Allow me to introduce you to the Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors. Go ahead; take a minute to peruse their website and see who they are. You probably didn’t know they exist, but you probably also can understand why they need to. The concept of being a burn survivor, or even being around one, might make you uncomfortable. Sit with that discomfort for a minute. Soak it in. Reality is sometimes uncomfortable. It is healthy to accept and live in that truth.
Now allow me to introduce you to Handle With Care Burn Scar Massage TEAM. (Yes, the TEAM is in all caps. That’s how the owners want it.) Jen and Chris, who run Handle With Care, are both burn survivors, and they’ve built their team from the ground up, offering burn scar therapy classes to massage therapists around the country.
As you may have seen on the Phoenix Society site, they hold an annual gathering, World Burn Congress. This year, it took place in Anaheim, California, in the first week of October.
Since I took the class back in July, and since the event was basically in my backyard, I was able to spend two days working as part of the massage team for WBC. Many of the therapists who participated came from out of state to do so. The picture below captures only about half (or less) of the therapists who participated, and seven of these thirteen drove or flew from places that aren’t Southern California. The dedication of this team is remarkable.
(I would like to mention that NHI Santa Ana had at least three therapists participate, and NHI Studio City had at least one. Three of those four NHIers are pictured here.)
For two days, I had the honor of working on person after person, all members of the burn community. Survivors, their children, grandchildren, spouses, parents, and siblings. Children, adults, the elderly. Burn ward nurses, firefighters, resource providers catering to skin grafts, psychological support, social services, and cosmetic tattoos. I met people who had lost limbs; others had lost faces. It had tremendous potential to be overwhelming. Had it become so, there were resources available.
I have known too many people who have lived in and after trauma and brokenness to shy away from it. Wheel chairs, service dogs, mental and physical impairments, and deep trauma are a normal part of life in this world; I have never been without their influence from my earliest awareness. I grew up in private schools in middle class suburbia, so in a sense, I was sheltered. But I’ve also known war refugees. I’ve served in the Peace Corps. I’ve lived in developing nations, Communist, formerly Communist, and rife with corruption.
I don’t include my backstory to talk about myself. I include it so that you, Reader, can comprehend the full impact of my experience at World Burn, which is this: I have never come across another community so universally acquainted with tragedy and trauma, yet also universally full of gratitude. Even those who were fairly new to the community, who still have big, raw emotions related to their trauma, talked of learning to grapple with those emotions and allowing them to be, without allowing them to rule.
One of these exceptional folks, who I had the pleasure of working on twice, was telling me how she’s used to the looks now, and they don’t bother her. She knows who she is. I agreed with her and added that who someone is is more important than how they look.
I’ll not tell the stories of those I met, though some were fascinating. They’re not my stories. Instead, I’ll encourage you to face reality with the grace and gratitude and even joy that I saw at WBC. And next time you meet someone from some hidden or marginalized community, remember that they are really no different from you.
~As a bonus, I left WBC with several new friend-colleagues.
Some of them are even local.~