As the aroma of soup wafts up from the kitchen, I walk down the stairs for dinner. Lael, sick with a come-and-go fever, sleeps upstairs.
Earlier, I had taken the covers off the living room couch because our daughter had peed in her sleep. I put a white sheet on the couch to protect the now bare mattress.
Anne is talking to me as she ladles out soup for our dinners. Seth is already at the table with his food.
Suddenly, there is a blood-curdling scream. The type of scream that says your son is facing mortal harm.
Knowing exactly what happened, I rush into the dining room and quickly take in the situation. Seth, screaming, soup bowl on the floor, clutches the library book that probably knocked the bowl onto his chest and into his lap.
I immediately strip off Seth’s jersey and shorts. Ironically, the red, white and black top represents the only nylon clothing – a gift – that my son owns. Nylon passes the hot food straight to his skin.
I carefully pick Seth up and put him on the white sheet on the couch while my wife brings over ice packs. Seth’s chest, right arm, underarm, fingers, stomach and pelvis are all boiled red. I note that burns streak around toward his back.
I work to calm Seth down, fearing shock, while trying to take in how serious the burns are. Lael yells from upstairs to complain that Seth’s screaming is keeping her awake. We put A&D on his burns. (We later learn that this is a mistake because oils and lotions trap heat in the skin.)
After a few minutes, it’s clear that Seth’s skin is peeling in places, which means at least second-degree burns. My wife and I decide I should take Seth to the hospital, our second trip in a month.
Anne keeps Seth company while I set up the minivan. Rather than putting him in a car seat, I lower the back of one of the big seats for him to lay down in. I worry that putting a seat belt over his chest and tummy will further hurt his skin.
I wrap our naked son in the white sheet and carry him to the car. Seth is crying from the pain during the drive. I try to distract Seth by telling him how well he is doing and telling him I am proud that he is handling the pain so well.
Seth’s major concern? Will he be able to perform his solo during the next day’s school musical? I tell him “I think so.”
The wonderful thing about the hospital I take Seth to is that the Emergency Room is empty. Located in an area where anticipated hordes of Midwesterners and Southern Californians failed to materialize in this horrible economy, there are not enough people to keep it perpetually packed.
The nurses and doctor immediately evaluate Seth and soon insert an IV. I spend a lot of time hugging and reassuring the poor guy. The morphine seems to help, but what really makes the difference is turning on the TV. Seth is completely unaware of his body when he’s watching something on the screen. (From this point on, Seth’s mood is amazingly positive, upbeat.)
At some point, I help maneuver Seth so they can wrap him in saline-soaked bandages. We joke that he looks like a mummy.
After the doctor, who looks like a movie star, consults with experts, I learn that Seth really needs to go to the regional Arizona Burn Center at Maricopa Medical Center. As they prep Seth for the ambulance ride, I bring my wife, who is watching Lael, up to date.
Because the Burn Center is about 30 miles from our home, Seth agrees he’s well enough to ride alone as I follow in the minivan. During the entire drive, I can see through the ambulance’s back windows that Seth is intensely focused on a hospital coloring book. I deeply admire the kid’s sense of concentration; but it sure gets him into trouble.
The long drive gives me plenty of time to think. Guilt and self-recrimination try to send tendrils into my thoughts, but I swiftly quiet my mind. I do come to the resolution that reading at the table is hereby banned.
I manage to park quickly enough to join Seth before the two paramedics lift him out of the ambulance. I’m happy to keep my boy company the entire gurney ride through the labyrinth hallways.
While waiting a few moments for a bed, Seth notices some gauges built into a hallway wall. They say “Nitrogen” on them.
“What’s up with those numbers?” Seth asks the paramedic.
“The gauge is upside down,” he responds.
Seth proceeds to pepper the poor guy with dozens of question. The paramedic turns to me and comments, “Wow, his mind never turns off does it?”
“No,” is all I can manage.
After situating Seth in his new room, a very experienced male nurse and short female doctor explain that they’re going to clean the dead skin off and wrap him in AquaCel (warning, don’t scroll down to look at pictures) pads.
As a boy, I was quick to wretch at anything gross. Cat poop, toilet water, blood. Over the years, I’ve become so completely immune, I actually watch the Physician Assistant use tweezers to remove dead skin from my son’s beautiful body.
The nurse then places the silver-laced AquaCel pad, which looks like gray flannel, on the worst wounds. The man then cuts holes into an elastic bandage to form a T-shirt of sorts to hold the AquaCel in place.
After 10 minutes of medical work and a couple hours of paper work, I take Seth home, knowing we must return the next day.