March 17, 1991- 31st Anniversary Today!

Trauma, no matter what it was, does stay with you for life.  31 years ago today I woke up to flames running up my bedroom wall. I was 24 yrs old, a single parent of 2 young children, a 5 yrs old, and an almost 3 yrs old. My partner had died a couple of years before, in 1989, in a car accident. I was living with my Mom and brother at the time, in an old house close to the waterfront. They called it a paper house, as it was layers of wallpaper over thick solid wood panels. I learned later this house went up like paper! It took 7 minutes for the Fire Dept to get there but by that time, I was already laying on the ground in front of the house, with my friend.

I got stuck, my mom and kids got out safely, but I and a friend who stayed there that night got stuck on the 3rd floor. My brother went out the back window and landed in the snow, and my friend and I got stuck in the front and went out that window to the sidewalk. Yes, we jumped. I can remember that day like it was yesterday. Still see myself standing there in the kitchen, by the open window, trying to decide what to do. I recall the smoke was so thick, I couldn’t see, just a haze. I remember looking toward the closed door to the hall and seeing the fire spreading around the frame and I knew we had to get out. My friend was so tall, that I had him stand behind me and push us out, so we went together. I heard later he landed on me, which is why he didn’t break anything.

I don’t remember going out the window but for many years, I would wake up in the middle of the night with the sense of falling… My next memory is waking up in the hospital with people all around me but all I wanted was to see my kids. I don’t know what was wrong with my face, but I couldn’t talk. I had to make sure they were ok and I remember the frustration of trying to ask about them. The staff took a polaroid of them, sitting in the waiting in their PJs eating, with my Mom with them. I don’t have any continuity of memories from that day, just flash. The hospital Emerg with people cutting off the clothes I had on, people at my face, as I had smashed it. I recall being washed and a nurse cutting out my hair which was all matted from the heat. I had long hair back then!

We lost everything we owned in that fire, some were irreplaceable. All the mementos I had of my kid’s father, pictures, letters, even gifts he gave me, all gone, never to get back. All my journals, which I started when I was 14, are all gone. My memories, I heard from my brother later who went to the site, were strewn all over the ground, blowing around in the wind. All my private, personal thoughts blowing around for anyone to pick up and read. I had nightmares about that for years! My kids only had the PJs they were in, as well as my Mom and brother. I lost it all, as they had to cut off my clothes. We ended up having to start all over again and rebuild. It took about a year, but we did it.

I spent 3 weeks in ICU in an induced coma, hooked up to a ventilator, due to smoke damage. I do have permanent lung damage and my voice changed from this too. I had broken both legs, (femurs), smashed both knee caps and knee joints, hit my face on the sidewalk so my bottom lip was cut in half and I lost, and cracked off, numerous teeth, with some going into my chin. I had 2nd and 3rd degree burns all over my arms, and hands. I was in the hospital for 3 months and had steel pins in each leg. Had my 25th birthday in there and managed to get a day pass out to go to my youngest son’s 3rd birthday too in May, towards the end! I still have my little red hardcover notebook my Mom brought me to write in, as I couldn’t speak for a couple of months.

The community was great, there were fundraisers held for my family, so when I got out of the hospital, I had clothes to wear. They raised enough to get us started on our own again and I spent many years on Welfare here. It wasn’t until 1995 that I went back to school and got my Security and Investigations Certification but drove a Taxi for a few yrs till we left for Ontario in the Fall of 1999.

This was a really difficult time for me and my family. My children, especially my youngest, took it hard. I didn’t see them for myself in person till 6 weeks later and my youngest was afraid of me, I looked so different in the hospital! He was later diagnosed with ADD due to the trauma of this. I almost lost my children to the system too, as they didn’t deem my Mom good enough to be their guardian, so my younger brother, at 21, stepped in and became their guardian for 2 yrs while I recovered. I ended up losing all my teeth and had to get full dentures. While I was in the hospital, they all stayed with my sister and her family but once I got out, we got our own house. I spent the next 2 1/2 years in physio re-gaining strength in my legs and learning to walk again. I had one steel rod removed from my femur at 2 yrs and the other at 2 1/2 yrs. All the while, my Mom and brother lived with me and my children and they did all the physical. It was a mentally and physically hard few years.

It took 5 years for me to get complete independence myself. I was diagnosed with PTSD in early 1993 and went thru extensive counselling for 5 yrs to learn to manage my symptoms. I use these tricks every day, it is second nature to me now. I went to various support groups and had a worker come to my house every week to check in. We had a great health system here in NL. I had no trouble accessing all the resources I needed. My youngest even got his child psychiatrist whom we saw for many years, till we went to Ontario in 1999.

Living with mobility issues, while raising 2 young children, one with behavioural issues, wasn’t easy. I spent so many days feeling useless and still had to go thru many surgeries on my legs over the years. I had so many fears and anxieties to contend with every day personally and trying to manage life did get a little hard sometimes. I made it through all that though and came out with a strong appreciation of life and living. I have had to go back off and on over the years for counselling again, to reaffirm all I learned to manage my PTSD symptoms. It is a lifelong process for me.

For so long I would unplug everything when I left the house, even sometimes turning around and going back home to double-check. The things I would have to do when I went out, were a little OCD but I didn’t care, it made me feel safe. The smell of burning wood, which is very common here, use to make me freeze for a second and I would look around me. Panic attacks were very common for me back then and lasted many years.

When the fire occurred, I was in school for upgrading, I left school in my last year when I left the West Coast and moved to this city on the East Coast. and I met my current husband there in 1991, a couple of months before the fire. I did go back, in my wheelchair, while I was still in recovery, as I wanted to finish and I did graduate in Feb 1992. When I returned to school, my hubby was with someone else. We were friends in 1991, we would hang out with the same people after school and in the bars on weekends. When the fire happened, he even came to visit me in the hospital, with some of our friends, but we lost touch in 1993. We ran into each other one day in June 1995 and have been together ever since. It was fate to me, to be honest. We married in 1996.

One of the things people ask when they find out you have PTSD is if you are suicidal and I always answered no. Going thru a traumatic experience like this, you learn to appreciate life. I wanted to live, and I did, very well for a long time. I don’t understand why it changed for me with my recent trauma from being bullied so badly by tenants. I was told by my doctor, that a lot of things probably played a part in that. I was overwhelmed, not just by the Bullying but by my continual health issues. I was fed up with all the crap I had to put up with. I was at the end of my rope and could not take anymore.

In November of 1999, just before we moved to Ontario, I was diagnosed with Cancer of the Vulva. Since that day, I have had 18 surgery to remove lesions, with the last big one in 2013. It just keeps coming back! I haven’t had a check-up now tho in 3 yrs, so I have no idea where it stands today, as I would go every year.  I am on CPP Disability, which will become a full pension in about 4 yrs. I am grateful for my pension, it is funding I paid into the system throughout my career. Every person working in Canada loses funds for CPP, and it is these funds you get back when you retire. It isn’t much, but it is enough for me. Between my husband and I, we are comfortable.

Since I moved back home, I found a Doctor and am waiting to see an Orthopedic Specialist, an OBGYN Cancer Specialist, and a Neurologist. The x-rays I had this morning, were for the Ortho specialist. I was told in Ontario, I needed a knee replacement and was on the waiting list there. I have a feeling more surgery is in my future!

I had to learn to do things differently and still do. The job I had in Ontario, looking after rentals, especially with all the cleaning, was hard, but I did it for 16 yrs. Arthritis started in 2001, especially in my knees so in the last few yrs I didn’t do much cleaning myself, but I still did a lot of walking! I always managed to do what I needed, sometimes even what I wanted!

Yes, there were a lot of things in play when I became a target of Bullies in 2016. I was doing things I didn’t want to do, nor was my body at the point where I could do it anymore, the pain level was too bad. I was diagnosed with Spinal Stenosis the year before, and that one was hard to accept, especially after 2 surgeons told me they could do nothing for me. I was told I will end up paralyzed eventually, from the neck down. I was in a job I didn’t want, I was happy to retire back then, but financially I had no choice at the time. It was supposed to be part-time for me, but I ended up doing more than I should have there. I am the type of person who if I see something that needs to be done, will ensure it gets done, and the owners figured that out about me, so would put off things knowing that eventually, I would do it.  I had a really strong work ethic, sometimes to the point, that it took over my life. That was not good for me, but it happened. Now I will put all that effort into my recovery!

I am still here, I will always remain. I made it through one of the most horrific experiences that a person can go thru 31 yrs ago, which created various other health problems for me since, but I always manage to find my way. This resilience is what will always get me through any experience life wants to throw at me, even this current one. Being Bullied by Tenants like I was, just threw me for a loop for a few years, but I found my way back. I always will, it is just who I am. My oldest child calls me a tank and I appreciate why. I can charge thru any life obstacle and come out a little battered, but still whole!

When I think of all I endured 31 yrs ago, and everything in between, I know I will endure getting over being Bullied so badly as I was, and come out even stronger! How can you not?

 


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