The Fire

At about 4:00 am last Labor Day (2006) our house burned to the ground.  We lost everything we had.  That sounds so ominous, doesn’t it?  It’s also misleading.  We didn’t lose everything we had.  We lost the things we had in the house.  We lost all but one of our pets.  One of our puppies burned to death in our granddaughter’s arms.  She still believes that she failed him because she couldn’t save him.  She was 7 when that happened.

What we didn’t lose was far more important than what we did lose.  Our grandson’s paternal grandfather, Joseph, got to the house before the ambulance left the scene.  He lives on the other side of the county.  Our friends left their vacation and met us at the hospital.  My dearest husband’s cousin was there.  Our preacher and his son, who is also a preacher and a longtime friend of ours, was there.

Friends and friends and friends were there.  I can’t even name them all right now.  All I can tell you most of the time is that they were there and if they hadn’t been I would not have been able to put one foot in front of the other.   Joseph never left our side.  Our granddaughter is his grandson’s sister, not HIS granddaughter.  But he loves her just the same.

I can only do so much of this at a time and right now, I’m done.

Ok, let’s try some more.  For a day we were homeless.  I joked that we lived in the shoebox that came with the shoes that my dearest husband bought me to wear to the hospital.  My coffee cup jammies didn’t make the cut.  I cleaned house once.  I put my cigarettes and lighter in the shoebox.  Took me 5 seconds.  I dusted too!  It was a hoot.  Sorta. 

At the end of the day when they tossed us out of the hospital, we went to the only place that was home that we had left.  We went to stay with our ….. Hmm  I’m not sure how to describe them.  They are so much more than friends.  They are family of the closest sort.  And yet they are more than family because when it’s family you have no choice and they are a choice I will make over and over again for the rest of my life with no hesitation.  Alright, for lack of a better description, I will call them our co-family for the moment, Speedoo and Loreli.  Maybe I will have more inspiration later.  Doing this seems to shatter my brain so you have to forgive me.  Anyway, back to the story.  We went to our co-family’s house.  It was nearby and it was home.  We got two dresser drawers.  Our living space quadrupled in 2 seconds!!  Woo hoo!  We got to sleep in a bed.  We were terrified to go to sleep.  We left the light on.  Our friend stayed up all night to watch over us.  How can I explain to you what that means?   I can’t. 

And I’m done again for now, so I’ll see you later.

None of this is in order because I can’t think of it that way.  Our friend……I’ll call him Gunner, he and his family had just taken the holiday weekend off and went to the beach for a vacation.  When I got to the hospital with Bella, I could only remember two phone numbers.  The counceling center and Gunner.  I called them both.  The counceling center was closed so I left a message with the hotline folks who answered.  Then I called Gunner and left a message with him.  I still don’t remember what I said.  But a couple of days later he set the scene for me:

“It’s 4:00 am.  I’m in a strange room and it’s totally dark.  My cell phone rings.  It’s on the other side of the room.  I couldn’t get to it in time but you know how calls in the middle of the night scare you?  So I got up and looked at the number.  I didn’t recognize it.  I almost put it down thinking it was a wrong number when I noticed that there was a message.  So I called the messages and this is what I heard, standing there in that black room in the middle of the night 3 hours from home.”  Then he let me listen to it. 

It scared ME and I’m the one who left the message.  If I hadn’t said my name I wouldn’t have recognized my own voice.  I sounded scary as hell!  I don’t know what I said, all I remember is the last word……Help. 

And he did.  He almost beat us to the hospital.  I don’t remember being there without him or his wife, Sugar&Spice.  He took a week off work to be with us.  Because he’s family.  And we needed him.  I can’t tell you what that means either.  It’s like trying to explain what it’s like to have a heartbeat.  It’s not something that I do, it’s something that’s there and if it wasn’t, I wouldn’t be alive.  That simple.

Ok, I’m cracking, so we’ll try more later.

Gunner and Sugar&Spice were there with us always.  S&S spent almost as much time in the room with Bella as I did.  I am more grateful to her than I will ever be able to say.  She was my rock.  She was always there.  She gave up time with her baby, her grandparents, time at the beach relaxing, to be there with us.  I couldn’t think, I couldn’t breathe from the smoke I breathed in, I couldn’t half see most of the time.  For some reason, besides the fact that I didn’t have my glasses, everything seemed dim and foggy.  Sometimes I just had to get out out out out out of that hospital.  When I couldn’t stand to be inside of that place for one more second, S&S would be there, in the waiting room.  She would stay there and be there and let me go outside.  She is like my arm or my leg or a piece of my heart. 

Whew!  Done again already!  Dang, I’m not sure this will ever get any easier!

July 16, 2008

Bella spent eleven days in an induced coma, hooked up to a respirator.  From the way it sounds it seems like she would be laying there still with the machine hissing in the background, like you see on TV.  NOT!  Because she had so much debris in her lungs, they were using the respirator to dislodge it.  She was laying there very still, but the respirator was shooting air into her lungs with what seemed like deadly force.  It was going in there hard!  It was creepy and scary to see it. 

Bella kept pulling out her IV line, so they had her arms and then her legs, strapped to the bed.  Basically they had to tie her down.  If you knew Bella this wouldn’t surprise you at all.  And this is while they are pumping her full of sedatives.  I’m not sure how much they were giving her, but in the ER, they had a tube in her throat and she woke up and tried to sit up and pull it out.  MDH, Gunner and I jumped on her to hold her down and started screaming for the Docs or nurses or whoever. 

The doctor was stunned that she had already come out of the sedatives she had been given earlier.  He was standing there with his eyes the size of hubcaps, saying over and over again that she can’t be awake.  We finally had to raise our voices a little to get him to come back around and give her some more so we could stop laying all over her. 

He gave her another shot, and was still saying how he couldn’t believe she was already out of that.  I told him that this was Bella, he needed to get used to seeing things he had never seen before.  So they got several syringes and filled them with the sedatives and taped them to the side of her gurney, so they wouldn’t have to waste time filling them back up when she started to come around again.  They used them all.  That poor doctor will probably have nightmares for the rest of his career about that tiny little girl who kept using up all those sedatives on him. 

When I first walked down the hall in the burn unit to see Bella in her room, I noticed the people in the other rooms.  Bella was at the very end of the hall.  I kept wondering why it was that there would be so many black people in the burn unit.  It seemed odd to me at the time but I didn’t have time to think about it then.  I had other things on my mind.  But later, I realized that it wasn’t that there were so many black people, those were the people who had been burnt.  I lost it.  I couldn’t imagine the pain.  I couldn’t imagine how their families were still standing after seeing something so horrifying happen to someone they loved. 

I have to tell you that the people who work in that ward are amazing, fantastic, heroic.  It was all I could do to make it to the end of the hall.  They have to have a special gift to come in there every day. 

Bella only had three burns on her.  Two little burns on her wrists where the puppy was on fire and she reached into the fire to pull him out.  My God I can’t imagine doing that!  She cried and told me that she failed him because he died in her arms.  I tried to explain to her that I don’t know many people who would have even considered doing what she did, much less a seven year old.  I told her that firefighters have the same thing happen to them at times and that it’s a very hard thing to deal with, but that she was a tiny little girl.  She shouldn’t expect herself to be such a hero.  Of course, she had held Theo while he died and there was nothing I could say to her to take that away. 

Later on. when the firefighters from the Firefighter’s Burned Children Unit came by, I told them about that.  You could see it in their eyes, they understood.  She has been a favorite of theirs ever since.  They all understand each other.  They all suffer from the ones they couldn’t save.  It must be awful to start off at such a disadvantage, like a house burning down, then do everything they do, and still feel terrible about what couldn’t be done.  I wish I had a pill or a spray that would let them be more easy about those times. 

Okay, I’m done again.  Sorry.

One Response to The Fire

  1. Anna says:

    Wow.

    I found your blog this morning while googling the ingredients for Spam (don’t ask). Your posts sucked me right in, opinionated contrarian that I am.

    Living in the San Diego area for the past 14 years, I know very well several people who have lost homes, possessions, and pets in the local wildfires that flare-up every so often, so your fire story rings very true indeed. So far, we have only had to evacuate once, and breath bad air and/or clean up ash in the garden, so we haven’t personally dealt with the worst of a fire.

    Best wishes you you and your family.

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