In the spirit of Cinco De Mayo, here’s this month’s What It Feels Like. Take it as a warning, rather than inspiration, as the night goes on. As told to Kevin Duffel, this is the full version of an excerpt that ran in our June, 2011 issue.
Kevin “Spanky” Long describes what it feels like to be set on fire–a result of a long night of getting too wild.
We were being silly and dumb, doing whatever you do when you’re drunk–just fooling around. I was lying down, and “the guy who stays on my couch” was playing with a lighter. Unbeknownst to me, in my state, he was lighting my shirt a little bit and then hitting it out. And when it actually worked, a little flame came up and he tried to hit it out real quick, but my flannel shirt just erupted. I rolled around, and my other friends came around to try to put it out, but it just went up so quickly that it did some significant damage. Basically, my ribs, armpits, and chest got the worst of it. It immediately sobered me up, just from the pain of it, and immediately “the guy on the couch” felt terrible, obviously, because it was really just one of those things where you’re walking down the street and you flick a match at a friend, trying to scare them, or play a little joke. But it went terribly wrong.
I didn’t think it was that bad at first. I knew it hurt and looked bad, but I had zero experience with burns. My girl helped me out and popped the blisters. She had to squeeze out all the pus after ten or twenty minutes; it immediately raised up and was full of liquids. I fell asleep and woke up the next morning, obviously feeling shitty, and my girl was like, “You have to at least go to the doctor.” I couldn’t even put a shirt on and could barely move my upper body. I walked to urgent care with my girlfriend because it was right down the street, but they sent us to a different one because the doctor had no experience with burns. It was way further than they said it was, so I walked without a shirt on, with these massive burns, just looking like such a f–king sketchy bastard. I was burnt to a crisp, walking down Sunset. Finally, we got to the place and they really didn’t know what to do, so my dad suggested we go to a burn center.
When I got to the burn center, they told me that it was third degree burns. By that time everything was really hurting, but that was only the beginning of it because with third degree burns, it burns past your nerves, so you don’t feel it for well after a few days. They told me I needed surgery the next morning.
The first surgery, they put skin on me from a cadaver–actually what I found out later, from multiple cadavers. They put the dead people skin on you and your body begins to heal like it would for a regular graft, but they know your body won’t accept it. So, first they scrape into all the layers of the burns, and then graft on cadaver skin.
The very worst part was, after that surgery they had to take all my bandages off in this place called the whirlpool room. That was pure hell because it felt like they were just ripping my skin off. The pain wasn’t like anything I’ve ever felt. It’s so different from anything that I’ve ever felt happen to me on a skateboard. It felt like it was constantly burning, like I was still on fire. The guy who bandaged me back up on my back and armpit informed me I had African American skin. He was psyched, like, “You’ve got black dude skin. It’s really strong, man.” So, I had a little while where I was part African American for a few days.
After they took all the bandages off I had to go in for the second surgery. They took off a thin layer of skin from my head and grafted it on all the worst spots. The hair’s already growing back. It’s weird though, I have the skin from my head in my armpit, so I’m forever going to be giving myself a headlock.
I reconciled with “the guy who stays on my couch” before I even got to the doctor. Of course I’m not psyched on him for lighting me on fire, but it wasn’t a malicious act. I take responsibility for even being in that situation to be vulnerable to such a stupid activity. But shit happens. We make mistakes. There’s no sense in losing friends or creating any more negativity in the situation. I feel like so much positive has come out of it for me. Being in that state is such a valuable lesson in how easily shit can go wrong. It’s a good taste of your mortality. I’m so thankful it wasn’t worse. It could’ve been. Feeling that low and coming out of it is like feeling higher and happier than I’ve ever felt. I’m so grateful for my friends who were there for me. I’ll never forget how good it is to just be healthy and not in constant pain. We’re used to being in pain and stuff as skaters, but this was not a calculated risk like skating.