It was a warm evening, and Mike had his sleeves rolled up. Looking at his hands and arms he sighed sadly. Mike is very self-conscious of the scars and grafts that crisscross his arms. I took a picture of them -
His fingers don't bend, and the webbing between them tears. He's always banging his knuckles and making them bleed, but he can't feel it. Sometimes his hands swell from lymphoedema and I rub them to try and disperse the swelling. Mike can only straighten his elbows as much as you see in the picture because the muscle is damaged from the burns.
And he can only rotate his arms this much. His pinky joints are hooked because the tendons tightened irreversibly. The skin on his hands is always dry and dirt stays in the creases of his palms.
It was a big step for him to let me photograph his hands.
Mike hates when people tell him he's brave. He says there's nothing brave about having an accident, and he wouldn't do it again - not even for charity. I tell him he's brave for how he's dealt with life after the accident. And that he's still a big pain in my ass, so he's not all that different from before the accident, scars or no.
Eight years ago his doctors sat me down in a private room and told me he wasn't going to live. Now we're celebrating his 52nd birthday. Bravery, blind luck, or determination? Maybe some of each.
Here's to your 53rd birthday and beyond.