Why Did I Survive?
The strong smell of cleaning agents and the repetitive sound of beeping monitors filled the air. My eyelids fluttered open as my pupils struggled to adjust to the bright light. I'd just had the most bone-chilling nightmare, and my foggy mind fought to make sense of where I was.
Then I heard a woman's voice softly say "hi." I turned my head and saw that she was wearing a nurse's uniform.
"Am I in the hospital?" I asked with a sore, scratchy throat.
"Yes," she answered. "You've been here for three weeks."
As I stared at my bandaged body, scenes of the accident flashed across my mind. Alcohol. Gasoline. Flames. Smoke. Screaming. It was no nightmare. I had been on fire.
The night started out innocently enough. A few friends and I were hanging out playing video games. Then my buddy Pete* showed up with some vodka. Within an hour we were all pretty wasted and our small "party" had gotten out of hand.
Josh cranked the music and then grabbed his lighter so we could all try "breathing fire." We took turns spitting vodka and tried lighting it on fire as it left our mouths. With each attempt we kept moving the lighter closer to our faces. But no one could do it.
For some reason, and I'm not really sure why, Josh thought it would be cool to get in a circle, pour gasoline in the middle and make a "circle of fire." So he ran outside and picked up a can of gasoline. We watched as Josh doused the gravel driveway with fuel.
"You need more over here!" I shouted. I grabbed the container of gas away from Josh, carelessly drenching my shirt and pants.
"Man, you reek!" Pete laughed.
Josh knelt down on the gravel and clicked his lighter several times.
Our ring of fire was born. We high-fived one another and celebrated by opening a second bottle of liquor.
Feeling pretty wasted from the vodka, I plopped down on a chair.
"I've got a killer idea," Josh said.
He then poured gasoline all over the plastic chair sitting beside me. A moment later I heard the flick of Josh's lighter, then swooosh! The chair was ablaze.
I could feel the heat of the flames. I started to get up so I could move away from the burning chair, but just then I looked down and saw flames ignite my gas-soaked shirt and pants.
Panicked, I jumped up and started screaming and running. No matter which I way I turned, red-hot flames chased me.
"Drop and roll!" Josh yelled.
I rolled for what seemed like an eternity. Then I heard Josh shout, "You're good! It's out, man!"
It didn't feel that way to me. I felt like I'd been swimming in a sea of bubbling lava. That was my last memory until waking up in the hospital.
So Much Pain
The nurse told me that I had been rushed to the hospital three weeks earlier with 35 percent of my body covered in third-degree burns. During my 21-day medicated coma I had fought off life-threatening pneumonia and had endured three surgeries to help repair my burnt, blistered skin.
Over the next several weeks, physical therapy tore me apart. My leg muscles were so weak I couldn't walk. In one session, tiny beads of sweat formed at my temples as I strained to pick up a paperclip. I winced in agony each time my finger grazed the clip. I couldn't believe this simple task could be so excruciating. I was in so much pain and full of so much anger, I wanted to rip the room apart. But I couldn't even pick up a paperclip.