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I'm Brian Keene and this is Letters From the Labyrinth -- a weekly newsletter for fans of my work. Previous issues are archived here.
 
Depending on your email provider, you should see a picture of me above taken from the burn ward eqrlier last week.

Everyone wants to know what happened. I'll tell you, and I'll warn you in advance that I am typing this with one finger, and I am on serious painkillers, and there will in fact be typos. Apologies for them in advance. It will also not be the best thing I have ever written, because I am in an incredbile amount of pain, even with the painkillers, and it is hard to focus, let alone string a coherent sentence together.

Last Tueasday, June 5th, I was clearing flood debris from my ex-wife's yard. The property is prone to flooding. If you've ever read SCRATCH, that novella was inspired by a previous flood we experienced on the property. Thw weekend prior, she'd experienced not one but two flash floods, and they'd left behind dumptruck loads of debris, as well as a good half foot of standing water across much of the yard. She and her boyfriend tried to clean up, but both of them were exhausted and have normal day jobs, and since I'd just finished writing the season finale to SILVERWOOD: THE DOOR, I had some time to help. So, I went over Tuesday at 8am and started clearing the debris --- dumping logs and branches and cut up wood into the fire pit, Hauling away rolls of carpet, car parts, hypodermic needles, broken glass and all the other shit the flood had deposited. My son was determined to help, on what was his first day of summer vacation.

By the end of his first day of summer vacation, he'd watched his father get loaded into an amublance.

The brush pile was about 8ft tall. Earlier in the day, I'd used some gasoline as an accelerant to get it going, because most of the wood was wet. Around 2pm, I sent my son into the house to get us both a drink of water, while I stirred up the fire to get it going again. I poked the coals with a stick, and the flames swelled up. Then the wind shifted, suddenlyu blowing the fire toward me. I threw my arm up releflexively. I guess maybe I had some residue gas left on it, because suddenly my arm was on fire. I stared at it, and thought, "Fuck" and then realized my head was on fire, too.

Luckily, as I said there was about a half foot of standing ater in most of the yard. Screaming, I had enough presence of midn to stop, drop and roll right into the floodwater, extingusihing the fire. My ex-wife and my son, hearing my scream, ran outside. By then I had clambered to my feet and was stumbling toward the house. They stared at me, and their expressions told me all I needed to know.

She said, "Oh Brian...oh my God..."

My son said, "Dad, the skin on your arm is falling off."

I had my ex wife call Mary while I called 911. The ambulance and Mary arrived about the same time. They loaded me into the ambulance and took me to the emrgency room. The first responders were very good to my son, assuring him that I'd be okay, and that it was just like a really bad sunburn. I am grateful to all of them for that.

They rushed me into the ER. Mary was with me. The pain was unlike anything I have ever known. I've been stabbed in the gut. I've been punched so hard in the mouth that it knocked my braces through my lip. I've fallen off cliffs twice. I've been attacked by animals and other humans. I've been in bike wrecks and motorcycle wrecks and car wrecks. I've fallen through the ice of a frozen pond. i've had a heart attack. Those were fond memories compared to the pain I was experiencing in the ER.

Mary called my older son and my parents. I knew I was going into shock, but before I passed out. I called author Stephen Kozeniewski. He is the executor of my literry estate when I die, and just in case I was about to die, I needed him to start acting. He answered the phone and I told him through teeth chattering with pain that I'd been burned in a fire, and I needed him to start a GoFundMe right away. I figured if I passed right there and then, Mary and my sons and my ex-wife would be able to cover the funeral expenses. I told Stephen if he needed help, to call Joe Ripple, the CEO of Scares That Care, who has had experience organizing such things. Then I called Joe to tell him Stephen would be in touch.

Then I lost conciousness for a bit and then I woke up and they cut off my Ka-Zar t-shirt and they debrided me, and the pain was even worse. They told me I was being transferred to the Lehigh Valley Burn Unit, about two hours away. It's a top notch faicility.

Then my oldest son and my parents showed up while Mary went home to get my stuff for Lehigh Valley. My father couldn't stay in the room. He took one look at my arm, which was blackened and fish-belly white and gray. Skin was sloughing off it in huge sheets. He'd seen this before, in Vietnam, qnd I understood when he went back out to the waiting room. My mother went with him. My oldest son stayed for a bit. Then Mary arrived and the ambulance crew drove me and my belongongs the two hours to the burn unit, where i was admitted. 

The days after that are a blur. I had first degree burns on my face, first and second degree burns on my head, and second -- bordering on third -- degree burns on my arm. The burns weren't all readily apparent. Indeed, my face didn't begin to bubble and blister until my second ni9ght in the burn unit.

On Thursday, they knocked me out and debrided my arm again and applied a new artificial skin called Suprathel to the worst parts o my arm.

Once it was clear there would be no complications, they sent me home to recover, because I don't have health insurance, and it's cheaper that way.

I do not have usage of my left arm. I won't for several weeks. Mary has to chage the bandages on it every day. I will have to make the two hor drive once a week for the next month to have them examine it. Infection is a real risk. So is getting the Suprathel wet.

A month from now, when the bandages come off, I won't be able to go out in the sun. I will need rehabilitation to regain use of that arm. I will be scarred.

But I'll be alive.

I've been told that i should break down for you the costs of each of these medical events on this journey, but I can't do that right now. It has taken most of the night just to type this with one finger. I can tell yo that I owe two different ambulance companies, and two different hospitals. And that this is just the start. Rehab, etc will add new bills. I've been told by several in the medical field that I can expect my bills to be north of $300,000. Probably more. I made $60,000 last year as a freelance writer. 

Last night, I had a nightmare where when I stopped dropped and rolled in my ex-wife's yard, the fire didn't go out. 

I came home today. My ex-wife and son came to visit. The three of us and Mary had an open discussion about what happened, and what we do going forward, and how we feel. It's important that my son know it's okay to express those things, and to know that his tough old man can express them too.

I admitted that I am scared to death. I am scared of how we'll pay the bills. I am scared my arm will get infected and all of this will be for naught. I am scared that it could be upwards of a year before I can write again (and yes, I know all about dictation software, bhut dictation software costs money). I am scared I'll lose my career. I'm scared of the emotional impact this will have on my youngest son, and on Mary. I'm scared that I'll snap on the next well-meaning motherfucker on social media who wonders whymyself and so many other freelancers don't have insurance through the Affordable Care Act.

I am scared.

One of the nursing staff told Mary that they'd never seen anyone with a constitution like mine. Another told me, "Your tolerance for pain is staggering."

But it's not. What's staggering is the terror and despair I feel when thinking about the future. 

So...that's where my head is at. The $300,000 number floats in the darkness when I close my eyes. I can still smell burned hair and skin, but they are phantom smells.

I'm home. But the recovery has just begun and while I'm stubborn enough to see it to the end, I don't know how the fuck I'll get there.

Thanks to the first responders who were kind to my son, and the team at Lehigh Valley who were absolutely exceptional in every way.

Thanks to Stephen Kozeniewski for starting the GoFundMe

Thanks to Joe Ripple for advising him on it.

Thanks to each and every one of you who have contributed to it.

Thanks to Paul Tremblay for reaching out to Stephen and Tabitha King's Haven Foundation, and finding out what we'd need to do in that regard.

Thanks to the professional authors, actors, directors, and musicicans who made private donations throughout the week.

Thanks to everyone who offered prayers, thoughts, and especially laughs via social media.

Thanks to Stephen Kozeniewski (again), Mike Lombardo, and Somer Canon for visitng me in the burn ward.

Thanks to Kasey Lansdale, Wrath James White, Jonathan Janz, Geoff Cooper, Ronald Malfi, Wile E. Young, Christopher Golden, Kelli Owen, Robert Ford, Cathy Gonzalez, and everyone else who visited me in the burn ward via texts or phone calls. 

Thanks to folks like Joe R. Lansdale, David J. Schow, Barbara Crampton, Pete Zedlacher, Sick of It All, Nick Mamatas, F. Paul Wilson, Chuck Wendig and others who used their sizeable platforms to spread word about the GoFundMe.

Thanks to Jude Terror, Gabino Iglesias, Matt Staggs, Liz Evans Scolforo and all the other journalists and reporters who kindly did the same.
  
Thanks to Mary SanGiovanni, who has absolutely been my rock. You are the strongest woman I know, and I fucking love you.

I am overwhelmed with gratitude. I don't know how we'll get through this -- but we'll get through it together. All of us.
 
In the meantime, a few frequently asked questions from this week:

I don't know when I'll write again.

It is my hope to start podcasting again as early as next week. We'll have to wait and see.

I don't know if I'll be honoring the oublic appearances I;m scheduled fo this summer or not. Again, we'll have to wait and see.

There are several good news articles about the whole thing. Probably the most informative is this one from The York Dispatch. 

Okay, that's it kids. I'm literally getting fuzzy vision from the pain. Can't type anymore.

As always:

PATREON - Where I post new short stories, writing advice essays, a serialized ongoing novel, and behind-the-scenes stuff.

TWITTER - The only social media outlet I still use regularly.

I'll see you back here when I have the use of both my hands again.
 
Copyright © 2018 Brian Keene, All rights reserved.


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