Pot Leads To Skin Grafts

John Parks-Coleman

Pot Leads To Skin Grafts

John Parks-Coleman
kitchen-328011_640I've always been afraid of cooking oil. Seems strange to be afraid of something that can't creep out of a dark alley and attack you, or hide under your bed and wait until you're falling asleep to jump out and grab you...




As a child, I was eight years old at this time, my mother had to go to Fort Sam Houston for surgery. She had a giant cyst in her hip that needed to be removed. We lived in Louisiana, Fort Polk, and the medical facilities in that area, at that time, were very sparse and ill-equipped to do anything other than ensure you got an infection along with your flu shot.

My father would always go into "super-clean mode" when my mother had to go somewhere which, as my parents grew older, happened more often the closer my father got to retirement. This involved cleaning in those areas that hardly ever see the light of day. The corner of a closet inside a room that no one lived in, scrubbing the kitchen floor with a toothbrush and comet. You know, great father-son bonding in the finest form.

My father was very much a man of one mind. For dinner, he expected to have (with every meal) french fries. He refused to eat fries that came from a bag. He expected my mother to peel potatoes every day, and cut them into uniform pieces in order to make french fries. Our kitchen, when I was young, was very much the epitome of being on KP (if you don't know what KP is, I'll update you in another post, in another story). Short version: A lot of cooking and cleaning for a mass of people that don't want to help cook, clean, or appreciate what they get. Kind of like being a parent for one-thousand children.

So, my mother was gone for surgery, my father was in full wanna-be Drill Sergeant mode and a very young Yours-Truly was peeling potatoes in the way that I had helped my mother every evening since Moses was a crossing-guard at the parting of the sea.

"HURRY UP!" My father would yell.

I'd learned long ago to do my best to ignore his anger and focus on the task. If I were to peel my hand, instead of the potato, that would lead to more yelling. Therefore, he could yell all he wanted, it was me that had the potatoes and peeler.

Half an hour later, potatoes peeled and sliced into uniform pieces, my father thanked me: "Well it's about f*****g time!" Thanks for that. He sent me to my room which I LOVED because that's where my books and guitar were. I could escape into the world of Albert Lee or Stevie Ray Vaughn or  join an adventure in mystery solving with the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew.

About an hour later, I heard my father yelling at my older brother. Wondering what was going on, I made my way down the stairs, quietly, and I made it into the hallway just in time to see...

My father pouring a pot of boiling oil into a paper bag that he had my older brother holding! Let me be crystal-clear on this: There was NOTHING to catch the oil as he poured it into the PAPER BAG. So, there in the kitchen, I witnessed the man who loved his french fries, and one of two living children at the time suffer horrible burns across both of their feet, legs, and knees. My lizard-brain took over.

Now, I had never driven anything bigger than a skateboard or bicycle at this point in my life. But I had seen it done enough times to know what to do. I grabbed my father's keys from his end-table, ran out to the car-port and started my father's truck. I ran back inside, grabbed the bag of flour out of the pantry, threw it on the floor and let it explode all over the kitchen.

"What the f**k are you doing?!" My father, still angry at me for not peeling the potatoes in perfect precision yelled through his pain.

"Shut up, and get in the back of the truck." I almost whispered my response.

Not in the position to argue with me, both father and older brother climbed into the back of the truck. I hopped in and drove the truck to the emergency room on Fort Polk.  As I pulled the truck in front of the ER doors, two Army Medics came trotting out with a stretcher.

"You're gonna need two!" I shouted.

One turned back and ran in for two more medics and another stretcher.

Still hollering at the top of his lungs at me, my father was hoisted out of the truck and onto the stretcher. My brother was brought out from the other side. In they went for treatment.

Not wanting to hang around for the verbal abuse, I drove back to our house. Time to clean up. If I didn't, that would equate to another ear-beating (or worse) at the end of this little adventure. Clean up was easy. I learned from my mother than oil attracts oil, so the best way to clean up oil is with...oil. It only took about thirty minutes to get the kitchen cleaned up for inspection. Clean-up complete, I hopped back in the truck and headed back to the Emergency Room. I didn't want to get yelled at for not providing transportation back from the hospital.

Pulling into the parking spot, one of the medics came walking over.

"I was wondering when, or if, you were going to come back," he said. "It seems that you are the only one that had enough sense to do what needed to be done. I've been speaking to your father, and, although he is a super Jack*ss, he knows what you did and why you did it."

I thanked him, knowing that I was still going to get a "thank you" from my father when he was well enough to do it.

So, that's why I developed a fear of cooking oil. Now, let's come forward in time and re-visit this same fear as an adult.




I've told you about the garage fire, just before Christmas, two years ago. The following January, while we were still dealing with the clean-up and reconstruction of the garage, and living life in general; Yvonne wanted me to cook her some fried chicken for dinner.

Shortly after we got married, my Wife began teaching me how to cook her favorite dishes. This included learning how to keep my fear of oil at bay and expand my culinary skills. Where I once only knew how to make basic dishes like pa-sghetti, steak, and other foods that were super-safe to cook, Yvonne taught me to cook all kinds of dishes and to not be afraid to pop open a cook book and experiment. As a result, I can now cook some dishes that I would have never dreamed that I could in the past. In high school, I took Home Economics, not so much for the skills that I could learn, but to meet girls. I learned a lot in the class, and had a lot of dates while expanding my knowledge of house, home, and a sewing machine. Those skills have come in super-handy in recent years, and so have the skills I learned in Home Economics, by the way. ;-)

I digress...

So, my fear of oil being kept at bay, I began frying chicken while Yvonne had some music playing in the living room. At this point, she was more confined to her wheel chair and could only take a few steps at a time. She wheeled herself into the kitchen, and reached in to the refrigerator for a soda (I didn't even know she was there until a few seconds later).

On the ceiling of the kitchen, we used to have (as in not any more) a pot rack that was mounted above the kitchen island and extended toward the stove area. I'm 6'4" and I would constantly bang my head on pots and pans if I wasn't cautious to duck my head while in the kitchen.

So, Yvonne, closing the fridge, startled me. My head banged against a small pot (really, it's a sauce-pan). It fell and time slowed down:

Cue the slo-mo camera footage. "Ohhh Noooo," my inner voice screamed.

Not being able to move fast enough, the pot hit the deep-fryer which was on the far corner of the kitchen, in a "safe" location, away from anything that could cause an accident (yeah, right, if that were true, you wouldn't be typing this right now). Oil splashed up. I grabbed the towel from my shoulder. I threw it up to try to protect Yvonne and I from the oil. I ALMOST succeeded. I thought I had, anyway.

Now, if you've been following along, you know that Yvonne is a Nurse and, as I've said before, Nurses (and other medical professionals) can be the WORST patients. As I did my best to remain calm, I checked Yvonne over for damage -- fragile, handle with care -- and I immediately found where some oil had landed--her right shoulder!

After making sure that the deep-fryer was turned off, unplugged, and not posing another immediate threat, I wheeled Yvonne into the dining area.

Slowly, I removed her pajama top, and gently...slowly...I took it off. Skin was sloughing off.

We both have various tattoos on our bodies and, Yvonne HAD one on her right shoulder and on the back of her shoulder. It was now on the dining room floor.

"Sweety, I have to get you to the Emergency Room, or call 911 and get you some help."  I was devolving back to my childhood and my lizard-brain was screaming at me. I had to remain calm for fear of making the situation worse.

"Bulls**t!" She exclaimed, "I am NOT going to the damned ER ever, again!" The Emergency Rooms at our local hospitals can be so weird, to say the least. One time we were blamed for the death of Michael Jackson because Yvonne was in pain and I asked the doctor at Metroplex to ease her pain through medicine instead of praying. (Yes, this ACTUALLY happened, but that's a whole other story).

"Sweety, I understand your feelings, but I have no choice, I HAVE to get you some help." I was still doing my best to reason with her.

"John, you will not take me to the Emergency Room!" Yvonne only calls me John when she's angry, upset, or otherwise. All other times, my name is "Baby".

At this time, I was the Supply Sergeant in 1st Medical Brigade, on Fort Hood, Tex.  During my time in that unit, I had gained a wealth of friends from across the medical field; and, some Soldiers like Carl, Mark, Jennifer, and TJ had taken the time to teach me and to get connected with Yvonne. These friends, Heroes really, popped into my head.

"If you don't want me to take you to the ER, I'm going to bring the ER to you!" I said, louder than I should have.

I snapped a picture of Yvonne's shoulder and texted it to all those that I just listed with the words "9-1-1 please come with your aid bags."

Mark is a Nurse as well and, he knows Yvonne personally. They were in Iraq during Desert Storm together.

Carl is probably the best man I've ever had the pleasure of being a friend to. He's also a Nurse (currently a Legal Assistant with 1st Medical Brigade) and a true Renaissance Man--Chef, Nurse, Legal, Caregiver-emerging, and my personal venting-buddy.

Jennifer and TJ are Husband and Wife and both were medics in 1st Medical Brigade at the time.

Mark was the only one who lived close to me, yet all three arrived within moments of one another.

"What the hell are you doing?" Yvonne asked (by asked I mean screamed at me).

"Doing the best I can with the best I know." I said. Making sure that her "lady parts" were covered, I stepped back and let my friends at her.

Mark led the group, he was the most authoritative and, in the military mind, you take instructions from the "tower" at the range so he became the in-home resident physician.

He led Carl, Jennifer, and TJ through the process of treating for trauma. It worked to his benefit that the burn was deep enough that Yvonne's nerve receptors weren't feeling the pain.

While he was doing this with our make-shift home-based ER, I was on the phone with the VA in Temple, Tex., arranging for an appointment through her PCP to the Trauma Surgery Ward.

Long story short (too late, John), Yvonne was stabilized and monitored. My Chain of Command was read into what was going on and they did some emergency CYA at the unit level so that no one would be called Out of Ranks during morning formation (we were all in the same brigade, but not the same units within that brigade).

As my crew did final wound irrigation and wrapping, I prepared my truck for the ride to Temple (about 45 minutes away). Memories of oil-burns past dancing through my head.

Mark briefed me on the situation.

"She's not going to feel the pain for about another two hours, so you have about one hour in which to get her up to the VA. We've done everything that we can legally do within our span of medical responsibility and if we do any more -- even though you asked us to come and help -- we could ALL get into trouble," he explained.

Carl had convinced Yvonne to let me bring her to the VA, and Jennifer helped to get Yvonne dressed and ready. (A Lady has to make a grand entrance, anything less is unacceptable).

I gave all of them hugs before they filed out of the house.

Loading Yvonne into the truck, we made our way up to Temple and into the dark, haunted realm of the CTVHCS hall ways. Up three floors to the surgery ward.

Yvonne was prepped, wrangled into a stretcher, and wheeled behind closed doors. I was left alone with my thoughts. All the fears of years past came rushing into my mind. I was startled when I felt arms wrap around me. Tthere was another person in the waiting room that came and gave me a comforting hug. I hadn't realized that I had been crying, my shirt was covered with tears and my nose was running like a four-year-old with a cold.

Guilt. That was my feeling. Pure, uncut, refined guilt. It was my fault that Yvonne got burned, I told myself. It's not been until very recently that I've been able to forgive myself; however, every time I am giving Yvonne a massage, I can feel the scar on her shoulder. Every time I pass by the dining room table, I can see the spot on the floor where her skin fell off. The floor is super clean but in my mind's eye, I can still clearly see her skin lying there, bubbling from the hot oil.

In that moment, I felt so many emotions rushing over me like waves from an unrelenting ocean of pain, guilt, fear, and what I should have done, what I should have said. Would've-should've-could've was pounding its way into my head. The stranger, with his arms around me, said the most profound thing to me. This man that I didn't know, but was there in the same moment, at the same time, in the same space gave me some advice that I do my best to follow to this day.

"Things happen that you can't control. Life can get in the way of living. Whatever happened and whatever will happen, remember there are people in this world that don't know you but they love you just the same." He released his arms from around me and adjusting his Vietnam Veteran cap, he slowly limped away and out of the door.

I speak a lot about my Angels, whether in these posts, comments across Caregiving.com and on Twitter. The effects that some kind words, at just the time when you need to hear them, can come from many sources.  @Tstallone @Caregiving @thejenwilkinson to name but a few.  @WorriedWife @lilmagill so many Angels when you need them.  My Angels keep me going, on this site; and, through Twitter and Google+.  Even though I get psychiatric treatment for PTSD (not related to this event), there are some things that only someone in a similar situation can understand or comprehend.  It's not until this site found me, that I've been able to start releasing all of this that has been bottled up inside of me; and, trying to find it's way out, to release some of the burden, to share with others, and to let other people know that they are NOT alone...even though it may feel that way.  That Veteran, the one who hugged me, and gave me those kind words when I needed them, even though he didn't know what had happened, he had a huge effect on my mentality.  I still carry some guilt about what happened, but it no longer eats me up from the inside out.

Back to Yvonne...

About three hours after delivering her into the surgeon's hands, she was brought into recovery. The surgeon came to me and explained what was hooked up to her, and why. He explained the wound-vac, which was attached to her shoulder via loads of tachyderm, and showed me where he had harvested skin from Yvonne's thigh, and placed it over the burned area. He explained how to keep it from getting infected, what to do, what not to do, and who to call if there were any complications. He finished up by telling me that I had probably done the best thing I could have done in that situation--get friends to help. Somehow, he knew that I must be feeling guilty (he could probably deduce this from the tears). Patting my back, he told me that I had not created the injury, I was the one who took actions to minimize the effects.

Yvonne popped awake.

"Hey, Baby!" She smiled at me.

"Hey, Boo!" I smiled, trying to hide the tears.

"Sh*t happens," Yvonne said, "you had better fix me some fried chicken when we get home. Get back on that horse, cook for your Wife, and make her happy!" She knew I was feeling bad and the only thing she was going to hold against me were her lips.

So, that's how pot leads to a skin-graft.  Everyone reading this, if there is one thing that you take away from it, when you close your laptop, put down your iPad or Kindle, cell phone, or whatever else, I want you to remember this...

You can have a PROFOUND impact on someone a million miles away, or right next door, by doing your best to remain positive, and passing some positive energy through kind words, or sharing a story and how it effected you.  Don't let yourself get caught up in the negativity of the situation or you may well find yourself standing in a waiting room, crying with a stranger's arms around you. That being said, when you can offer that positive energy, in a subtle way, to another, do so. It can save them from themselves.

Like this article? Share on social