Journey: 7

The days rush past us. Or drag past – depending on where you look. Every hour feels like eternity. Every week feels like a day. This is my interpretation of Einstein’s relativity theory. How time can pass both fast and slowly.

Aniek goes to theatre every second day. Today she was in there for two hours. Prof says he had to cut deeper in order to reach living tissue (no, no, no!). She received donor skin[1] from a woman who died yesterday.

Aniek wakes up for the first time. How terrible it must be to wake up from a deep sleep and to think that you are not only burnt, but also virtually deaf, blind and unable to speak! She can hardly hear; she can’t see, she can’t speak… but Aniek smiles at me! it is the most wonderful thing. I have to go and cry outside, it’s all just too much for me. By making slight movements, Aniek can let the nurses know when she has pain, and also that she does not want to hear a particular story. The nurses say she is “very good.”

My child always had the most beautiful smile. I always told her that no one on earth has a smile as lovely as hers. When she was two days old, she gave her first real smile. Today’s smile is more beautiful than any other. Even though her face is sore, she is smiling. She knows I am here; she is glad that I am here.

Dr. Jenny says: “I’d like you to put lip balm on her lips and eyelids every hour so they don’t dry out. And so that you get some touch.”


Paul’s condition has deteriorated. The intravenous cocktail of morphine and adrenaline makes him crazy. He is desperate to talk, but can’t, because of the ventilator. He is like a prisoner. He opens his eyes and looks at me with a panicked expression, gesticulates wildly with his arms, shoves at me, pushes me away, calls me back, pulls me down, hits me, hits himself. Other times he is calmer, and can nod ‘yes’ or ‘no’ when I ask him questions. He remembers the fire, but doesn’t want me to talk about it. It is so difficult to understand what he means. He points his foot at one of the nurses, and when she comes close, he pulls her with his one hand and grabs her pen with the other hand. It is as tragic as it is comical. He tries to write, but then looks miserably at his bandaged hands. I feel so sorry for him. He is so frustrated. As with Aniek, I have to go outside the ward and cry a few times. To see how desperately he wants to say and ask things, is devastating. I assure him that Aniek is alive. I wonder if he believes me. I also reassure him that his face will heal, that he is not disfigured, but he just shakes his head and shrugs.

I feel deeply self-conscious and tense when talking to Paul. It seems as if everyone in the ward is eavesdropping, while pretending not to hear me and going about their business. I have to speak so loudly because his ears are covered in bandages, and in the silence my voice seems to be shouting.

I am worn out. Shredded, over and over. Please press the “STOP” button. Or at least the “PAUSE” button, so that I can grow some skin. I want to curl up and hide under the ground. So many ghosts chase me when I switch off the light. So many fears, so much terror.

At home, I hunt for photographs to put up next to Aniek’s and Paul’s beds. They are both faceless, unrecognisable now, wrapped in bandages like mummies. I want the doctors and nurses to know who is inside, what they look like. Whenever someone new comes to Aniek’s bed and starts asking questions,  I show them the pictures first. People become tearful when they see her lovely face.


Erica Neser (c) 2011
Extract from the English translation of “Een Voet Voor Die Ander” by Erica Neser (Protea Books, 2008)

[1] Donor skin (allograft): Skin from deceased person.

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