64: Burned

64: Burned

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: For Mom, with Love


Every day may not be good, but there’s something good in every day.

~Author Unknown

I had just finished watching the twentieth anniversary of The Oprah Winfrey Show. Previous guests appeared and picked their own favorite guests who inspired them, and in some cases, changed their lives.

I will never forget the woman who had face cancer. She said she used to feel sorry for herself, until she saw the show with a beautiful young girl who was hit by a drunk driver. The girl had caught on fire. Her face had literally melted away. The story really hit home.

My mother had been burned over seventy percent of her body in a house fire two years before. I’ll never forget the phone call that I received at work that cold January morning.

“Is this Ms. Dixon?” The voice on the other end of the line sounded distant. “I’m calling from the Vineland Police Department.” I lived in South Carolina. My mom and brother lived in Vineland, New Jersey. I knew it was something tragic.

“Your mother is Naomi Cook? I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but your mother has been flown by helicopter to Philadelphia… there was a fire in her house. She is critical.”

The drive to New Jersey was the longest of my life. The whole way there it seemed that every memory of my childhood came back. Warm cookies and loads of love is the only way I could describe my childhood. I recalled how my mom walked me to school when I was very young. Once, there was this little boy who was taunting me. When she heard him calling me names, she went right up to his mother and in no uncertain terms told her that her son better knock it off. That’s how she was. She didn’t put up with any guff, not from anyone. She was tough, and she taught me how to be the same. Yet she had a heart of gold when it came to the ones she loved.

When I arrived at the burn center, I honestly didn’t know if I was prepared for what I might see. I was right. My mom was wrapped from head to toe in bandaging. She looked like a mummy. All that was showing were her eyes and nose. I broke down and sobbed most of the night.

The next few months my mother fought her way back from the brink of death. She was kept in a drug-induced coma because of the pain from the burns. During this time, she survived two bouts of pneumonia, the constant infections that plague burn survivors, numerous operations, and skin grafts. The medical teams that kept her alive were incredible, and the fact that she hadn’t succumbed to these horrific injuries was nothing short of a miracle.

Four months after the fire, the doctors felt it was time to bring my mother out of the coma. To help bring her around, the doctors suggested playing her favorite music and talking to her. The children from the Sunday School class that she taught all drew her pictures. I had them all over the cabinets in her room and explained each one to her in detail. After one particular long night at her bedside, and two weeks of waiting, I began to lose hope. Would she ever come out of this? Was all of this in vain?

The next morning, as I came down the hospital corridor, one of the nurses from the night crew jumped up when I went past her. “Good morning!” She was awfully cheerful.

One of the male nurses who especially watched over my mom came up to me. He linked his arm in mine. “Did you have a good night?” He was upbeat too. He pulled back the curtain that protected my mom’s room. “She did.” My eyes filled with tears. My mom was being helped into a wheelchair by two of the physical therapists. In the course of the night, she had awakened. When she looked up and saw me, her face lit up, and she smiled. Everyone present in the ward started to clap. “Mom! Oh, Mom.” The tears streamed down my face.

It would be a long, long journey down the road of recovery. But, my mother did recover. To say it was a lot of hard work on her part would be a gross understatement. She had to re-learn how to walk, talk, eat, dress herself, all the things we take for granted. Not to mention living with the disfigurement of the burns. She did all of it.

I won’t lie and say that there weren’t times when it would have been easier for that fire to have taken her away from us. It was inhumanely painful dealing with the physical affects as well as the emotional. People often would stare at her. There was a time I took her to the grocery store. An insensitive man outside asked, “What happened to her?” I quickly rushed her inside. I just wanted her to have normalcy. I didn’t want anyone to notice that there was anything different about her. I wanted people to only see the inside, to know how much this woman was loved.

While she was resting on a bench near the checkout line, a little girl, maybe five or so, came up to her. She had a Band-Aid on her finger. “What happened to you?” The little girl asked innocently. I was in a panic. I couldn’t get to her from the line. Mom had to handle this one on her own. “Oh, I was in a fire, but I’m doing a lot better now.” My mom smiled at the girl. Holding her bandaged finger up, the little girl said, “Do you need a Band-Aid? My mommy has more.” The sincerity was heartwarming. “I think this boo-boo is too big for a Band-Aid, sweetie,” Mom joked. Then she looked over at me and smiled. For a brief moment, she had that familiar twinkle in her eye that I’d missed so much since this whole nightmare started. She was Mom again. It was just a quick glimpse into the past, but all the love and memories poured into that one moment and it has stayed with me and sustained me after all this time.

That fire was never able to take away my mom’s willing and determined spirit. In spite of her dire circumstances, Mom touched the heart of everyone she came in contact with. Whether they were young or old, healthy or sick, she would tell them her story of how God spared her life from the fire.

I have tried, however difficult, to carry my mom’s great attitude about the fire throughout these years. No matter what life brings to me, I try to remember to see the glass as half full. I owe it to my mom, who never gave up.

~Lisa Wright-Dixon

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