The Burning Brush Experience


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On Monday afternoon April 29, 2002, I was involved in a brush fire accident that required a ten day stay at Atlanta’s Grady Memorial Hospital. While I would have never brought myself to schedule this experience on my calendar, I would not have traded it for the world. Perhaps the Lord can minister to you as you read the account of the consequences of my poor judgment.

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The Burning Brush Experience

  1. 1. By Dan T. Cathy “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for you with me…” Psalm 23:4 (NKJV)
  2. 2. Dan T. Cathy President and Chief Operating Officer Chick-fil-A, Inc. 5200 Buffington Road Atlanta, Georgia 30349-2998 Telephone 404 765-8008 Fax 404 765-8012 E-mail November 2005 Dear family and friends, As many of you know, on Monday afternoon April 29, 2002, I was involved in a brush fire accident that required a ten day stay at Atlanta’s Grady Memorial Hospital. My family and I were overwhelmed with expressions of concern, love and prayers. I thank every one of you for the role you may have played in making this one of the most meaningful experiences of my life. How can something so physically traumatic be so nurturing to the soul? Please take a few minutes to read this story that attempts to capture the experience from the patient’s view. I have also included several pictures and an interview from my wife Rhonda and my son Ross, who ministered to me in my hour of need. While I would have never brought myself to schedule this experience on my calendar, I would not have traded it for the world. Perhaps the Lord can minister to you as you read the account of the consequences of my poor judgment. Blessings to you,
  3. 3. 2 | Cathy one Pain ON MONDAY AFTERNOON, APRIL 29, 2002, I LEFT THE OFFICE TO MEET MY SON Ross at some property that we were working on near Woolsey, Georgia. I had been underway on this project for about six weeks, using a front- end loader and a Bobcat to push up brush, trees, old fence lines and other debris into piles six or seven feet high to burn. Although I could have hired out this work, working outside and getting hot, dirty and sweaty is a wonderful escape from the “corporate” role that occupies most of my time. I was burning the piles because burying the debris makes sinkholes in a pasture when the material decomposes. For three weeks, we had been burning brush piles, knowing that a ban on burning in metro Atlanta would begin May 1, just two days later. It was about 7:30 p.m. and we had only four piles left to burn. While I was enroute to the property, I asked my son Ross to pour some diesel fuel on the piles, but he called back on his cell phone to say that we had run out of diesel. So I told him to put some gasoline on the piles. “You want to use the gas?” he responded. “Yes,” I said, “but don’t light it. We’ll let the gas soak into the wood and then light it when I get there.” When I arrived, I pulled out some matches and lit the first two or three piles. They slowly caught fire because the gas had soaked in for 30 minutes and most of the fumes had evaporated. When we reached the fourth pile, I put my hands together to give Ross a boost as he climbed to the top to pour on the five gallons of gasoline. When he finished pouring the gas on top, he immediately jumped down. I lit the match. I was about an arm’s length from the pile. As I lit the match, the whole thing went “whvooom.” In a split second, I saw the flames erupt and felt this incredible wall of heat push me backward. From the corner of my eye, I saw Ross running in retreat. I knew instantly that something traumatic had taken place — I could feel a strange sensation
  4. 4. The Burning Brush Experience | 3 on my face and arms. I immediately turned and dove into the lush green fescue grass, pushing my body forward with my feet and trying to rub off any flames that might have ignited my clothes. I shouted, “Ross, am I on fire?” By that time, he was right beside me, and he said, “No, Dad. You just stay still. Just stay still. You’re okay. I’ve got to go get help.” Having left our cell phones in our vehicles, Ross jumped on the little John Deere Gator to drive back to the pickup truck near the road. About halfway there, he figured he could run faster than the Gator was going, so he jumped off and ran to the truck. In the meantime, I was just When I occasionally opened my spread eagle in the grass, and I eyes and looked around, I saw a could hear the fire behind me crowd had gathered around me burning. All the time, I was realizing — neighbors, people who had more and more that something seen the emergency vehicles, really traumatic had happened. and rescue workers. This is not your burned finger kind of thing. I just lay there with my face in the grass. I couldn’t even close my mouth because of the dirt and tightness around my lips. The sensations in my arms and face were quickly turning to searing pain. At one point, I looked over at my left hand, and I could see rolled up, melted skin hanging underneath my wrist. Ross came back with the pickup truck and helped me in. He had already called 911 and told me that help was on the way. He drove out to the intersection of Peeples Road and Highway 92 where paramedics from the fire department met us. They got me out of the truck and on my back. Then they told me that when the ambulance arrived, they would take me to Fayette Community Hospital or Southern Regional Hospital, or they could call a helicopter and Life Flight me to Grady Memorial Hospital. I knew Grady had a good reputation for its burn unit, and I knew that a helicopter would be a lot faster than the ambulance. So, they radioed for the helicopter and, fortunately, it was only four minutes away. When I occasionally opened my eyes and looked around, I saw a crowd had gathered around me — neighbors, people who had seen the emergency vehicles, and rescue workers. I don’t know how many people were there, but I do remember seeing the Fayette County fire chief. I appreciate so much how he and his department quickly and compassionately cared for me.
  5. 5. 4 | Cathy As I lay there, the emergency crew asked my name and age; I think they were just trying to get me to talk and to keep me conscious. At the same time, they were checking my vital signs — blood pressure, heart rate and temperature. They were concerned that I might have inhaled flames or extreme heat and damaged my lungs. I was very fortunate; I did not have any internal damage, not even the inside of my mouth, although the outside of my nose and lips were badly scorched. A few minutes later the helicopter landed in a neighbor’s yard about fifty yards away. They placed me on a stretcher and carried me over, and as they did they said, “Now, Mr. Cathy, you’re going to hear a helicopter, and it’s going to be kind of noisy.” But I didn’t mind that at all. A little noise was the last thing I was worried about! It was an exciting feeling at Although I only felt light-headed for a that point to be rescued in brief moment, the helicopter took off, and they continued the conversation to keep such a dramatic manner. me conscious. After starting an intravenous (IV), they began to administer morphine to suppress the pain. I remembered from treatments I received two years ago following a motorcycle accident that morphine acts very quickly. One of God’s most wonderful blessings to injured victims is morphine. I don’t know exactly all that it does physically, but it is a God-sent blessing when you are hurting. There were only three of us on the helicopter: the pilot; Marcus, the medical attendant; and me. I was trying to joke with Marcus and the pilot by asking if I could get frequent flier points for this trip and doing everything I could just to keep the conversation going. My feet were toward the front of the helicopter and my head toward the back. I said, “I don’t want to miss this whole flight. Could you prop me up a little?” “Sure,” Marcus said, and he used some sheets or a blanket to prop up my head as we flew around the busy Hartsfield International Airport toward the downtown skyscrapers at sunset. Frankly, it was an exciting feeling at that point to be rescued in such a dramatic manner. We landed on top of Grady Hospital, and they quickly took me down to the emergency room. All of my personal information and vital signs had been transmitted from the helicopter, so they didn’t have to re-document anything. The whole process was very efficient.
  6. 6. The Burning Brush Experience | 5 They had already removed my blue jeans and boots. Regrettably, they had to cut off my coveted 2001 Peachtree Road Race T-shirt. I sat on the table in the emergency room as the doctors examined me from head to toe, checking my back and legs to make sure there were no other injuries. In view of the fact that my hair was singed on the sides, I remember joking during the initial examination that I used to have a full head of hair! Morphine and intravenous (IV) fluids were being generously applied, blocking most of the pain. There’s no telling how many IV bags of fluid I went through. The big concern with burns is to avoid infection, so they caked my arms and face in Silverdine, an antiseptic cream, and lightly wrapped my arms. My face, with first and light second-degree burns, was left unwrapped. I had arrived in a hospital room around 9:30 p.m., just two hours after the accident. It was all very fast and very efficient. By that time, I had not seen any of my family or friends. Ross, I learned later, was calling the rest of the family, and they were calling others. Word of my accident traveled fast. Soon after I was wheeled into the hospital room, my wife Rhonda and her sister Pam, a registered nurse, arrived. Shortly thereafter, other friends and family slipped past the nurses’ station for a visit. I don’t remember who came into the room that night, but I know it was a steady stream of folks. I later found out there were two or three times more people who came to the hospital and were asked to stay in the waiting room. A reporter from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution overheard the emergency radio transmission and called the Chick-fil-A Public Relations Department for information on what had happened. Of course, when you hear someone is “being Life-Flighted to Grady Hospital,” that sounds pretty traumatic. I didn’t realize at that time how frightening this was for my family and so many of my dear friends. I didn’t sleep that first night. Nurses continued giving me morphine, checking my blood pressure and temperature throughout the night and all of Tuesday.
  7. 7. 6 | Cathy On Wednesday, though, the treatments of daily skin removal began. An occupational therapist took me into what is known as a hydrotherapy room, although I’m sure those who have participated in that experience can think of more creative names for that room. The primary treatment for burn victims is to remove the burned skin so that bacteria does not build up underneath and cause infections. The therapist began by taking off all the bandages and cleaning the burns — rubbing them with a sponge, then taking scissors and scraping any dead skin that my body was sloughing off. On my face, there were all first-degree burns, and those on my arms were first and second- degree burns, with some deep second-degree burns. Fortunately for me, I had no third-degree burns, which typically require skin grafts and take much longer to heal. The therapist picked and peeled on both hands and arms. Exposed raw nerves were extremely sensitive. Every day there were more layers of skin sloughing off, which the therapist had to scrape away. I was given morphine during that procedure, which typically lasted for about an hour. Thursday we went through the whole thing again. I had to put my arms in big pans of salt water that I found soothing. On this day, the pain from the rubbing and scraping was five times worse than it had been the day before. Despite the morphine, the process was excruci- ating. Rhonda was there with me, rubbing my shoulders to help me deal with the pain, but she had to leave the room several times because my arms became so bloody. My entire body would just start shaking. My occupational therapist, Lori Goldstein, said after Thursday’s session, “We’ve got to do this differently tomorrow.” During Friday and Saturday’s hydrotherapy session, I was placed on a steel table covered in plastic. In addition to giving me morphine, they also gave me Versed, which causes temporary
  8. 8. The Burning Brush Experience | 7 amnesia. I had to remain partially conscious so I could move around when asked. I have no memory of the treatment on Friday or Saturday. Rhonda said later that my body felt the pain because Lori would have to stop and let me rest for a while when my body started shaking. I remember walking into the room for therapy, and I remember going back to my room afterward. That’s it. Again, that’s another marvelous drug that is used in this treatment. On Sunday, they typically don’t do extensive work in the burn unit; they just change the bandages and that was the first day that I was able to shower and shave. After that, each day was better, but I still needed morphine for the pain. They were giving me anywhere from 10 to 40 milligrams a day. They sometimes give burn victims as much as 80 or 100 milliliters or more, so my injuries were not nearly as extensive as what some people experience. Dr. Ferrell, who was assigned to my case, as well as several other internists, was pleased with the progress that I was making. My face was clearing up remarkably fast. When I went into Grady, it was swollen and burned looking, but every visitor that I had from Saturday on was amazed at how quickly it was clearing up. By the end of the second week, I still had chapped lips, a chapped nose, and light red streaks down the side of my face. My arms were still wrapped from above my elbows to my fingertips to protect them as they healed. I was ready to go home.
  9. 9. 8 | Cathy two Gratitude LYING IN A HOSPITAL BED IS A WONDERFUL TIME FOR REFLECTION. I’M THANKFUL for the incredible resources that we have in our public servants who come to our aid when we are in need of being rescued. If there’s anything I’ve learned from September 11 — and I think most people would agree — it’s that we woefully underappreciate our civil servants. Out of a total humanitarian motive, these heroes are out there risking their lives to save others every day. I’m talking about everybody from politicians to firefighters, rescue workers to police, and all the other people who keep our society operating. I was the beneficiary of heroic efforts by the fire department in little Woolsey, Georgia, the medic on the helicopter and the Life Flight trans- portation. I’m grateful to the admissions personnel at Grady Hospital, the emergency technicians who examined me, and all the other hospital personnel and medical attendants. I’m thankful for the nurses and the care they provided. The hospital dieticians stayed right on top of what I was eating to make sure I was taking in enough calories and protein. They said the healing process for burns of my extent is the equivalent of running 10 miles a day as my body repairs and replaces cells that have been damaged. But despite the thousands of calories I consumed while there, I still lost 10 pounds. Grady Hospital is a terrific place — not just the doctors, nurses and therapists — but even the housekeeping people who work so hard to keep everything clean and neat. I could not have been in better care. The people were warm, congenial, considerate, respectful and compassionate. They were just outstanding.
  10. 10. The Burning Brush Experience | 9 I am a native of Atlanta, born on Peachtree Street at Crawford Long Hospital, and I have lived here all my life. I don’t know that I’ve been to Grady Hospital more than two or three times to visit friends who were there as patients. Over the years, whenever I was riding through the downtown connector, I got into the habit of looking over at Grady and thanking God that I was out there on the expressway and not a patient lying in one of those hospital rooms. I thanked God for my good health and prayed for those that were there. I know my prayer now is going to be, “Thank You, God that I was at Grady. Thank You for my ‘Burning Brush Experience.’” three Community IT WAS A RICH EXPERIENCE BEING AT GRADY, REALIZING THAT WHILE IT HAS A GREAT reputation for its trauma center, it is also one of the major indigent-care facilities in the city of Atlanta, state of Georgia and the Southeast region. As each day progressed, I regained more mobility and was able to walk around with the help of my wife Rhonda. I stepped outside my hospital room and began to walk down the halls. Making a little loop down the hall from my room was a sure sign of recovery. Eventually, I was able to go downstairs to the lobby and back up again. As I explored more of the hospital, I began to realize the kind of community that
  11. 11. 10 | Cathy exists at Grady and the scope of people who are treated there — the scope of injury and the scope of social conditions in which people are living. Just being with the regular folks, and not in some swanky five- star hospital, I had a sense that I was right where Jesus would have been. From my hospital room, I could hear helicopters overhead — other patients being Life-Flighted just three floors above me. Just below me, people were arriving in ambulances. They would typically turn off their sirens about a block away from the hospital so I knew that in the future, they didn’t disturb all the patients. whenever I passed by I tried to get a good fix on exactly where Grady Memorial Hospital, my room was located on the north side of the I would want to remember hospital. I knew that in the future, whenever my experience. I passed by Grady Memorial Hospital, I would want to remember my experience. Monday evening, I ventured down to the emergency entrance to see the ambulances bringing in broken bodies. As I walked around in a hospital gown with an IV tube in tow, a security guard came over and asked me, “Are you a patient in the hospital?” I said, “I am,” and she said, “Well, you really need to stay closer or, better yet, inside the hospital. You shouldn’t be out in this area at night.” Evidently, it’s a rather dangerous area around Grady, and she did not want me to venture out too far. As I was walking back inside, I met a lady who was on the Grady Hospital staff. I asked, “What’s your job?” “I’m a social worker,” she said. She introduced herself as Mrs. White. I asked what she did specifically, and she said, “When an ambulance arrives, my job is to help identify the victim if they don’t already know who the person is. Many times these people don’t have any identification on them. I have to go back and find out where the ambulance picked up the individual, call the sheriff’s department and see what was reported. Then we can try to contact relatives or friends. We try to meet the immediate needs of the family.” You can imagine the scope of cases she must deal with — from tragic deaths to amputations, paralysis and other life-threatening injuries.
  12. 12. The Burning Brush Experience | 11 Then as she observed my burns, Mrs. White said, “Oh, I know what burns are all about.” I said, “Well, tell me about it.” She told me: “About 15 years ago, my husband was a heavy equipment operator in Augusta, Georgia, and he was involved in some type of incident where there was an explosion. He had burns over 80 percent of his body. They had him in the hospital there in Augusta, and because I worked at Grady, I was able to make arrangements to have him transferred to Grady, where he stayed for eight months. He not only survived but is now back at work again!” I was really encouraged to learn that people with much more extensive burns than mine usually make a full recovery. I was amazed to learn so much about burns and burn treatment. For example, while there have not been a lot of improvements in burn treatment, there have been many advances in pain management. Doctors have found that relieving the body of the pain sensation aids in the healing process. four Reflection Ross was terror-stricken when the brush ignited. He was horrified at seeing what was happening to his father. While I remained conscious of what was going on throughout this whole thing, I never felt fearful. At the same time, I never felt particularly courageous either. Through- out the entire experience, I felt I was being totally cared for. There was not one thing for me to worry about. It never crossed my mind to be concerned with long-lasting injuries, although they could have been substantial. From the outset, I felt God’s presence with me the whole way. But it’s hard to separate the physical, emotional and spiritual experiences. Maybe this will help explain my feelings: Somebody said to me in the hospital, “Dan, this is just a little detour in life.” Well, that’s not true. This isn’t a detour in my life. This is part of the agenda that God has for me as He deals in my life. This was not a tragic
  13. 13. 12 | Cathy experience in my life. Just the opposite; this is a marvelous experience for me. I don’t mean to belittle the suffering of someone who may go through a similar, if not worse, experience than mine. There were so many wonderful dimensions for me that I cannot consider this a detour and certainly not a tragedy. From Rhonda’s perspective, she would not describe it as a marvelous experience. Neither Ross nor Andrew, my two sons, would describe it that way. I’m the only one who would describe this as a marvelous experience. For example, there were the incredible expressions of love and support from far and wide. Within 24 hours, Kay Shoaf, my assistant, was responding to e-mails and so were other corporate staff who immediately jumped in to help manage the communications. They kept friends, extended family, the media, Operators, corporate suppliers and other associates up to date with news. E-mail and voicemail allowed us to communicate accurately and imme- diately as events unfolded — even the very night of the accident. Rhonda even left a daily update on our answering machine at home. By the third day, I was able to send a personal voicemail message to all the Operators and corporate staff to communicate my progress. I thought that they wanted to hear from me and needed to hear my voice. It was important that they knew how I really felt emotionally, as well as how I was doing from a medical standpoint. My upbeat attitude about the experience was not a “positive mental attitude.” There was never the thought to psyche myself up to feel good about a bad situation. Not the first thought of worry came to my mind. I honestly never felt it was a bad situation. From the beginning, I had total confidence in the doctors and total confidence in the care I was being given. Most of all, I knew God’s presence was there and that I had nothing about which to worry or to be concerned. Our Heavenly Father is never caught by surprise even in our foolish mistakes.
  14. 14. The Burning Brush Experience | 13 five Enlarging My Territory ONE OF THE BIG TAKE-AWAYS FROM THIS EXPERIENCE FOR ME IS THAT MY TERRITORY has been expanded. We talk about the Prayer of Jabez in which Jabez asks the Lord to expand or enlarge his territory. I now have a connection with people who have experienced burns and who have a more extended stay than just an overnight quick check-up at an emergency room. Until now, I had never spent the night in a hospital as a patient. I’ve never had what I would call an extended stay in a hospital, but I can understand that experience now. Another big take-away is the overwhelming, compassionate response of people through letters, messages and prayers. Of course, my family was there with me on Monday night when the event happened — Mom and Dad, Rhonda and our boys. Dad came back several times throughout my stay. He is, as people who know him will tell you, very compassionate and has a very tender heart. I knew he was hurting more than he would say each time he came by the hospital for a visit. We would visit for a little while and, before he left, he would tear up as he said goodbye. Even though the family and the doctors requested that other visitors not come to the hospital, a number of them did, and I was honored to see every one of them. Just to be able to have a conversation helped me take my mind off other things and just enjoy their presence. To feel their love for me was wonderful. I had total peace, A third big take away is knowing that you God’s peace, even out don’t have to go through an experience like this in that field with the in a state of fear. I experienced comfort through- fire burning behind me. out the whole process. I had total peace, God’s peace, even out in that field with the fire burning behind me. I knew even then that there’s never a place I’m going to go that God is not already there. Psalm 139 talks about going in the deepest part of the sea or the highest mountain tops and never escaping God’s presence. Where can I flee His presence? Nowhere. You can never go anywhere that God’s presence isn’t already there. Even when we do something stupid like I did!
  15. 15. 14 | Cathy Now, please don’t misunderstand me. I never would have put this on my schedule. I never would have put this in my Daytimer. God loves us so much that He, as our spiritual academic dean, knows just what our wayward heart needs. My prayer has been, “Lord, help me to be a good student. I don’t want to fail this class and have to relearn the valuable lessons you want me to learn.” This is not to say that God had anything to do with the foolish thing I did. I lit that pile of brush with fresh gasoline when the fumes were all around me. It could have been not only permanently tragic for me, but also for my son, Ross. But, God used this experience to take me into waters just deep enough to receive a rich blessing from the experience, but not so deep that I was of no use to others. six The Least of These THOSE WHO KNOW ME WILL NOT BE SURPRISED TO HEAR THAT THIS WAS NOT A “come-back-to-Jesus” experience at all for me. I’ve been disciplined and very regular in my prayer life, in my personal Bible study life, and I have seen God working in my life on many occasions. While I was at Grady, someone sent me a I realized how much I series of CDs of the gospels (Matthew, Mark, needed to go back and Luke and John) narrated by a talented actor refresh myself with the with backup music behind him. Since I couldn’t stories of Jesus and the flip pages and didn’t feel like reading, I loved listening to those gospel CDs. I realized how things that He did. much I needed to go back and refresh myself with the stories of Jesus and the things that He did. Since this experience, it seems like the Scripture leaps off the paper with fresh meaning. Sometimes when visitors came to my hospital room, I would say, “I’ve got to play something for you.” Then I would hit the play button on the CD, and they would just have to sit there and listen. It might take 10 or 15
  16. 16. The Burning Brush Experience | 15 minutes, but they would listen with me to a chapter from the Bible. We would take that moment to hear what God had to say. It didn’t necessarily have any direct application to the situation I was in, but it was just the experience of listening to hear who Jesus is, what He did and how He had compassion for people. I think it’s dynamic to relive how Jesus ministered to people, and then to venture down to the lobby of Grady, the largest indigent care hospital in the southern United States, and to walk around and visit with the people that He spent most of His time with: the down-and-outs, the outcasts, the people who many others didn’t have time for, people who were shrugged aside or pushed off to the side. The juxtaposition of those experiences made me want to go back to Grady Hospital for future visits — but not necessarily as a patient! God had prepared me for that aspect of my experience through our involvement with a homeless ministry right across the downtown connector from Grady Hospital. It’s called Blood-N-Fire, and it’s been a great experience to have friendships with people who are jobless, who have broken lives and who are alcoholics. A friend of mine who is a dentist, Abner Moore, took Rhonda and me to visit Blood-N-Fire a few years ago. I was taken aback by the whole experience. Until then, the ministries with which I had been involved were limited to teaching a Sunday School class, serving on a deacon board, and playing my trumpet during worship services. Direct ministry to people who are really destitute and broken was “not in my portfolio,” if you will forgive my use of a business term in this instance. Blood-N-Fire had allowed me to get out there with people who, hereto- fore, were not part of my normal circle of contacts. Within the last six to eight months we’ve been able to employ people from Blood-N-Fire to help us at different projects at the Chick-fil-A home office and at Berry College where they are helping us with construction of our marriage conference center. The opportunity I had to meet people at Grady further enlarged my territory.
  17. 17. 16 | Cathy seven Prayer WE HAD A LOT OF PRAYER TIME AT GRADY. EVERY VISITOR WHO CAME IN WANTED to have prayer, and I was all for it. We would hold hands or maybe we’d just kneel around the bed. Of course, my church family at New Hope was so supportive. The New Hope church family from both the south campus and the north campus and all the ministry staff supported me tremendously with their prayers and encouragement. The Christian community really rallied in this situation with prayer chains and prayer letters signed by dozens of people. The prayer networks were fully mobilized. I had some very well-known people, who I’m surprised even remembered that I ever shook That quickly put a lot of their hand, remember me in prayer. things in perspective; I had That was a wonderful part of the entire nothing more than a splinter experience. in my finger compared to At the same time, we prayed for the what some of the other other patients who were in the hospital patients were confronting. with us. As I was able to move out from my room, we were able to learn the stories of some of the other people who were in neighboring rooms. That quickly put a lot of things in perspective; I had nothing more than a splinter in my finger compared to what some of the other patients were confronting. There was a young boy of 14 or 15 who had been out with some friends and had kicked an exploding can of gasoline. He had injuries over his face and the side of his body. And there was a lady right next door to me who was 94 years old and had Alzheimer’s. Her daughter had lit some candles for her, and somehow one of the candles had fallen over into her lap and caught her clothes on fire. Every patient in the burn unit had a story, and they all needed our prayers. I made sure that whenever we were ready to have prayer time that if anyone from the Grady staff was in the room or about to come in the room, we asked them to join us in prayer. There was a wide range of faiths
  18. 18. The Burning Brush Experience | 17 represented among the medical staff. My occupational therapist was of the Jewish faith. One of the male nurses at night, an African-American, said he and his family were Jehovah’s Witnesses. I had wonderful opportunities to talk to him about the Christian faith. I had prayer with my burn doctor. He was in his early 60s and kept incredibly long hours. I prayed with him several times asking God to give him strong health as he continued to minister to the needs of the many burn patients who sought aid at Grady. Several of my nurses were wonderful Christians. Whenever they came in the room, we had a good time talking about God’s goodness and mercy. We prayed that one of the nurses would not be fearful as her son stayed away from home for the first time with school friends. Just as I needed prayers, I became more sensitive to the prayer needs of others. eight Armchair Conversations I NEVER SPENT ONE NIGHT ALONE DURING MY HOSPITAL STAY. OUR SON ANDREW stayed with me five nights, my brother Bubba stayed some, and Woody Faulk spent a couple of nights with me, as well. I really enjoyed their company. In fact, one of the richest aspects of the whole experience was being able to have extended conversations with people without looking at my watch or wondering what’s next on my calendar. We just sat around and talked. As time went by, I was able to sit in a chair and visit. We assembled about nine chairs from all the other rooms that weren’t being utilized. People came in and sat and visited, and it was like sitting on the back porch in the old days — just talking and chatting on many subjects.
  19. 19. 18 | Cathy What a novel idea to break up our twenty-first century routine! I would like to go back to the office now and just sit and visit with people, anyone who might like to visit. I would like for them to drop by my office and just talk on whatever subject they’d like to discuss. We wouldn’t even have to talk about business topics. From my experience, there is ministry in just being able to have conversation. My life was enriched by having those good meaningful conversations with people without having to worry about lists of bullet points and sound bites. I guess the Lord knew what I needed. I hope that’s going to add to my leadership skill set. I know God is working on me — teaching me how to minister to people. Realizing that we have other people at Chick-fil-A who are better strategic thinkers and planners with great business insights, my role with the company is to be a guardian of the corporate culture. Part of that corporate culture is the ministry of family and caring for one another and being concerned about the needs of the total person. So my ministry and effectiveness have been enhanced by this experience.
  20. 20. The Burning Brush Experience | 19 Rhonda Cathy’s Experience one Mustard Seeds IT WAS RIGHT AFTER DARK AS THE DOGS AND I WERE WALKING FROM THE WOODS toward the house when I saw my sister Pam. She called, “Rhonda!” Sometimes you can hear in a voice, in just a word, that there has been a boo-boo, especially when your husband and sons all ride motorcycles and all have been in wrecks. I said, “Uh-oh. Which one?” “Ross called,” she said. “Oh, gosh,” I said. “Where is he? Is he in the ditch?” “No,” she said. “He called to say Dan’s been burned, and I don’t know how bad it is.” “Okay,” I said, “Let’s go up to the house, and I’ll change clothes. We need to get the dogs in the kennel to get them settled down, so if we’re not home for two or three days, they’re going to be all right.” A year-and-a-half-ago, our pastor told a story during his sermon about a baby who had been deathly ill in the hospital. Our pastor’s brother was the baby’s doctor, and no matter what he did, the baby wasn’t getting any better. There was no response to medicines that should have worked. The doctor was puzzled, and he was praying over this baby when a voice told him, “Take the IV out.” He thought, “Now, that’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. That’s the life support. We can’t take the IV out.” But the voice was strong, and it said, “Take the IV out now.” He did, and then he saw that it was infected. That had been the problem all along. And at the same moment, the child’s father and grandfather had gone off to another room to pray and, as they did, they smelled the sweetest smell they had ever smelled, both of them, a smell so sweet they couldn’t breathe in enough of it.
  21. 21. 20 | Cathy They looked up and, at the door, a big man in scrubs was standing who said, “I’ve come to tell you the baby is fine,” and he left. They went running down the hall and the doctor told them the baby was, indeed, going to be fine now. Then he asked, “How did you know he was okay? We’ve just done it.” Then they told him about the man in scrubs. But their description didn’t match anybody working in the hospital. They knew then that it had been an angel with the message. A few months later I was in the barn behind Lord, if these are our house and a sweet, sweet smell filled the guardian angels and place, reminding me of that story. And I one of us needs them, thought, “Uh-oh.” Then I prayed, “Lord, if these just keep them close. are guardian angels and one of us needs them, just keep them close.” The next day Ross had a bad motorcycle wreck going out to repair a fence and, in the ambulance going to the hospital, he was not talking right. His speech was slurred badly. “Ross,” I said, “I don’t know what’s ahead of us, but I know God is here with us. Just rest in that; God is here. We’ve got guardian angels controlling this right now. We don’t know how well you’re going to do, but God is here right now.” When you walk each day with Christ, your spiritual awareness grows. We’re told that if we have the faith of a grain of mustard seed, we can move mountains. Have you seen anybody move mountains? Well, that’s the faith I want. two Prayer FOR A WEEK BEFORE DAN’S ACCIDENT, I HAD BEEN AWARE OF SOMETHING. THE only way I can describe it is a darkness in my periphery. I had rebuked
  22. 22. The Burning Brush Experience | 21 Satan, thinking this was a satanic attack, and I was asking for guardian angels to be around us in a special way because I just didn’t know what was happening. Then Pam stood in the driveway and said, “Rhonda,” and I knew. Pam drove to Grady, and I could see that she was nervous. “Let’s just keep calm,” I said. But she wasn’t. On the way to the hospital, I started calling people on the cell phone telling them that Dan had been burned and Life Flighted to Grady, and I asked them to pray. From the beginning, I never got panicky. I knew God is going to take care of us. In fact, the first time I became uneasy was when we had to go through a metal detector, checking for guns and knives to get into the hos- pital. I initially felt very uncomfortable walking through the emergency area of Grady Hospital where so many gunshot victims and other trauma victims were being treated. We went on up to the burn unit, and it wasn’t very long before the doctor came out and told us Dan was stable. He was going to be all right. That was the main thing we wanted to hear. Within minutes, a crowd of people surrounded us in the waiting room. Everyone I had called had called someone else, and they all were concerned for Dan. The associate pastor from our church led us in prayer, asking for Dan’s healing and in my heart that prayer left me feeling uncomfortable. I felt like we needed God’s will, and if God’s will meant that he was going to take Dan, I could accept that. It’s all about God’s will, not our selfishness. If God’s will is for Dan to die, then if He is our Abba Father, He is going to fulfill our needs — all of them. And so, I sat there for a little while and I thought, “I just can’t leave that prayer like that.” People all around the room had been praying as well, so I said, “We need to pray for God’s will to be done in this hour. What is to come is to
  23. 23. 22 | Cathy come, and we are not to fear it. And so we need to pray for God’s will to be done and that we have the grace and strength to endure and accept what is God’s will.” And nobody prayed after that. So that was my prayer: That we would totally trust God and know He would meet our needs. And whether it’s down a road where we don’t want to go or whether Dan was to fully recover, my prayer was that we would accept that in full trust. So it was just the filling of the Holy Spirit that allowed me never to panic. The Spirit was there. What are a few scars After we prayed, I wondered what the next step when you know he’s would be. We knew that Dan had these injuries, and the nurse was saying he was going to be fine. going to live? It didn’t matter to me, and I knew it didn’t matter to him, in terms of how he looked or whether he would have scars. What are a few scars when you know he’s going to live? three Pain DAN BEGAN HYDROTHERAPY ON WEDNESDAY, AND IT HURT SO MUCH TO SEE HIM in such pain. The first day wasn’t so bad, but the second day there was a lot more pain, and that’s when it was awful. There was nothing I could do but rub his shoulders and tell him to breathe deep and try to relax his muscles. But every inch of him was as hard as the table — every muscle was tense with pain. That took a lot out of him. Then he would come back to the room, and people would be waiting in line to visit with him. The nurses were afraid he was going to be overloaded, so one of them put a “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door. They said he needed to sleep and rest to keep his blood pressure down. Yet people would just walk in. One man came in and visited for 20 minutes. When he left I asked Dan, “Who was that person?” “I don’t know,” Dan said. “I’ve never talked to him before, but I know his company does business with Chick-fil-A.”
  24. 24. The Burning Brush Experience | 23 Dan loved having the company — it was great to keep his mind off his pain. When people came in, he got excited and animated. But the medical staff was concerned that he was not getting enough rest because by Sunday he really had not yet begun to heal. It wasn’t until Monday that they said he had actually made improvement. All the while a heart doctor kept coming in and listening to his heart. That’s probably the only time I was getting anxious because healing from burns like that puts a lot of stress on the heart, and Dan’s blood pressure kept shooting up. But after spending all day Sunday trying to be a gatekeeper, and seeing how much Dan enjoyed the visitors, I realized that it was not up to me to make him pace himself. That was not my responsibility. It would have to be his. So many people reached out to Dan, and yet their reaching out was tiring to those around Dan, too. One morning as I dressed to go to the hospital and be with him, I took more than 20 phone calls in two hours, and I still wasn’t completely dressed. I told Ross, “I will not answer the phone again.” It was impossible to do that and be with Dan to meet his needs, as well. Then at night, I would come home and the message machine would be full — 20 or 25 calls. We love people and were grateful for their outpouring of support, but we couldn’t keep up with them. four Community EARLY IN THE WEEK, IT WAS LATE IN THE EVENING BEFORE I LEFT THE HOSPITAL TO drive home and get some sleep, and whoever was spending the night with Dan would have to walk me to the car. Then I would drive him through the parking lot and drop him off at the front door. It broke my heart when I looked at the people around Grady, and I thought, “Jesus would love every one of you. He would not fear you.” Then I thought, “But We are so unprepared you could kill me.” We are so unprepared to to deal with people who deal with people who most need our help. most need our help.
  25. 25. 24 | Cathy We tried to reach out to the hospital staff. It seemed that the folks cleaning up rooms were the least appreciated, and yet they always smiled and always had a kind word. One of the “big wheels” from the hospital came in one day, and we told him what a good job the staff was doing to keep the room clean. A little later, one of the ladies said in a staff meeting that the man had recognized them for their good work. She said that in 15 years they had never received public recognition like that, and they appreciated it so much. “Well, let me tell you,” I said, “you are as important to us as any doctor in here. Because what good is a nasty hospital going to do a patient?” Then I hugged her and the other two ladies with her. One day, I heard them in the room next door talking about what a mess it was, so when Dan checked out, I stripped the bed and started wiping down the surfaces. One of the women from Dan’s office asked, “Rhonda, what are you doing? Are those your own sheets?” I said, “No, but some- body has to do this, and we’re the ones who Getting to know them messed them up.” reminded me not to What could a hospital do without the cleaning look through people. crew? And those people have to clean up some gross stuff. I wouldn’t want the job, but they’re willing to do it. Getting to know them reminded me not to look through people. I think we can botch up God’s will at any point in life with the foolish decisions we make, but we should take each opportunity to use it as a witness. We took the opportunity to love people at that hospital that normally aren’t loved. We acknowledged them and did not look through them. So I think at this point you say, “God, let me suffer the consequences of Dan’s stupid decision.” This is what I’ve learned from this experience, and I’ve had a chance to love people.
  26. 26. The Burning Brush Experience | 25 Ross Cathy’s Experience Faith AS I WAS GETTING DOWN OFF THE PILE, I SAW DAD FIDDLE IN HIS POCKETS FOR matches, and I said to myself, “Tell me he’s not about to light that pile.” We had started the first three piles with gas, but we had let the fumes get away first. When I saw him looking for matches in his pocket, I threw a pack to him. Then I took maybe three steps and I heard this whvooom! Then I heard the worst scream I had ever heard someone yell in my life. And before I even turned around, I yelled, “Drop, Dad, drop!” He was on the ground just shaking his arms and looking like he was having a seizure, and I was telling him, “Stay down and smother it.” When I was sure he was not burning, I had to call 911. I ran to the John Deere Gator, but it wasn’t fast enough, so I got off and ran to get a tele- phone. I called for an ambulance, but the property we were clearing didn’t have an address, so I told them to meet us at Peeples Road and Highway 92, then I drove the pickup back to where Dad was. When I got there, he wasn’t moving, and I smelled the worst smell I had ever smelled in my life — burned flesh and hair. And all I could see was the back of his head; his face was in the grass, and I knew it was going to be bad. But when I got close to him, he was talking, so that was a good sign. Then he said he wanted me to drive him to the hospital instead of waiting for the ambulance, so I called and cancelled the ambulance. I helped him get in the truck and started driving. He sat there with his eyes closed, the skin melted off his forearms, and his face burned and covered with dirt. I had to roll down the windows to keep from getting sick from the smell. I hope I never smell that scent again. All along the way I was trying to get in touch with Mom on the cell phone. I finally got Aunt Pam, who is a nurse. She said it was important to get some water on the burns, if I had any. So I poured water on his arms, and he screamed because it hurt him so badly, and his face cringed, and I could see that it was badly burned, too.
  27. 27. 26 | Cathy As we came down the dirt road, we passed a fire truck and stopped. They took one glance at Dad and said, “We’ve got to get help. If his head’s burned, his lungs may be burned.” So they called for Life Flight. I stopped the truck near a grassy area, and they helped him out onto the ground to wait for the helicopter. I knew I didn’t have the patience at that point to drive through traffic to the hospital, so I drove to the house and rode with someone else to Grady. It took until about Thursday for the reality of everything to set When you have an accident like in. I don’t think I shed a tear that, you know what you have until then — everything was to do, and you do it. If you’re automatic. When you have an hysterical, you’re not helping accident like that, you know anybody get the job done. what you have to do, and you do it. If you’re hysterical, you’re not helping anybody get the job done. Later in the week, though, I had to get out of the hospital — to take a break. And when I went to bed, all I could do was smell that burnt flesh and hair. The smell wouldn’t come off my hands, and I told Mom, but she couldn’t smell it. My hands smelled like soap to her. The smell was in my nose — in my head — and it wouldn’t go away. In the last year, I have had to give up my favorite thing on earth: riding motocross. I have seen this happen to my dad. And I’ve carried my best childhood friend’s casket to the grave. But I don’t sit here and look at death as something to be scared of. We’re all going to die someday; death is just kind of a time-out. If Dad dies, I won’t see him for a little while, then I’ll get to hang out with him again. If you have faith in God and Jesus as your Savior, why sit here and be scared about dying? I mean, Earth’s the worst hell we’re ever going to go through if you’re a Christian.
  28. 28. A Note from Dan Cathy It is my hope that your faith in God’s provision, presence and protection will be strengthened as you read this account. Our heavenly Father desperately desires to have a personal, intimate relationship with each of us. As John 3:16 states, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.” If you have not received this most precious gift, follow this simple A-B-C plan: A — Admit that you are a sinner and will never be able to live the life of joy, peace and comfort He wants for you (even when we go through the fires of life) apart from a relationship with Him. B — Believe that the Creator of the universe wants to have a genuinely personal relationship with you. We express that belief when we… C — Confess our spirit of rebellion and commit our life to Him. Dan T. Cathy is the president and chief operating officer of Chick-fil-A, Inc., a privately owned chain of fast food restaurants specializing in “The Original Chicken Sandwich.” The company’s corporate purpose is “To glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us. To have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-fil-A.” Copyright 2005 CFA Properties, Inc.