Friday, October 20, 2017

Charcoal-Infused Hands

After telling you all about my explosive accident last month, I'd like to update everyone on the status of my recovery. I'm pleased to report that after three and a half weeks of being cooped up at home, with twice-daily bandage changes, I was cleared to return to work earlier this week.

Recovery Process

Every morning, and every evening, I had to remove the dressings on my hands and face, wash with soap and water, and apply new dressings. We put an antibiotic ointment on all the open skin, followed by strips of something called adaptic (which is petrolatum-impregnated gauze), and then wrapped my hands in gauze. My face only needed ointment and adaptic (no regular gauze) for the first week or two; it healed much faster than my hands. The rest of the day, the best way to stave off the pain in my hands was to keep them elevated above my heart. So I spent a lot of time sitting in a recliner, with my hands resting on tall stacks of pillows. I also had to consume a lot of protein to help my body re-grow its skin. (Shout out to Ensure!)

There were a lot of things that I was unable to do. I couldn't drive anywhere, both because of the narcotics I was on, and because I couldn't grip anything with my right hand for awhile. The skin was too tight to make a fist without pain and effort. This decreased dexterity, as well as the dressings, also meant that I couldn't wash dishes, prepare most meals for myself, or change my son Charlie's diapers. Several people made light-hearted jokes about this last restriction. "Wow, you sure went to a lot of trouble to get out of changing diapers." But all kidding aside, I felt pretty useless being in the same house as my son for almost a month, but unable to provide the most basic care for him. Even worse, I couldn't hold him in my arms, or rock him to sleep. I really missed those nights with Charlie snuggled up in my arms, drifting off to sleep. Fortunately, after a few days into my recovery, I was able to carry Charlie in a carrier (with some assistance getting him buckled in). But I wasn't able to be the father to Charlie that he and I both wanted me to be.

Apart from the painful dressing changes, cumbersome bandages, and discomfort in my hands, a few days of sitting back in a recliner wouldn't have been so bad. But as the days stretched into weeks, I got stir crazy. I was ready to get back to my normal life.

Good to Go

When I went to my appointment this past Monday, I was pretty optimistic. I'd been taking pictures of my wounds each day, so I knew that healing was progressing pretty well. I was sure that the nurse practitioner would tell me that I only had a week or two left until I could return to work. So when she said I could stop wearing the dressings immediately, and return to work the following day, I was caught off guard. "Really? Tomorrow? Awesome!"

My hands weren't completely healed. There was no longer any open skin, so I wasn't at risk of infection anymore, but my hands were still red and tender (particularly my right hand). The nurse practitioner recommended thin cotton gloves, and lots of moisturizing lotion. The gloves would help prevent me from painfully rubbing my fingers against each other, and they would also keep the me from smearing slimy lotion on everything I touched.

So we stopped at Target on the way home from my appointment. The lotion was easy enough to find, but I wasn't as lucky with the gloves. All they seemed to have were charcoal-infused exfoliating gloves. Those would have had exactly the opposite effect I was going for. "I already turned my hands into charcoal. I don't need any in my gloves," I joked to my wife. (Later that day, I ended finding the gloves I was looking for at another store.)

We walked out of Target, and had started loading our bags in the minivan when Jess heard something from across the aisle. A woman had dropped some of her groceries. Jess called out, "Do you need any help?" The woman replied in a shocked voice, "I think my baby's having a seizure!" We ran over, and Jess helped the mom get her baby onto the ground while I dialed 911. I relayed information back and forth between the dispatcher and the mother, and before long, a fire truck and ambulance had arrived. By then, the baby was breathing and responsive again.

As we got into our minivan to drive home, I reflected back on the incident. I suddenly saw everything framed in the context of God's providence. On the day of my accident, one of the contractors at the substation had to call 911 to help me. Then, on the day I found out that I was able to return to work, I was able to call 911 and help someone else. Just as I felt God's intervention in my accident - saving me from any third degree burns or heart or lung damage - God had put me in the right place at the right time for this mother and her baby. The only reason we were at Target that day was because of my accident. When Jess first called over to the mother, she thought it just a case of a stressed mother struggling with too many grocery bags. The mother was in such a state of shock that, had Jess not asked her if everything was all right, I don't know how long it would have taken for the mother to get someone's attention. It really felt like we had participated in God's plan.

Back to Work

On Tuesday I returned to work, and it was pretty easy to get back into the swing of things. My coworkers welcomed me back enthusiastically, and asked how I was doing. I got a lot of Michael Jackson jokes (I was only wearing a glove on one hand.) My first major challenge came three days in.

The project during which my accident had occurred had just resumed the day before my return. On Thursday, we were ready to bring the next substation back online. All day, as we got closer and closer to the switching procedure, I ran through a hundred scenarios on my head. I thought about where I would be standing at each stage of the procedure, which devices I'd have to look at, and what I'd be exposed to if any cabinet door blew open. Rationally, I knew that the probability of another explosion was very low. But anxiety is not rational. (I'm pretty sure that's actually part of the definition.) I reassured myself that we'd taken extra precautions (extra testing on the new equipment, double- and triple-checking the installation). I resisted the temptation to ask a coworker to do my part for me; the longer I waited to get back on the proverbial horse, the worse it would be. And as a final precaution, I put on a pair of fire-resistant coveralls and a fire-resistant hoodie. After lunch, we brought the substation back online, and everything went swimmingly. Praise the Lord!

Thanks

There are so many people I'd like to thank for getting me through this ordeal. First and foremost, I owe everything to God. I know in my heart that He saved my life that day. My guardian angel was certainly present, guiding me through the smoke-filled building to the door of the substation. (On a side note, I had a long discussion about angels with my 3-1/2-year-old Tim, after I told him that my guardian angel had been watching over me during the accident. If a preschooler ever asks you how fast angels are, just say really fast. Don't be like me, and try to explain that - as pure spirits - angels don't have bodies, and are thus infinitely fast.) And my patron saint, St. Matthew - on whose feast day the accident took place - was obviously interceding for me.

A huge thank you goes out to everyone who kept me in their thoughts and prayers upon hearing about what happened - family, friends, friends of friends, fellow RFR and GOL listeners, and GeekyCatholicDad readers.

I also want to thank my coworkers and friends who visited, sent messages, and pitched in for restaurant gift cards for me and my family. And thank you to everyone who brought meals to our house in the aftermath of the accident.

Last, but certainly not least, thank you to my amazing family members. My dad, for driving 700 miles to come help out while I recovered. Changing my dressings, driving Tim to preschool, entertaining Tim and Charlie, doing dishes, and laundry - I am so blessed to have such a great dad. My mom and brothers, for praying for me from home, and keeping my spirits up. My kids, for making such a huge adjustment during my recovery. And my wonderful wife Jess, for going through what must have been an uncertain and terrifying drive to the emergency room, taking care of me, picking up my slack at home, and making sure I got plenty of rest, fluids, and protein. I never could have done it without you, Sunshine.

Conclusion

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