Anyhoo, this short piece was written in September 2009 for a podcast on the theme of 'Make Do and Mend'. I've simply copied it here for the information (and added a few more details about the accident). Please don't feel obligated to comment, I know you know it was horrible and that you're glad we're better now. We are. And I promise, after this recap post, I will get back to stories about the daily lives of countryfolk, working dogs, and our
In June 2008, my husband and I were caught in a terrible explosion. A shed full of pheasant chicks filled with gas from a faulty heater. We were airlifted to Swansea Burns Unit in Wales where we spent a horrible year (coincidentally, also our first year of marriage). Though my injuries healed in a few months, my husband was in a coma having taken the full force of the blast. He had suffered over 80% burns - a huge injury. Doctors carried out skin graft operations every few days; as often as his body could cope with the trauma of surgery. I lost count after 11 trips to the OR.
When the worst of the wounds were covered, Mike still had weeks of fighting off life-threatening infections with drugs and even dialysis to support his immune system. Mike was thankfully kept comatose through it all, to spare him the pain of his injuries. Even if he survived the surgeries and the infections, he would have much rehabilitation to do. But the doctors' prognosis was pessimistic to say the least. They use a calculation adding the patient's age with the percentage of burns to give the likelihood against survival. 43 years + 80% burns meant Mike had "over 100% chance of mortality" as it was described to me.
Mike continued to survive in spite of the numbers. He went from surviving hour-to-hour, to day-to-day. Mike was brought out of his coma in September. We lived in the Burns Unit until October, then commuted back and forth from Dorset to Wales which we still do now, though our visits are getting less frequent as he gets better.
The injury called his job into jeopardy. He's a gamekeeper and his job is a very physical one. We weren't sure if he would walk again. He persevered and pushed himself so he was back to work only 2 months after coming out of the coma, only one month after re-learning to walk. His hand movements were still limited and I was his constant helper. A few months later, perhaps after too many sick days, I was made redundant from my job. We were facing the worst recession in decades, I was jobless and Mike was in a weakened state. On top of that, our home is tied to his job.
'Making do' became our only option. We cut back on everything - turning the heat off and wearing extra jumpers. I logged wood for our woodburner to keep one room warm enough for Mike for his daily dressing changes. Our horses has their shoes taken off and they were turned away to overwinter pasture, to save on food. We ate wild game which clients or I shot from the estate. We ate our own chickens and eggs. We were still too shellshocked to concentrate on reading, or to talk about what just happened, or the future. I knit Christmas presents, the knitting being my own therapy and the gifts just a small token.
'Making do' started us down a road which has become a major part of our daily life, and which has helped to heal us inside. Being self-sufficient gives you a feeling of independence and control. If you can look after yourself, you will be safe. I needed to feel safe.
I began to remember the skills my mother taught us when we were growing up. She came from a rural home in upstate New York where making do and mending was a necessity and a fact of life. Even after she married and moved and had children of her own, she continued to can tomatoes she grew in the garden, and to make preserves. When our neighbor got too old, she pruned his grape vines for him, in exchange for the grapes. She made grape jelly for us and for him. She sewed all our clothes, taking us to pattern stores to pick out patterns we liked. She helped us adapt them to suit our own sense of style, even into our late teen years. She made every Christmas ornament for our tree including the full set of the 12 days of Christmas and the Nutcracker Suite. She re-upholstered our furniture when it got threadbare, and wallpapered the rooms herself to match.
I was surprised how many skills I remembered. I must have picked them up just by standing with her stirring fruit or sitting with her doing my own needlework, like the simple tapestry apple that took me months to finish. I remembered stitches for hemming, blanket stitches, how to sterilise jars, the recipe for sugar cookies. I remembered that I still wear the same apron now that she wore then - a plain white full apron, with a permanent record of stains. The pots and pans I cook with were hers, and part of my childhood. Spoons, a garlic press, a hand-held can opener. A wooden serving bowl carved by her father is the centrepiece of our table, filled with pinecones and rocks and things I collect on my walks. It is my most prized possession. All of these things have followed me across the Atlantic ocean.
I don't just make do with these objects. They have never outlived their purpose. And they connect me to the knowledge of my past, passed down from my mother. From her mother. They make me feel rooted, they give me a history and bring back pleasant memories. They make me feel safe. When I put on my mother's apron, I can make anything. This year I have made dozens of jars of jam and chutney already, from the hedgerow bounty. I wear it when I'm jointing rabbits for the freezer, or cooking meals for friends.
Being more self-sufficient has helped us both to mend. As Mike gets better, I find my creativity returning. I've made a wreath for the front door from seed heads and plants in the hedges. I've re-made his old hospital bathrobe into a coat for the dog, to keep her warm on shoot days. This has cleansed the item of its old negative associations and given it a new happier use. I've been making do with fleeces from the Jacob sheep not wanted by the estate, to practice my spinning and increase my stash. I have enough for an aran weight 2-ply for a new jumper now.
And there's a lot we do without because we don't have a choice. But actually - we don't really miss it. We have been given perspective, and a reminder of what's more important to us. Mike and I pick blackberries, which gives us time together (an excellent 'date night' activity!) and fruit for more jelly. We notice more around us. We forget more about what happened, or maybe we can talk a little bit about it and share our fears a little because we're distracted by fruit, or a pair of nesting hobbys, or a prolific and wild tomato harvest in the greenhouse. Every year I promise to grow the tomatoes on neat cordons but when it comes time to prune, I can't bear the thought of losing even one fruiting truss.
Mom sadly died 20 years ago, at the premature age of 42. The same age I'll be this birthday. I'm still unemployed for now but I think it's going to be OK. And Mike is going to be OK. Though he will never be the same, he is making do. He uses a leatherman because his fingers are too stiff for small work. But he thinks maybe he will start tying flies again, he feels like he wants to. He finds it relaxing, like I find knitting. I will start saving the hairs from my rabbits for tying his flies.