The first week of April, I returned to school. Our students had just come off of a week-long fall break, but I was coming off of my own personal three-week hiatus. I can affirm that I was one of the only people actually excited to be back in school. Back to normal. I was elated to see my students again and to get back to a familiar routine. For the first time, I didn’t mind the early morning alarm.
Back to School
However, I noticed that at school I was fragile. My students kind of tip-toed around me and even teachers were a bit careful when greeting me. Although my burns were healing nicely, the event and my absence was still fresh in people’s minds. Those who know me know that I hate to be vulnerable or especially perceived as vulnerable. So I made an extra effort to be as normal as possible to remind people that scars on my legs didn’t mean I was breakable. Needless to say, teenagers have short attention spans so the consideration for my health was quickly replaced with the same old self-centeredness. You can always count on teens to make everything normal again. Pretty soon my classroom was back to the organized chaos in which I thrive. The morning alarm started to irk my nerves again and all of my pet peeves returned. No longer were the same questions asked over and over endearing. That being said, I still don’t take for granted my love for my job and my ability to do it. Even on days where I see my colleagues starting to feel the end of the year blues, I’m going strong, riding the gratefulness of being physically able to walk through the doors and do what I love.
The Final Bandages
My ankle was the problem child. The burn was in the perfect spot, aggravated by every step I took. Plus, it was the place where the skin had been exposed to the hot water with no cloth barrier. Therefore, the ankle bandage was the very last to come off. For two and a half weeks into teaching, I left school every third day to get my bandage on my ankle changed at the hospital. Thankfully, I have fourth block planning, so leaving was not that big of an issue. The expensive Ubers/long bus rides were a bit tedious, I’ll admit. I was so used to going in the mornings when I was still on apartment rest, so my afternoon appointments meant a whole new round of seeing doctors and nurses. Every time we changed the bandage, the new bandage got smaller and smaller. It’s like counting down the days without knowing when the big event is going to take place. The anticipation was the worst part. I would get my hopes up every time, only to walk out with another bandage, more cream, and another dis-appointment. Then along came Monday, April 16th. My appointment was later than usual, so I took the 45 minute bus from school. It was a really pretty day and my podcast was keeping me occupied as we wound our way through the neighborhood streets towards Av. Italia y Blv. Artigas. I made my way into the hospital and sat patiently in the waiting room. The doctor was running a bit behind. Twenty minutes past my appointment I heard my accent-heavy name (Keemberly Colé) called. I was elated to see the nurse who had changed my first bandages. I’m sure I was a whole new person to her. In Uruguay, you greet your doctors and nurses with the traditional cheek-kiss. Dr. Sorrano undid my tiny ankle bandage, said muy bien, told my nurse to clean the area and put some cream on it. I was waiting to hear the instructions on the next bandage size. Instead I heard Listo (finished). And that was that. My heart started racing and I could not help myself. My eyes overflowed, rivers of emotion making their way toward my shirt. My nurse looked at me and she was even tearing up. This was the woman who had seen me at my most vulnerable and now she was there for the end. It was one of the most profound experiences of my life. My doctor handed me my final cream prescription, gave me instructions for the next year of my life, kissed my cheek and sent me out the door. Shakily I walked in to the lobby, no appointment sheet in hand.
So naturally, I needed to do something to channel all of my feelings. I started to bake cookies. I baked and baked and baked. Then I put them in a container to take back to the hospital Wednesday for my Uruguayan medical family. I wrote a note in Spanish to all of my nurses, doctors, and receptionists who had worked with me the past six weeks. My friend dropped me off on Wednesday and I walked through the familiar doors. I gave everyone a hug, turned over my cookie-labor of love, and walked out the door for the last time. Hopefully, I will never have to see the plastics department of the British Hospital ever again.
Baptism By Shower
Six weeks. Six weeks of sink baths and wrapping my foot in plastic bags as I tried to hold it out the shower door only to get more water on the floor than on my body. Six weeks of shampoo and conditioner sitting by my kitchen sink. Six weeks of shaving my legs in the bidet. Minutes after my bus dropped me off at my apartment from my last hospital visit, I ran inside, stripped and jumped in my very first complete shower. I leaned against the wall as the warm water riveted down my arms and my legs. I closed my eyes and reveled in the warmth soaking my hair into straight ropes down my back. I stayed in that shower for a full hour. Every nook and cranny was soaped and rinsed twice. It was a purely divine and transcendent moment. I now fully understand why water is used for baptism. Climbing out of that shower, was like a rebirth. I felt clean and renewed. It has been months, and I still see my shower as a holy place. And fun fact, once the new skin had formed, there is no sensitivity to temperature. My legs feel the heat or cold of the water in the same way as the rest of my body. Some people have talked about being extra sensitive in their burned areas, but I can even get my shower back to the steamy hot temperature that I prefer and am perfectly fine. Gives me hope for my skin returning completely back to normal. My friend asked me a few weeks after my first shower if I have returned to seeing a shower and just a shower. I can honestly say, I am still elated every time I turn the knob to steamy and watch as the glass doors fog. Showers are still a very special experience. And yes, I see the irony that scalding hot water made me appreciate my steaming hot bathing experiences. It is a new definition of baptism by fire, if you will.
As most people know, I spend a majority of my life barefoot. I don’t even teach in shoes, preferring the grounded feeling of my bare feet touching the cool tiles of my classroom. My feet were meant to be bare. That was until flip flops and Crocs (kill me) were the ONLY shoes I was able to wear. My doctor said that I was allowed to put on real shoes only when I could press on my ankle and foot and not feel pain. For weeks I pressed, trying to tell my nerve endings to suck it up. At one point I even tried to convince myself that my ankle was where I had previously had surgery, so it was always going to be a bit sensitive. After only a few hours of wearing boots, I had to down a pain pill. Finally, one morning I was completing my cream routine and POOF! No pain. So I put on my flip flops and went to school. All day, I was pushing on my scar and still no pain. So that afternoon I put on my running shoes and did a little jog down the Rambla. No pain. I walked to a clothing store with my friend. Still no pain. By this point, it was raining like crazy. I figured, what the heck. I ran right down the street, in the rain, smiling like a fool. I was wearing real shoes. I was running. And I don’t even like running! But in this moment, rain soaking my clothing, my hair, and my shoes I was completely happy. I’ve had a few rainy epiphanies lately and this was one of them. I still don’t like shoes. I still instantly take them off as soon as I walk through my classroom door, but I love the fact that I have the option.
Even THAT’s back to normal
I had hooked up with this guy just prior to burning myself. It was absolutely nothing serious and mostly physical. He is uniquely hot (deadlocked tattooed musician – basically everything my mother will probably raise an eyebrow at after reading this), he is super easy to be around, he speaks very little English, AND he’s Brazilian! We all know how much I love them! After I was burned, I figured “oh well. Fun while it lasted.” Not only was I so focused on healing, but I was (and really still am) a bit self-conscious of the giant red strips running down my left leg. I look like, well, I look like a burn victim. He had texted me during my recovery and I told him what happened. I told him it would be a while and I just had to focus on me for a bit. After my last bandage came off, I knew I was physically fine but simply wasn’t mentally prepared for the looks of pity or worse, disgust. I’m a pretty confident lady, yet this is a whole new challenge to face. I can barely ware a long dress without feeling like the world looks at my legs first.
Several weeks ago, I got a text from said gentleman. I decided to take a chance and said, “what the hell,” agreeing to a reunion. I won’t go into the details, but let’s just say this: I didn’t show him my new ability to put shoes on. [Insert fireworks exploding!] (I’m 30 Mom, eyebrows down.) And again, it is nothing serious. He is simply easy to be around and honestly a super fun way to practice my Spanish. Plus, he plays a mean Saxophone! Most importantly, he makes me laugh and doesn’t treat me like a China doll. I think what I have learned most from him is the look of initial horror is not because of the scars themselves, it is because of the imagined process of how I got those scars and the pain I endured. And let me tell you, the imagination isn’t even close to the reality. As my Brazilian says, “Cada marca muestra tu fuerza. Each mark shows your strength. And if I do say so myself, I have a lot of freaking strength.
So there you have it. My life is slowly returning to normal with some minor changes: I am happier than I have been in a long time. I see beauty in the little things. I am more open-minded to experiences. I am comfortable being in my own head. And if I am honest with myself, I would not change one bit of this experience. I think it really has made me better and stronger and more aware. As my friend calls it, I’m am in my reflective period. All it took was a little heat to make me work on bettering myself – one step closer to enlightenment.