Written on February 23, 2012
i met larry early one morning by the banks of big bear lake. he had gone out fishing with a friend and caught quite a few rainbow trout. a good haul, one that any fisherman might be proud of. when we arrived larry had just gotten back to shore and was happy to show off the fruits of his labor. for larry, now, even being able to fish at all is something to be proud of.
up until the fall of 2006 larry was a fire captain in apple valley, california. one morning his company responded to a call for a house fire. thinking there might be people still trapped inside the house, larry went in, crawling on his hands and knees, staying low to avoid the smoke. the house turned out to be empty, but before larry could get out the fire spread across the carpet he was crawling on. he suffered severe burns across thirty percent of his body, but his hands got it the worst. flames went through his gloves, destroying his hands.
he spent nearly two months in a burn center. there was talk of amputation. those first few months doctors performed more than a dozen surgeries trying to save his hands. he eventually lost the little finger on each hand. what was left became a mass of scar tissue, with badly damaged fingers fused together.
after being released from the burn center, back at home, the real life ramifications of what happened to him started to become clear. while larry’s hands hadn’t been amputated, they simply didn’t work anymore. he couldn’t hold on to anything. he became aware of how much losing the use of his hands made him feel separated from the world. he couldn’t drive himself to work, didn’t have the stomach for a desk job. he couldn’t dress himself, or hold a fork, or even hug his wife. all his life he had been an avid outdoorsman and carpenter. without his hands, all that was gone.
several months later larry met dr. david kulber at cedars-sinai medical center in los angeles, a plastic surgeon who specializes in hand reconstruction. dr. kulber performed half a dozen surgeries on larry’s hands over the next two years, slowly carving away scar tissue, trying to separate fingers that had been burned together, recovering and reconnecting tendons and arteries. more than anything, though, what he was doing was giving larry’s life back to him. his hands aren’t what they were, but they’re better than he thought they ever would be again. he can eat and dress himself. he can hold his wife. he can hold a fishing pole. and he can even show off a fine looking rainbow trout to a stranger with a camera.
Filed in: medicine.