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.
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.
Growing up, I didn’t care much for meatloaf, but it was a staple dish at our house. We were the quintessential downeast Mainer, meat and potatoes kind of family.
Now, my house consists of me, my husband and my 28-year-old brother. Most nights the decision as to what to have for dinner falls on my shoulders. It’s my cross to bear. My husband will happily eat most anything. My brother is far more picky. I’ve made turkey meatloaf a few times, and he was having no part of it. But he had a suggestion. “Why don’t you make it like Meme does?”
I had no idea how my grandmother made her meatloaf. I mean, how many ways is there to make it really? I asked J.J how Meme made it. He wasn’t sure either. The only thing he knew for certain was that it came with some type of tomato based sauce.
So the other night, I called my Meme. I told her I was going to make her meatloaf, and needed go over the recipe with her. When I told her that I was going to make it with ground turkey instead of ground beef, you could sense the hesitation. She was trying to be so nice. She said “Uh, well Darci, I just don’t know how that will turn out”. And ” You can’t put tomato sauce with turkey!” I assured her that it would be fine. I also had to give J.J. a pep talk. I told him that it would be fine. He agreed to try it, and voila, he ate it all. I win.
So here’s what I did:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Mix together 1 lb Lean Ground Turkey, 1 egg, 1/2 a large chopped green pepper, 1/2 an onion finely chopped, and 5 or 6 ritz crackers. Put mixture in a loaf pan and put it in the oven for 45 minutes to an hour.
When it’s done, lift the meatloaf out of the pan and put the pan on a burner and turn it on low. Add a can of Tomato soup, half a cup of chicken stock, and a couple of tablespoons of wondra to thicken. Heat the mixture until it starts to simmer. If the consistency seems too watery, add more wondra until it thickens. Once it’s the right consistency, I pour it into a gravy boat so everyone can serve themselves at the table.
So that’s that. But now, I’m curious… What was a staple dish at your house growing up? Have you revamped it or changed it now that you’re the one cooking it?
There are many ways to say “Goodbye”. It can have many different undertones. It can be sad or even happy in some cases, and other things in between.
My brother has hit a milestone in recovery from his work accident. After 46 days in the hospital, he has been transferred to rehabilitation in Boston. There, he will get his first prosthetic and soon start walking again. We have been preparing for this day since he was out of the ICU.
J.J. doesn’t remember much of the ICU. How could he? When they first brought him in, he was hooked up to multiple machines and had 19 different bags of fluids hanging from what the nurses called his “Christmas tree”. As they days went on, and specifically after the amputation, periodically the nurses would come in and trim the tree. And soon enough he was down to barely a shrub. During his stint in the ICU, those nurses were his lifeline. They were our lifeline. They barely left his room. We relied on them for everything. And they never did disappoint.
The day that J.J. was moved from the ICU to a regular room was one of those confusing types of goodbyes I’m talking about. We said goodbye to our lifelines, and cried a little. It was tough. The uncertainty of it. What this new floor, with the new nurses was going to bring.
These men and women were every bit as amazing as the last bunch. The nurses seemed to love J.J. like a member of their family. Some brought him in homemade food. They hung out with him in the middle of the night when he couldn’t sleep. They checked in on him even when he wasn’t assigned as their patient. J.J. loved them too. He had a system, how he liked things. Certain pillows in certain places on the bed. All the nurses knew this secret, sometimes unspoken system, and obliged. If they were ever bothered or annoyed by his requests, they certainly didn’t let on.
On Friday November 18th, J.J. was told that he was ready for Spaulding. He would leave Monday morning. I asked him a few times if he was excited. He response was always the same. “Yes and no.” I know the decision to leave CMMC was a hard one for him. But his case worker assured him that Spaulding was the place to be. That Sunday, we said goodbye to a couple of our favorite nurses. Shelby, Kristen and Abby. I started to cry, and so did they. J.J. said “way to go, Darc.”
Monday came, more goodbyes were said. I’m sure there were fewer tears considering I wasn’t there. They loaded him into the ambulance and headed to Boston. He’ll be at Spaulding for about 4-6 weeks. The facility is amazing. It’s a state of the art, futuristic looking place right on the harbor. While the first day was tough, just getting accustomed to their way of doing things, J.J. knows this is where he needs to be. And in time, saying goodbye to the people here will be just like before.
I met my husband, Krunoslav on Match.com. He worked 7 days a week and I worked at a busy Irish Pub. We both had odd schedules that didn’t afford either of us many opportunities to meet a potential girlfriend/boyfriend. He sent the first message, I noticed his name was not an American one. He said he was from Macedonia and that he liked soccer. I made up a story about needing some info about soccer for something I was working on for the pub. And within only a couple of messages our first date was arranged. It went well. So well in fact, we met again the next night. He watched “Glee” with me and I helped him deliver papers at midnight. And as they say, the rest is history.
The first time I met his parents was when they made the long trip from Macedonia to Denver for our wedding. Their names spelled phonetically are Nikola and Kruno’s mom is Blageetsa. His mother speaks english “little bit” as she says. She speaks it better than she thinks. And his dad can say a few words. It’s amazing what you can tell about someone without speaking. Just by observing a single moment. As I walked towards them coming out of the international arrivals gate, I knew that they were lovely people.
Well, the In-Laws have arrived for another visit. We have been looking forward to it for months. For the last few days I have been thinking about what to post. And this morning it came to me. An interview with my in-laws. I wasn’t sure how the request was going to translate. But, they agreed and thanks so my wonderful husband and his translation services, it went very well.
Q: How did you meet?
B: We met at a party at a restaurant. We were introduced by friends.
Q: Do you remember your first date?
N: Not the specifics, but it lasted awhile. It was the next day after the party and we had our first kiss.
Q:What is Skopje, Macedonia like?
N: It’s very historical (dates back to 4000 b.c.) . Similar to the Old Port portion of Portland. Our house is in the Suburbs of the capital, Skopje. It’s a very tight-knit community. Learn more about Skopje, Macedonia Here.
Q: What are some customs or traditions of Macedonia during the holidays?
B: On Christmas Eve (usually on or around January 7th as they use the orthodox calendar), we make a loaf a bread and put a coin in it. When we sit down to dinner we each take a piece, and also have a piece for family afar and Jesus. Whoever gets the piece with the coin, it will be their lucky year. For us Christmas isn’t about presents, it’s about family and emphasis is on the meal with family. On August 2nd, we celebrate our Independence from Turkey. It’s like your 4th of July.
Q: What is the biggest difference between your country and the US?
B & N: How friendly people are here. Whenever you go into a shop or store. People greet you. They say “hello” and “how are you”. People don’t do that in Skopje. The other thing, is that people seem so busy here. We work either the same or more hours per week back home, but aren’t always in a hurry. We have time to spend with family and friends. Back home, families only have 1 car. Here, everyone has a car to get where they need to go quickly.
Q: What is your favorite thing about Macedonia?
N: Family. Not just the family as in people but the sense of family and community. Kruno added – Our country was recently in a way. It went though a very hard time and what got people through that, was family. It’s very important there.
What is the hardest part of international travel?
B: Being bored on the long flight.
N: Blageetsa being bored on the flight. She kept getting up and moving around.
~ They did add, that being in the last row was nice. It seemed a little less cramped then the other flight. I asked if they minded the long wait to disembark the plane. They both agreed that it wasn’t a big deal. They are far more patient than I.
What has been your favorite thing you’ve eaten while in the US?
B: Yummy Chicken (A family recipe of mine, find it here)
It’s interesting how a short visit with someone can give you so much perspective. How different families and different cultures go through life. I always thought that my family was an affectionate group. We pale in comparison. The love my in-laws have to give is immeasurable. When they said during the interview how important family is, it was an understatement. They love with their whole hearts, their whole being. I can’t count how many times I’ve been told “I love you” Or “Kristinia (kruno’s sister) says she loves you”. And it’s not just me. It’s to all members of my family, and friends. People they have only met one, maybe two times. Their second day here, they asked to go see my brother in the hospital. They talk about him everynight. They’ll ask how he is doing today, if I’ve talked to him. They’ll tell me how much they love him and that they pray for him. They share memories of their first trip here and the people they met. How our friends are lovely people, and how nice they were, how much love they have for them because they are our friends. The language barrier is tricky to navigate, but when sharing a feeling they are able to communicate with ease.
I knew it the first time I met them and I know it now. They are some of the most kind, generous and loving people I have ever met. And I am so very lucky to have the Petrov family as my in-laws. I couldn’t have asked for better.
I have this terrible habit of getting excited about something like a project, starting it and never finishing it. Like wanting to start an indoor succulent garden for example. I bought the plants, the special dirt, pots. The whole shebang. I put them in the garage with the intent of planting and caring for them. But, there they sit. Dead.
I believe this is one of my greatest faults. I know it drives my husband absolutely crazy. I’ll have, what I consider to be, a great idea. Convince my husband that it’s a great idea. Start the project. And that is generally where the story ends. He is always very supportive, god love him. But I think that maybe he is kinda over it at this point.
I’ve mentioned this new blogging venture to him a few times expecting some sort of response. I’ve got nothing in return. Barely a nod of the head. I worry that I’ve used up all my “great idea” chips. So now, this blog not only has become a creative outlet but a “finish what I start” challenge. But that’s the thing about blogs. There is no such thing as a finish line. It can go on forever! It’s a little daunting, let me tell ya.
For the other bloggers out there, do you remember when you got your first like? or follower? Man oh man, it was the biggest adrenaline rush I’ve had in a long time. It feels so validating and gratifying. To have proof that someone somewhere has read what you’ve written. It’s such a motivator. I literally couldn’t even guess how man times a day I look at my stats. Too much, I’m sure. That amazing little “stats” button is what is going to get me through the days where I think “Nah, I don’t need to do a blog post today, or this week, or month”. So here’s another post, with many many more to come.
Tell my husband. Darci says “I’m all in!”
And don’t forget… I’m also just a girl, writing a blog, asking for you to love her…. posts.
It’s been a month. One month today since the accident.
When I got the call that my brother had been in an accident. I immediately left for the hospital. It was the simultaneously the slowest and quickest drive there has ever been. I arrived, and found my way to the ICU floor. I was met by 2 nurses, later they said they knew who I was by the look on my face. They sat me down and explained the situation. It was bad, labeled as critical and life flight was used. I excused myself and waited for other family members to arrive. Later on, while at the ICU door waiting to get buzzed in, someone came up next to me. They had a loved one that had been in the ICU for a few days. I was looking down at the floor and then I heard them say “The floor here reminds me of the yellow brick road. Ya know, from the ‘Wizard of Oz?'” That’s my favorite movie. From that moment on, I thought about the similarities between the movie and the situation that we were in.
I was the Scarecrow. Asking for a brain to figure everything out. Trying to learn the medical terms, which monitors meant what, blood pressures, oxygenation, medications.
I was the Lion. Asking for courage. Courage to be strong when others couldn’t be. Courage to help my brother with the unknown. Courage to believe that everything is going to be just fine.
I was not the Tin Man. My favorite quote from the movie is “hearts will never be practical until they can be made unbreakable” My heart has felt more this past month than perhaps my whole life combined. It has been broken, mended, but mostly filled will love and gratitude.
And then there’s my brother, J.J.. Unfortunately for him, he is a girl in this analogy. He’s Dorothy. Wanting desperately to find his way home. He’ll be there soon.
“You’ve always had the power my dear, you just had to learn it for yourself”