I wish I could say that August 2nd, 2003 was a blur.
I wish I could say that I don’t remember the pain my baby felt that day.
I wish I could say that it wasn’t my fault.
I wish I could take back the split second that it took for the accident to happen.
I wish I could forget the sound of the fear in my husband’s voice through the other end of the phone when I called him to meet us at the hospital.
(Kennedy – 12 months old)
It was our first big outing as a family of four. We were going to our friends’ wedding a few hours away. I dressed Kennedy, 18 months old at the time, in a beautiful, lavender dress – made of Satin- with a matching cardigan and patent leather shoes. I fixed her hair with piggy tales and little Velcro bows. She twirled around the house watching her dress fly up while I fixed my hair and make-up, and squeezed my newly postpartum body into a dress for the first time in ages. Our 11 week old baby boy was sleeping in his baby swing, the giggles and noises of his big sister jolting him awake periodically.
(A big sister is born: Kennedy meeting Konnor for the first time)
I was so excited. I was so ready to get out of the house and see the friends we moved away from a year prior. I was so happy to show off our growing family. I was busy checking things off of my mile-long to do list. My husband had to work up until the minute we left town. So, in an effort to ease the stress for him, I agreed to get everything ready for the weekend away, iron his clothes for the wedding, load up the kids and pick him up from work on our way out of town.
It only took 3 seconds.
Baby Konnor was in his travel swing that sat low to the ground. He started fussing, and in an attempt to delay his feeding until the last minute, I stepped away – 3 steps – from the ironing board, leaned down to give him his pacifier. “20 minutes, baby…Momma just needs 20 more minutes…”.
I turned around to see the hot clothes iron fall…the cord in her hand. You see – I ironed Jeremy’s work shirts every day…every. single. day. Kennedy toddled around the room while I ironed every day. She had never come near the ironing board. She repeated “hot” and “no no” as I reminded her continuously not to come near me while I was ironing Daddy’s shirts. She pulled the iron off the ironing board and it landed on the top of her right hand.
I was so amazed that her petite little self had the strength to pull the hot iron off of her hand, hold it up, without dropping it on herself. It was like watching it all happen in slow motion. I jumped toward her, scooping her up and getting the iron out of her hand. The skin was burned so badly. The entire top of her dominant hand was burned. I rushed to the kitchen and ran cold water on her hand, dialing Jeremy’s work.
“Kennedy got burned. She needs to go to the hospital now. I need your help. Please get here fast!”.
My mind plays this scene on repeat whenever I think of this incident: my beautiful baby girl, dressed in a lavender gown, pushing the pop machine buttons with her burned hand while I filled out paperwork. It was unbelievable. She floated around the ER waiting room, charming everyone she saw…while the top of her hand was completely covered in a 3rd degree burn.
“It was a clothes iron.”, I said, to the nurse taking her vitals. “I stepped away for a second to give the baby his pacifier.” What was I thinking? How could I let this happen?
The next couple of days was a rush of medicine, bandages and a trip to St. Elizabeth’s in Lincoln, NE to the burn unit for our first visit. I felt myself slipping. I felt myself losing grip. I saw the dark cloud forming over my head. How could I ever forgive myself for this?
I was surprised by the energy and enthusiasm of the staff at St. E’s. They were so good at their jobs. They gave Kennedy an oral medication – assuring me that this medicine would give her a kind of temporary amnesia – to avoid her remembering what they were about to do to her, to reduce her anxiety and fear at every follow-up appointment.
She was awake. They held her down while they took a scrub brush and debrided her wound. The skin just fell off. The tears fell, from her face and ours. Blood dripped from her fingertips. I was shocked at the color of her newly exposed flesh- the brightest white. My heart was ripped wide open. I couldn’t even bare to look Jeremy in the face. He was so disappointed; I was a disappointment. We left with pre-op instructions and heavy hearts.
“Would you like us to take the skin from her thigh or the back of her head?” the surgeon asked. We took into consideration that Kennedy as a young lady would probably prefer not to have a big scar on her thigh, as it would grow with her. Reluctantly, we decided to have them graft skin from the back of her head to her hand. “Her hair will grow back immediately”, the doctor assured us. They shaved the back of her head and grafted skin from her scalp to her hand.
I watched as they wheeled her down the hallway with her “Dolly” tucked under her arm, into surgery. I was so angry. So nervous. I had never felt such gut-wrenching physical pain from emotional stress before. It was almost paralyzing.
We sat in a small room lined with chairs, Kleenex boxes, magazines and the buzz of the TV in the corner.
We waited. We prayed. I asked God for perspective. I begged God to ease the pain of the hardest week of my life. I was desperate for his help, his light. It was so dark. It was so heavy.
Minutes later a young couple came in and sat across from us. The gentleman was bandaged, so many bandages. I couldn’t tear my eyes away from his wounds, some covered, others not. We made small talk. Then we exchanged the details about what led us all to the waiting room of a burn unit on that hot August day.
Their pain was palpable. They spoke of the car accident. They spoke of their devastating loss. They couldn’t save both of their children from the burning vehicle, despite his efforts – the burns, bandages and scars covering his body to prove it. They lost their baby girl. She was Kennedy’s age. My heart, my spirit hurt so much for them. They had to bury their baby girl…and here I sat – feeling sorry for myself. They lost their baby girl, and I got to leave the hospital that day with mine.
Thank you, Lord.
(Kennedy – 18 months old)
Kennedy’s recovery went about as well as expected. We made frequent trips to St. E’s weekly for dressing changes, physical therapy, and follow-up appointments.
My heart’s recovery (not that it really ever completely recovered) came only by God offering me the pain and perspective of a family much worse off than me that day. I have carried this family in my heart over the years. They came up in conversation between my husband and myself many times over the last 14 years. We wondered how they were doing, if their marriage survived such a loss. We wished we would have had enough foresight to get identifying details to keep up with them in the future. I’ve prayed countless prayers for them: anytime I noticed Kennedy’s scar, listened to her explain what happened, or heard a story of the loss of a child. These people…we sat there broken, hearts open…sharing one of the hardest moments of our lives…together. My heart was changed that day. These people changed my heart, my perspective, my life. And they had no idea.
Part 2 of this story on the blog soon. ❤
(Kennedy – 3 years with her coveted Dolly)