After watching our son be airlifted to the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio for more tests , we slowly make our way through a deserted central Austin out to the northern suburbs to see what has become of my house. It is now 2:30 a.m. My neighbor left the hospital an hour or so ago. He had been able to coax one of my two dogs into his house, but Rosie, my timid one, was still somewhere in my yard. The fire crews left an hour ago, and from the outside, my house looks just like all the other houses on the street – dark and still. The only difference – the ‘For Sale’ sign in the front yard – just waiting for opening day, now just a little more than 24 hours away.
Entering a burned house is a shock to the senses, even with visibility at a minimum. The dripping water, the visible devastation, but the worst is the strong, sharp smell of the fire hanging in the air. This burning smell will last for weeks. Whenever I return to the house, even if for a few minutes, the smell clings to my clothes, skin, and hair. My ex hovers near the front door while I walk through the hallways, the floors still covered with several inches of water. The kitchen is totally destroyed. Huge tin-foil tubes are hanging from the ceiling, the windows broken through for ventilation, and every single upper cabinet is missing. Broken crockery is everywhere. Even in the dark I can see the soot-covered walls. The smoke had traveled up the cathedral ceilings of my living room to invade the rest of the house. As I walk toward the back door, I hear a whimper. Rosie has heard the car and knows I am home. She’s waiting on the patio, looking scared and confused. Together we go next door, where my neighbors have offered my dogs and me a place to stay until I figure out the next step.
We plan to head out for San Antonio in the morning. Or rather, in a few hours. At 3:30 the helicopter crew calls to say Jacob has safely arrived at BAMC. At 4:30 a nurse calls to get permission for any and all tests they might need to conduct. I drowsily give my permission to do any and everything necessary to ensure my son’s health. At 8 I call the insurance to give them the barebones information. At 9 the doctors have finished their rounds and tell us we can come see our son; they’ve already removed the ventilator and tube from his windpipe. With this encouraging news, we begin the 90 minute drive to BAMC’s burn unit. I can’t concentrate enough to read, so I e-mail my friends, family, and realtors and update my facebook status from news of the fire to news that my son, according to the medical staff, is going to be fine and will be coming out of sedation by the time we arrive.