“That looks like a third degree burn. Hey Rachel, does this look like a third degree burn?”
[Looking at the burn.] “Yes, it does, that looks bad.”
“Hmm…we’ll wait for the Doctor to look at it before we send you to the ER.”
It was Monday January 21, 2008 11:00 pm at an after hours clinic in Lake Buena Vista, FL. The nurse didn’t sound particularly delightful as she looked at my hand. I didn’t know the severity of a third degree burn at the time and she didn’t explain it to me. The Doctor would do that an hour later.
How It Went Down On That Fateful Night:
I have a lot of friends in bands. Back when I lived in Orlando, when they’d tour and come through the area they usually stayed with me. This time around my friends The Swellers were hanging out.
Monday was their day off. They went to Universal Studios. I got some work done. When they came back to my place later we went to get groceries to cook up some food.
Their guitarist (at the time) Garrett bought tofu, which he was going to fry with some other foodstuffs.
We got back to my house around 9 pm and Garrett got to work. First, he filled a skillet with about an inch and a half of vegetable oil. Then he turned the heat on High.
I don’t cook with oil so I didn’t think anything of it. Until I looked at the skillet 2 minutes later.
The oil was boiling.
That just didn’t look right. But again, I don’t fry foods so I was a bit out of my element.
I looked at Garrett: “Dude, that oil is boiling. I don’t think it’s supposed to do that.”
“Oh, don’t worry, I’m just gonna flash fry this tofu.”
When you come at me with a declarative statement like that I’m going to think you know what you’re talking about.
10 seconds later their drummer Jono said: “Hey Garrett, I think this oil is going to catch on fire.”
“Don’t worry man, I’m just gonna flash fry this tofu.”
His confidence eased my fears a little.
The skillet went up in a 2 foot flame.
That oil obviously hit its flash point.
Lucky for me I keep fire extinguishers all over my house.
One is right next to the stove in a cabinet.
Another is in the upstairs bathroom.
And yet another is in the garage.
Being that I’d never used a fire extinguisher, didn’t know anything about oil fires, and was solely focused on getting that fire out of my house I didn’t reach for the available fire extinguisher.
Call it panic.
Call it ignorance.
Call it stupidity.
But I grabbed the flaming skillet with my right hand.
As soon as I started walking with the 2 foot flame in hand the fire started moving towards my hand.
Have you ever put your hand inside a camp fire?
Try it if you want to get a sense of the pain I was in.
I got into my hallway and started spilling oil.
A few drops fell on my carpet and proceeded to melt a quarter sized hole in the middle of the hall.
Of course, spilling oil on the ground also meant I was spilling it on my hand.
Have you ever had oil splash back as you were, for example, sautéing onions?
Now imagine that pain multiplied and constant.
As I spilled the oil on my hand again I thought for an instant of dropping the pan and letting my house burn.
The pain just wasn’t worth saving my home and its contents. That’s what insurance is for anyway, right?
But I held out for a few more seconds until I got to my front door.
I opened the door and slammed the skillet on my front porch.
Immediately a massive flame sparked up the side of my house.
I made a run for the garage fire extinguisher. It was the biggest one I had.
Total run time: 15 seconds.
I got back to my porch and thankfully my house wasn’t on fire, but the skillet flame was holding strong.
The scene on my front porch was similar.
I quickly pulled the tab on the extinguisher and let it fly. The fire was out in seconds.
My pain, however, was at an all time high.
Even with all the adrenaline pumping through my veins I was in pain that I’d never felt in all my years.
My hand was no longer on fire, but it was soot black and oozing clear liquid.
I dropped a barrage of F-bombs as I ran to the bathroom to clean off my hand with a little soap and water.
That solved the soot black hand issue.
The pain and oozing liquid, however, were not so easily taken care of.
When you’re young you’re taught to put ice or cold water on burns.
For some reason I felt that just wasn’t right.
I’m glad I stuck with my instincts in this case because I later learned putting ice or cold water on a severe burn can cause permanent nerve damage.
Looking at my hand I wasn’t sure I didn’t already have nerve damage. But I digress.
It was now 9:30 pm and I asked somebody to find out where the nearest after hours clinic was. Lance, The Swellers bassist (at the time), found it. But it was 25 miles from my house in Lake Buena Vista. Right by Disney.
Why go to an after hours clinic instead of the Emergency Room?
I’ve never been to an ER, but from the stories I’ve heard the wait is very long. I didn’t want to wait and I also didn’t want to pay the $500 immediate ER fee. I do have health insurance, but ER visits are $500 straight away.
I got the address to the clinic, grabbed my keys, and headed for the door. Somebody said “Hey, Garrett’s gonna drive you.”
“No he’s not, I’m driving myself.” :)
I didn’t trust anybody at this point, especially not Garrett.
So Jono decided to hop in the passenger seat.
Should I mention that the clear liquid oozing out of my hand was dripping all over my house and now my car?
I sped down the highway at 90mph and got to where the clinic was supposed to be. It was, of course, nowhere to be found.
I drove up and down the street a couple of times then had Jono call back to my house so somebody could give us the clinic’s number.
During this whole time the pain had not subsided and it still felt like my hand was on fire.
We called the clinic and apparently it was about 100 feet away from where we had stopped. We’d driven by it already, but their sign was NOT lit up and the driveway had a literal forest surrounding it. The clinic was not visible from the main road.
It was now 10:30 pm. We ran inside and I filled out forms with my left hand which I’m sure nobody could read.
They called my name a half hour later. As thanks for making me wait I left the clinic a puddle of my ooze in the waiting room.
The nurse looked at my hand and said it was a third degree burn. She called over another nurse who said the same thing and that I will probably need to go to the ER, but to wait for the Doctor before making any rash assumptions.
My thoughts were somewhere between “Oh sweet, all this and I have to go to the ER anyway. Sounds amazing!” and “MAKE THE PAIN STOP!” Although maybe a little more vulgar. :)
I was led into my last waiting room. Jono joined me in this final resting place.
“The Doctor will be with you shortly.”
30 minutes and another puddle of ooze later, the Doctor comes in, looks at my hand and drops this gem on me:
“Oh, no, that’s not third degree. If it was third degree you’d have to amputate your fingers because they’d be useless.”
I looked into his eyes and shouted “Shut the fuck up!”
Then we all laughed.
I don’t remember his name, but this was the best general practitioner I’ve ever met.
This was good, but they weren’t weak burns by any stretch. A 2nd degree burn that two nurses think is a 3rd degree burn is a pretty horrific burn. :)
The doctor gave me 3 prescriptions. An antibiotic, a burn cream, and Vicodin.
A nurse also administered a tetanus shot, smothered my hand with said burn cream, and bandaged me up.
Does the story end there?
It’s past midnight, but my pain is no different than when I first caught fire. It would mellow for a few seconds and then come shooting right back like some sick torturous game.
So now we had to find a 24 hour pharmacy. Nearest one? 30 miles from my house in the opposite direction of where we were. i.e. 54 miles away.
Back in the car. Back to speeding. Got to Walgreen’s pharmacy around 1:30 am. Got my prescriptions at 2 am. Downed the Vicodin at 2:01 am. Felt great at 2:30 am.
5 days later I flew up to Michigan to go snowboarding at Boyne Highlands with huge blisters on my right hand. The first run down a hill I fell on said hand, the blisters all popped, and my glove got soaked in blister ooze. I hope you weren’t just eating lunch. ;)
This happened exactly 2 years ago today. I mentioned in my Best Of 2009 article that I’d be posting it for pure entertainment. Hope you enjoyed it. And I hope you learned a few things. Most important: don’t put cold water or ice on a severe burn.