We had a bit of a scare last week. Aside from the pandemic itself. At 34 weeks pregnant I started having contractions. Which coincided with some other preterm labor symptoms. I shall spare you all the specifics of my cervix. But thankfully, things have settled down a little bit.
When I got pregnant, I was faced with an ominous feeling that I hadn’t really prepared for. My first son was born at 35 weeks 0 days. And because of that had a required stay in the NICU. That turned out to be an incredibly traumatic experience. I hesitate to use the term “PTSD” simply because I think that it is perhaps a bit too dramatic for what I’m experiencing. But it may be close. In a previous post I wrote about the hysterical crying I experienced throughout my first and second trimester. Every time I thought about going back to that hospital, about delivering my baby, about what “could be” it sent me into a spiral of fear and dread the likes of which I’ve never felt. And while I’ve stopped crying because of those fears, some new ones have taken their place.
As the news spreads and the cases in the US grow, the Covid-19 pandemic has started to takes its toll on my psyche. The past couple of weeks have been worry on top of worry. It has been formidable. It’s such a futile thing, isn’t it? Worry. But, we can’t help it. I think some of us are more susceptible to it than others. Predisposed perhaps. Whether by upbringing, or anxiety disorders. Whatever the case may be, it doesn’t really make a difference. It is just as futile.
So, the catch 22 here is..
We needed to get to 35 weeks and 1 day. That has been the goal for a long time. About 9 months to be exact. 35 weeks and 1 day is the cut off for a mandatory NICU stay. Wednesday, April 1st was that precipose. I even had a premonition that the baby would be born on that day. Last week when the contractions and other things started, I tried to will it to not happen. I needed more time. I needed April 1st. I know that I can’t control things with my mind, but that doesn’t stop me from trying. “If I don’t pack my hospital bag, he won’t come.” It sounded logical, and so it became a theory I put into practice. Needless to say, it worked. Coincidentally….
And here we are on the other side of it by 2 days. Now, I found myself, not necessarily hoping I’ll go into labor, but kind of. The cases of Covid -19 in the state of Maine are growing steadily. There was a large spike today. I live in the most populated county, with the most cases, and will be delivering at the biggest hospital in the state. I’ve been going to the doctor at least once or twice a week, each time asking for status updates on the hospital. The most unsettling thing I think is hearing the answer ” I don’t know” when asking a seemingly easy questions. And it being followed by “it changes every day” as to a policy or procedure.
My worries are that my husband won’t be allowed in. That if we wait too long, that I’ll have to deliver this baby alone. Obviously doctors will be there, but… You know what I mean. The thought of that is hard enough. But if push came to shove (hah!), I’d manage it. The real worry; the deep down, bowl me over fear I have is everything after delivery. What if the baby has to go to the NICU? Will my husband and I be able to see him together? Will only one of us be able to? Can we take turns or is it only one of us for his entire stay? Or better yet – Will we be able to see him at all? Several people in my office building have confirmed cases. The two week self-quarantine period we were on has passed, but is that up to their ever changing standards? What will happen between now and whenever this baby comes that could change the policies of Maine Medical Center and stop us from seeing our baby. And there are so, so many other questions… See? Futile.
So, This is where I’m at. These are the things thoughts that have kept me restless lately. We’re all going to come out of this with our own Pandemic story. And I think mine will be a lot like many others. There’s nothing extraordinary about it. But I find it helpful to write it down.
What an odd thing, antipacation. It has so many different connotations. The anticipation of Christmas morning as a kid, and even now as a parent. It evokes a sense of excitement, something magical. But anticipating news from a doctor’s office comes with a certain sense of dread. It can be good or bad, and either way it feels just about the same physically. But no matter what, I can’t say the word without hearing Carly Simon’s voice. Antici -pay -ay -tion.
My husband and I are expecting our second child in May. Our first son, Nikola, was 5 weeks early. And because he was so early he had a mandatory stay in the NICU. Couple that experience with a tough couple of days in the maternity unit and it has led to an unexpected reaction on my part.
This second pregnancy wasn’t planned necessarily. While my husband and I wanted a second child, this one came a bit sooner than we had discussed. And at the first hint of those telling symptoms, I started to feel something emotionally that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. At first, I was in denial. I didn’t take a pregnancy test for days even though it was clear I was expecting. That should’ve been my first clue that something was up. Eventually I did, and while there was certainly excitement, it came with an overwhelming sense of trepidation.
Every mother has a birth story. And most love to tell theirs. I do not. If I try, I leave parts out. Either because of modesty, or because I’m already crying too hard. At our first doctors appointment, I cried hysterically. And then at our second, and third. I tried so hard to communicate to my doctor what I was feeling. He would try to assure me that it wouldn’t be the same this time. But to no avail. My crying continued far beyond the doctors appointment. It was every night, and throughout most days. People would want to talk about the baby, and I’d stop them. Just the thought of going through what we did last time overwhelmed me more than I could have ever fathomed. The anticipation of it all….
And so that’s where I’ve been mentally. Trying to turn the anticipation of this momentous event that will forever change and shape our lives, from bad to good. It’s been a long road, 6 months to be exact, but I think I am almost there. And because of that, the fog I’ve been walking in has seemingly cleared, and I was able to do this post. It’s incredible how much weight an emotion like that can carry. And you only truly realize it once its lifted.
When you have a child, you think about all the little things that will change. You try and mentally prepare yourself for different situations. Think about how you might handle them. But there are so many to prepare for. You can’t possibly think of them all. And you only realize it when you find yourself faced with one.
We lost a family member yesterday. My step-father. He fought a battle that not many could have endured. But somehow, he did. His desire to keep going was always because of his grandchildren. He had big plans for them. He was going to take them places, or plant a garden, or start an orchard. Something. But thats, without a doubt, why he persevered the way that he did. For as long as he did. He didn’t want to miss an opportunity with any of them. And maybe it’s just me, but he seemed to have a special bond with my son. His pal.
I think that’s why his death is so hard. You never want your loved ones to suffer. You never want them to live a life less than. And as his health declined rapidly over the last few weeks, those around him started the grieving process. But, for me, it was different this time.
Not only am I grieving for myself. For the man I had known all my life. A man who was kind, generous, and a constant dreamer. But I grieving for my son.
Nikola loved his Pa. He loved him so so much. I have never known a baby to sit so contently for hours on someone’s lap, but he did. He loved it. Nikola would sit an listen to his Pa talk about all the adventures they were going to go on since he was born. He would look up at him, eyes wide, and just take it all in. Never wiggling, never crying. Just sitting and watching.
I think that what’s making this so hard. Knowing how much Nikola loved him. And while he is just a baby.- Only 14 months, I know that he knows something is different. We were at my mom’s on Sunday, Barry was already in hospice, and Nikola looked at her and said “Papa.” And he said it again this morning when he was playing with a toy Barry had gotten him. He’s a smart little boy.
And so, this is one of the things. One of the things that is different now. I didn’t see it coming, I didn’t think about it. But, here we are. Barry didn’t want people to be sad. He said many times in the last couple weeks that he had lived an incredible life and did all the things he wanted to do. And I think we can find comfort in that.
A few years ago, while driving, I came up to an intersection. To my left there were about 10 cop cars, lights swirling and police officers with guns drawn. A man was standing with his hands raised and he was yelling. He said “I have PTSD. Don’t you understand? This is why police are killing so many people, you don’t listen!” It was clearly an intense situation. And in that split second – my first thought was; “I should probably get out to see if I can help”. The thought just washed over me. I couldn’t control it. And thankfully, it went as quickly as it came.
During my lifetime, I have put myself into countless situations I have almost immediately regretted. Because, simply, I can’t help myself. Sometimes my offers of assistance are not well thought out and are more often than not, just instinctual. I want to help. I want to fix it. Whatever it is. And now I know why.
I first heard about the Enneagram Test on the Chelsea Handler podcast “Life will be the death of me.” Her therapist recommended she take it. I’m not one for personality quizzes but the theory behind it sounded interesting. Then, a few days ago when I was checking out some new blogs, there it was again – the test. For it to come up twice in two days was too curious for me to pass up. So, I took it.
The test is a simple one. Its origins date back to the 4th century AD (that’s crazy, eh?) It’s based on the idea that there are 9 basic personality types. The Perfectionist, Helper, Performer, Romantic, Observer, Skeptic, Enthusiast, Challenger, and Mediator. The gives you a series of questions, asking you to rate it mostly true or mostly false. Some questions are easy, and some are more introspective. The real dig-deepers.
I am Type 2, The Helper – While that sounds like a lovely thing to be; it certainly has its fair (and unflattering) share of “Challenges”. And my god…I have never read anything more accurate.
Type 2 people tend to:
Believe that people’s love for them depends on what they do for them and what role they play in their lives
Make a huge effort to be an important part of the lives of others
Forms social ties easily and enjoys company
Will always lend a helping hand
Sacrifice himself for others in order to validate self-worth
Type 2 Strengths
Sensitive to others feelings
Those are some the nice things. They always start with the nice things.
Type 2 Challenges
Won’t communicate needs, expects people to just notice it themselves. And when that doesn’t happen, feels disappointment and resentment.
Requires the approval of others
Emotional and Hysterical
I have a lot to work on. These are not the personality traits I want to possess. And here’s the kicker: I have had the title of this post saved in my drafts Since January 10th, 2017…. I think, perhaps I’ve always known that this behavior is a problem. And now, I just have the proof.
So, tell me. What is your number? How do you feel about it? Did you think you might be a different number? If so, why?
To be very clear, this is not your traditional “how-to” post. I am looking for an answer, not providing one. This is a question that I am sending out into the void hoping for some insight. This concept is something I’m having a hard time getting my head around. I’m not trying to be a martyr. I’m not trying to convince myself or others of what a selfless mother I am. I simply can not figure out what it means and how to do it.
Is getting a haircut self-care? I think it might be. I haven’t one in almost a year. And I DESPERATELY need one. And when I go over the excuses in my head as to why, it really boils down to time. And perhaps a smidge of laziness.
Is going to the doctor considered self-care? Perhaps. If so, I have indulged in that twice this week. I put it off last week and my illness got worse. Why didn’t I go when I first started feeling under the weather? Nikola had been sick and it was inevitable that I was going to get it. As a mom, I think it may just be commonplace that your primary focus is “I’ll be fine. Let’s get baby healthy.” And now, here I am. sick with a virus that has wreaked havoc on my respiratory and digestive system the likes of which I have never seen or experienced. And due to the contagiousness of the virus my mother had to come and pick up Nikola and take him to her house for a couple of days. This is the first time I haven’t been with him overnight and it has been hard. Is having a “night off” from your baby in order to recuperate self-care?
A few months ago, I posted about some terrible migraines I was having. I received messages from friends with helpful tips and one in particular from an accomplished Yoga Therapist with an offer to come in for an appointment. It was so kind and generous of her to reach out. And I wanted to go. I wanted to make an appointment so badly. But I just couldn’t figure out how to move that appointment to the top of my priority list. For whatever reason.
Time management as a mother has got to be one of trickiest parts of the title. Am I willing to sacrifice time with my son on Saturday to go get a haircut, or to go get a massage, maybe go to the movies? There has been this meme floating around that says something like “Society expects women to mother like they don’t work and work like they’re not a mother.” I have a full-time job that I love. By the time I pick up Nikola at daycare and get home its 5:30pm. Nikola has imposed on himself a strict bedtime of 7:00pm. He just passes out, every night, at that time. So Monday through Friday, I get one and half hours with him. That ain’t a lot. I miss him all day long, and then I miss him when he goes to bed. So, when Saturday and Sunday come along, I just don’t want to NOT be with him. There have been so so many weeks where I’ve said “I’m going to go to the movies this weekend. Have some alone time.” but when the weekend rolls around, those plans have gone out the window. I no longer want to go.
Today, there is such an emphasis on self-care. The importance of it, and I believe it is important. This blog is my main source of it. And even then, I can’t find the time or energy to write a post. While I have 23 posts saved to my “draft” folder. The time and energy it takes to complete, edit and post seems daunting. Even impossible. So, how do you all do it? How do you make time for yourself? What kind of priority do you put on your own self-care? I’m looking forward to reading your comments.
Get out your wellies boys and girls. This one is gonna get a little deep.
I believe that most everything happens for a reason. I think that we are all heading towards a sort of incredibly vague predetermined destiny. Some people may find that comforting, others perhaps not. I’m indifferent. But it does play into this theory of mine quite nicely.
Most people have experienced Deja Vu at some point in their lives. It’s a fairly common phenomenon. But I seem to have it regularly. Maybe once or twice every couple of weeks. Only, I’m not certain that’s what I’d consider it really. When this experience occurs I dont have the feeling that I have been in that exact space before. It’s not about space for me. It is about the lighting, the smells, the sounds, the people, the entire experience in that split second. It’s not something happening “again”. Instead it’s something I had, at some point, dreamt of happening. A premonition.
When these moments happen, I relish them. I close my eyes and will it to last longer. This sudden and fleeting sense is what I like to think of as a “checkpoint”. It’s a little blip in time that confirms I’ve made the right choices. I’m on the right path. That all my stars are aligning just so. And I find that astoundingly comforting.
I had a “checkpoint” moment yesterday. I had just gotten home from work. My baby was in his walker and we were in the kitchen. He and I have been in those exact spots countless times. But yesterday was different. The familiar and exciting feeling came over me like a wave. I closed my eyes for a moment. Then looked at my son and smiled. Believing that you are exactly where you’re supposed to be is one the most gratifying sensations there is.
This came up in my newsfeed a while back. I read all 312 comments. There were some common themes.
To grandmother – “See mom, this is why I want to take pictures of you”
To spouse – “Honey, please take more photos of me and the kids”
and most poignantly:
“I need to work on this.”
I do need to work on this. And I think I’ve made the first steps. This blog post is, by far, the most personal I’ve ever written. I’ve never shared these photos. Nobody has ever seen the selfie, not even my husband. Up until 2 weeks ago, we didn’t have a single photo of my husband and I with our baby. He will be 8 months old on the 13th of this month.
When my husband proposed, I immediately started planning our wedding. I had worked in the industry and knew the vendors I wanted to use. We had a budget and when we were going over everything, the idea of a photographer was mentioned. I hadn’t planned on having one. This hurt my husband’s feelings so badly. So much so in fact, that he said “why have a wedding?” Seeing how strongly he felt, I actually saw a therapist to help get over the extreme anxiety of having my photo taken.
It did help. We hired a photographer. A friend and colleague of my mothers. Oh yeah, did I mention my mother is a photographer? When I got the photos, I cried. Not because of how beautiful they were – but how terrible I thought I looked. I didn’t post them to social media and didn’t share them with anyone.
I have purposefully and conveniently led a life a living in the moment. Truly only because of how self-conscious I am. I would never suggest taking a photo of a friend or an event, an occasion. Anything. Because that would have inevitably led to someone saying “You get it in it too, Darci” . And then where would I be? Uncomfortable, half-heartedly smiling and looking awkward. And dreading the inevitable moment when, after the picture was taken everyone would go and check to see how it came out. I never needed to look. I always knew the answer.
And now, on top of struggling with my own self-conscious; I’m having a hard time remembering to take photos. Even with a camera at my literal fingertips, I forget to take photos. Don’t get me wrong, I have hundreds of my son. But those special moments, whether be a first milestone, or a photo with a family member. Something out of the ordinary that would be truly special – I drop the ball. Can consciously, consistently not doing something become a habit? Has a lifetime of purposefully not taking photos become a habit? I worry that may be the case.
I promise you, this is not me having a pity party, or looking for compliments. I don’t know what to call it or define it as. I really, truly don’t. But the intensity of the feeling demands to be acknowledged. As I said at the beginning: Moving past these feelings is something that I am going to make a conscious effort at. I can’t put into words how hard this blog post has been to write. It has been in my drafts since August. And today, I will finish it. This is the first step. And as I look at the photo below, I can feel my blood pressure rising. The anxiety creeping in. I hate this last photo of me, but love it of my husband and baby. This is the only photo of the 3 of us. We had our baby baptized a couple of weeks ago.
I need to know: Is this common? Do others feel this way? I can only assume by the number of comments on the Facebook post above it is. Give me your feedback. Tell me your experience. Fill me in on the secret of how to overcome it. Please, I’m all ears, err eyes.
I’m pregnant. After 2 years and 11 months of trying, my husband and I finally got a positive pregnancy test. We spent a lot of money on sticks that I had to pee on, went to doctors, had fertility tests (all came back fine), and even tried in vitro. All with no luck. But, as of 2 days ago, we are 17 weeks pregnant.
We found out the morning of October 11th. The day we left for our trip to Macedonia. I was about 5 days late at that point. I’m a superstitious person and after not just months, but literally years of getting excited every 28 days, and taking a test early only to be disappointed, I resolved to wait. Wait until I was really late, like reeeaallly late. I didn’t want to jinx it. My husband Kruno was getting more and more excited as those late days passed by. When I did take the test, I didn’t tell him what I was doing. It came back positive almost immediately. I called for him to come to the bathroom. Drudgingly, he came. He thought I needed him in to kill a bug. I showed him the test and excitement ensued.
The last 17 weeks have been enlightening. I learn something new every day. About my body, my abilities or lack thereof, and places I can, all of sudden, no longer comfortably reach because of my growing size.
And with every minute of research I’ve done since that positive test, I’ve become more and more aware that I know nothing about pregnancy, labor, and perhaps even babies. And I’d like to share with you all some of the more interesting revelations I’ve had.
WHATS HAPPENING TO ME???
This question came early and often. Google became my most used app. How could I have been so clueless? In movies and TV, pregnant women are portrayed in a certain way. Emotional. Vomiting, Bitchy. I thought I was mentally prepared for all of it, but the other symptoms and the pure intensity hit me like a wrecking ball
I get so emotional, baby…
The first to rear its ugly head was the elevated hormones. I’m an emotional person to begin with. But I naively thought “How much worse could this get?” Well… Let me tell ya.
Every emotion I feel, I feel it times a hundred, maybe even a thousand. If I’m sad, it borders on devastation. If I’m angry, watch out. But the most notable change is that I am loving harder. I love people HARD. Wicked hard. Over this past holiday, I looked at my young nephews, I just wanted to grab them and not let go. I wanted to look them square in the eyes and say sternly ” I love you, dammit!” (Picture Rhett Butler saying that to Scarlet O’Hara in “Gone with the wind”. But, I thought better of it. The boys are young and I didn’t want to scare the shit out of them.) And when I left my grandmothers house to come back home, I cried for a long time. She lives just a few hours away. I can go see her any weekend. And as I’m typing this, thinking about how much I love these people and how much I miss them, I’m crying. I’m a mess.
And my crying has changed. The act of it itself. These crying spells last forever. My tears have even gotten bigger. The amount of fluid that is falling from my eyeballs is astounding. My tears are the size of nickles, I kid you not. Isn’t that weird? Has anyone else experienced that while pregnant? And because of all these things. The dehydration from the size and quantity of tears, and the ease at which I cry, I have had to completely change how and when I view things. For example, I’m spending far less time on Facebook these days. I used to love watching the heart-warming videos. that would populate my newsfeed. But no more. I can’t risk it. I also haven’t been able to watch several episodes of “This is us”. I watched a few at the beginning of the season, but when I saw the previews of the one where Kate has a miscarriage, all bets were off. Now the second part of the season is supposed to start and I’m in a pickle. Do I devote an entire day to catching up on the season? Let’s do that math: 4 episodes I missed = 4 hours of viewing. + 2 hours of crying time (conservatively) + 1 hour of recuperation to let the puffiness in my face dissipate. That’s a big commitment.
My body is a wonderland
No, no it isn’t. While it is mystifying me these days, I don’t think that’s what John Mayer meant. You can read Pinterest posts, join the community group chats in your pregnancy apps and read “What to expect when you’re expecting” all you want, but I guarantee you, something is going to happen that will throw you for a loop. From my albeit brief experience, I’ve come to realize that it’s important to use the mentioned resources as merely a guideline. Most of my symptoms have occurred earlier than normal.
One of the most notable and noticeable changes were that things errrr… grew a bit quicker than I would’ve expected. Below is a screenshot of a conversation I had with a group of friends about my husband noticing a change.
My clothes got tighter right off the bat. And I thought “Ok, no big deal. This was expected I’ll go buy some new clothes.” But it isn’t that easy. Nothing fits right. Nothing. I’m not big enough for maternity clothes, but my stomach is too big for regular clothes. Everything I own at this point is frumpy. And because of the heightened emotions, the ill-fitting clothing sends me into a spiral of self-consciousness and frustration. There are days that I can’t even look in the mirror before I leave for work. Those days are the “Fuck it” days. And they are happening more frequently as the pregnancy progresses.
One other thing that I started noticing recently was my walk has changed. I used to have a confident stride. I don’t know why considering how clumsy I am, but I did. I used to be able to comfortably wear heels up to a certain height. But that’s all gone now. As the day goes on, and I get to feeling less and less comfortable, my walk transforms. Slowly, subtly, into a waddle. At work by 4 pm, as I go to and from the printer I notice my body shifting from side to side, with a brief but significant settle in each step. I will immediately correct it, but I know deep down that it’s going to come to a point when I’m no longer am able to. It is inevitable. The waddle is coming.
Don’t you, forget about me
“Of all the things I have lost, I miss my mind the most”. Mark Twain must have stolen this from his wife when she was pregnant. People talk about pregnancy brain often. But nothing prepares you for it. I am not just forgetting things, but I’m thinking I do things or say things that I don’t. “Didn’t I tell you that?” has become my most used sentence recently. A few weeks ago I had mentioned to my boss that I had forgotten to text some family members back recently. She was understandably concerned whereas my job is mostly following up with clients and remembering things. I assured her that I only let it affect my home life. And that is the truth. I noticed that this was starting to happen, so the moment I leave work, I totally shut off my brain. So far, it seems to be working. While this doesn’t thrill my husband, it’s a sacrifice we’ll have to make until I figure something else out. I haven’t written a post in a really long time. Not because I didn’t have anything to write, or I was too busy. I have been conserving all of my brain cells for work. This post, in fact, has taken an exceptionally long time. I’ve been storing up for weeks to finish it. Now, I’m no neurologist but I think there might be some logic to it.
While this is only a short list of the symptoms I’ve experienced, these are what has struck me as funny. I think it’s important to keep levity at the forefront. Because what awaits us at the end is going to be the most momentous experience of our lives. We are so excited to be parents and I am excited to share our little stories throughout the process. S
I have been working on this post for weeks. Today, I decided to start over. My post was long, and unnecessarily so. It didn’t accomplish what I had wanted it to. It’s tone and the overall message was lost with every paragraph. So here we are. At the beginning.
One year ago, my brother was in an accident. It has been a long three hundred and sixty-five days. I don’t want or need to rehash every sad, upsetting detail. But, I do want to share with you all some of the more poignant moments and some observations that have stuck with me over the last year.
I remember when I got the call from JJ’s foreman, Ian. But more so, I remember the phone call I got from dad shortly after. I asked Ian if JJ was alive. When he answered “yes”, there was no denying the uncertainty voice. I knew what he was saying without saying it. I knew what the tone of that “yes” meant. JJ WAS alive when I left him, but I don’t know if he still is. My dad asked me the same question just minutes after. I wanted to be strong and say sternly, confidently “Yes!” but the words had, unintentionally, come out the exact same way Ian had said it. Unconvincingly.
After I arrived at the hospital, I talked with the nurses and then found the ICU waiting room. I opened the door and was immediately taken aback. The people in the room were talking loudly, laughing, eating. All these things, I couldn’t fathom happening in a place like that. This was supposed to be a place of tragedy, a place for reflection, prayer, and quiet whispered voices. I hated the waiting room with every ounce of my being. I couldn’t stay in there. I honestly, truly couldn’t. Luckily, there was a private waiting room we were told we could use. And by god we did. It was supposed to be for doctors to have consultations with the family of patients. I thought about the tough questions asked and some even tougher answers given in that room. I prayed that that wouldn’t be us. We stayed in that room for three days. And just when we had gotten a little less sad, enough to where we could tolerate talking, and smiling we gave up the room to someone who needed it more. It didn’t last long, we were back in there by day 5. The day JJ’s artery gave out.
That first night, we had been told, that it was going to be a long one. The first time we got to talk to a doctor was around 8 or 9 that night. JJ had been in surgery since one o’clock. Dr. Brown told us that he was the orthopedic surgeon that had been working on JJ. He was impressed with the double femur break JJ had suffered. He said that if you had to have a broken femur (or 2) this is the way to do it. It was a clean break. Flat across. He told us that the bones would be able to fuse with little to no problem, he believed. He said that if all this injury was, was a couple of broken femurs, JJ would be out of here in a few days. But that, as we would come to know, wasn’t the case.
A few hour later we got to talk to the second surgeon. He told us what he had seen and maybe more importantly, what he hadn’t. JJ had lost a lot of tissue, muscle, nerves, and lots of blood. He went through 107 units that day. But most distressing were his arteries. They were completely shredded. I asked the doctor if there was anything I could do. If there was anything that he could take from me to give to J. I told him that he could have whatever he wanted. The doctor smirked and shook his head a little. I could tell he had thought of it. I have no doubt. Maybe not my arteries specifically, but someones. His face said it all. That very thought had come to him. I didn’t delve any deeper. But my father and I both let him know in no uncertain terms that whatever JJ needed, we were happy to give.
At 2 am we were told that they were wrapping up the surgery and they’d be bringing JJ up soon. From the room we were in we could see JJ’s. We stood on chairs, we craned our necks. Did whatever we had to do so we could catch a glimpse of him. And at 3:30, they told us we could go in to see him. He didn’t look like himself. He was so swollen. But I have never been so happy to see someone in my entire life. We asked the prognosis. Torn between the desire to know and the dread that may come with the answer. JJ was, without a doubt, still in critical condition. When the doctor talked about the prognosis, he wasn’t referring to if he would lose a leg or both, it was if JJ would survive. I will never forget that moment.
After a few days JJ had started to come to. Never for long, only a few minutes and then he’d be back to sleep. But when he was awake, he wanted to communicate. It was a tall order with the breathing tube in. Someone got him a small dry erase board. He would try and write something, sometimes falling asleep in the middle of writing, and we would be left with the task of deciphering it. We may as well have been decoding ancient hieroglyphics. And when we couldn’t figure it out, we would start guessing like we were playing a game of charades. Is that an I? No? Ok, is it an L? No? Shit, is it a J? Nope. Then after a minute or two, when all of the energy he had, had drained out of him, he would let his hands drop from equal parts exhaustion and frustration and his eyes would fill with tears and he would shake his head as if to say “I give up”. That was, without a doubt, one of the hardest parts for me. There he was helpless, relying on us to help him, and I couldn’t. I was not a good guesser.
One of the first things that we were able to read was the word “boots”. Mom said, “your boots are right here, J. On the shelf”. She showed them to him. The sense of confusion on his face was unmistakable. My mom and I looked at each other. She knew right away why he was confused. Call it mothers intuition. She said “J, your boots are fine. Your feet didn’t go into the chipper.” His eyebrows became unfurrowed, almost like at that very second, everything came back to him. In fact, one night after the boots incident, mom asked him if he remembered the accident. He nodded as best as he could, and then wrote: “They didn’t believe me.” Later he would explain what he had meant. When his co-worker had been on the phone with 911, JJ told him to tell the dispatcher to get life flight started. He knew that they carried blood on the helicopter and that he was going to need it. But what he either didn’t know or didn’t think about at the time, is that patients can’t request life flight, it has to come from the paramedic.
The hardest day was undoubtedly the day JJ’s right leg artery gave out. It was the first Monday after the accident. The nurses would come in every few hours and pull out this black box that had a stethoscope in the shape of a pen connected it to it. They would put it on the top of JJ’s feet, one by one, and move it around until they heard a swishy sound. That sound was his pulse. That day, they had checked it before he went down to surgery. A process we had already come to know well. And when he would come back. One nurse tried, then another. No swishy sound. They called for the doctor. The room was silent.
The doctor confirmed what we all had suspected. At the very beginning, we had been told that the repair to his arteries was a kind of one and done deal. They weren’t sure if the gore-tex that had put in would hold. Each leg had a 50/50 shot they told us. But it didn’t matter. We wanted a second opinion. We asked that his file be sent to mass Gen to see what they said. JJ had woken up, and I think it was dad who explained the situation to him. He took it well. You could tell he understood and agreed.
A couple of hours later a report came back from Boston. There was nothing that could be done. The right leg would have to be amputated. We cried. A lot. I went to the chapel for a while. Eventually, we all reconvened in JJ’s room. J woke up and motioned for his dry erase board. He wrote, what I made out to be “ambulance or helicopter.” He wanted to know how he was getting to Boston. I read it aloud so he could confirm my guess. He did. This was, for me, the hardest moment of JJ’s hospital stay. I looked at him and said “J, you’re not going to Mass Gen. I’m so sorry. They said that there was nothing they could do.” He stared at the ceiling for a minute, cried only a couple of tears, and fell back asleep.
Not long after, the doctor came back in to explain the procedure for the amputation. We were all listening intently when I looked over and noticed JJ had woken up and was listening too. The doctor started over from the beginning to make sure J heard everything he had said. Nurses came in to start the pre-op prep like they had done earlier. They gave J and an extra dose of whatever powerful concoction he was already on. He fell asleep immediately. One of them asked dad to sign a piece of paper allowing them to amputate. And that, I have no doubt, was dad’s toughest moment. He said he didn’t want JJ to hate him for making that decision. For signing that piece of paper. More tears came.
Now, looking back, the days that follow sort of melt together in a way. But certain moments stick out. The bigger ones, certainly more at the beginning and then start to taper. Like when he got his breathing tube out. There was a nurse on duty that J had taken a liking to. He said to her, “Can I ask you a personal question? Why do I get the feeling that you like me?” Listen, I’ve seen my brother interact with women, and I must say, this was, surprisingly, one of his more charismatic moments.
One of the only times I have seen JJ cry was one of his first nights in his regular room. Everyone was concerned about his mental state. Probably because we were all such a mess we assumed he must be too. It was just him and I and I can’t remember the exact wording I used but I asked him what and how he was feeling. He told me that the hardest part was that he would never be a firefighter again. He cried real hard, and so did I. I told him that if there was something he wanted to do, then he would figure out a way to do it. I had. and still have, no doubt of that. I found a video of a firefighter in Ohio who had an amputation almost exactly like JJ’s. He had been outfitted with a special prosthetic that worked perfectly. He wasn’t on light duty, the guy was fighting fires. I watched J watch the video and then we cried some more.
On Sundays, we would have football parties in his room. We’d bring a cooler and whatever JJ wanted to eat. He had lost so much weight. He was already thin and didn’t have much to lose. When he was able to eat, which was about once or twice every other day, he didn’t eat much. He wanted a special soup. We always called it green soup. Our nanny would make it for us. Kruno went and bought every box Hannaford had. That’s what he’s eating is this picture. He was so happy to have that green soup.
Next came his time at Spaulding. They do some truly amazing work there. And JJ was the incredibly lucky to be the recipient of some of that amazing work. He has said several times that he doesn’t believe he’d be this far along if he hadn’t have gone there. It was hard, him being so far away, but it was for the best. We all knew it. I got this photo one day while I was at work.
I was so proud. JJ has made us all very proud throughout this experience. His resolve has been something to be admired. He would be a great role model for someone who’s gone through a similar experience.
He has worked very hard to get to where he is. I got to go with him to a physical therapy appointment a few months ago. To the naked eye, the unknowing person, it may have looked like he wasn’t doing much. Lifting a leg up and down, moving side to side. But to us, to know where he had been such a short time ago. The condition he was in. How hard he worked. It was nothing short of a miracle. We almost lost him…a few times. But here he is.
So many moments and memories stick out. Things that I want to share. But this post has again, turned out to be very long. They will have to be told at a later time. Maybe on his two year anniversary. The weird thing is, and I think I can speak for most of my family. We are now running on a different calendar. To me, and I’d bet to JJ too, tonight at midnight, marks a new year. With I’m sure, more milestones to conquer and mountains to move. He will continue to progress and heal, hopefully sharing his progress along the way. This past year JJ has been the recipient of more prayers and blessings then could ever be counted. And for that, our family is so incredibly grateful.