I was shaking in my boots not knowing what I’d find when I walked into the hospital room. Being prepared wasn’t really being prepared. DH had been through a lot and I couldn’t expect him to be in the best condition mentally. I knew his physical condition was painful but he’d live through the experience. With fear and trepidation mixed with excitement, I opened the door.
There he was, one leg in traction with broken and missing teeth. He looked strange with no eyebrows and his hair singed back an inch or so. His mustache and goatee had fared better but not that much. He was a mess. There were dressings on his forearms and thighs. The only thing that was the same was that lopsided grin. I was amazed he could find strength to display it. He held his arms out to me and I carefully gave him a hug and a kiss. It was like he didn’t want to let go. I knew I didn’t. I didn’t want to let him out of my sight ever again.
Some people who go through such trauma don’t want to talk about it but that wasn’t DH’s way. He wasn’t only ready to talk, he was anxious to. What I heard was, if not the Rest of the Story, close to the rest of it.
He said when the plane impacted the ground the flames from the burning fuel were almost instantaneous. He could feel them licking at his arms and face and the fabric was melting into his skin on his thighs. The burning was so intense that he didn’t realize his hip was dislocated until he couldn’t move from his seat. Seconds passed that seemed like minutes when F/J got his seatbelt unfastened and hauled him out of the plane. He rolled him on the ground to put out the fire then started dragging him away from the terrible heat.
The adrenaline rush from the crash was soon overtaken by searing pain. It’s said that the body creates its own “morphine” to cope but burns can just keep on burning.
It was a long trip to the house. He couldn’t do anything to help and he was a dead weight. Getting to the couch gave welcome relief from the constant jostling of being carried.
Burned flesh loses fluid quickly and he needed water. He didn’t care that it came from the back of the commode. Food was the last thing on his mind at the moment. Time meant nothing. He had no idea if hours or minutes had passed. His medical training told him he needed to keep hydrated. F/J was exhausted but he kept the water coming. On the other hand, he knew they were going to have to conserve it in case there was no help close by.
During the night, DH would get delirious. His “visions” were of pineapple juice. It was so real he couldn’t be sure whether he was imagining it or not.
The next morning, early, F/J put water where DH could reach it and set out to look for help. The taxi he hired was an old jalopy but anything with wheels that ran was welcome. The hospital was the rude awakening.
There were no private or semi-private rooms. All the beds were together in a ward with the male patients separated from the female. Staffing was minimal and calls for water were ignored—not intentionally but because there was no one free to bring it. F/J found a young boy who was glad to make some money fetching water for DH.
It was a tedious thing to pick the fabric out of the skin on his thighs but it was finally done and his wounds were dressed. A hole was drilled in his lower leg to accept a pin so traction could be applied. That was the extent of his treatment.
There was an old man in the next bed who would moan and groan and keep DH awake. After listening to that, it was nice when everything got quiet. He was able to rest even though it was fitful. Later, he was shocked to find out the man had died. The body was covered and left there until the next day.
Trying to remember all the details is difficult. Not that it’s agonizing. It isn’t. I’ve phased out periods of time. I know it was days before he could be brought back to the States but I don’t know how many.
When he got to the hospital in Florida, the dressings had to be removed. They’d been in place for so long the flesh was beginning to grow around them. Between whirlpool baths and tweezers, all the gauze was picked out. Silvadene was applied and more bandages. The leg had gotten infected where the pin was. The pin had to come out but it had done little good, anyway. It was supposed to be through a bone but it missed and was anchored in muscle. As soon as his immediate problems were addressed, he was transferred to Colorado.
I’d never heard of Silvadene before but I was quickly getting acquainted with a lot of things I’d never wanted to. I was taught how to change dressings and administer medications. He was on antibiotics for the infection and pain medicines for—what else? the pain.
The route between the house and the hospital quickly became as familiar as our own backyard. F/J’s sister took care of DD and the boys. To their delight, the TV was hooked up to cable and it included HBO. I had no idea what HBO was. We didn’t have TV at home. DS1 & 2 were in hog heaven.
The day finally came when DH was discharged. He had one more night before we would head East to Nebraska and home.
The boys and DD were shy and didn’t know how to react when they saw him. After they got used to how he looked, they found that he was the same person inside. DD wanted to hug him but we had to caution her so often to “Be careful! Hug Daddy gently!” that she began to retreat.
The car was loaded. Once again I was the driver. I didn’t mind. The family was headed home.