itself. There it was, my pink and white hand.
I hated that yellow gauze that was left on my finger. I hated the way it pulled where my good skin and new bad skin met. She taught me how to wrap my wound and said there would be a doctor doing rounds in the morning to see how my progress was. Freida turned one of the chairs into a fold out bed so my boyfriend would have a more comfortable place to sleep. We had the whole room to ourselves, it was quiet and we told jokes and said sweet nothings and whispered goodnight. I didn’t sleep much, I kept waking up to make sure my boyfriend was still breathing. It was around 7 AM, Freida unwrapped my hand cautiously and told me the doctor would be in soon. A little bit later a doctor walked in looked at my hand and told me he wanted to send me home to see how my hand heals on its own. I would need to make and appointment for that Thursday to check on it, it was Sunday. Frieda worked to get me released and reminded me of how to rewrap my hand, how to clean it. I was worried about leaving with an open wound on my hand, but that’s what was suggested by my doctor. I wasn’t prescribed any medicine. By the time we got out of the hospital it was 11 AM. My boyfriend helped me into his truck and we were on a mission to get some delicious food. I babied my hand, I didn’t let it touch anything and kept it close to me because I was so terrified to make it worse. We had steak, my family was texting me wondering when I would be home so they could see me. When we arrived to our house my parents, sister, brother in law and nieces were waiting to give me a big embrace and ask questions and everything else to catch up on all the info. We all sat on the couch and my mom looked at me with the eyes only a mother could give her kid, I was exhausted and needed to sleep. They left and I fell asleep for a while. I woke up and it was dark out and I needed to shower and wash my hand. I have never needed anyone in my adult life have to help me with what I thought was such a minimal task. I made it into the shower and let the water hit my hand and I cried, I couldn’t wash my hair, I couldn’t wash my own body. I didn’t know how to use my left hand because I had spent my life depending on my right hand, my now bad hand. He came in and saved my from my disappointment in the shower, this man loves me, that’s all I could think as he helped me through another hard part of this injury. After the shower it was time to show what I had learned from the nurses and I rewrapped my hand with the help of my boyfriend and we went to bed. I didn’t sleep much, again. I woke up to him leaving to work and a little while later my mom text me to take me back to my job to get my car that was left behind. She picked me up and while we were driving I put my arm down in a resting position and I felt this pressure I hadn’t felt before. I lifted it and it went away, down back again, up and gone, I kept picturing a lava lamp with every move. I told my mom and she looked at me and said that isn’t good, I already knew that. I called the burn clinic and let them know that I was scheduled to see the doctor Thursday but I needed to see them today. I now had an appointment for that day, we picked up my car and my mom followed me to the hospital. We waited, I could feel the pressure building. Finally, we were sent to a room and I met my new doctor, Dr. Grecia. He took a look at my hand and asked if I had asked to be sent home. No. He shook his head said I shouldn’t have been discharged. He took a moment, then said he wanted to admit me and perform surgery that day if he was able to get an operating room. My hand was oozing and doubled in size, it was infected.