Had it even been a full month since I’d turned down the job offer from the Hospital Board? Now, here I am, halfway to the town, driving back to officially accept the challenge of turning that flat piece of ground into a fully functioning convalescent center in just over six months.
Shifting in my seat caused me to bump my bandaged left arm. “Yeow! Pay attention, lady.” I’d always been one to talk to myself, sometimes even when another person was in range to hear. “Try to focus on the road, not the meeting, okay?”
I agreed with my saner self, but the pain in my burned arm reminded me of an even worse ache in my heart. How long would it be before I saw the kids again? What should I have done differently so I didn’t end up with this melted limb, and the kids yanked away and returned to the mother who neglected and abused them? One accident can so drastically change things.
Thirty minutes later, I looked into the smiling faces of the men seated around the conference table. When the Chairman spoke, I stared down at my notebook, not up at Mr. Jacobs*. “Gentlemen, I’m delighted to inform you that we now have an administrator for the convalescence center.”
“Getting ahead of yourself a bit, aren’t you, Hank? It’s just a hunk of ground right now.” The men laughed at the rancher’s retort. I felt my face flush.
“Won’t be like that much longer. Want to say anything?” Mr. Jacobs squeezed my shoulder as he spoke.
“As you can see, things have changed since our last meeting.” I lifted the sling, glad not to feel any pain. “I burned my arm two days ago when the coal furnace door blew open and shot flames out to melt my arm some. I’ll be able to work on this project full-time until I need to go for skin grafting. Then, we’ll see how I can work—“
Dr. Holloway* interrupted me. “Now, you men don’t go worrying about her not doing the job on account of that arm there. This gal managed the business of the other hospital from her own hospital bed two hundred miles away when her brain swelled so much she couldn’t see.”
The gasps of the men and low murmurs brought back the heat in my cheeks. “C’mon, Doc. Don’t interrupt me.” A few men across from me chuckled. “Doc’s just trying to let you know I’ll get the job done.”
The secretary began passing around a document with several sheets stapled together. As I reached for mine, a subtle shudder of fear rippled through my nervous system. What in the world had I agreed to do here? I didn’t know anything about building a medical facility. On the other hand, they’d lose the millions if I didn’t try. I’d learn, and I’d learn fast.
As I’d suspected, the meeting ran late, ending after eleven o’clock. The pain in my arm had been severe enough that I’d taken a pain pill during the break. I knew my mental fogginess prohibited me from driving the hour back home over the two-lane country road, so I took a room in a motel I’d often passed when in town.
I lost no time falling asleep. The combination of extreme fatigue and the effects of the Demerol put me down like a whiff of ether. Did I even get to the Amen of my prayers?
In the middle of the night, the sensation of warm liquid on my cheek brought me out of my deep slumber. Reflexively, my fingertip touched the liquid. I felt the stickiness, recognizing the coppery scent. Blood? Why would I have blood on my face?
Next, I registered incredible pain. From fingertips to over the elbow, my injured arm burned as though the flames engulfed it again.
I rolled over and flipped the lamp switch. The shocking sight jerked me out of my drowsiness and into being fully alert in a nanosecond. The long three-inch wide strip of the bulky burn dressing hung loosely from several points on my arm, the fingers almost fully exposed. Large and small squares of medicated compresses hung precariously from points on my damaged skin.
As I reached over to straighten a compress, I saw drops of blood on the fingertips of my right hand. “What in the world happened here?” The moment I’d voiced my confusion, I remembered. My left arm had begun to itch. I didn’t really wake up but did scratch the itch. By the look of that bandage, I’d scratched more than one itch.
My fingers must have clawed through the strip of thick gauze by the way it hung in spots up and down my arm. Fortunately, the blood had soaked into the bandage, not the motel sheets. I carefully flipped loose sections of the long strip back over my arm, so I could get out of bed without snagging the bandage. I didn’t want it to come completely off.
After rinsing the blood off the fingers of my right hand, I pulled some clothing over my nightgown. I should’ve gone to the hospital, but the thought never occurred to me. I left the room to retrieve my ambulance jump box.
Back inside the motel room, I took out the sterile packages of thick rolls of three-inch gauze strips. I knew if I could occlude the air, my arm would feel a lot better. I didn’t have everything I needed to try to re-dress the wound, but I figured if I could just wrap the clean rolls over the dangling portions, it’d be okay until I got home. I’d go to the doctor then.
Mission accomplished, I stretched out on the bed. If one didn’t know better, one might even think the arm had been freshly bandaged. Until the nurse exposed the ugly wreck of a dressing underneath, only I’d know the real story.
Covering the seriously burned areas reduced the pain, but when I couldn’t return to sleep, I took a one-half piece of my pain pill. That should take the edge off. I had enough time before hitting the road that my reflexes should be okay by then. I slept deeply until the alarm beeped.
Once back in town, I drove right to the hospital. “Sorry, the doctor’s not here this morning. Anything I can do for you?” The nurse stared at my bandage when she spoke. I wondered if she realized the bandage wasn’t the one she’d applied.
“I hope so. Uhh, in the middle of the night my arm began to itch like crazy. I didn’t really wake up until I’d pretty much massacred the poor thing. You’ll see when you take this cover off your bandage.”
“And, why didn’t you just come back here right then?” The nurse had already begun removing the gauze strips. “You know the doctor’s not going to be happy that you did this. You might have set up an infection.” The audible gasp drew my gaze back to the nurse’s face. “Just look at this! You’ve all but shredded your poor arm.”
“It itched. I couldn’t help it, since being asleep I had no idea I was scratching it. Maybe it’s healing--”
“Healing! You know better than that. In three days? You were probably itching in some dream you didn’t want to leave,” she said as she patted the treatment table. “Lay back here and let me get this cleaned up and covered properly.” The nurse stepped away but then turned toward me again. “Sorry, I was a bit harsh. T’was just such a shock. Do you need something for pain before I get to work on your arm?”
Stuffing my right hand into my front pocket, I pulled out the little plastic container. “If you can give me a little water, I brought my own.”
By the time she put the final strips of tape on the bandage, I felt the relief kick in. I looked forward to crawling into bed as soon as I got home.
“That’ll do it for today. Don’t you go messin’ with my work now, you hear me?”
“I’ll do my best not to get even one spot on it. Okay if I just keep my scheduled appointment, or do I need to come back tomorrow?”
“I’d think day after tomorrow is soon enough. I’ll ask the doctor and call if he wants you tomorrow.”
I slipped off the table and grabbed my jacket. As the nurse assisted me, she had one last word. “That’ll give you a bit more time to prepare for the tongue-lashing he’s going to give you for what you did to that arm of yours.”
True, I didn’t do the wisest thing to leave town so soon after the burn. The meeting had been the Board’s regularly scheduled monthly meeting, so it made sense to me to go. I had no allusions that the doctor would agree, but his reaction more than shocked me. I had not seen that coming.
The story began with From Ice to Fire