Tuesday, 6 June 2017

The Accident

This might seem quite heavy-hitting for my very first blog post but given that parenting and all the highs and lows that come with it will no doubt form a significant chunk of the content you find here, the experiences that I've had as a mum over the past month and a half seem like an appropriate place to start.
Six weeks ago, on 21 April, the accident happened. It was a Friday night and as part of a big Jewish family, this is always a time when we get together. That week, we were nearing the end of our holiday in Israel. We'd had a wonderful couple of weeks - we'd spent time with friends on hikes, we'd been to the beach, we'd enjoyed family celebrations in Jerusalem. And, to top it all off, a couple of days before that night, we'd found out that my three-year-old daughter Tamara had got a place at our top choice primary school. Things felt pretty damn good.

Double buggy laden with snacks and Toms for footwear. I clearly take hiking extremely seriously.

Before dinner, I lit the two candles as I do every Friday night, with Tamara beside me. We put them high up on the kitchen island, away from where we would be eating and most importantly, the kids. And that was that.
I find it difficult to describe the events that followed later that evening - not only because they were so terribly shocking, but also because everything happened so frighteningly fast. So please bear with me. As we were taking food out and preparing to put it on the table, Tamara clambered up one of the bar stools. She lost her footing. She fell forwards onto the kitchen island. A strand of her hair caught fire. She screamed. When I turned round a split second later, her face was alight.
Somehow, my husband remained incredibly calm. He put the fire out on her face with his hands and then we quickly stripped her, because a spark of flame had landed on her pyjamas. He took her to the bathroom, as if on autopilot, where we took turns holding her under the shower faucet, cool water constantly running onto her cheek, until the ambulance arrived. The next day we were on a plane back to London and on Sunday morning, first thing, we walked through the doors of Mars Ward, the paediatric burns unit at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, where Tamara was an outpatient for the next 3 weeks.
So why blog about this? Well, mainly because it has taught me a hell of a lot. In no particular order, here's what I've learned...
  • Make sure you know what to do in a crisis. Get yourself some First Aid knowledge. You never think you'll be faced with something like this  - and I sincerely hope you never will be - but you might. And if you are, and you know what to do, your actions could make all the difference. We were lucky - not only did my husband actually know what he was doing, but we were also able to phone my sister-in-law, a physiotherapist with a ton of experience in paediatric burns, to double-check that we were, indeed, doing the right thing. When the doctors both in Israel and London told us that we couldn't have done any more than we had, it was the only thing that made me feel ok. I truly don't think I could ever have forgiven myself if I'd been told that I should have done something differently.
  • Accidents happen. I've replayed the incident about 500,000 times in my head. What could we have done differently? How could we have prevented it? We put the candles high up deliberately so they were away from the kids. It was her hair that initially caught fire. Should I have cut the front shorter? I didn't see her clamber up on the stool. What was I doing? Why didn't I see? I can't tell you how many different questions like this ran - and still run - through my mind. But the truth is, there was nothing we could have done. Accidents really do just happen. And I have to accept this. As parents, we are quick to blame ourselves. But we can't - and it is how we handle the aftermath that really counts.
  • Which leads me to the care that we received. How blessed we are to have the NHS - to be able to rush into the hospital and see the best of the best doctors and nurses for no cost at all. And, since we were discharged 3 weeks ago, whenever I've had questions or wanted advice, they've still been there for us. It's mind-blowing. We are so lucky.
  • Always be grateful. Thankfully, from day one, the doctors have been confident Tamara will make a full recovery. There will be no scars and now, just a few weeks on, I've seen a huge transformation. It will take time for the pigmentation in her cheek to match in terms of colour but it will. In truth, I still have trouble believing this - and ask the husb and my mum for reassurance about fifty times a day - but I know I need to put my trust in professionals. And the fact remains, it really could have been so much worse.
  • It's ok to be sad. And it's ok to feel ok. You might feel fine one minute and then as if the breath has been knocked out of you the next. This happened to me a lot in the first week or so immediately afterwards and this is normal. Whatever normal means.
  • Talk if you want to. And if you feel like you want to talk to someone other than friends or family about it - someone professional - then you must. This is a trauma and you are a parent. You need to look after yourself so that you can continue to look after your family.
  • People are kind. They truly are. The messages of support, the knocks on the door, the offers to babysit the littler one, to make us meals and to just to call to talk at any time have been so appreciated. And at the hospital, where every other day we saw the same sets of parents going through similar experiences; we shared snacks, advice and just provided each other with an ear to listen. It helped so much. And then there was the friend of a friend. Who helped me when I felt so low and isolated. We'd met a number of times at various social events over the years and I knew she'd gone through her own personal burns experience a few years ago but I didn't think I could approach her. But she got her number to me of her own accord via our mutual friend and she's blown me away with her kindness. After everything she's been through herself, she hasn't stopped checking in to make sure we are ok. I owe her a very special thank you. 
  • Learn from your kids. As parents, we teach them so much - counting, reading, sharing and let's not forget potty training. But there is also so much we can learn from them. Not once since the event itself has Tamara cried about what happened. She hasn't moaned about the pain when the nurses had to clean her face (though admittedly, trying to get the calpol down her beforehand was as challenging as ever). Not once have I heard even the first utterings of a whinge (and believe you me, Tamara can be an excellent whinger). She is, quite simply, doing really, really well. And it is her bravery, her resilience and her unstoppable laughter that have kept me going. I have never ever been a prouder mum.
Sophie x

The day Tamara was discharged from Chelsea and Westminster Hospital



  1. Sophie! Hard hitting subject matter - yes - but so important and so well written. I had tears in my eyes at the end. You're a fantastic mama.

    1. Thank you so much for taking the time to read it while you're on your adventures. And thank you for your lovely words. Sending much love xx

  2. Sophie, I had no idea!!!! I am so happy that Tamara will make a full recovery, you guys have really been through the ringer! Love the blog post, keep strong, you guys are amazing parents, accidents will happen no matter what, its what you do after that counts. Love, Yael and Hanan

    1. Thanks so much to you both. It actually happened just after the Bar Mitzvah but thank goodness she is doing really well. Sending love to you all and hopefully see you when we are back over the summer.

  3. Thats a hellavualot of life to go through as a young mother, and I admire you greatly for being able to articulate it and share it in such a meaningful way (I actually gasped when reading about the moment of the accident). Im also sorry you had to learn all this because of the accident.....but glad all is well now BH. Keep writing - if not just for yourself, but for others and one day your kids will read this too. Stay strong, live long, lots of love xxx

    1. Thanks so much for your really kind words. I so appreciate you making the time to read this as I know how busy you are. Sending love and hope to see you soon xxxx