September 1, 2009 started out just like any other day for Samuel, but it didn’t end like one.
Samuel was hired to help a neighbor move. While handling a seemingly useless box of what looked like books and hay from the backyard shed, he tossed it onto a concrete slab nearby. As the box struck the concrete, Samuel heard the explosion and closed his eyes tightly. He immediately felt liquid, which he learned was sulfuric acid, cover his face. The searing pain began and he felt like he was on fire.
Paramedics rendered assistance and transported Samuel to the hospital, but he was wondering if it would be his last day on earth.
He had suffered first-, second- and third-degree chemical burns. Samuel would endure several surgeries to address the scarring on his face and suffered intense pain at the surgical sites.
Samuel’s recovery was also complicated by PTSD and depression. He notes that “My emotional recovery was in some ways much harder than my physical recovery.” Samuel went through years of counseling, including Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) treatment, to help him develop the necessary tools to maintain a healthy emotional state. The therapy was hard work. For Samuel, though, the “hardest part was accepting what had happened to me and refraining from tormenting myself over thoughts about what could have gone differently. I had to learn to let go of the past, in order to live a meaningful life in the present.”
Samuel learned that this hard work spent on healing pays off, that healing does not come naturally, but that it is essential to “live a meaningful and impactful life.” He notes that “we all have scars, some more visible than others.” A key component of healing for Samuel has been writing, simply recording his thoughts and feelings at first, then ultimately publishing his memoir “Can You See My Scars?”
Samuel’s face bears several scars. “One appears like a thick, red line under my nose and encompasses the right side of my upper lip. Another is on my chin, and several are on my neck. I have one traveling down my forehead which has faded with time. I also have a few scars on my right arm, most notably a red mark that is on my right hand.” During times in his recovery, he grew a beard to hide some of the scars because he was ashamed of his appearance. He could not bear to be reminded of his accident every time he saw his reflection in the mirror.
Times have changed. Samuel now wears his scars proudly, accepting them as a symbol of all that he has overcome.
Samuel’s story reminds us to give ourselves time to mourn tragedy, and then to “recognize that life gets better.”