Tag Archives: combustion

Pondering Eases the Pain: On Perserverance, Loss, and Acceptance of a Limb Lost

Heh heh. Thumbs up, world.
I cannot sleep.  Again. The relentless stabs of pain wake me unfailingly now, since accidentally catching on fire on the night of December 29th, each morning at 2 a.m.  I am itching furiously at a phantom monster with long steel fingernails, and staring, disbelieving, in the dim nightlight at these unbelievable scars.

Oh, my God. My sister told me karma is a bitch. Whoa, Nellie. I don't think anyone deserves to be burned alive.

I am wondering how this grotesque, angry, twisted red appendage can actually be attached to my torso, something I lovingly held my newborn baby with as I breastfed him and rocked him to sleep with only two years ago.  This limb I used to climb trees, to sculpt clay, to do yoga and plies, back dives, handstands, cartwheels, and back handsprings, this arm I used, night after night, to hold the palette of colors while my right arm held a dancing paintbrush. This arm I hugged my long-gone Daddy and mother with — now a gnarled and mangled mess  of twisted and stitched pieces of flesh grafted from the lengths of my stripped upper and lower back.Scratching, scratching ’til it bleeds, at that very raging, reddened landscape of a back — once smooth, supple and tanned from years of biking in the sun by the sea — I am at a loss.

I am at a Complete. And Utter. Loss.

My Arm.  My arm.  My.  Arm.

Oh, i am sooo beautiful. Humpty Dumpty fell off a wall.

I repeat these words in my head until they no longer makes sense.  My arm. My arm. Myarm. Myarmmyarmmyarmyarmyarm. Army. Arme. Arm Me.

Arm Me.

Dear God, please arm me against the trials I must face now. I am so, so scared.

I am crying.

Silently, shaking, and hard.
I am mourning the loss of a great friend I had taken for granted for so many decades: my young and unscathed body, and most profoundly,

my entire left arm.  Half of the existence i lauded being able to live mostly with my hands.

this is what i have. this is not what i am . i am trying to love this anyway. i will.

Then, happenstance, I read a comment regarding my Facebook status update, a comment that I had somehow missed.
I had been lamenting, in a post (replete with brutally honest photographs), the horrors of my newly and deeply scarred arm and back — pitifully and publicly feeling sorry for myself.
My friend Robert, one whose writings i have read to be a very wise man,  simply typed as a response,

“You are beautiful. and courageous to let us see what you look like in these changes.”

This one sentence, in the instant it took to read it, profoundly changed not only my life, but my whole view on aging, experience, and wisdom as related to true beauty.

TRUE beauty. From the INSIDE, out.

my heart fell in one drop

Thank you so very much, my friend.
Thank you.

I shall attempt to sleep now, still itchy, but much more at peace.


RIght after they sewed it back together in four pieces, and before things got REALLY ugly.

i believe i have now paid my dues in full. Thank you.

and there is more and more and moreandmoreandmore it hurtsithurtsithurts.

Funny that "THUMBNAIL" is a photographic size option here. HAR

no sleep for the wicked, no rest when there are dues to pay

I was lucky to have escaped alive with an intact head. My ears were another story.

and…the question du jour:

...who cares???


Filed under diary, imperfection, life, sadness

MARRIED? Maddied? (She’s alive…ALIVE!!!)

O. M. Freaking G!!!

Nobody warned me about the itching.
I’m-a goin’-a CRAZEEEE!!!

I peeled back the bandages on my shoulder “just to see” because I am so enthralled by the grotesque nature of the human body in crisis,

and I am also a sucker for punishment.

A black line with staples across it, from underarm to shoulder blade, circled my limb,  severed and re-attached.

Veritable train tracks.
Choo choo!

LOOKS EXACTLY LIKE I am the new Bride of Frankenstein!
I got my wedding wishes, after all.

ANIMA SOLA. 2008. 16×22. Oil on canvas nailed to board. SOLD, collection Hannah Brooks, M.D. NYC



Love.  Ain’t it just grand?


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Home again, home again, jiggity jig. Burned and squealing like a suckling pig…

Home again, home again, jiggity jig! 🙂

Back from the hospital in half-body cast/full bandages.

Prescribed morphine which is, sadly, doing nothing. But joyous nonetheless.


Watching the snow fall gently

in front of a cozy fire
while singed flesh falls in synchrony.
Aaaaah, winter in Cleveland.


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Filed under diary, humor, imperfection, life, stupidity

PHOENIX HAS RISEN. For the Umpteenth Time… (A memoir of a Mama On Fire – literally and metaphorically.)

The remains of the day. That WAS my shirt.

(Google, if you are unaware, the bird called the PHOENIX…the one who famously arose from ashes to soar once again.)

I have a newfound respect for fire.

While cooking Indian food, i made a pound of GHEE (clarified butter, now known to me as human lighter fluid) and accidentally spilled some on my tee shirt. Did not give it a second thought.
Bent over front burner to stir the basmati rice and peas in the back, and all I remember is hearing the sound, “WHOOOOSH.”
Softly, yet roaring in my ears like the quiet loudness of the ocean surf in a hurricane.
The sound one hears in tragic nightly news footage, or worse, in personal experience,
of a building or a car spontaneously and completely combusting.

That sound was the sound of my entire upper body instantaneously igniting, and burning at lightning speed.

MY HEAD, and my entire torso from the waist to the back of my neck and ears, was ON FIRE. In flames.
Big, orange and yellow hungry ones. They licked at me with the furiosity of a tiny, starving kitten crouched in front of a ceramic dish of cold milk.

I watched in horror as my lovely brown cotton tee shirt melted into the flesh of my abdomen.

I stood very, very, still and said the most sincere and silent prayer of my entire existence.

I had accidentally turned myself into a HUMAN TIKI TORCH.
A veritable 5’2″ 95-pound candle with flaming limbs and head.
“Hmmmm,” I remember thinking, from some faraway place. “I wonder what one does in THIS predicament?”
I, who thought, as a feisty Italian-Irish NYC ex-patriate, that I KNEW it ALL.

HA! Wrong-O, Janny Dangerously.

A brand new experience for a woman who had erroneously thought she had seen and done it all — who KNEW?

I stood motionless, everything moving as in a gritty Super 8 film, watching myself burning alive.
Then I had an idea. I poured a pot of water from the sink over my head.
I heard sizzling and smelled something akin to Moo Shu Pork.
And HELL knows I do not eat pork. Won’t touch it with a ten-foot pole. Except Gramma Cindy’s Christmas ham. To this juicy and << VERBOTEN>> delicacy, I cannot say no.

The remains of the day. Thank God, it is not my painting arm. GOD DOES EXIST 😉

FRIED. DAY 2.5. 12.31.11

Hypocrisy – are we all not guilty of this?

So, onward and upward.
My blouse had almost completely melted into my body and half of my hair had singed off.
There was an acrid aroma of spare ribs and burnt hair suffusing the entire kitchen, and the kitchen mat was covered in blackened tee shirt tatters.
I have a bit of OCD about cleanliness and order. Mama Jan was very, very, dismayed.

I am covered in bandages like a MUMMY — somehow strikes me as funny, to finally be a real English Mummy to my son,so very PROPER. I CAN do a very good British accent to rival that of John Cleese or Dr. Who. PERFECT after all!
Perfection makes me very content.

HEHE…funny,funny mama. NOT.

Spent the wee hours in the trauma burn unit at Metro Hospital being doused with ice water and given an IV drip of painkillers.
I was totally naked on front of some very handsome doctors, so at least i had a tad bit of fun.
Yes, I am an admittedly sick and slightly twisted woman.
Or maybe just a passionate Italian painter with a curious mind and a (literally) flaming heart.

Third degree burns over entire upper body, some skin burned completely off left upper arm. I can still use my hands! I AM SO GRATEFUL! They told me the scars would likely be pretty bad.
I asked them if they had ever read THE VELVETEEN RABBIT.

Our scars are what make us beautiful and REAL,
truly, truly REAL.

I bet I can hop even faster and higher than that ol’ stinky and much-loved stuffed rabbit any day now.

Miraculously, my face was untouched, save for a blister on my lip, and my fingertips are in pain — but I can still type, since the blisters make them momentarily numb before
the rage of pain screams at me to use a pencil to peck at the keyboard, which I am doing right now.

It is slow.
This irritates me.
I like to do EVERYTHING and ANYTHING quickly, efficiently, and thoroughly.

I am fine, do not worry. I need no pity, and seek no drama.
I despise pity, and DRAMA has a very advanced GPS system. My street address, as well as my email addy and links to my FACEBOOK page, are typed in as multiple entries for ease and expedited, not to mention (KEY WORD) FREQUENT, location and usage.

If one thing is for sure, i am even MORE full of joy because when my son’s grandfather raced over to save the day,
he found me writhing on floor, smoke still rising from my burnt body.
I was softly still screaming to Jesus, Mary, Joseph and GOD ALMIGHTY to please HELP ME.

Jesus, Mary, Joseph and GOD heard me.
This, I know, is true.

As usual. As ALWAYS.

The whole house could have burned down and i could be Janice Chop Suey, six feet under! ANd thanks be to ALL THAT IS GREATER than I, my two year old son will not be traumatized by the horrendous memory of watching his mother stand burning alive in front of the stove, screaming out for the most Holy Trinity, arms outstretched and paralyzed by disbelief and unfathomable pain and terror.
SO GRATEFUL TO GOD, so so very thankful for my life.

Once upon a time, this my a lovely scoop neck blouse. Mama caught on fire.

On some good painkillers and making a piece of art with the shreds of my burnt tee shirt.
God is good, so so good. Bless you, all my friends. I love you dearly. Never forget that.

I went to the little mom-and-pop candy shop around the corner with my baby’s grandfather Ted today, though it was hard to walk or get in his big truck (I am very tiny and stiff with charred flesh).
I just NEEDED to see at least a small part of the world for a few minutes after being confined to the house for fear of infection.
(Just call me Michael Jackson, HAHA.)

The owner, a lovely round and jovial elderly woman named Mary who is a real-life faux-Grandma to me, had always asked me to tell her the story of how and why I had a tracheotomy tube in my neck,
and why I was in two near-death comas.  I relayed to her the tale of the “Indian Cooking Incident”.

She looked at me, smiled her sweet Italian smile, and said to Ted and me while shaking her head slowly,

“Oh my, pretty Janice.  You certainly don’t do ANYTHING half-way, do you?”

(Does ANY Italian Irish woman do anything half-way?)

“No, dear Mary, I most certainly do not,” said I.

LIVE TODAY TO THE FULLEST. Treasure EVERY. SINGLE. MOMENT. They are, each and every second, GEMS.

The Crispy Critter/Mama On Fire hath spoken.

Moo Shu Janice. 😛

FALLEN. 2006, Pencil and ballpoint on paper. SOLD, collection Daniel McMurtrie, Richmond, VA

Janice J. Cunningham
Cleveland, Ohio 2011


Filed under diary, food/recipes, humor, imperfection, life, rabbits, stupidity, Uncategorized

my thoughts on passive aggressive and infantile behavior.

I will write about it tomorrow, if I feel like it. I am giving you the silent treatment right now because it makes me feel powerful.


Yours always in repressed anger,

The Wizard of Oz

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Filed under diary, duality, existentialism, imperfection, life, love, Uncategorized