The 8th of June, 2013, remains an unforgettable day in the life of Yinka Matthews, an interior decorator and the CEO of 22 Interior & Styling.
Yinka was about to cook around 8pm that Saturday night when she realized that the gas had leaked out and was smelling. She waited awhile for the smell to subside as she was really tired and hungry.
“Immediately, I went back after some minutes, it was like bomb. It just went gboooa…” she said, explaining that the explosion threw her from the kitchen to the living room as her roof went off.
Thankfully, her neighbours were around to rush her to the hospital where she was treated.
Five years later, Yinka doesn’t look like she had a fire accident as there were no visible scars on her body but that experience is “the scariest, the most horrible, ad the most traumatic thing I’ve ever been through in my life.”
Since she shared her story on her Instagram page, many burn survivors have reached out to her. In fact, gas companies have been contacting her to be their ambassador, just days after her story was shared.
In this interview with Sola Abe for Woman.NG, Yinka shares her story as she encourages burn survivors to look beyond their scars.
I ran out when the house caught fire. First thing I did was go to the bathroom and poured water on myself. Luckily for me, I wasn’t having any clothes on other than a wrapper and it was in the evening. So, when it caught fire, I just dropped the wrapper and ran out. My neighbours were at my rescue, pouring all sorts of things all over my body, then I was rushed to Ikeja General Hospital.
My body started changing colours, I also felt swollen and dark. Then Ikeja General Hospital transferred me to Gbagada. They specialize in burns and trauma. I was in the burn unit and I met a lot of brave and strong people. It was one of the hardest experience of my life. I don’t fall sick, I am someone that doesn’t have a headache. I’m the most healthy you could ever meet. After spending a couple of weeks at Gbagada, I came back home and that was where the journey started.
I didn’t have a bath for like two to three months. My mum and my brother would take turns cleaning my body with cloth and water. I started to heal but there were scars and discoloration. The first time I tried to go out, I almost cried myself to sleep. Even from the hospital, I was asking the doctor, ‘do you have injections that could kill me?’ because I could not think I could recover and get back my looks and it was just painful. I can’t even explain the pain of fire. It doesn’t stop. You can’t eat, sleep or take your bath. Its horrible.
If she had any suicidal thoughts
Ofcourse. I like fashion. I am a stylish person, I put a lot of efforts into my look, so, after the accident, my mum was like, ‘don’t let her see a mirror.’ So, when they finally gave me a mirror, the first thing I said was that ‘I’m gonna die,’ because healing from fire is such a long and painful thing. Two, three years down the road, you are still seeing scars and I’m thinking, ‘oh my God, I’m tired, I can’t live with these scars, I just want to die.’ Then you fall into depression a bit because it’s a very lonely world, nobody understands you. You are so insecure. The emotional scar is even worse because you are scarred for life. Its just a terrible experience.
My faith helped me a lot. I am a born again Christian and it puts this life into perspective for me. It changes my view and everything because at the end of the day, life could be snatched from you in a minute. So, the first part of accepting myself is, ‘I’m alive.’ A lot of people are dead, a lot won’t survive this. I started thanking God because when you live in a state of gratitude, you will not complain a lot. I actually held on to my faith. Prayed and fasted a lot.
Challenges as a burn survivor
It took me five years to heal. I’m not going to come out and say I healed overnight. It took a lot of work and prayer. Most importantly, this is a miracle. I really think my healing is divine. People have told me that how can you survive fire without a scar? Even me, I don’t understand but I know I serve a God of all possibilities. There were challenges, there’s still so many challenges. The emotional scar doesn’t go away. As I’m talking to you, I’m still traumatised about fire. Its something I deal with everyday as a burn survivor. You might not see a scar but the most traumatising is the emotional scar that you carry with you daily.
Dealing with it
I use this special gas. I still cannot siwtch on my gas with fire. That’s how traumatic it is. But there’s this way you can light the fire with electric and the fire will come on. My gas is very controlled. I still cook for myself and I try to put the experience behind me. I’m coming out. You can have a normal life after a gas explosion.
What her scars remind her of
The strongest woman I know because things like this will break you. It almost broke me. For the first time in my life, I didn’t want to live. I looked in the mirror sometimes and I’m like maybe you should have died in the accident. So, when I see my scars, I just smile and remind myself that ‘you walked through a fire, there is nothing you cannot survive.’ So I don’t let trivial things get to me, it just builds you. So, this changed my life and gave me a new meaning to life. I’m glad I have a voice to encourage anybody going through this to keep fighting. You are a warrior. You are not your scar, you are better than that.
I think I’m more confident now. I’m like ‘yea, I survived fire, don’t get it twisted, I’m a queen.’ I survived a gas explosion, my confidence is off the roof. I built that on my own. It took a lot of building, a lot of praying… Its not just the prayers, its about what is inside that is reflecting on the outside. Because beauty can be very superficial, nobody can look like the way they look now, forever. I’m gonna get older, so its what is inside. The inner beauty matters and I’m a genuinely good person.
What made her think it was time to share her story
I was having an emotional battle with my past. I was in a very dark place that day. Sometimes, people undermine what you have gone through in life. So, someone undermined me and I had to remind myself that this person do not define me. I was about to give up, but I thought that I’ve been through so much, I’ve come this far and for the first time, I had the courage to post it because sometimes they make you feel ashamed of the burns picture like its not supposed to be you.
So I made up my mind to own it… that is me. I was burnt I had the scar. I will post this because there are people going through this that are thinking we can never post the picture. It is okay to post that picture. That was why I posted it. I didn’t even think it was gonna go viral. I was just minding my business and all of a sudden, people that know me started calling me.
People I’ve not seen for years started calling and I’m thinking what’s wrong and they told me I was everywhere. It was overwhelming. It was worth it. You don’t understand how many people were courageous to send me pictures of their scar. Everybody was asking me what I used to clear off my scar.
I remember a girl telling me she has not gone on dates. People were sending me their pictures and kids pictures of burns. So I thought that I did something awesome today and I didn’t even know I’m gonna reach millions of people like this. It was a mind-blowing experience. I wanna tell my story myself, I don’t want people telling my story for me.
Because of my scars I stayed away for a very long time. The first time I came out after the accident, people were staring and it made me cry. So, I just decided to stay indoors and fully recover before coming out again.
Many gas companies are contacting me and asking me to represent them. They want me to be their ambassador; to represent them to show how safe and unsafe it is to use gas. So, I never thought I could make money from this.
You could never wish for something like this. I could never believe I’m gonna make money or be a brand ambassador. I’m grateful for this. That is why I always say that whatever you do, do it genuinely. It wasn’t even about the money, I’m not going to accept every endorsement. This is about helping people by educating them. A lot of people have this accident because of ignorance.
My gas was inside the kitchen. You shouldn’t have your cylinder inside the kitchen. It is better for it to be outside where there is air, where it can circulate. Sometimes the heat from the cooking and the cylinder being inside causes the explosion.