320 | Burn Unit

March 2, 2014
Sunday, 8:00 p.m.
Letter #320: Burn Unit


Dear Family,

I’m usually quite trusting of people, and I’m willing to take a chance on someone who wants to do business with me, even when common sense would suggest otherwise. <Note: This practice is not recommended.> This has led to some great outcomes and some not-so-great outcomes; these disappointments come as no surprise in prison, of course. It often seems as if everyone is out to “burn” each other. But you know what? I found somethings that hurts worse than being burned by someone you once trusted: burning yourself.

Each prison or jail facility has a laundry service, typically run by your fellow inmates, and thus usually not very great. The well-known term for what happens to your whites if sent to the laundry? They come back looking “brown new.” For best results, the clothes you value must be washed on your own.

My Maytag is small, beige, and resembles my trashcan. Filled with hot soapy water, it makes for a decent soak spot for my state-issue white T-shirts. A string tied to dominoes that are glued to my wall is my old-fashioned (and earth-friendly) clothes dryer, with a little help from my only fan these days, of the three-speed oscillating fan.

A week ago, I heated water in my hotpot (my only kitchen appliance), tossed a couple of shirts in the trashcan, and poured liquid soap I’ve made from hand soap bar remnants on top. Then I very carefully poured the briskly boiling water onto the soiled shirts and onto my left foot as well, thanks to the way my hotpot can’t seem to pour water correctly without massive amounts pouring down the side and cascading out the bottom onto stocking feet.

Thanks to those socks on my feet, the boiling water stayed put on my foot, searing the flesh quite nicely. I said a bunch of choice words like, “Argh!” “Yikes!” and “Son of a gun, that hurts!” while Joe laughed, amused at what appeared to be a goofy mistake. (He also commented how I swear like I was born in the 1940’s: “Gee, Willikers!” which is ridiculous. I do not say “Gee Willikers,” though I have been known to say, “Sweet Sassy Molassey” if truly consternated.)

I turned to Joe and said, “Could you at least hold your laughter until you see if I’m okay?” Then I pulled my sock off to reveal the second-degree burns on the top of my foot, making us both wish we could un-see it. The pain, like thousands of needles sticking into my foot (not that I’ve ever had more than one needle at a time in my foot) was intense. I could hardly get to sleep that night, finally closing my eyes long after midnight.

The next morning, I looked like a movie extra for a scene taking place in an East Indiana village, complete with large boils, sure to keep me cast out of my community. Great. Not only painful but hideous.

The mistake wasn’t popping the blisters—it was playing full-court basketball in my condition. The next day my foot let me know what a horrible person I was, forcing me to limp around in sandals. I’m not really a sandals kind of guy, but with skin falling off, I can be motivated to do all kinds of uncomfortable things.

I put in a slip to have the medical staff take a look at it, since my bathroom doesn’t have a medicine cabinet. The nurse I handed my request to gave me three little band-aids, then asked to see my foot. She flinched when she saw it and gave me two of the largest bandages I’ve ever seen.

Three days later, I was seen by Medical and given antibiotic ointment. By then, my feet looked like the lead roles in Beauty and the Beast, except no one was applauding. My foot had found a way to get back at me for burning it—look as nasty as possible. Now it looks like a giant seagull stepped in pink paint just before landing on my foot.

If I loan someone a bar of soap and they don’t pay it back, I realize I’ve been burned and I don’t do business with that person again. But what if I’ve burned myself? What if I turned my size 13 into an offensive piece of modern art? “If your foot offends thee,” Jesus said, “cut it off.” Well, the scar will heal, but not the emotional one. I’ll live.