Nat De Jesus: My Story, My Words

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Nat De Jesus: My Story, My Words

February 2012

I was 12 going on 13, I was reheating some soup in the microwave and I went to take it out but the way my kitchen is laid out I didn’t see my mom was walking in and we bumped into each other, I spilled the soup on my chest and it soaked into my clothes and into my bra. It was an accident but at that moment I was a pre-teen, I was already feeling bad about my body in general so that didn’t super help.

I was already carrying a lot of internal frustration and stuff so for a long time I think I had a lot of anger towards my mom because I know that she didn’t do it on purpose but I was trying to project it onto somebody. I didn’t go to the hospital immediately because we didn’t think it was that serious, for me it was mostly that adrenaline rush of I’m fine and it’s ok and I remember going to the movies after, once I was there the adrenaline went away and I was like “Oh, I’m in a lot of pain”.

I think I went home and I rested and the following day I was like “yeah, no, this isn’t ok, it doesn’t feel good”. I went to the hospital and they said it was good that I had gone in because I could’ve gotten my burns infected or they could’ve been worse than what it was. My mom used to work at the San Diego County health department so I guess internally in the department, everyone’s always sharing programs or opportunities to promote for people and she got one about the Burn Institute.

I think that was right before my birthday and that summer I got invited to go to the burn camp and I know I definitely didn’t want to go, I always thought “I’m not burned”, “it isn’t that serious” and “it was just an accident so it’s whatever”. But my parents really pushed me to go and by the end of the week, I didn’t want to go back home and I haven’t stopped going since. I grew up in camp and I got to be a counselor the year before the pandemic began and hopefully next year if we have it in person again, I get to be one of the leaders for Leaders In Training (LIT).

Luckily, I didn’t have to stay in the hospital. I was bandaged up for about four or five months and I couldn’t do P.E. for all that time in school.

I didn’t have any surgeries or skin grafts so at the beginning I felt really awkward in the burn community because I couldn’t tell you a percentage or the degree of my burns. The journeys weren’t the same so I felt like didn’t really fit in. I’m glad my burns weren’t too demanding on my body; I did have to take it easy and I think the thing that sucked more was wearing bandages because I couldn’t wear a bra so I was just really uncomfortable and I felt really exposed.

I couldn’t wear a lot of clothes and I also had to fix my bandages myself and apply medication at school so I had to ask to go out of class a lot to go to the nurse’s office because she had a single bathroom and I could see myself whereas the regular bathroom had the mirror outside the stall and I didn’t want to change my bandage in front of all the girls. It was a big learning moment but once I got the hang of it, I figured out what worked best with me.

I think I told some of my friends about my burns but I don’t think they understood how serious it was because of the way I would tell them; I would be very vague and say “I spilled a cup of noodles on myself” and they were kind of like “it happens to everyone.”.

I always felt like it wasn’t a big deal until I started going to camp and started learning that there are ways to tell our stories and to know that it was an accident so that we don’t blame anyone. I think this has helped me learn to communicate my emotions better and figure out how I explain things overall because when I was younger, I moved with my emotions. I would let my emotions guide me and I didn’t know how to keep them in check or I didn’t know how to figure out the best approach when something happened. I think it also made me a lot more confident in the idea that my body isn’t the only thing people see of me, that I am more than my scars and I am a whole person behind that. I wouldn’t change what happened to me, maybe only how people reacted because some of my family members didn’t understand how serious it was, they would make a lot of jokes and that was affecting me mentally.

I would also want to change how doctors reacted because, this isn’t super talked about in the burn community, but me being a brown person, in the way they presented my burns they called CPS on my family because they thought my mom did it on purpose. I’ve only heard this from other black and brown survivors, that the first concern from their doctors wasn’t where they were health wise or what do they need but if we were in danger at home.

My scars aren’t visible so people wouldn’t know I was a burn survivor but when I would talk about camp and all the other events, people would think that it was very cool that I was volunteering, they thought I was coming from the outside in but then I would tell them that that is where I grew up and I always thought that was funny.

I struggle a lot with expectations because before I was intimate with people, I would have to have my whole speech of what happened and why my body looked different so I had to validate why I looked different, I later realized that it wasn’t people’s first thought of me. I struggled with thinking that everyone was staring or that I looked different or not normal (whatever that means). I now know I’m allowed to ask for help or accommodation. I was in middle school when this happened so I was really hard headed and tried to do everything I was doing before my burns but then I started to feel a lot of pain because I over exerted myself. But also, just being able to say I’m not having a good day about my pain, I wish I would’ve known it was ok to speak up. Lean on the people that are showing up for you, I know that even though I was really angry at my mom for a while, she was the main person that was going to appointments with me and trying to get me to do support groups and all of that. Understand that people that are around you are there because they want to help.

“I believe that telling our stories, first to ourselves and then to the world, is a revolutionary act that can lead to love, understanding, transcended, and community.”