Pig-Pickin' What?!? A Mother's First WBC

By: Cheryl Inmon Long

December marks the fifth-year anniversary of my daughter's burn injury (33% full-thickness.) From the beginning, the experience of being the mother of a burn survivor has been a lonely one. I recall sitting in the waiting room of the burn ICU unit the second week Meredith was in a drug-induced coma. A social worker and the child life specialist would occasionally come by and explain different aspects of the physical care my daughter was receiving and would ask if I understood or had questions. On one particular occasion, I timidly asked, "What about me? How can I get through this?" Unfortunately, they didn't seem to have an easy answer, but another burn ICU patient's wife and daughter overheard the conversation and quickly said, "We're here - and we will be here." To this day, those words touch my heart.


My daughter is now 18 and will soon be "graduating" from the local burn camp for children. On another long day in the burn ICU waiting room, the social worker and child life specialist came by and started talking about burn camp. I thought to myself, "Well, that's real nice, but I don't have a daughter who will be interested in anything like that - and no offense, but once I am out of here, I never want to (have to) see any of these people ever again." I somehow thought that after my daughter was released from the hospital, that would be it. I hadn't realized how much I would be seeing these caring people again and again - nor had I realized that I had been initiated into a world, or a "club" or the "family" of burn recovery.

The professionals took very good care of my daughter. They were really always there more for her, as it should be, and primarily for her physical aspects of recovery, with the exception of burn camp - and did my daughter love burn camp! She began to look forward to it each summer! Because she will be "aging out" soon, I read with interest some information about the upcoming World Burn Congress. This year, according to the brochure, they were include a pre-conference workshop for young adults ("Young Adulthood 101: Exploring Your Future") I began to think about sending Meredith to the WBC in hopes that she would have an opportunity to meet other young adult burn survivors and gain support during the transition into adulthood.

As time neared, even though Meredith was interested in attending, she was apprehensive about going to Raleigh alone. Someone suggested that I go with her. At first, I thought - "Me?On the morning of the opening ceremony, I walked through the hotel corridors and began to feel a little nervous, the kind of nervous you feel when you are alone in a big place and don't know anyone or what to expect. (Meredith would be sitting with her new life-long friends she had met the day before at the pre-conference!) It didn't take long, though, before friendly members of the "club" approached me and struck up conversations. I found these individuals to be warm, genuine, involved, caring, interested, mindful, giving, and…fun!" A few days later, however, I began to think about attending. I read about some of the workshops and support groups for family members, and was reminded of my own occasional bout with emotional leftovers. I didn't know what to expect, but felt an intuitive sense that it might be beneficial. And so, we went.


The next three days were phenomenal. At the Family Workshop, I met a couple whose young daughter's burn accident was much like Meredith's. We spoke of surgeries, upcoming surgeries, and I marveled that there was someone out there "just like me."

One night, the young girl's mother and I had, what was for me, one of the most intimate conversations I have shared with another person. We had gone through so many of the same very personal experiences. We found that we had even prayed for similar (somewhat irrational) miracles during the first few days following our daughters' injuries.

After our talk, I went to my hotel, which shared an adjoining parking lot with the Sheraton, where the WBC was being held. As I walked outside, the Autumn night air felt very refreshing. I looked up that night and breathed such a sigh of relief. For almost five years, I had felt so alone in my experience of being the mother of a young burn survivor - and frankly, some of this time had been difficult. In talking with my new friend, however, I had found what I had unknowingly come for - I felt lighter and more complete, as though a lost piece of me had found its way back.

Throughout the WBC, I mingled with such very strong individuals. I smiled when firefighters playing bagpipes led the opening procession. I wept during what is referred to as "open mike", a time in which individuals can share their stories with others if they choose. I felt inspired after listening to invited speakers, for example, Jami Goldman (who lost both legs from frostbite, later became a marathon runner, and was featured in an Adidas commercial) and Dan Cathy (President of Chick-fil-A and also a burn survivor.)


On Friday night, we were treated to a genuine North Carolina "pig-pickin' barbeque ("ya'll"), sponsored by firefighters throughout the state (quite delicious!) Saturday, we attended the banquet, a more formal occasion, complete with a disc jockey and dancing! And I mean dancing!! At the dance, I met a gentleman and we talked about what happens at the WBC. He said it best: "You listen. You share where you're at. You tell your story. Through telling your story, you not only share something that might be helpful to someone else, but you also begin and continue the process of your own healing."

A fire chief in one of the breakout sessions, "Caring for the Caregiver," shared a unique perspective of burn recovery that I had never considered, but certainly understood. He shared with honesty the experiences that firefighters sometimes have during painful moments of reflection. He added, "I consider myself a burn survivor, too." Those words resonated with me and helped explain some of my own experiences following my daughter's burn injury - for having been initiated into this "family" of burn survival, I too have valid issues which surface from time to time. Like family, we can know and understand each other in ways that perhaps we need to know and understand each other.

I am so very thankful that burn recovery is moving in the direction of providing more opportunities for all involved to share and learn from each other. Through such interactions at the WBC, elists, chats, and support groups, we can meander through this emotional healing process - not alone, but with other burn thrivers. After all, "We're here - and we will be here."