I was 9 years old when my parents picked me up from after school day care. I had pink eye that day.
In the morning, I remember waking up the before school. I can’t remember if I was actually going to be attending school or not that day, though. Both of my parents had to work, so I might have been dropped off at my grandpa’s house for the day due to the pink eye. Or at least that’s what might have been intended.
I was wearing an over sized t-shirt, and some underoos. I went up to our “bar” (counter) to eat some cereal. At this point, everything was fairly normal to me.
What I didn’t know: When my mom woke up, she smelled propane. We had recently made an addition to the family - a golden retriever puppy named Jewel. We were in the process of potty training Jewel, and at night we kept her in the laundry room with newspaper covering the floor. Jewel didn’t fancy this isolation. She began to bark her little heart away at night and started scratching up the door. To prevent further damage to the door, we used her dog cage in front of it to block her it. Being the trouble maker she was, Jewel found an alternative way to gain access to the door. She squeezed behind the washer and dryer.
When my mom woke up, she noticed a smell. After some investigating, she realized it was propane coming from the laundry room. Since Jewel seemed to be totally fine, she figured it hadn’t been leaking long, so she and my dad opened windows and turned on fans. Turns out that when Jewel went behind the dryer she brushed up against a loose valve causing the leak.
And they thought Marley was bad...
I had just started eating my cereal when it happened. No one knows for sure what set it off. It’s surprising that the fans or lights never did. Most plausible theory investigators came up with – the refrigerator cycle.
Our house exploded. Yes, like BOOM! Our house – our home – was completely leveled. The blast was heard across miles and miles of our small town and over 40 houses in our neighborhood were damaged and several were even rebuilt.
I tell everyone I don’t remember what happened that morning and that I hardly remember the hospital in the months after. But I do. I remember it quite clearly, actually. I say this so that I don’t have to talk about it and so people won’t pester me about it. It's just easier that way.
But what I remember is my entire vision became consumed by the image of fire. Since it was an explosion, it was basically a flash fire, and that’s exactly what I saw - a huge, all-consuming flash of fire. Every inch of my vision was filled with fire. As it came toward me, it lifted me and threw me backward (If you’ve ever seen Mouse Hunt, there’s a scene very reminiscent of this). I swear I ended up hitting part of the couch behind me, but that could be a false memory. Regardless, it was quite surreal, and still is. It happened so quickly at the time, but I can see it so clearly in slower motion in my mind.
The next thing I remember is waking up to my mom’s voice desperately calling my name. I was laying on my stomach under a ton of debris. I remember my mouth was full of dirt (or whatever it was) and I spit it out. I tried to reply to my mom, but I suppose I had junk in my lungs, so at first I couldn't speak more than a whisper. It took a few minutes of spitting and coughing to finally find my voice again. I frantically started calling back out to my mom.
Our neighbors were the first on the scene, doing everything they could to help. They’d been looking for me for quite some time at this point. My dad had already got himself up and walking around, but my mom’s ankle was pinned and everyone was doing what they could to put out the small fires near her. I tried to lift myself up but efforts were futile. I kept calling out hoping someone would find me. Finally, I felt relief on my back. They were digging me out.
After a minute or so, I looked up and saw my dad’s face. He helped lift me out and somehow I ended up in the arms of our neighbor – who also happened to be the father of my best friend since I was 3 years old.
He carried me out to the street, where his wife would sit with me until the ambulance arrived. I might have been in shock. I don’t recall freaking out. In fact, I remember feeling completely calm and simply observing what was around me.
My bff’s mom was trying to talk to me. She was telling me everything was going to be okay, that I was going to be okay. She asked if I knew what happened (as in what caused the explosion). Other than answering her questions, all I said was “Are my parents okay?”
To be honest, I didn’t feel pain. But I noticed the horror in the face and eyes of my friend’s mother as she looked down at me. It took a bit to register this reaction, since I was oblivious to the magnitude of the situation. So I lifted my arm up to my view.
Folks, being burned isn’t like the movies. Don’t ever believe what you see, it doesn’t look nearly as gruesome (even if the experience is).
What I saw was that my arms were very pink. They were neither profusely bloody, nor deformed looking. They were just very, very pink and had a lot of dead skin hanging off of them. It wasn’t that morbid. It grayish and looked akin to when a snake sheds it skin. It wasn’t that bad.
I took a moment to try and look behind her. There it was. My house - my home. Nothing left of it but burning rubble and debris. The pink frilly room I slept in, the kitchen I practiced ballet in, the living room I wrestled my dog in, my mom's wall which I had drew an elephant on in anger once when I was "serving time" (time out) - all of it was gone and destroyed in several brief seconds by an impact so great 3 of our neighbors had to rebuild their houses, and 46 others in the neighborhood were damaged. This hellish scene was once my big, safe, and comfy home.
|Our "house" later that day.|
Finally, the ambulance arrived. I was put on a stretcher and wheeled into an ambulance, and my dad was sitting down next to me. The first thing I said to him, was “Where’s Shadow?” Shadow was my 3 year old dog. He told me she was (shockingly) alive and was going to the vet to get treated for her burns. I then inquired about Jewel, and she surprising was also alive. Sadly, all of my other pets didn’t make it :(
I was still calm at this point and calmly answering questions. My dad explained that we were being taken to one of the best burn hospitals in the country. I asked where my mom was. He told me about how her ankle had been pinned and that it caused a really bad injury so she was getting the hospital by helicopter in order to receive quicker care. Not long after the EMT's began checking me out, they began discussing something with one another and then said some things to my dad. My dad turned to me and said that plans had changed and we were about to pull over and I was to be taken to the hospital in the helicopter with my mom. Of course, I didn’t put much thought to this at the time, but it turned out when the EMT’s were tending to me, they realized something inside of me had ruptured, so I, too, needed emergency (well, quicker) care.
I remember when the ambulance stopped. My dad told me he loved me, that he would see me soon, and that everything was going to be okay. I was put in a space blanket and I could hear the helicopter from inside the ambulance. When they opened the doors, I remember the sound becoming so much louder and thinking about how simultaneously scary and cool it was. I remember feeling the strength of the wind from the propellers as they rolled me into the helicopter. I was completely calm the entire time.
In the helicopter, I was moved next to my mom. She, like my father, told me she loved me and reassured me that everything was going to be okay, and the women in the helicopter began to put me in a neck brace type thing. She then began pressing on my stomach. It didn’t hurt. It felt like it would any other day if someone were to press on my stomach. But the woman asked me if it hurt, to which I simply responded no.
I do not at all recall receiving an IV, but I remember suddenly feeling tired and slowly falling asleep. I’m unsure if I just don’t remember the IV part and was given something, or if I simply fell unconscious, but I was out, and I would not wake up for weeks.