Taking a deep breath, I blew out all the candles on my cake and made a wish.
I want to drive a car one day, I said in my head.
‘Happy birthday, Shaz!’ my mum, Clare, 43, cheered.
It was February 2015 and my 17th birthday.
As my friends turned 17 and started driving lessons, I wistfully watched on.
I’d been diagnosed with epilepsy three years earlier after suffering a seizure out of the blue.
Since then I’d suffered with cluster seizures almost every day. I never got any warning signs before, so it was difficult for me to go out with my friends.
I missed out on birthdays, shopping trips and even my school formal.
Once, I collapsed in the street, and when I came round, confused, a stranger spat: ‘What do you expect being a druggie?’
I was horrified.
But from then, I was so worried I’d have a seizure that I barely went out.
‘You’ll never be able to drive a car,’ doctors told me. ‘It’s too dangerous.’
They prescribed medication which I took daily. But my dreams of being a paramedic were down the pan, as I needed a driving licence.
Then, in July 2015, on my day off from college, I had the house to myself while Mum was at work.
To keep myself busy, I decided to cook Mum a tasty roast dinner.
For the next half an hour, I busied myself peeling vegies while the oven heated up.
Then I covered the spuds in oil and stuck them in the hot oven.
When they started to turn golden brown, I pulled the tray out with a tea towel to turn the potatoes over.
Steam rose from the tray as the oil bubbled and spat.
Then the room went black.
The next thing I knew, I was lying on the floor, surrounded by firemen with a silver shock blanket wrapped around me.
What the… ? I thought, confused.
Then I noticed there were firies crowding around me.
It felt like my hands were on fire.
I glanced down, but couldn’t see anything as the foil was in the way.
The skin on my fingers felt tight and hot, and I couldn’t bend them.
‘You’ve had a seizure,’ said a fireman gently. ‘We think your arms were inside the oven when you collapsed.’
They gave me morphine for the pain and to bring the swelling down.
Paramedics called my mum who sped home.
‘I’ve been so worried,’ she sobbed when she saw me.
An ambulance took me and Mum to hospital.
‘How did the firemen find me?’ I asked Mum.
‘Luckily, the neighbour heard a bang and knocked on the door,’ Mum said. ‘When she didn’t get an answer, she called emergency.’
Our neighbour knew about my epilepsy and I was so thankful she looked out for me.
According to paramedics, I’d been out cold for several minutes, while my arms and hands charred in the oven.
I’d been roasted alive!
Later that day, I was transferred to receive specialist care from a burns team.
‘You’ll need metal plates to support your fingers so you don’t move your skin while it’s healing,’ a doctor told me.
He told me my skin was too fragile to operate immediately but I would have surgery the next day.
The following morning, I was being prepped for my operation when the surgeon returned.
‘You’ve burnt through the blood vessels in your fingers, so the nerve endings have been ruined,’ the surgeon said. ‘I can’t guarantee we’ll be able to save your fingers.’
A sob escaped my throat.
‘I’m going to lose my fingers,’ I panicked to Mum.
After my three-hour operation, my hands were bandaged.
I prayed that my fingers had been saved and thought of everything I could do that I’d taken for granted.
Eating, typing, even pulling up a zip…
‘Thankfully your fingers are fine,’ the surgeon smiled, shortly after. Relief ran through me.
Two days later, I had a skin graft and then a second one a couple of days later.
Another week later, I glanced down while a nurse was applying a fresh bandage.
My hands were red raw. I burst into tears.
They look awful, I thought. This is my life now.
From then, I had physiotherapy every other day and gel was applied daily to minimise my scars.
From eating to getting dressed, I needed help from Mum to do everything. It was frustrating but I knew it would be a slow road to recovery.
‘You’re strong, you can get through anything,’ Mum assured me.
Last year, I had surgery to implant a brain nerve simulator into my chest.
This sends electrical simulations to calm down the irregular brain activity that leads to seizures.
Thankfully I’ve been seizure free for two and a half years. But I’m terrified that they’ll come back.
My fingers are still scarred and I cover them up every day. I even wear a jumper to the beach. And I’m unable to straighten the little finger on my right hand.
Epilepsy can be so dangerous. People don’t understand how life can change in an instant. One thing’s certain. I won’t cook a roast ever again. ●