Nichole the… Present.

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.

elevenmonths

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Nichole the.. Patient.

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.077D42CA-F018-42F8-98AC-91AA6888D52C_L0_001

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.

Nichole the… Burn Victim Part 2

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.

Nichole the… Burn Victim Part 1

It was my third day. It was May 5, 2018. It was 5:30 p.m. I was working sauté and another cook who was hired the day after me was working grill next to me. The next few minutes feel like only segments of memory, like snapshots. I remember facing the stove and some one reaching in front of me to get a pan, I turned to look at tickets and begin to prepare my orders. I got plates setup. When I went back to the stove there was a cast iron pan smoking, I knew it could be bad if it was on the flame much longer. I reacted quickly to avoid a fire and grabbed the pan off the stove with a towel in hand. I didn’t know that the person who had put it there put too much oil, I didn’t know that the oil would spill on my hand and after I felt that oil hit the top of my hand I only saw snapshots. I saw my lead grab my arm and ask if I was ok, the next thing I knew I was across the kitchen and by the First Aide box trying to convince her I was ok. I remember sitting in the office waiting for the chefs to come and decide what they should do with me. I started telling jokes, I started to shake, I was embarrassed and not understanding the severity of what had just happened. I was told that burn cream isn’t going to do anything because the oil was frying my hand. I looked at it, it was white. One of the chefs got a bucket full of ice and water and told me to dunk my hand in it. I couldn’t feel the cold, I couldn’t feel anything on my hand anymore. I remember looking at the bucket and seeing particles of food crusted on the sides of it. I thought to myself about how my hand could get infected because that was unsanitary, and not wanting to say anything because I didn’t want to look weak. I remember telling my sous chef there is no crying in the kitchen, I held the tears back that I refused to cry. I was told to get into my executive chef’s car with this bucket of ice that my hand was dunked into to go to Urgent Care. The drive felt like forever, she was telling me about a burn she had, I didn’t care. There was a really young boy in urgent care coughing and his mom was holding him and I remember trying to keep a positive face so he wouldn’t get scared of my fried hand. They took me to a room and inspected my hand, I didn’t have the ice bucket, they said they would be right back. The feeling came back, not quickly, but it made time seem so slow and fast at the same time. I was alone, I let a few tears fall while my body started to shake again. I called my boyfriend and kept a good voice on so I wouldn’t worry him. He asked what I needed, I told him I don’t know, I’ll be ok and ill send him some photos.

My phone rang, my boyfriend said, babe that is really bad. How do I get to you? What’s going on, are you ok?? I cried a little more and I told him I’m trying to be tough and I would call him when I was done at urgent care. We got off the phone, I could hear it in his voice. I could hear that I should have been really upset, that I should have been crying my eyes out but I pushed through. The doctor came in and they had the look on their face that I felt from my boyfriend’s voice. He saw my few tears I let leak as he told me he couldn’t do anything for me and I need to go to the hospital because it was that bad. I took a breathe, he told me to take a breathe. I told him it was my third day at this job and that I didn’t want my chef to see me crying. He said ok, you got this, breathe. Deep breathe, get up, wipe my face and start walking out. My boyfriend called again in concern, I told him I was going to a hospital and that I didn’t know which one, I told him to call my parents but not to alarm them. I see my chef and she asked what the doctor said, I need to go to the hospital its too severe to treat here. She told me she had already dumped the bucket of ice water because she thought I’d be treated there. We found a hospital, we drove about twenty minutes. The feeling was rushing back into my hand like it was on fire. I had it in front of the air conditioning vent cause I didn’t know what else to do. She informed me that the other chefs had asked who put the pan there, he didn’t step up, he didn’t admit that he put a quarter cup of oil into a pan instead of only a tablespoon. I was so upset, I couldn’t believe that they didn’t take responsibility, I couldn’t believe she was telling me this right now as if waiting for me to blame myself. My hand was on fire and I just wanted to be alone and not alone at the same time. We finally made it to the emergency room and I stood in line with my hand on fire now and my body freezing. Still trying to play it cool and act like I am tough and I am gonna be fine. The nurse behind the counter saw my hand and called me over immediately he started taking my blood pressure and temperature. I feel like he could see in eyes that I was holding back tears. He said we need to get her to a room we can do intake there. The hallways felt like forever, everything looked new and empty like no one else knew this hospital existed except for me and my chef who was still by my side. It was 7 pm. My chef had been on the phone with another and I could tell she was getting antsy. I was getting hooked up to monitors and an IV, my phone was dying and my mom was calling me and my boyfriend was texting me and I just wanted to fall into a hole and never get out. My chef was watching me like I was going to say everything is fine. So, I did, I told her she can go back and I’ll be ok because I had nurses and doctors to take care of me now. She waited though, she wanted to see what the doctor would say. I don’t remember who the doctor was, but I remember her telling me that they wouldn’t be able to help me at the hospital because I have a significant burn and I need to be in a burn unit. I had the option of having some one come get me to take me to the burn unit or by ambulance. Ambulance, I knew that would be the most sterile way to go. I was able to tell my chef she can go and I’ll take it from here because now we have things figured out, it was 8:30 pm. She wished me luck and walked out the room, as soon as I couldn’t see her back I turned my head towards the nurse that was checking my vitals and I ugly cried. All the tears I had been holding back for the last three hours of pain came shooting out of my eyes. And all I could say was my career is over, I can’t believe this happened it was my third day, I have been doing this 15 years and this is how it ends. My mom kept texting and I told my boyfriend that I was going to be transferred by ambulance to the burn unit closer to our home. I talked to my mom on the phone and now I could hear it in her voice, the concern, the worry. I didn’t know how to tell her that I was ok through the tears that I was crying and the pain I wasn’t feeling anymore in my hand. I didn’t want pitty eyes, I was so angry. My phone was close to dying. It was 9:30 pm. I don’t remember what was on the TV. I could smell the cooked food smell on my clothes. It felt like forever waiting for the ambulance. Around 10 pm I was told that the ambulance was there and being sterilized. 10:30 pm and my boyfriend was trying to find out when he should head over because he was waiting for me to get into the ambulance. It was 11 pm, and I, at this point, thought the ambulance had left without me. I could hear the gurney coming down the hall. I felt hope. I texted my boyfriend that I was finally going by ambulance. They helped me get onto the gurney and we were headed there. We were on our way to the right place, the place where I’d be able to hug my boyfriend and take a breathe. I asked the paramedics if there was any way for them to charge the phone and they did. I felt like if it died he wouldn’t be able to find me and I would be alone and my hand wouldn’t stop burning and if I could just hug my boyfriend everything would be ok, but if my phone died how would he know to go to the trauma unit first. It was charging, a paramedic started asking me questions about my burn. He told me that I should have been airlifted when it had happened. It was almost midnight, it took almost an hour to get to the right hospital. We pulled into the ambulance bay and I saw my boyfriend out the back window. I saw him with this look on his face trying to see if I was ok. I wanted to scream to him that I was finally there but security made him go to the front of the hospital. My heart sank. I told the paramedic that I needed my boyfriend. The trauma nurse came out to help unload me. I told him my boyfriend is somewhere and I need him. The gurney hit the double doors and I was now in trauma. I told anyone that came to check on me that I needed my boyfriend and he is here and I need him now because this happened at 5:30 pm and it is now past midnight. One of the nurses found him and brought him to the back, he hugged me so tight, he had that look on his face that the sound of his voice had told me he had. In that moment, when he hugged me, I took a breathe.