I was waiting tables at this amazing mom-and-pop diner called Leon’s. Most people that came in were regulars, and most ate all three meals there, every day. I spent more time with them than I did my own family. To make extra money, I made the pies we sold at the restaurant. Peanut butter cup pie paid my rent on multiple occasions.
It was a time when little ballet slipper shoes that you didn’t wear socks with were in style. I wore them all the time. They weren’t practical at all, but they were cute.
I’ll never forget one particular morning. For some reason, I put on socks and closed-toe, non-slip shoes. I have no idea why, because the biggest reason I wore ballet slippers (other than making a fashion statement) was that it was extremely hot in the kitchen, and they were light and breathable.
It was close to the end of my shift, so I headed to the back to grab jellies to re-stock my tables. (You know — the infamous Smuckers packets that are never enough to spread on both pieces of toast, so you end up using half of another one.) While on the ladder grabbing inventory off the top shelf, a newly hired cook walked behind me. He didn’t say anything, but I remember noticing he had walked past.
What I didn’t know was that he had set a huge stock pot full of piping hot Au Jus on the floor next to the ladder while he opened the wall-in door. With my hands full, I had to step down backwards and… my foot plunged into what I can only describe as liquid fire.
I immediately screamed and ripped off my shoe and sock. What appeared was an incident that haunted me for years. You know what it looks like when wax drips down the side of a freshly lit candle? Well my foot was the candle and my skin was the melting wax. My skin was actually falling off.
At the hospital I remembered hearing the nurse say, “Thank God she was wearing socks and shoes, otherwise this could have gone a lot differently.”
The next couple of days were kind of a blur. But I remember finally realizing what had happened when I woke up in my little brother’s bed at my dad’s house.
I’ll never forget the look on my dad’s face when he came in. All he said to me was, “Bert, it’s really bad.” (Bert is a childhood nickname.) “They may have to amputate two of your toes.”
He explained to me that the next week was instrumental in the outcome. The doctor said if we can fight the infection and get my foot healthy enough for a skin graft surgery, then we may be able to save my toes, but regardless, walking will most likely be a struggle for the rest of my life.
I remember feeling completely defeated. Everything I knew was the food and beverage industry, and how would I continue if I can’t walk? I had student loans and couldn’t see myself changing what I loved doing.
My dad looked at me and said, “Get up, I need you to get it together because we have work to do.”
For the next week, he became my 24-hour nurse. I had to disinfect and sterilize my foot three to four times a day. Talk about excruciating pain.
Finally the day came to see the doctor and have him tell me my fate. The good news was that he felt confident a skin graft would work. The bad news was that the worst was still to come.
Surgery went well, and I was finally able to go home to my bed. But my doctor was right, I was in worse pain now than before. Between my mom, dad, friends, and cousins, everyone played a huge role in my care. I couldn’t walk, and the pain was so intense I felt like I could pass out at any moment. So here I was, someone who is perfectly independent, relying on others for everything.
My road to recovery was long and hard. I faced many setbacks, but I had endless amounts of support along the way. They actually put out a jar for me at the restaurant I worked at, and my “regulars” paid my bills for me month after month. Talk about the amazing generosity of others.
After months of physical therapy and pushing myself harder than I ever had in my life, I was able to return to work.
Right before I was injured, I had visited Arizona for a vacation. I fell in love immediately and knew I was destined to move there.
I remember laying in bed one morning after my recovery and thinking to myself, “Nothing will ever be as hard as what I just went through.” At that moment, I decided to start planning my move.
To make extra money, I sold brownies from the register at work. So once again, my regulars helped pay my way. Only this time they were helping me follow my dreams. A couple months later, I had saved enough money. I bought a truck and moved to the best place on earth, where the sun shines every day!
While I struggled with pain — and I still do to this day — I landed the job that put me on the path to creating my future.
Sometimes the worst things imaginable give us the strength to go after our dreams. Because nothing will ever be that hard.