A guest post by Kellie Meisl. Kellie is a writer, artist and teacher who uses her dreams as a springboard for her work. She teaches DreamArt Classes in her community of the Berkshires, in Massachusetts and can be reached at www.kelliemeisldreamart.com.
What happened to my finger, “the finger”, as it has come to be known to my friends, was such a rare event, it really warrants a story. It began when I was teaching an art class. We were finishing up a paper Mache project and doing some painting. The specifics are not nearly as interesting as what happened to the finger itself, but they probably require a little mentioning in the interest of laying out the story.
So, I am teaching the art class. Things are finishing up and I am bustling around the kitchen of my home, where this class is taking place, washing paintbrushes and dabbing paper Mache paste from the floor. My son has just come in from school. I offer him Danish from a plate of airy, seemingly angel-spun delights we have been enjoying, when a class member suggests we warm it up for him; make the sugar “melty.” A few moments later, I hear my son say, “Mom, it’s so hot I can’t get it out of the toaster oven.” In my classic routine fashion, I whirl from the sink to the oven and grab it in one fell swoop, like it is a warm muffin. (My sister and I call this move where we go from cabinet, to appliance, to sink, and back to cabinet, in a single pivot-like movement, often while balancing on one foot, kitchen Thai-chi.)
What I did not realize in that moment is the nice “melty” sugar was now at about 250°. Later, of course, my mother’s words from the day we made candied apples, about how hot sugar could potentially cause a burn to the bone, did come back to me. I was only about 10, and my siblings 8, and 6 at the time, but she really made an impression with the bone part. The next day, my math whiz friend would give me the numbers: boiling water 212°, boiling sugar, “probably at least 250°.” And it was boiling; my son witnessed the sugary bubbles.
What followed was a scene with horror movie qualities. I rushed back to the sink feeling the searing pain and ran my hand under the cold water for a very long time; in fact I would have stayed there through the night if I could have. Immediately my skin on, thankfully, a single finger, looked as melted as the sugar on the Danish. It began to hang in a white flaccid pouch I can only describe as wet cheese cloth like, about an inch of it.
Still, I deemed this not too bad, since the pain had diminished by 50% quickly, until I saw the look on my son’s face and heard him say, “ER.” There are some details you don’t need, so let me segue to a few hours later. I will say this: I did not bother with the ER.
After about an hour and a half of ice water and pampering, I slathered on the triple antibiotic cream and a huge Band-aid and called my RN mother with a report. She was cautious in her response that lacked a visual assessment, but was not alarmed. That was good. Then I Googled the keywords from the incident: sugar, burn. I was surprised to find I had done precisely the right things, cold water, not ice, triple antibiotic cream, ibuprofen for inflammation, because the finger had been practically in flames, I reasoned.
In the wee hours of the next morning I awoke with a funny feeling in the finger and cut off the Band-aid to see if what I was imagining was accurate, and it was, my finger had doubled in size, the burned area, the bottom two thirds of the back of my right ring finger, was now one BIG blister.
And the blister grew.
And it grew.
On the third and fourth days, after I sent a series of photographs to friends via email to document the growth, (let’s just say some friends were quite taken by the photos while others had more of a morbid curiosity, one even expressed disdain toward me for sending them), my squeamish friend who was a very good sport, dubbed my finger Pamela, for Pamela Anderson. The name was chosen considering that if the skin in “that” region of one’s body could stretch to such an extreme, why couldn’t a finger do the same? I owe her because had I not found the humor, I might have panicked in a weak moment and run to the doctor.
But I already had made up my mind not to when my initial Google also mentioned, one need not run right to a doctor, (it really did say that) particularly if a blister occurs, as this is nature’s pillow, cushioning the burn, swaddling it even, until new soft pink skin will one day, fairly soon, but not too soon, be revealed, if you are patient. Well maybe I added a few words but that was the gist. It was also clear, which I had intuited, that I need not, should not pop my pillow.
I had before me the task to protect the blister no matter what, and I wasn’t convinced that any old doctor would stay true to letting it be. (I once had a doctor scar my pinky finger with a cauterizing tool and get mad at me for moving, so I know how things like small finger issues can go downhill in the wrong hands and it wasn’t going to happen twice on this hand!)
The blister also let me know the burn was second degree, according to my research. I figured heck, I can live with a second degree burn. These are also the least painful burns I learned, and the least apt to scar, owing this to nature’s pillow. The body really does know how to heal. (Oh, and thanks to the input of two friends and my sister, I will not include a picture on this blog, though, if you email me, I’d be happy to send you a photo. The pillow really is something to see!)
Along the way, with the literal evaluation of the condition of my finger and the vigilant medical treatment I gave it, I came to see symbolism in what was happening.
For one, at the risk of sounding quixotic about the whole thing, I did learn I could trust myself. I mean from the initial brisk encounter with the Danish, I had steered myself through each phase of the subsequent medical treatment accurately by trusting my instinct.
Then there was the matter of common sense, which I deliberated about on and off for about a good week, trying to figure out if I had any, since I did grab on to the Danish inanely. I am not certain I always have a great deal of common sense in spur-of-the-moment circumstances, but I am convinced this is due to a tendency toward being on auto-pilot which may be more learned than genetic. Learning to undo this “misha gosh”, a term a Jewish friend told me I had a few of, and means the equivalent of idiosyncrasy, is precisely the lesson in all of this: i.e. if you do not tune into the present moment, you may find yourself burned. Seems likely this can happen easily if you are a chicken without a head kind of personality and I am, or was, I intend to improve on that.
You see, I had really been tuning in all along to some extent. I knew the class was running over and that my least favorite thing to do is play mother and teacher simultaneously. I can either be “at work” or parent my child but have never been great at doing both at the same time, much less in the same room, and I can multi-task with the best of them, believe me. I also knew that the Danish was just as delicious at room temperature because I had thoroughly enjoyed every crumb of the one I had eaten, and had gone back for a second even. Yet, because someone told me to, I put it in the toaster oven, even though I knew my son would have been just as content grabbing any snack and retreating to his room while I finished up. Why oh why, is it so hard to remember to do what feels right?
But then again the whole experience did provide me with so much learning. Midway through the healing process, the pregnant blister turned clear and when I held it to the light I could see the amniotic fluid and developing tissue underneath! It reminded me of those ethereal pictures in Life magazine of a developing fetus. The clear skin also reminded me of the chrysalis of a monarch caterpillar just days before it is about break open for the butterfly to emerge. This gave me a whole new meaning. A day or two later, Pamela gave birth. I emailed my friends and followers the good news.
Then, a dear friend reminded me that I had been very frenzied as of late and now I had provided for myself a very good reason not to “do” but instead just to “be”. And in a way, I have just been just “being” since then, kind of observing more, reflecting some, resting a lot and listening. Sometimes what I hear are echoes of a voice in my very own head that tell me things I had not considered. Maybe I need to hear these things. I think that’s what my dreams are, echoes from the day. I wouldn’t have recognized the echoes had I not been burned and then slowed down.
I had this dream nine days into the ordeal:
I am at a school related function. I am documenting a teacher and her class in this school where I once taught by taking photographs. I was asked to do so by a woman who is new to me…she told me she would pay me $100 an hour…The teacher I am observing is wearing big boots. I too, am being observed and I feel self conscious. Then I am at another former workplace where I once worked as an assistant. My high school friend Barb, comes in to resign from her position without notice. She has orange shoes on, flats, they really stand out…
I can recognize a lot of aspects of myself in this dream, many layers, many years, each about my work, each woman calling me to meet her, recognize her, see why she fills big boots, see why she is resigned to walk away spontaneously in shoes the color of fire, talk to her, examine her photographs, get to know her, learn who this new woman is, who is well-paid for her work, and feel the feelings…
I have also been tuning in bits of information that have been coming to me in what I call bumper stickers. For instance, I realized that to recognize something [about my self] is to acknowledge it and then have the capacity to re-cognize it if that is what I am being called to do. And I am, no doubt, being called.
The funny thing is, the calling, in the present moment is: to stop. Just be. Pretty simple, or is it?
And so that is the story about my finger, exactly three weeks to the date of the burn. It has almost healed taking a dramatic healing turn in the last 24 hours. I believe this has something to do with the care and attention I have given it; of late I have been slathering an entire vitamin E capsule on it and massaging it nightly. Here is another lesson, I have the capacity to heal and, I can heal myself. All in all, not bad lessons, eh?
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