The Day Of The Burn Unit – Part 1
What would you do if you only had ten seconds to make a decision that you knew would have no positive outcome?
Consider the fact that any choice would be physically painful.
What if you also knew that the resulting consequences would change your life for weeks, months, or possibly years?
And finally, just for good measure, imagine that there would be no one around to help you after this “no win” decision was made.
Now, this could very well be a hypothetical question for a sociology or philosophy course.
After all, how many of us have known someone in that situation let alone actually been in that situation?
I’ve only known one person, me.
Those were ten of the most agonizing seconds of my life, but what followed was one of the most enlightening learning experiences of my life.
Let’s go back to a time when I lived in Los Angeles.
I was based in a San Fernando Valley apartment building. It was a small building with two levels.
The bottom level was comprised of regular apartments. The second level was two-story apartments. I was living on the second level.
It was a great apartment for a bachelor.
I say that because aside from the dressing area attached to the bathroom, there was absolutely no privacy.
Let me give you a quick rundown of my bachelor bed.
As soon as you walked in the door, there were five or six stairs leading to the bathroom and dressing area.
Then there was another set of ten or so stairs going to the bedroom. There was only enough room for a queen or a king-sized bed, but it didn’t matter because there was a skylight about 1850.
I was worried about 18 feet above my head. For a bachelor, that was worth the price of admission.
Now here’s the rest of the four-point. About three feet from the foot of the bed was an iron railing.
That railing over looked the entire apartment. The apartment was an open four-point, complete with a gas fireplace and a wet bar.
The distance from the apartment for it to the ceiling was 36 feet. I’m telling you all this because you may be wondering why a guy on crutches would want to live in an apartment where he had to climb stairs to go to the bathroom or the bedroom.
All I can say is, you pay for your thrills.
That was my dream apartment until the dream turned into a nightmare. It happened one morning while I was taking a shower.
My usual procedure was to sit in the tub facing the shower head after turning on the water and adjusting it to a comfortable temperature.
Everything went according to plan for about five minutes. It was mid-morning and I was probably the only person taking a shower at that time.
Actually, there was a very valid reason why I knew I was the only person on the second floor taking a shower at that time. I’ll get into that in a minute.
So, there I sat in the tub as I always did and after about five minutes, I felt the water getting a bit warmer.
It didn’t really concern me because it was normal for a slight fluctuation in temperature, depending on how many of my second four neighbors were also using hot water.
But something about this felt different. Seriously, it felt different as in it was getting really, really hot.
One thing I knew for sure was that this was becoming a one-way trip. The water wasn’t going to cool down unless and until there was no more water to heat.
You see, there was a gated parking garage directly under the apartments. Tenant’s cars shared space with two enormous hot water heaters, one for each four.
Each one of these hot water heaters held enough water for simultaneous use in a couple of dozen apartments.
Normally, there was enough hot water for every apartment on the designated floor.
On this particular day, that was about to change because that was about to hog all of it.
It was a safe bet that anyone who was experiencing anything close to what I was about to experience had already turned off the faucet.
As the shower head spray went from warm to hot, it quickly became apparent that whatever was malfunctioning was totally out of my control.
My concern was that the spray would turn boiling hot and burn a large portion of my body.
I would become a captive boil chicken. It might not kill me, but I would probably wish that it had.
The only control I had over what was happening was the ability to turn the shower head off.
All I would have to do is tap the plunger, sitting at top, the water faucet. I reached forward and slapped it down.
That took care of the immediate problem, but it only delayed a much more devastating problem, looming in the very near future.
The water, having changed direction and now coming out of the faucet, was scalding hot.
What’s more, it was inching its way toward a portion of my anatomy that, upon contact, would probably turn me into a soprano for life.
By my calculations, I had less than 10 seconds to formulate and execute my next move.
As I’ve said on other podcast episodes, I’m not prone to panic.
I’ve talked about being a passenger on a plane when the jet engine next to my window-seek card fire.
Instead of panicking, I ran over possible scenarios in my head.
In that situation, my immediate future, or lack of it, was up to a number of factors totally out of my control.
I would be left to deal with whatever degree of recovery, if there was a recovery, my recuperation would require.
But in this case, I was in control. I would determine my immediate future and my course of recuperation.
Turning off the shower had been easy. All I had to do was reach forward and hit the plunger.
The next step would not be so easy because I had absolutely no traction in the tub.
In addition, my cerebral palsy meant that my legs would not necessarily move in the direction I needed them to go.
The clock was ticking. The water flow and temperature control was integrated into a single knob.
The problem was that it was mounted on the wall above and a short distance away from the faucet.
In order to reach that knob, I would have to stabilize my body by grasping the side of the tub with my left hand.
Then I would have to move my entire upper body forward and reach for the knob.
I was situated with my legs on either side of the scalding hot water.
Think James Bond spread equal on the laser beam table in the movie Goldfinger.
I knew that my right foot would go directly into the water as soon as I moved forward and reached up to turn off the hot water.
My worry was that I would flinch as my foot felt the scalding hot water.
Since I didn’t make it a habit to walk barefoot, my feet were about as sensitive as they proverbial.
If I flinched and pulled back for a fraction of a second, I wouldn’t get a second chance before things quickly got much, much worse.
I had learned a few things during my years of being broken apart and put back together again.
You might say they were tricks of the trade.
I never liked the foggy feeling of painkillers and although I had prescriptions available if I needed them, I had decided to go in another direction.
I had taught myself hypnosis.
It wasn’t the entertaining style of hypnosis where some unassuming audience member ends up screaming like a chicken.
This was a serious attempt to alleviate pain without drugs.
I’d even built in an eye-blink trigger to turn it on.
Over time, I’d gotten pretty good at it, but now I was about to put it to the ultimate test.