The latest real life story from our Kahani Mein Twist series, real-life stories of life changing experiences.
They say life is unpredictable and boy oh boy, isn’t that the hardest hitting truth that jumps from the shadows and punches you in the gut sometimes! I think subconsciously we all tend to believe that clichés are just that: clichés. We make use of the brain’s defense mechanism and think “nah, that can’t happen to me” or “nopes it doesn’t really happen in real life”. But all too often, life has an uncanny knack of proving us wrong by showing its fickle side…
The first sound my foggy brain managed to register through the excruciating pain was the nascent beep-beep of the monitors which indicate that the patient hooked up on them is alive and breathing. I felt a wave of relief wash over me: I was alive! However, the next thought that raced through my mind was the memory of what had happened that landed me here on this hospital bed. I felt the beginning of a panic attack, the feeling of fear so tangible that I felt it choking my breath away. I snapped open my eyes, afraid of the sight that would greet me. But to my utter relief, I saw my family gathered around me, faces haggard and tear streaked. They were all lined up at the foot of the bed: my dad, brother, husband and my two boys. Oh my boys! I let out a choked wail and lifted arms that felt heavy as lead. My six year old flew towards me, only to be stopped by my husband. I looked on, confused, as he gently told our son not to touch me anywhere and or bump into the bed lest I got hurt. Silent tears leaked from beneath my eyelids that were devoid of eyelashes and slid down, tracing a wet path over the burnt skin of my cheeks. Slowly, I drifted off to a drug induced slumber…
I was startled awake after a few hours by a shooting pain that radiated from somewhere so deep inside that I couldn’t even fathom its origin. It felt like I had tiny pointed needles jabbed in my entire body and someone was cruelly twisting them. And all this was happening while I was trapped in a room that was on fire! The intensity of the heat was robbing me of all rational thoughts, leaving behind room for only physical sensation. All I was capable of doing was feeling the burning, burning pain! Mercifully, I saw a head move into my line of vision. It was a doctor trying to calm me down, all the while methodically checking my vitals and pumping a painkiller in the cannula protruding from my wrist. Darkness engulfed me once more, but as if from a distance I could hear my mind suddenly take up a lament: “why me Allah Mian, why me…?”
Just a short while earlier, my life had been so blissfully normal. I’m a mom of two beautiful boys, married to a decent, hardworking man and blessed to have life working in my favor. Well, at least most of the time. I was an ambitious student all through school and university and had a promising career in journalism waiting for me after my graduation. But as luck would have it, I got married during my Masters and willingly gave up a life in the news studio for a life at home, in order to look after my husband’s elderly parents and then my own firstborn. Initially I told myself it’ll be a break for 4 years – till my boy went off to school and I had a support system in place at home. But then, I guess, LIFE happened and the planned four years became fourteen! A LOT happened in those 14 years. After enriching our lives with so much love, both my parents-in-law passed away, leaving us with a treasure trove of happy memories. I was now a mother of two boys and had managed to enroll them both into an exclusive private school which was notoriously hard to get in and was like a dream come true for a lot of parents. My hubby fulfilled his life-long mission of getting his MBA degree from an Ivy League, all the while steadily climbing the corporate ladder. If life was a list of to-do, we were Alhumdulilah quickly ticking the boxes.
Then, almost three months ago, on a lazy Sunday evening my husband sat me down and counseled me about shifting my focus inwards and getting back into the rat race that media and journalism had evolved into during my decade-long sabbatical. After years of putting other peoples dreams and needs before my own, I agreed it was high time to focus on my own ambitions. Working on what felt like a long suppressed dose of adrenaline, I started that very night! Through Instagram and WhatsApp I reconnected with old friends, colleagues and employees. Surprisingly, within a few days I got a couple of freelance writing gigs, which in turn gave me a massive confidence boost. I then signed up for a much needed yoga class and also decided to hit the gym in the mornings. I even got my teeth polished and enameled! Slowly but surely, I was gaining back control of my life, taking over the steering wheel, ready to hit the accelerator and race onwards at full speed to make up for lost time.
But it seemed God had other things planned for me.
On 10th Ramadan, I decided to go to a relative’s house for a quick Iftaar party despite the fact that we were in the midst of exam season and my elder one was giving his grade 8th finals. Just minutes before sunset, I reached the house and headed straight to the bustling kitchen to help out with the last minute preparation. What transpired next still seems like an episode straight out of a HUM TV soap. Unbeknownst to the hosts, there was a leakage in their stove and gas from a cylinder had been accumulating in their oven for hours. Surprisingly it even went unnoticed by the guests who were gathered in the living room. The kitchen was flooded with cousins and servants and aunts. I literally shooed them all out and laughingly said I’ll stand at the stove and fry the remaining pakoras to steal all the credit in the end. With moments left to spare before Iftaar, the kitchen started emptying out, with only me, my cousin and a maid left manning the fort. In order to speed up the last batch of pakoras my cousin decided to light the bigger burner. I vividly recall watching her light the match, turn the gas hob and the burner coming to life with super high flames that suddenly started licking the oven roof. Panicked, I looked back at the burner in front of me and as if in slow motion, saw a ball of fire coming towards me…
The next thing I remember is that I was standing in the lobby outside the kitchen and my clothes and hair were on fire! I was screaming and frantically hitting myself as I tried to put out the flames with my bare hands. Even amidst the panic, I could smell the stink of burnt hair and charred flesh. I saw my dad lunge at me and attempt to put out the flames from my shirt front. Till the day I die, I will never forget that terrifying look of fear and panic in my dad’s eyes! Mercifully, the fire was put out after some more scrambling. But the pain that followed was excruciating and unbearable. I felt like I was still on fire from within. The heat that was radiating from my body and especially face was enough to knock my breath away. I was then rushed to the hospital where they started first aid. My clothes were cut away from my burns with scissors and I was hooked to a lot of monitors to keep track of my vitals which were dipping because of the shock the body had suffered. The doctors decided to administer heavy dose painkillers as a means to stabilize me and help me escape the pain for some time… But even the drug induced sleep couldn’t help me escape from my nightmares teeming with flashbacks of horrified screams and loud explosions. For a whole week, I would wake up, shivering, screaming, clawing at my throat in panic. I recognized my symptoms: PTSD. Once I was discharged and back home from the hospital, I took my first bath in 5 days, desperate to feel like myself once I was out of the blue gown and into my own clothes. Turned out I couldn’t fit into them because of all the bandages wrapped around my waist and arms. When I caught a look at myself in the bathroom mirror, I stranger stared back at me. I felt my resolve of fighting my PTSD crumbling in the face of this new reality.
The doctors told me I was lucky to get out of the ordeal alive, with all my body parts intact, and suffering only 1st and 2nd degree burns. But they warned me about post-burn complications and the aftercare involved once the new skin emerged, giving strict orders that I was not supposed to overexert, go out in the sun or anywhere without air-conditioning. So basically I was trapped in my room, with only the TV and my thoughts to keep me company, as my husband had an office to get back to and the kids had their school.
I probably would have drowned in self-pity had it not been for that fateful afternoon when I came across an advert sponsored by Depilex’s “Smile Again” foundation. Owing to the holy month of Ramadan, a myriad of ads sponsored by different charitable organizations were doing the rounds on TV channels, appealing for zakat and donations.
I cannot begin to describe my feelings when I saw the faces of the acid attacks and burn victims bravely looking into the camera. Tears started trickling down my face; tears of heartbreak, relief, gratitude and guilt. For the first time in the past 15 days, my mind wasn’t reverberating with “why me, why me”. I found myself reciting Surah Fateha in broken verses, my body heaving with sobs and my face drenched in tears.
Once the tidal wave of emotions passed, I decided to take stock of the situation and my life in general. Bit by bit, I started to piece my life back together again. Allah also decided to shower His mercy on me and my road to recovery was speedy and bump free. Slowly, the stranger in the mirror gave way to a familiar face. My face and hands healed without any scarring. My second degree burns also showed signs of improvement, with new skin peeking out from underneath the wounds. Baby hair covered my forehead, when only 3 weeks ago my hairline had been pushed back 2 inches!
As lame as it may sound to you all, what I learnt in the days following my resolve was to appreciate and be grateful for the ordinary. It was only when my normalcy was so rudely snatched from my hands that I realized what a blessing it was to be able to walk to the bathroom unaided, to prep my child for school at 7 in the morning or to simply be able to sit at the dining table with your family and have daal chawal… We all need to realize that we have so much to be grateful for: those long locks, those freshly manicured hands, that new jora BUT also that extra flab around the tummy, the new wrinkle that appeared overnight under your eye, the same boring office you go to every morning.
Let’s train ourselves to embrace and appreciate the ordinary, the mundane and the normal. Take it from someone who lost it all in a matter of seconds – only to have it miraculously returned.
You can donate to the Depilex Smile Again Foundation here. *Rania was lucky that her father was close and had the presence of mind to beat out the flames. In a recent case in Faisalabad a young woman tragically lost her life due to a candle igniting aerosol fumes. Please share the message that if your clothes catch fire, the Stop, Drop, Roll protocol is vital for saving lives.
3 Lifesaving Steps When Your Clothes Are on Fire
To put out burning clothing, take these three steps:
- Stop: Don’t run or wave your arms. The movement will fan the flames and cause the burns to be more severe. While you may want to try to reach water or help, you have to repress this urge and stop right where you are.
- Drop: Get on the ground quickly and cover your face with your hands. Lay flat with your legs out straight so as much of your body as possible is in contact with the ground to smother any flames. Covering your face will help prevent facial burns.
- Roll: Try to smother the flames by rolling over and over. Pay attention to what’s burning and focus on putting out that area of your body. Try not to roll on anything that may catch fire and spread the flames.
* names have been changed to protect privacy. If you would like to contribute a story to our Kahani Mein Twist series, please email on [email protected]