Editor’s note: Sara shares the moment that the accident happened in part one: Click here for Part One of Winston’s Story.
And for more about Winston Today (August 22nd, 2014) click here.
The doctor said “40% of his body has been burned.”
With my nursing background I knew that 40% on a fragile baby could be life threatening. Right away the doctor called for a helicopter to fly Winston to the nearest burn unit; which was in Lincoln, Nebraska. Minutes felt like hours. It was taking forever for them to respond. John and I were not going to be able to ride with Winston in the helicopter because of the size. We had to send our son alone.
We were trying to make a rational decision on how we were going to get to Lincoln. Of course in a small town, news travels faster that news happens. My father- in-law, my husband’s grandparents and aunt and uncle were outside the room standing in the hallway. John’s dad had made a phone call. My father-in-law and John had acquired a relationship with the owners of an ariel service through farming and flying lessons; they were available to fly us to Lincoln if we wanted. We said good bye to Winston as they strapped him onto a gurney and put him into the helicopter. He was screaming and bawling the entire time. We “flew” (in our suburban) another 30 miles to the airfield. There was a plane already to go and pilot waiting. The flight to Lincoln was short in real time but forever in my mind. Once again an example of time in slow motion.
We arrived at the Lincoln airport minutes before the helicopter reached the hospital. When we arrived a St. Elizabeth’s Regional Center, there was no one to talk to; everything was taking forever! After about an hour we found someone, Eric was his name.
“He is in surgery, the doctor will be out to speak with you soon.”
“What? We can’t see him?”
I was in such a state of anger and fear and so many other emotions. The doctor came in to the waiting room to speak to us. He explained that Winston was getting finished up in the surgery room with the porcine (a pig skin wrap). Of course he needed to know how Winston was burned. He needed to contact social services per protocol. I explained how it all happened, attempting to hold back tears as I am talking to this very intimidating man. He went on to explain that it takes several minutes under hot water for a burn like this to happen; insinuating that he was under hot water for a very long time and where was I?
I was already feeling like the worst mother of the year, but at that moment, I was at my worst. I was at my lowest point.
And then defensive. Did he know how much water pressure was coming out at once? Did he know that our water was extremely hot? Did he know anything about us? Here I am in loose sweats and a baggy t-shirt and John with sawdust all over in his hair and dirty work clothes on. What was his impression of us? Did he think we were irresponsible parents? Maybe we were. Maybe the worst. At least that was how I was feeling at that very moment. Everything else that doctor said to us was a blur. I just wanted to see my son. I just wanted to hold him.
He told us that he was worried that our son was so calm during the entire process; and usually less pain meant third degree burns. He went on to say that the burns only looked second degree in most places so the porcine was applied to all the burns, but it would not hold to any areas that were third degree burns. We would only know more in time. Time, more time.
Finally after waiting in the waiting area for over an hour we were able to go back to the Burn unit’s ICU. There in the room were two nurses. A female nurse introduced us to the room and a male nurse was sitting in the chair cuddling and rocking my baby. Winston was now completely wrapped in dressings, laying on the nurses chest asleep. I felt warmth when we entered that room; warm hearts from those nurses. I knew they cared from the very second we entered. They were not there to judge me or John as parents, they were not asking questions about what happened. They were just there to do their best to comfort Winston and us.
They asked us right away, “how are you guys holding up?” I knew we were in good hands. When he handed Winston to me everything played through my mind again as it had been over and over for the last several hours, wishing I could turn back time and do things differently. I looked at his face covered in dressings, It was so swollen. I was heart broken. How could I let something like this happen? How could I be such an awful parent to turn my back on a baby in the tub. What was I thinking? Our nurse was there to comfort us though.
John and I will never forget Annie.
We had so many questions and she spent so much time explaining things to us and comforting us. As the time passed Winston’s face swelled up even more. I could do nothing. I was helpless. The nurses had been giving him morphine from the time we arrived in Franklin so I at least got some comfort in knowing his pain was somewhat at ease. But the swelling continued to get worse. He had a splint on his arm and leg so he was unable to move much. I just sat with him in the chair staring at him replaying the day in my head over and over. I was relieved when my mom and dad arrived that evening. When I am feeling really bad, my parents really are what I want. My mom to comfort me and my dad to make me smile. Don’t get me wrong, John was doing a great job. But he was grieving too. I needed someone else to take over that part of it.
I remember that night I slept with him in the chair all night long; attempting to nurse him with any whimper he made. He was able to nurse some but I could tell the swelling around his lips was getting much worse. When Annie asked me how I slept I told her “awful, my body is so stiff, but I don’t want to complain because look at him.”
Winston was finally able to lay in the crib for short periods of time, but I couldn’t stop worrying about his swelling. The nurse kept telling us it would go down and that we would be surprised. Another physician came in that morning to assess Winston. He was not as harsh as the first doctor. He did tell us if the swelling did not go down enough for him to eat they were going to have to put a tube in him to feed him. I tried several times that day to nurse him. I pumped and tried to feed him a bottle. He barely had the energy to let out a moan when I moved him too much, let alone try to eat. His lips were so swollen, he was breathing in and out of a pin hole.
I will never forget the moment that John turned the music on on his iPad and Winston wiggled his body as best as he could. It brought tears to my eyes. Only a child would find such joy in something so small when he was hurt.
The time at the hospital was much shorter than John and I anticipated. We were getting dismissed on Friday and we had just arrived on that Wednesday. Winston’s swelling had begun to decrease and he was able to nurse again. Still no solid foods but I was happy he was getting some nutrition. My sister from Phoenix was on her way home to stay with us to help us out. She was exceptional, we couldn’t have done it all with out her. We missed the girls so much and were excited to see them when we got home. We didn’t explain a lot to them on the phone so I don’t think they knew what to expect. Macy’s reaction when she saw him was worse than I expected. “Mom he looks terrible” she said crying and ran upstairs. Audrey wanted to give him some stuffed animals.
I remember saying to John, “it would be so easy for you to be mad at me and blame me for all of this. How are you not blaming me and saying what were you thinking Sara!” He responded “What good is it going to do to be mad at you, accidents happen, that’s why they call them accidents” and he put his arms around me as I cried.
I cried so much during those first weeks.
After our follow up that Monday we were to do dressing changes twice daily. Each dressing change Erin (my sister) would have all the supplies laid out and ready. She held his hand and sang to him while he screamed as I washed away dead skin from the open areas. Each change took an hour or more. They were such a process; I couldn’t understand how anyone with out a nursing background would possibly be able to handle this. A week went by and we returned to Lincoln to have the rest of the porcine removed. They did seemed surprised at how quickly he was healing. A child so young regenerates skin cells so much faster than an adult.
“Lotion the skin often to keep it moist and we will see you in a month” said Roy, the PA.
Winston seemed to be getting back to himself, moving around a little more and even started walking January 9th, on his one year birthday! We were starting to get back to normal again; Erin had gone home and we were back in motion. John and I even went out one night. There was a lot of “talk” going on about what went wrong and how Winston’s accident happened, maybe it was too soon to go out in public. Too many people to judge you. We were better off staying home. Winston was still not sleeping well at night but it was going to get better I just knew it. He was irritable. Dermatitis appeared on his arm, and there was a point I was even worried about cellulitis.
We have a long battle to fight with this. It is easy for people to forget and think that it is all over for us but it isn’t. It’s a battle everyday. I spend several minutes 4-6 times a day massaging his scars hoping to reduce them and hoping this will help with the irritation. There is a possibility that Winston may need skin grafting during his growth spurts usually around ages 11 and 15. I pray that this vest we are getting will reduce the scarring enough that future skin grafting will not be necessary. I pray to God every day that Winston will get better and all of this will be behind us.
So much of my time is spent wondering what he will have to endure through his life with this history. Will people pull away when they have to shake his scarred hand? Will the scarring affect his writing or basketball? Will he have a hard time finding a wife because of his facial scarring? Will people constantly be staring? Will kids make fun of him in school? Will it affect his job? Will he remember to take special care of his skin in the sun? There is so much that goes through my mind everyday. He is such a strong little guy already at the age of one. He has endured so much already. I pray that the worst is behind him.
We all want the best for our children but you don’t realize how much you want that for them until something messes it all up. God has a plan for us. Please tell everyone you know about Winston. It may help someone.
Do you know how to change the temperature in your home? I had no idea. And it’s not something that has a thermometer on it. You have to turn it with a screwdriver, wait and then test your water temperature. I had not actually tested the water temp, I just knew it was hot to touch. It doesn’t matter now why the water was turned up too hot; it just was.