Monday, 10 August 2015
The bizarre intimacy of having a nurse spend hours carefully picking scabs off my face. Her face inches from mine. She would focus on my top lip, an earlobe: the burn had caused my earlobes to stick to my scalp, held there by scabby skin that slowly dried and came off, gently encouraged by the nurse.
It didn’t hurt, unless the nurse accidentally grasped a bit of not-yet-dead skin, holding on for dear life. Then the pain would make me jerk, which only made things worse.
But that didn’t happen very often. Those women were so professional. I felt totally enveloped and safe in their hands, literally.They created the perfectly calm, controlled environment I needed after the turmoil I’d been through - was, in fact, still going through. But I didn’t know that yet.
All I knew was the morphine-induced bubble they let me float in, not enough to kill the pain entirely but to take the edge off. Morphine, pain, the smell of singed hair and acute awareness of skin.
I remember asking one of them if she enjoyed picking scabs as a child, and we shared a knowing smile. She confessed to enjoying this task, coming back to my earlobe every day, to see if more skin was ready to let go.
I remember the day the nurse on duty got the last bit of scab holding my earlobe to my head. I felt the lobe flap back to its natural position, tender with new skin, exposed to the air for the first time, cold.
I remember, all too vividly, the smell of paraffin, layered thickly on my face and ears to help the healing process. I remember the taste of it, melting and running off my top lip into my mouth.
I remember thinking about my hands, wrapped up in bandages like boxing gloves for so long I felt alienated from them: what was the skin doing? How many layers had I lost? Would it grow back with webbing between the fingers? Apparently that was a risk.
Nobody could tell me if I’d be able to use my fingers again, but we were all optimistic (or pretending to be?) about what we’d see when the bandages eventually came off. I was given exercises to do twice a day and I did them every hour, for good measure. I had plenty of time, afterall.
My hands were hidden from me long enough to forget what they looked like. “Like the back of my hand….” I would think to myself, trying to remember it.
I remember piercing pain if I suddenly dropped my hands to my sides and the blood rushed to them: like the new skin under those bandages was so sensitive, so thin, it could barely contain my blood.
I have a notebook. It sat beside my hospital bed, for other people to write things down. Lists of things I needed, important phone numbers. Then suddenly one page with my handwriting: large, chunky, barely legible... scrawled with the pen held between two bandaged hands. “Day 5. Had tantrum.”
Strangely, I don’t remember the bandages coming off, just a new kind of pain afterwards. Trying not to knock my hands, with their precious new skin, against anything, trying not to touch anything too hot, too cold, too rough or sharp. Aware of the high risk of infection while I waited for my new outer layer to toughen up. Slightly obsessive about hand hygiene now I was out of the ward and in the big dangerous world again.
And a diary entry, in almost-back-to-normal handwriting: “”I have started this new journal because 25 days ago, on June 1, our house exploded. My other journal is in there amongst the rubble somewhere.”