One of… The Luckiest Days of My Life – April 2014

“Eric, Yesterday was one of the luckiest days of your life!” is not something I expected to hear as I sat in the Burn-Unit of Bay View hospital in Baltimore. This had been a recurring theme from all the EMT’s, the nurses, the Burn Specialist doc’s that had visited and cared for me over the previous 24 hours. In the following pages are the details that got me to this point.

My day started just like any other. It was a Monday, St. Patrick’s Day and the kids were home from school yet again on ANOTHER snow day. I had an 11am meeting with my Stagers’ Stacy and Sharon at a home in Spring Ridge. Then I had to stop by another house that I had buyers purchasing to check on an inspection issue. I returned home around 3pm…. Susan’s grandmother –Grandmom- was staying with us for a few days. When I returned home Grandmom was sitting in the green recliner watching TV. I knew that the fireplace had been on when I left so I asked Grandmom if she turned it off, and she said no that it had been off for a few hours.

–Now the backstory of the fireplace. Susan and I had built our home 8 years ago and within the first 7 ½ years we literally used the fireplace ONE TIME. However, when we were without power for 4 days from the ice storm we found out that we could still turn on the fireplace if we installed 2-D batteries as it was a low voltage switch and would work without electricity. And we came to love the gas fireplace, and had used it almost daily for the past 2 months.—

When Grandmom said that she did not turn it off, I went over and looked at the off/on switch (think a light switch). The switch was still on, so I thought something was wrong. I went and pulled the grate open and was checking the connections to make sure everything was secure. All looked good to me, so I went and turned the switch back on. I could hear a very fast paced click-click-click so I knew it was trying to light. At this point I was thinking our propane gas tank might have been empty so I went over to our gas cooktop and it lit immediate. I now knew we had gas. Alex was sitting next to Grandmom watching TV, so I told Alex to come help Dad fix the fireplace. (note: our switch is around the corner from the fireplace). I got back down and messed with the connections again and turned the gas off and turned back on and said, “Ok, Alex go ahead and turn on.” Kneeling in front of the fireplace to listen with my face about a foot away from the grate, I hear (in my memory now, in slow motion) a click……click……click……. Then an EXPLOSION! I saw a burst of FIRE ENGULF my head. I immediately jumped back….. “Alex are you ok?” He was fine…. The fire did not linger… It was an explosion and done. The firemen called it a ‘Fireball’. Grandmom frantic, “oh my god, are you ok? Are you ok? Get your shirt off!!!!” Grandmom and I immediately yell for Susan to call 911…..

Grandmom and I run to the kitchen. I immediately turn the water on cold. “Grandmom, get towels!!!!” We find some towels and immediately drench in cold water. We wrapped the cold, wet towels around both of my arms and my face. I’m not sure why this was my first reaction, but the Doctors in the burn unit said this was very smart to do. Cold compresses help keep the swelling down and in the long run could help prevent blistering. Ice, however would have made the blistering much worse. Susan and Anthony came running downstairs at this time. They later said that, “the house SHOOK! I thought a tree fell on the house.” Susan grabbed Alex to make sure he was ok and she called 911. As cool as a cucumber she said, “Our fireplace exploded, my husband is hurt.”… I hear her answering a series of questions, “Yes we are a single family house, not a townhouse.” I scream…. JUST TELL THEM TO GET HERE!!!! YOUR HUSBAND IS BURNT!!!! This was about 6 minutes after the explosion. Grandmom and I are at the sink and I remove the towel from my face and ask Grandmom how bad is my face. –I’ve already come to grips that my face is probably really burned and I could have some permanent scaring. But at this point, I could still see, so I had that going for me.- Grandmom says, “Honey, it’s not bad”. I didn’t know if she was saying that to be nice or if it really wasn’t that bad. About this time the adrenaline is starting to wear off and the pain is becoming worse. Anthony, Alex and Susan are near the front door waiting for the EMTs and Ambulance to arrive so I tried to not show too much pain, but it was increasing every second. We kept refreshing the towels and re-wrapping my arms and face.

Twelve minutes after the explosion 2 firemen walk in my home…. Followed just seconds later by about 10 other firemen and the EMT-paramedic. They sit me down in a chair at our kitchen table and ask me to remove the towels that I had wrapped around my head and arms. The first 2 firemen introduce themselves and their first thing they say is, “my god, you are so fortunate…. When we got the call we thought this scene, and you, would be much worse off.” I’m doing my best to be calm and talk to them. They ask what happened, I explain the situation. They go over to the fireplace to “secure” and turn off the gas… They go to the basement to see if there is additional damage. They make sure that the house is “secure” and no further damage/explosion will occur. The first 2 fireman are talking to me and I ask what firehouse they are from and they say Green Valley. –I had just helped one of their ‘brother’s’ sell his house and buy another house, and I ask them, “Do you know Tim C.? He’s a friend and I just helped him sell and buy?”- They say that of course they know Tim and from this point forward, I could tell that I was no longer just some ‘Dude,’ I was a friend of one theirs and they treated me slightly differently. The Paramedic arrived and asked me the same series of questions as the firemen and he immediately hooked me up to a port in my arm so that he could get me fluids and pain med’s if needed. He was checking out my burns, looking at my arms, but mainly concentrating on my face, eyes, and nose. During this time, both Anthony and Alex are very upset and emotional as all these strange men dressed in suits are rummaging through our home and 3 guys are checking out their Dad. Susan did an amazing job keeping calm, but more importantly keeping her cool so that the boys understood I would be fine. The firemen and EMT tell me we have an ambulance outside waiting….. I assure them that I can walk out of the house under my own power…. I tell my Boyz that, “Daddy will be fine, I’m ok…The Doctors are just gonna check me out.” I had to be strong for them, but in the back of my mind, I’m FREAKING OUT. Yes, I can see now, but do I have damage to my eyes? Is my face permanently scarred like so many others who have had fire damage? How can we get this pain under control, which at this point is a 8.5-9. As we are walking out to the ambulance, I peek in my office bathroom to check out the damage in the mirror. And to my surprise, yes my face is burnt, swollen, and missing hair, but it doesn’t look HORRIBLE.

Once in the ambulance, the Fire Marshall arrived on scene. He begins asking me a series of questions about the explosion and what happened. All the while the EMT and the first 2 firefighters are there taking care of me. I hear them talking about where to send me. Frederick Memorial Hospital doesn’t really want burn victims. It is decided that I’m going to Meritus in Hagerstown…. Then the EMT does a further evaluation of my face, he sees my nostrils are burnt and my nose hair singed and he now is worrying about my airways possibly closing. He said to another Firefighter that I think we should see about the Helicopter and getting him to Bay View (the regional burn center in Baltimore). Luckily the chopper was 15 min away, so the decision was made to go to Bay View. At this point the pain is pretty bad and the EMT gives me 2 injections of morphine that takes the pain from a 9 to a 6. I’m also asking about my eye-sight and my eyes… Am I gonna be ok? Will I lose my sight? In the heat of the moment, I’m starting to freak out. The EMT in charge of me is very calm and re-assuring, and confident as he checks me out and he assures me that I’ll be ok and my eyes will be fine. His calm demeanor was welcome at a time of panic and made me feel much better in my time of crisis.

I hate to bring this back to Real Estate, but that is what I’m constantly thinking about and am I in NO WAY comparing what I do for a living to the importance of what these Firefighters and EMTs do for a living. But what I can compare is the calmness and confidence that these professionals displayed in an extremely stressful and worrisome time for me. These EMTs and Firefighters go through an intense training period and practice their trade daily so that when an emergency occurs they fall back on their training and their actions are instinctual. In the face of adversity when I was freaking out about my burns, my eyesight, my well-being; the calmness and professionalism these guys displayed gave me a sense that all would be ok. When people are going through selling and/or purchasing a home, I understand that they are STRESSED about the whole process, about the home inspections, about the appraisal, about the dozen other issues that might occur. I, like the EMTs and Firefighters did for me, try to be a calming influence with my clients. Having 11+ years’ experience and assisting multiple of hundreds of clients sell/buy I have seen almost any situation that can occur and I can lean on past experiences to get through difficult situations that we might encounter in a transaction. Your home will most likely be one of your largest financial investments that you will have in your lifetime. All the more reason to rely on a seasoned professional to steer you through the land-mines/issues that may occur. Just like the EMTs, Firefighters that took such good care of me and kept me calm in a moment of panic, my job as your Realtor is to relieve the stress and keep you calm during your transaction.

We leave my house in an ambulance and are to meet the State Medic Helicopter at Windsor Knolls Middle School that is 2 miles away. All the while the EMT and 2 firefighters are talking to me in the back of the ambulance and keeping me calm. Arriving at Windsor Knolls (now probably 30-35 minutes after explosion) we have to wait about 5 minutes for the helicopter to arrive. I overhear the EMT telling the 2 firefighters that this is only his 3rd call by himself. I tell him he did a great job and that I would have never known! Everyone tells me that the Medics in the chopper are top-notch and I’ll be in good hands. Another of the firefighters says, “You are in good hands and Bay View is where I would want one of my family members to go if they sustained burns.”

The helicopter arrives and the 2 Medics walk over to the ambulance to get me. The first thing that I notice is that these guys aren’t messing around. They both have pistols strapped to their thighs. Both are tall 6’4”, well built, stoic looking dudes. I have never been in the Military, but these guys are what you envision Navy Seals to look like. And they didn’t mess around when they got to me, they took over the situation, taking my vitals, and getting the pertinent info from the EMT. Wrapping me in –what I can only describe- as some sort of medical sleeping bag. Then they pull me out of the ambulance and there are 4 guys carrying me to the helicopter. Walking to the helicopter was just like a scene from the TV show “Mash”. The blades are still going half speed, and debris is flying everywhere. I have the utmost respect for our Military and what they go through to protect our freedom and for a brief moment I felt the camaraderie and professionalism that our Armed Forces feel on a daily basis. They loaded me in the chopper and we were off the ground within minutes.

Flying to Bay View in the back of this State Police helicopter was actually a pretty cool experience. All the while these 2 Medics have on helmets with microphones and are talking to each other. I can only assume by their mannerisms that they were talking about my vitals and what was the best course of action for my well-being. They actually changed my “port” halfway on the flight, one of the guys leaned in and said, “We need to clean this up and clean up the blood, we are perfectionists.” During the 15 minute flight from Windsor Knolls Middle School to Bay View Hospital in Baltimore my pain was starting to increase again on my face and arms. Upon arriving at the helicopter landing site, it looked like a scene out of ER. There was a doctor waiting for me. He was flanked by a nurse and 2 hospital security personnel. As I was being rolled into the hospital on the stretcher the doctor was getting my pertinent info from one of the Medics along with my vitals and his assessment of my burn. The doctor then asked me what happened. This was about the 4th time that I had to relay the story. He said, “Wow, Eric! You are so fortunate! When something like that happens usually the patients are in much worse shape than you.”

Once inside and rolled to the ER of Bay View the 2 Medics give me a thumbs up, wish me luck, and leave the hospital. The first nurse asks me about my pain and I tell her that I had 2 things of Morphine, that took the pain down but it was back to a 9. The nurse says that they are going to give me Dilaudid, which she says is 8 times stronger than Morphine. She gives me 1 dose and about 20 minutes later I tell her the pain is still intense and she gives me a 2nd dose. This time, it takes effect and my pain level decreases to about a 3. After this a series of nurses and doctors to check me. I’m not sure who everyone was because I was literally seen by a minimum of 8 different nurses/specialists. Each time they would ask me what happened. Each time, I told the story of the fireplace that was off. I went to turn it on, thinking I was out of gas, realizing we had gas. Back to turn it on, then the click…..click….click… EXPLOSION and the fireball engulfing my head and arms. Each time I was told that I wasn’t that bad, that I had basically had a bad first degree burn and that in a few weeks to a month, my skin would be healed. They said that if the fireball had not exploded in my face that they would not be keeping me overnight, but they were worried about my airways and inflammation overnight and if I were to have trouble breathing, they wanted me there. They took X-Rays of my chest and had an Optometrist come and check my eyes for damage or loss of site. Both, checked out fine.

This was about the time that Susan and our good friend Kelly arrived in the ER. Susan and Kelly told me that Geep, Kelly’s husband, and her kids along with our good friend Erin, Marla’s daughter, came to the house to be with the boys and for support. We are blessed to have so many good friends that were willing to help out, call, or text to see if there was anything they could do to help. When Susan and Kelly initially saw me, they both said that minus arm hair, eye-lashes, about half of my eyebrows, and singed hair that I didn’t look too bad.

I had asked one of the nurses if I could have a water or something to drink and she said no that on the doctor’s orders they would not allow me to have ANYTHING to drink. She went onto explain that the reason was because of the possible airway inflammation and didn’t want me to have anything. Susan and Kelly asked me what they had done while I was in the ER and what I was supposed to do for the burns. They had given me pain meds and ointment, but that they didn’t give specifics. We asked when I was going to be sent to the burn unit and they were waiting for the ok for an open bed. I was taken up to the burn unit about 30 minutes later. Susan and Kelly walked me up, helped me get settled in and then went back to get the kids. It was about 9-9:30 at this time and I was laying in the hospital comfortably until about 11pm when they gave me another dose of Dilaudid. I kept asking the nurse when I could drink and she kept telling me to wait and as soon as the doctor would allow, she would bring me something to drink.

This was an interesting night in the burn unit. The first thing was they had me hooked up and were monitoring my vitals. I dosed off about 11p and as SOON as I started to fall asleep my monitor went crazy. The nurse came in and adjusted it and checked on me, I was fine. The same thing happened about an hour late, dozed off, and monitor went off again. Again she came in, again I was fine. She asked, “Do you snore?” I said, “My wife says I do, but I don’t think that I do.” She said, “You do and that when you doze off your oxygen level goes down.” I’m feeling pretty good from the pain med at this time and make a joke asking her if they can do a sleep apnea test for me while I’m here. We both get a chuckle. The rest of the night the nurse checks on me every hour or so and 4 attending doctors/specialist come to see me asking various questions. What I hear on the unit is a woman in the next door who was much worse off than myself, and she was in constant pain all night, needing attention and at one time the nurses had to clean up as the lady had an ‘accident’. The other thing that stood out to me was how well these nurses and doctors could compartmentalize from one patient to the next. They come from a lady that is screaming in pain, needing extra attention, and was being rude to the attendants to my room just as nice as could be like nothing happened.

This was my second aha moment. These professionals didn’t take out what the previous patient was dishing out and come to me with a bad attitude or being rude at all. When they walked into my room they were as nice as could be and treated me extremely well and very professionally. This is something that I have become better at over my 11+ years in Real Estate. One minute you could be having a conversation with a client about a home inspection issue and how their contract might be falling apart, or they might have to pay $10,000 to fix the issues. Then the next minute you get a call from another client-buyer and are telling them their offer has been accepted over 3 other offers. I have learned to not take the disappointment from one client to the exuberance of the next conversation. Each client, each conversation deserves my undivided attention and a clean slate. I have talked to numerous Real Estate Agents for who 1 issue ruins their entire week and they take it out on everyone that they talk with that week. Much like the nurses and doctors who were in the Bay View burn unit, I do my best to compartmentalize each client, each transaction, and each conversation so that I’m at the top of my game for every client.

After an interesting and mostly sleepless night the head doctor of the burn unit comes in to talk with me and check on everything before I can get released. She tells me that I did well and that since I made it through the night without any respiratory issues that I could be released around lunch time. She also said that my burns were mostly very bad 1st degree burns, and my skin will peel just like a bad sunburn and that in a few months, my eyelashes, eyebrows, arm hair, and head hair will grow back and I shouldn’t have any permanent scarring. She then asked me what happened. I went on to tell my story and she said, “Eric, yesterday was one of the LUCKIEST days of your life! With what happened to you we have seen people so much worse than you are. You’re very fortunate.” Almost everyone that I told the story had a similar reaction. Two hours later, my cousin Sean picked me up at the hospital to bring me back home. A few days on the couch applying lotion and taking pain medicine, and I was up and running. I was truly lucky and I have a feeling that my late cousin Zack, might have been watching over me to make sure it wasn’t worse than it was.

I want to thank everyone who reached out to me send well wishes, thoughts, prayers, phone calls, text messages, and Facebook messages! Your compassion and caring was/is OVERWHELMING and it definitely helped get through a difficult situation.

So, the take-away: If you fireplace is not working, PLEASE don’t mess with it and call a professional!!!!