Nine seconds is the approximate length of time it took for me to get up from where I was sitting on our living room floor, walk into the dining room, and turn on a Bluetooth speaker. In those very same nine seconds, my 9-month-old son scooted over to my travel mug full of recently-poured tea and pulled it over on himself. His screams and tears came first; mine were louder and lasted longer.
The next few hours are a blur. Hysterical, I called my wife and asked what to do. Five minutes later, I was kicking in our pediatrician’s door screaming for someone to help me. Fifteen minutes after that, we were in an ambulance on our way to Mercy Hospital, home of the UPMC Trauma and Burn Center. My wife met us at the hospital, and as soon as she arrived I sobbed on my knees in the corner of the emergency room. Less than an hour after the accident happened, he had already been evaluated by the chief surgeon of the Trauma and Burn Center and he was receiving treatment for his burns.
I am so thankful to live in a city with a top-notch health care system. The staff at Mercy took incredible care of my son; I do not have words adequate to express our appreciation for everything they did. Two years later he has, by all accounts, made a full recovery. He was discharged from the care of both the burn center and the occupational therapist who was tracking his recovery, and the scars on his arms have not affected his ability to pick up tiny beads and buttons, hold and strum his toy ukulele, or wield a hockey stick with surprising dexterity. My healing process is much slower, much less clinical, and much more reflective.
When my son got burned, we hadn’t been living in Pittsburgh for more than a couple of months. I felt alone. Isolated. I was a full time parent with a spouse who had just started a new job that demanded long hours at the office. My family – the reason we had chosen to move to Pittsburgh – was amazing in more ways than I can possibly recount, but I was still trying to figure out how to be a parent and how to make friends with other parents. In the back of my mind was this nagging feeling I couldn’t shake that I had a black mark on my parenting record because my child had been hurt on my watch.
As I look back now, the clarity of hindsight being what it is, I can see just how many people in our lives – some brand new, others lifelong family friends – reached out with their love, time, food, company, words, and silence. And how not a single one of them made me feel like any of it was my fault. The friend who, unbeknownst to me, had reached out via social media to collect sleep sacks that could accommodate my son’s huge arm bandages. The one who spent New Years Eve with us, sitting in the mostly-empty hospital cafeteria waiting for the word that our son’s second surgery had been as successful as the first. The friend who brought lunch and visited with her young daughter in the playroom of the Burn Center and wasn’t afraid to ask and talk about the PICC line taped to my son’s neck or the layers of gauze that covered both of his arms and one of his legs. The friend who, from seven states away, sent scones and muffins for the nursing staff. The friends from Hike it Baby, some of whom I had only met once and all of whom I barely knew, who celebrated and gave triumphant hugs when my son and I finally rejoined them on the trails of Frick Park.
To all of you, and to everyone we’ve met since who has listened to us recount this story – the beginning of our son’s superhero story, as we like to call it – and who has helped create countless memories that are completely unrelated to the burn: thank you. Your words, food, coffee, company, and love nourished me in ways I can’t yet fully appreciate. I am still healing. Time helps. Distance helps. But more than anything, I find strength in the village we are building and in the friends I didn’t know I had.