02 June 2008


My sister Ingrid is a year older than I am. While growing up, the most significant privilege of her seniority to me was her access to books that I could not read. Throughout elementary school, I would beg and borrow her required textbooks for English class so I could race through the stories. My jealousy intensified when Ingrid made it to middle school and I was still in elementary school. Suddenly she had access to the middle school library, which was combined with the high school library and had roughly ten times the number of books. I began to resort to desperate measures when Ingrid started getting annoyed at my constant pestering. When we went to bed at night, I would sneak into her bag and pilfer her books. I would scuttle back to my bed where I would fling the covers over my head and read by flashlight. Even though we shared a room, my parents had the foresight to put us in bunkbeds. Ingrid luckily preferred the top bunk, leaving me free to my nighttime scavenging. I remember finding out one day that Charlie, the weird kid in my first grade, frequently read in the bathroom while his parents were sleeping. I felt a sudden kinship with him knowing that someone else was sitting on a plastic toilet seat in the middle of the night flipping through the adventures of Nancy Drew (or, I suppose, the Hardy Boys).

This is why I found it unbelievably tragic today when 24-year-old Bendu came to be admitted. On March 14th, she curled up in bed with a book, as was her habit, and probably fell asleep. Her kerosene lamp got knocked over, and set the mattress on fire. Bendu was overcome by the carbon monoxide fumes, and when her mother rushed into the room, Bendu's face and right arm were already burned beyond recognition. Although Bendu spent the next two months convalescing at St. Joseph's Catholic Hospital, the burns on her face started to form contractures such that she could no longer close her eyes. When she came to Mercy Ships today she was starting to have blurred vision. Her cornea had begun to ulcerate from exposure. Bendu's mother sat across from her, lips compressed, arms crossed, as I tried to explain that all we were able to do was to put a skin graft on her face such that she could close her eyes and preserve her vision. There was no hope of restoring her face back to a semblance of normal, not here, not even on Mercy Ships, where the goal of burn contracture surgery is to restore function, not form. I was at a complete loss for words.

1 comment:

Baby B said...

I was right there with you, thinking about all the times I stayed up late reading by flashlight...

And now her life will be so different. I'll keep Bendu and her family in my thoughts today.

Thank you for sharing your stories.