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Poor Paw

As the industrial-sized refrigerator rocked forward and began to topple, Dee Dee had a fraction of a second to turn and shield her head before the 800 lbs. of steel slammed her to the hardwood floor of her kitchen, the momentum shoving her a foot forward.

Stunned, she found herself trapped face down, pain searing through her left arm pinned cross-wise by the steel frame. Having heard her little dog, Bridey, scream almost human-like, she was afraid to look up.

Even as her arm began to throb, relief coursed through her, seeing Bridey nearby, unhurt. Dee Dee felt the wetness, smelling dog pee beneath her. As she shifted, broken glass embedded deeper into her elbows and thighs. The contents of the fridge had spewed everywhere. Dee Dee cried out for help, and Bridey barked for the next four hours—until exhaustion silenced them both.

Outside, regular life continued. Dee Dee heard the murmur of distant voices, car doors shutting and engines starting—people moving about freely. No one’s going to find me. Her husband, Bear, was in Colorado for his two-week work stint, her daughters were grown and out of the house, and the rest of her family lived in England. She’d just gotten back from visiting them days earlier. She and Bear had only recently bought the house in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. At most, she knew two neighbors.
To push away the despair, Dee Dee talked to her dog. She talked to her family. And she prayed. God, please be here with me. She had always believed in God, but in an informal way. She’d never read the Bible—although as a teenager, she’d made use of it as a safe place to stash cigarettes. While she and Bear had been living in an apartment near Seacoast Church in Mount Pleasant before buying the house, she’d been out for a walk one day and heard rock-out Jesus music. She’d considered going in, but opted to try another time.

The steel pressed into her. It was hard to breathe. Dee Dee spied a water bottle not far away. She was so thirsty. If she could just reach it with her foot. Water. That’s what she had been after when the seal on the fridge door had come unstuck abruptly and brought the rest with it. The fridge had been moved from its usual place in prep for the remodel. She’d wanted a more normal-sized one—the previous owners must’ve been caterers...or chefs...or had six kids. She stretched out her toe, but the bottle spun away. A surge of anger gripped her and she railed at God for abandoning her when she needed him most.

Fading Light

The light began to fade. Dee Dee struggled to raise her chest into a yoga cobra pose, able to twist just enough to see the red clock in the corner of the kitchen. It was after 6:00 pm. Despair seemed to form into a physical thing, rising into her throat. But then she thought of the survival lessons her daughter Sorrell, an avalanche responder in Colorado, had taught her. “You don’t panic. You don’t cry. You save energy so you can get through.”
“You don’t panic. You don’t cry. You save energy so you can get through.”
Dee Dee wasn’t going to cry. Get it together, you’re British! She made a plan: every 15 minutes, she’d yell as loudly as she could, even if it felt like something deep inside might rupture. She called out for help at a quarter past the hour.

At half past the hour.

A quarter till.

She thought of her family, so thankful that during her recent trip to England, she and her twin sister had forgiven each other, healing old rifts and wounds.

Near 8:00 pm, she heard the phone ring. Bear! He always called after finishing his 15-hour shift. To calm herself, she imagined him in the room with her. Would he realize something was wrong? What if he thought she’d just fallen asleep early with one of her migraines? Would he call back?
A black fluid was leaking from the fridge, moving slowly toward her face. Still plugged in and the door open, the fridge was overheating from trying to cool itself. It began beeping. For two and a half hours, it beeped incessantly. To keep from going insane, she told herself it was a heart monitor, its steady beat telling her she was okay. She was alive.

At midnight, she planned her funeral, her arm no longer feeling like it was being sliced by razors, but cold and numb. I’m going to die here. 

Just as she felt herself being pulled under, she saw the edge of white and golden robes, and felt a comforting presence. She closed her eyes. She was in a white hospital bed with nurses taking care of her. Safe. But then her eyes flew open and she was still pinned, the black liquid burning her cheek and broken glass etching deeper into her skin. Her arm was so cold.
As the hours passed, beautiful neon-red poppies, bright as if lit from inside, began to spark and dance across the kitchen. She watched them spin and change, mesmerized by their peaceful movement.

The phone rang at 5:00 am. Then again at 6:00. Dee Dee prayed the hardest she’d ever prayed... beseeching. She sang, she repeated nursery rhymes, she talked to the people she loved, all while her body swelled with toxins, poisoning itself.

At 6:45 am, she heard the six toots of the school bus as it pulled away, taking with it the echo of children’s laughter. Dee Dee let herself drift. Too much pain. “You can let go now, Dee Dee, you can go, no one is here, not even Jesus.” But instead of letting go as if abandoned, she gave it to God—no longer fighting, but releasing in a way that brought peace. She closed her eyes.
Someone was knocking at the door. Was it real? She wasn’t sure how much time had passed. A face peered through the window. Her neighbor! The woman looked like she might faint.
Within minutes, the fire brigade arrived, and a male voice said, “Ma’am, we’re going to save your life.” It took four of them to lift the fridge off of her. Yet their cutting off her wedding ring and the matching ring she’d bought for her and her twin sister when they were 20, upset her more than anything so far, leaving her on the verge of hysterical tears.
“Ma’am, we’re going to save your life.”
Bear had called the only neighbor whose phone number he had, sensing something was very wrong. Dee Dee was blue-lighted to MUSC, her face and body bloated and unrecognizable from the buildup of toxins from her pinioned arm. Emergency surgery saved her life. Her younger daughter, Ferne-Ruby, arrived first at the trauma unit that day, and did not leave Dee Dee’s side.

First Day Home

First day home from the hospital, Dee Dee lay on the couch in agony, Bridey curled up beside her. She was scared of hurting forever, scared of infection, scared to see her arm and face under all the stitches, staples, dressings, and splints. She felt like a monster. But then Bear came and knelt beside her. Stroking her good hand, he held out a little white lace pillow. At the center were her wedding ring and twin ring, remade and shiny. He proposed to her, as he had all those years ago, saying he loved her more than he knew possible.

“It was one of the first times in my life,” Dee Dee said, “I felt truly valued. In the back of my mind, I had always feared he loved me because he thought I was pretty, or young. Growing up with low self-esteem, I had often thought I was not good enough for God to love. It hit me with such force now. Bear valued me on the inside—my spirit... my soul. And so did, God. It was cathartic to feel absolutely loved.
Ferne-Ruby gave up her beautiful apartment to move back home so Bear could return to work. She prayed with Dee Dee through nightmares and numerous surgeries. Still, Dee Dee’s left hand began to curl in painfully like a claw. There was nothing more the doctors could do. “I made the difficult decision to have my arm amputated,” Dee Dee said.
“I made the difficult decision to have my arm amputated.”
Prior to the surgery, she and Bear held a prayer service with friends, and Dee Dee said goodbye to “Poor Paw” as she’d nicknamed her mutilated arm.

Poor Paw

Your work is done,
You can leave before me now,
We tried,
I tried,
But you got left behind
Trapped in that nightmare night,
So I’m telling you now....
Your time is up!
You did your job so well,
You helped care for my darling babies
You rocked them gently,
You made so many gardens,
You danced so many dances,
You baked so many cakes,
You hugged so many friends.
You held Bear’s hand
A million times, you wore his ring,
Farewell Poor Paw,
Good night.
That same night, Dee Dee slow-danced with Bear to Ed Sheeran’s song, "Perfect,” knowing this was the last time she would rest her left hand on Bear’s shoulder. Checking into the hospital the next morning, nervous and shaking, she realized the volunteer in the reception area was playing ‘Perfect’ on the piano. She knew God was giving her that small blessing to calm her.


After the surgery, Dee Dee renamed her arm, “Peppy,” unwilling to forego an ounce of possibility and happiness for the future. She has turned the section of kitchen where the fridge dug deep gouges into the wood floor into her art room. It has become a place she loves — where she creates beauty — painting anything from the powerful turmoil of the sea to vibrant, almost-psychedelic flowers.
Dee Dee uses a mirror box to help with the pain of a phantom limb and to balance the asymmetry. She practices flowing hand movements learned from belly-dancing, and while watching her reflection in the mirror box, often finds herself praying and talking to God.
“I’ve found my safe place. I am not broken. I have faith and fight in me!”
“I have many questions about the ebb and flow of my faith,” she said. “When my friend Andi, whom I’ve known for 35 years, moved to Charleston, I mentioned having heard the most wonderful music coming from Seacoast. We decided to attend a women’s One Night service, but sit on the end so we could escape if we wanted. We both cried for the entire thing. We’ve attended Seacoast ever since. I’ve found my safe place. I am not broken. I have faith and fight in me! I found it during that horrific night. I’m still in therapy, dealing with flashbacks and nightmares, but I will fight with everything I’ve got for the life I want to live... the one God has for me.”
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