Friday, October 31, 2008
In a perfect world this would be an easy question to answer. In a perfect world, I could toss off a trivial answer about a busy shift in the ER, or maybe one of those never-ending days that every med-student was warned about on that very first day of Pre-Med. I don't live in a perfect world though and I'm finding it far too hard to narrow things down to just one day, so, I've decided I've no alternative but to include the two that seem to consistently jockey for dominance in my thoughts.
I don't think it would surprise anyone to learn that the day of the bombing in Vukovar holds one of the spots, for from the moment I heard the sound of the strike time might as well have stopped for me. Even after all these years I can call up the details of that day with amazing clarity. I wonder sometimes if that in itself isn't more of a curse rather than a blessing but, then I remember that without those memories I would have nothing of Danijela and my children to hold onto except the small black and white photograph of my wife and daughter taken at Jasna's fourth birthday. If I have any regrets about the memories of that day, it's that they almost always begin with the bombing and that means that while I can remember my last words to Danijela, and the feel of Jasna in my arms, my memory of Marko brings no comfort. For while both Danijela and Jasna were still alive when I reached them, my baby boy was not so lucky, and my first sight of him was merely one small hand which he'd freed from the debris that had buried him alive. I try not to think about how long he was trapped in the darkness before death claimed him. I try not to think about the thoughts that must have been going through his head, though I know he had to be wondering why his Mama and Tata didn't free him. Mostly though I simply pray that he went quickly, I don't want to think about what it would have been like for him if he didn't.
Equally memorable for me is the day of Joe's birth, and the events that led up to it. From the moment I was paralyzed, then intubated, and bound to that gurney I honestly thought I might not live to see my son's birth. Adding to that fear was the moment when I saw Abby outside the room, when she steadied herself on the door before her fall, and knowing that not only could I do nothing to help her, I couldn't even call for help. Worse though was seeing the blood and not knowing if she and Joe were dead or alive...it seemed to take a lifetime for someone to find her, to find us. Even then the nightmare wasn't over, from the long delivery, the struggle to get control of the bleeding and Abby's surgery, and Joe's fight for life. I have to wonder what we did, what he did, that would prompt God to put us through so much, and then in the next breath, I'm left grateful beyond words because both Abby and Joe made it through that day despite our worst fears.
There have been other days which came close to these, my captivity with Patrique in the Congo among them, but, I can't dwell on the past when I have so much now to look forward to. I have a future now, a wife and a son who I love and want to spend the rest of my life with. That's not to say there won't be days when my thoughts won't return to those days, on birthdays, Danijela and my anniversary, but, it's not like it used to be, Abby and Joe have seen to that. My life is here now, with my wife and my son, and while we may have our bumps in the road, I can honestly say this is where I belong, and that's a feeling I never thought I would know again.
Monday, October 27, 2008
When I first met Danijela she was only 16, and she was still living at home, and going to school so, the times I saw her was limited to some evenings or weekends, and holidays. Another thing that separated us for a time was my obligation to complete my required stint in the military, something I wanted to do before Danijela and I married.
When I was in college, I was friends with several other students. We'd all met when we were pre-med, and our friendship continued through med school. I don't know if it was because our studies were so intense, or if it was just because we were all taking such heavy loads of classes, but, when the weekend hit, it was our time to unwind, and that usually meant consuming large amounts of alcohol. Because Danijela was younger then the rest of us, in the beginning she wasn't always included and that was the case on this particular weekend.
Tomo, Stipe, Gordana and I had driven to Vukovar one weekend right after finals were over, we had ended up partying the biggest share of it, and on the way back we hit a goat that was standing in the road. We jumped out of the car and I started to do CPR on it, but Stipe refused to do mouth-to-mouth, when that didn't seem to be working, Tomo wanted to put a chest tube in. It didn't happen, and despite the our best efforts our patient didn't make it, of course, we weren't quite so hungover that we were going to overlook the secondary outcome of our failure either. I have to preface this by saying that Gordana did try to talk us out of what came next, but we out numbered her three to one, and besides, the three of us had slept off quite a bit of our hangovers and we knew that by the time we got back to Zagreb we were going to be seriously hungry. We drew straws and Tomo lost so we wrapped the goat in his coat and loaded it in the back of the car, lucky for us the damage to it wasn't too bad. To the car I mean, not the goat. The rest of the drive was uneventful, and it wasn't long before we all fell asleep again, leaving Gordana to do the driving with only the radio for company.
Sunday, October 26, 2008
In a way, my best gift, wasn't really a gift in the conventional sense, but, I can't imagine anything I could ever receive that will mean more.
When I lost my family, I lost more then just my wife and children, I lost parts of who I was. In one day I went from being a husband, a father, and a doctor, to being simply a doctor, and the emptiness I was left with was something I never was able to shake. I could try and tell you what it felt like, but, no amount of words can ever begin to describe the emptiness left after you have buried your children.
In the years I've been at County there have been times when I've found my my need to parent drawing me into relationships that I might not have entered otherwise. At the time they happened, I don't think I even realized what I was doing, however, I do know the pain I felt when they ended and one again I was faced with the loss of children I'd allowed myself to get too close to.
Which brings me back to the gift, how do I begin to describe what I felt when Abby told me she was pregnant with Joe? I knew I wanted that child more then anything I could have wanted in my life, I also knew how she felt about being a parent and how delicate our relationship was at that time. As hard as it was for me to do, I gave her the option of terminating the pregnancy if that was what she felt she had to do. Waiting for her to make that decision was harder than I could have imagined, but, as much as I wanted to once again be a father, I knew I couldn't force her to be a mother unless it was what she wanted too.
Abby did finally make the decision to carry Joe to term, and along with that choice we saw a strengthening of our relationship that eventually led to our marriage. Unfortunately, Joe's birth was a difficult one and left Abby unable to have anymore children, but, I'm okay with that because her gift and what came after have made me whole again, and for that, I'm forever grateful.
Saturday, October 25, 2008
For a long time my brother and I didn't talk, we'd had a falling out years ago over my decision to leave Croatia and come to the United States. I wish I could say that it was no more then one of those stupid arguments that happen between brothers, arguments that are forgotten after a couple of days as quickly as they began. I can't say that though. The words my brother, Niko and I hurled at each other all those years ago caused wounds that ran too deep for any quick fixes, and it took our father's illness to even prompt us to talk.
I left Croatia in 1997, it had been six years since I'd buried my family and I still missed them as much if not more then the day I had lost them. As hard as I'd tried to move on with my life, I finally realized that it wasn't going to happen unless I was able to get away from the constant reminders of them, and I couldn't do that in Croatia. As difficult as it had been for my father to lose his daughter-in-law and grandchildren, he was willing to accept my decision to do what I needed to do to rebuild my life, but, my brother was different. Almost from the first day that I broke the news of my decision to go, Niko began to accuse me of running away instead of dealing with my losses and no amount of talking to him could change his mind. I think that's what eventually proved to be the end of things between us, we stopped talking entirely. It didn't matter what subject we started the conversation with, it all came back to my decision to leave and by the time we were finished all that we were doing was yelling at each other. I think that was the hardest thing for my father to accept in all of it, for in the end my leaving was to him was as if he'd lost all of us in Vukovar.
When I received word of my father's illness, I'd been living in the United States for close to ten years, and in all that time I'd only been back to visit twice. There was no question of my going back of course, even as I knew it would finally mean dealing with the distance that had developed between Niko and I, my father's health took priority and as his son I was willing to do what I needed to do. It's funny how time softens things, what once seemed like such vast differences between us, seemed so small as we both sat together worrying about our father's fate. Maybe that's how things are supposed to work out, I don't know, I just wish it hadn't taken something so serious to make us realize our mistakes, and how important the support of family is. Over the six months I ended up being there, Niko and I reached the point that when our father showed slight gains in his condition we felt it would be safe for us both to leave and allow me a chance to go home to see my family. I can't help but wonder if our father planned things for this end, if he held on just long enough to make sure Niko and I would have each other when he was gone. We'll never know of course, but, I just wish we hadn't wasted so many years, and I can't help but feel sad for Joe when I realize he'll never have the chance to know the man he was named for.
Friday, October 24, 2008
My wife is an alcoholic. This isn't anything new, and for a long time I thought it was up to me to dictate if she could or couldn't drink. I guess I thought if it wasn't a problem in our relationship it was her business, or her problem. I know that I never believed that it was so bad that it would affect her work or the kind of mother she was to Joe, or the kind of wife she was to me. Funny how much can change in such a short time...
When Abby and I got married we thought that we had finally conquered all of the obstacles that life had thrown in our way. We were so happy, and then I got that phonecall that changed everything. I know now that I couldn't not go to my father's side anymore then I could expect Abby to have left Joe behind to join me, so I have to be willing to accept partial responsibility for what happened even if I couldn't have known about any of it. Neither Abby or I expected that my father's illness would keep me in Croatia for six months, I can only imagine how difficult it must have been for her juggling work and caring for Joe alone, but, I still can't fully forgive what she did.
I've tried to understand how Abby thought drinking would help anything. I've tried to understand how she could put Joe's life in danger on more then one occasion because she was too drunk to realize what she was doing. I've tried to understand how she thought sleeping with her boss could change any of what was happening but, the truth is, I don't understand. There is a part of me that feels betrayed by her actions, another that is hurt, and yet another that is sickened by it, mostly though I'm confused. I had thought the vows we made to each other meant something, I know they did to me, maybe I was wrong. Maybe she saw things differently and while I was worrying about my father's health and whether he would live or die, she was looking for an escape.
When I came back to Chicago with my brother Niko, I saw it as a chance for Abby to finally get to know some of my family. Neither of us could have known that in those few days between when we left Croatia and when we arrived in Chicago, our father's condition would deteriorate, and we certainly never expected to hear that we had lost him. I naturally assumed that Abby would go back with us for the funeral, she was my wife after all. Was it wrong for me to think she should be at my side with my son? When she broke the news instead of her drinking and her decision to enter rehab, what was I supposed to say? No, she couldn't go? The rest of her news would come later, when her rehab was finished, and she joined Joe and I in Croatia. Unfortunately, what should have been a time for us to move closer instead added more distance.
I wish I could say we had worked everything out by the time we returned to Chicago, but, we hadn't, and in fact I made the decision to move out for a while we both tried to make sense of all that had happened. Eventually, we came to the decision that our marriage was worth saving but, in order to do that some changes would need to be made. Both Abby and I have quit our jobs, and we've made the decision to relocate to Boston, this is our chance to put everything behind us and start over. We can make our marriage work, I know we can, our vows were more then words on pieces of paper, and I'm determined to prove that to her, I can only trust that she feels the same way.
Thursday, October 23, 2008
How do I begin to describe what it was like? We had all been through so much already, we'd lost families, friends, we'd seen everything we'd worked for taken from us until all we had left were the clothes on our back and still they demanded more. We all knew now that anytime we ventured out onto the streets we very likely risked it being the last thing we did, but, what choice did we have? We couldn't stay sequestered in the hospital forever, someone had to make the runs out for water and food, not just for ourselves, but, for those patients we were trying to provide care for.
Trying to provide care...that says so much about those final days in the Vukovar hospital. I can't remember when we'd last had electricity or running water, the supplies we had were so limited and we struggled to provide the best care we could, and still the patients kept coming. For too many of us the hospital had become our home, a safe haven amid the death and destruction that made up the insanity of the world outside it's doors. We should have known that it couldn't last, that the time would come when the little safety that it provided would crumble away, leaving one more pile of debris amidst the ruin of what had once been such a beautiful city.
There'd been no warning on that last day, out of nowhere word reached us that the City had fallen and as the Serbian soldiers made their way through the streets, chaos took over. Those who were mobile were encouraged to flee, if they were lucky they might be able to get out of the City...if they were lucky. Did luck even exist anymore? As a doctor we swear an oath to care for our patients, how could we think about leaving them, but, the youngest of us were told to do just that, someone had to make sure that people knew what had happened, what was still happening.
Even as we were fleeing out of the back of the hospital we could hear the gunfire, we could only guess at what was happening, the truth would come later and it would prove to be far worse then any of us could have imagined. The only hope for survival in those first hours
was in looking out for yourself and my first thought was that I had to find somewhere to hide, at least until dark. The fear left me shaking, I knew that at any moment a soldier could spot me from a window or I could become a target for some sniper's bullet, but, I had no choice, I had to keep going.
I'd no sooner left the hospital then I took shelter in the ruins of a bombed out apartment house nearby, with some digging I'd discovered a pocket of space under some fallen wallboards and plaster. While it wouldn't give me much room to move, it would hide me until the soldiers were gone, I had no other choice, already I could hear the trucks on the street, and behind it all, the sound of gunfire. I crawled into the space and had barely pulled the boards back over the opening when I heard the soldiers voices as they entered the building.
How do I begin to describe the terror I felt as I listened to the sounds of the debris and broken glass crunching under their boots? I could smell the smoke from their cigarettes, hear their laughter as they joked of those they had killed, and I knew it would only take one cough from me and I would be next. When the boards over my head creaked, and the dust rained down on me I felt my breath threaten to choke me, I was sure my time had come. I'd almost resigned myself to my fate when from somewhere in the distance came the sound of fresh gunfire, and just as quickly they were gone. A scream soon after announced the success of their pursuit, but, I, at least for now, seemed to be safe, they didn't come back.
I lost track of how many hours I lay under the rubble. I could hear them in the streets, the Serbian soldiers, but even worse, I was sure that I could hear gunfire from the hospital, and screams, so many screams. I hated myself in those moments for leaving my patients, hated myself for not having the courage to stand up to my mentor and stay for the sake of my patients. Listening to those sounds, I wondered if I would ever be able to forget them, and then I knew I couldn't, I had to remember, I had to be the voice for those who no longer had one, I owed them that much, and somehow with those thoughts circling my thoughts, I slept.
Note: This is based off an actual event, read more on The Vukovar Massacre here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vukovar_massacre
Thursday, October 9, 2008
I knew my return to Croatia to nurse my father would stir memories of the past I had left behind. It wasn't just that I knew my brother Niko and I would finally be forced to deal with the things we had said all those years ago when I'd left Croatia for the United States. No, as much as I knew we'd have to resolve the differences between us, or at least find a way to set them aside for our father's sake, it went far deeper then that. I think I knew coming back for more then a few days would mean I'd encounter people I hadn't seen since medical school, people who likely had last seen me while I was still consumed by grief from losing my family as well as the horrors I'd witnessed in Vukovar.
In those first weeks home, when I wasn't at my father's side, it seemed every place I went stirred some new memory of my past. How could they not? Even something as simple as a trip to the market offered reminders of times I'd spent with Danijela. It was so hard, and there were days when I questioned my decision to return even though I knew I really had no choice. While not as frequent, I was finding too that some places would call up remembrances of Jasna when she was very small and that surprised me even more then the recollections of Danijela. For so long all my memories of my daughter have centered around those final hours of her life. Out of nowhere I found myself being asked to push those memories aside and remember happier times as I was confronted by snapshots of her life that, in some cases, I'd forgotten completely. It wasn't easy, worse though was realizing how much of her memory I had lost because I chose to dwell on those final hours instead of the five years leading u to them.
I've had these images of Jasna frozen in my head, memories of those hours when I knelt next to her small body, trying to keep her alive, images that play out like a movie. They always start with me seeing Marko's hand as I entered the apartment that day. I knew he was gone, but I can't help wondering how long he survived buried under the rubble. He was such a tough little boy, but not tough enough to survive being buried alive, and even after all these years I wonder if he called out for me, if he understood that he was going to die there, that his Tata and Mama couldn't save him. It was so hard leaving him there, stepping over his body as if he were nothing but more of the debris, but, Danijela and Jasna were still alive, and I thought I could save them, that's what doctors are supposed to do.
Jasna's condition wasn't good, and she needed cpr to keep her alive, I needed to get her to a hospital, but, as I started to pick her up, I saw that Danijela was seriously injured as well. How was I supposed to chose between them? Danijela gave me no choice, I started to breathe for our daughter, if I could keep her heart beating until help came, but they never did, and I lost them both. I don't remember how many hours I stayed with my family after they were gone. I remember laying Jasna beside Danijela before finding the strength to free Marko from the prison that had taken his short life. It was only after I put him in his mother's arms that everything finally registered with me, and as I lay down beside my family, I gave into my grief and prayed they would forgive me for failing them.
The memories of that day have been my constant companion for over 16 years, to suddenly find that other memories are taking their place is something I never thought would happen. I'm not so naive as to think that they'll ever disappear completely, but, after all these years, I'm finding that it isn't the first memory that surfaces when I think of my family. Who would have thought that it would have taken something so serious in it's own right to create such a positive change in my life. How do I tell my father that the same thing that may well be taking his life has given me back a part of mine that I thought was lost forever? How do I begin to tell him how grateful I am for having my family back in a way I never thought I'd know again?
Wednesday, October 8, 2008
This is a difficult question for me to answer right now, not because I don't know the answer, but, more because I know in answering it I'll sound as if I'm faulting Abby for her recent transgressions. The truth is, I know that in some ways I've fallen much farther then Abby did, with the only difference being that I was single at the time and her slips came more recently and so she betrayed not just me, but, the vows we made to each other.
So, with that in mind, I guess I see the answer to the question much the way it was taught to me as a young child. A moral person abides by the laws of God, and those set by the legal system, they remain true to their word, and to their spouse. I know, it seems so simple but, I know it's not, and even knowing that, it doesn't change the fact that I know Abby holds me somewhat responsible for all that happened.
When I first got the call about my father, there was no question about my going home to Croatia to be with him. My first thought was that I would bring him back to Chicago with me so I could oversee his care, but, my father was old, and stubborn, and quite set in his ways, and no amount of coaxing, or bullying would make him leave his home, his friends, or the land he was born on. I wanted Abby and Joe to go with me when I first went over, but, we still didn't have a passport for Joe so, we had no choice but for Abby and him to remain behind.
I hadn't planned on being gone for as long as I was, and looking back on it now, I realize how hard it had to have been for Abby, but, it wasn't easy for me either. Knowing that though, doesn't relieve her of the blame of putting our young son's life in danger with her drinking. Of course, I only learned of this when I came back to Chicago, and even as she revealed the truth of her drinking there remained another secret that she'd keep to herself until much later. I'd only been back in Chicago a couple of days when the news of my father's death reached me. I had to go back to Croatia, and this time I wanted my family with me. As hard as the decision was, Abby decided instead to enter rehab, so Joe and I said our good-byes to her on the street in front of our apartment with the hope that within the next 30-60 days she'd be joining us there.
I hadn't realized just how much I'd missed Abby until I saw her at the airport in Dubrovnik, and in those moments I thought I could forgive her everything that had happened up to that moment. If only she hadn't decided to reveal that remaining secret, if only she hadn't revealed that she'd not just started drinking again, but, that she'd slept with her boss as well. How was I supposed to forgive that? I'm a Catholic, I vowed before God to stay with her for the rest of our lives, but, how could I when she had betrayed everything we had between us? Everything that I thought we had suddenly seemed to crumble around us, and by the time we returned home to Chicago, I knew I had to have some time to try and make sense of things.
I wish I could say that things between Abby and I were perfect now, but, they aren't. We are trying to work things out, and as part of that I've moved home again. We've decided to leave Chicago, in the hope that a new start will make it easier to let go of the past. We know it's not going to be easy, Abby will have to work hard to maintain her sobriety, but, for the sake of our son, for me, and for our marriage, she's determined to overcome this. I wish I could say I believe everything Abby is saying now, but, with all that has happened, regaining my trust is something that will take time. I'm not ready to give up on her though, especially knowing how far I'd fallen at my worst. Maybe that in itself will prove to be the secret to Abby's success in overcoming all of this...strength of family, or at least that's what I want to believe. That's why I'm here.
This isn't easy for me to talk about and it certainly isn't something I'm proud of doing. It happened during a time when I was having some problems and my head wasn't where it should be and instead of talking to someone about it, I was drinking too much, using sex as a way of escaping and I guess trying to live too fast. None of these things were normal for me, but, I had messed up everything in my life that was good, and the people I thought I could count on weren't there for me anymore. I guess I thought that by sleeping around I would feel something, but, even that wasn't really working out the way I meant for it to.
Abby was seeing Carter and I guess I wasn't handling it well, so, I started getting reckless, and I don't mean in how I was treating my patients. It started with my asking out hospital employees, and nurses, I warned them not to expect anything from me but that one night of sex, but, they never really believed I was serious. I suppose it was only a matter of time until it went to the next level, and it did.
She was the mother of one of my patients, she brought her daughter in and we kind of started flirting during the examination. I had to run some tests on the girl and she wanted her mom to get her something to eat, we walked out of the room together and one thing led to another. She left the Janitor's closet before I did, we thought it'd be safer that way, when I opened the door, another doctor, Susan, was standing right there. I fumbled my way through an excuse but, I knew she didn't believe me, I didn't believe me. I knew it was wrong, I was out of control, and it would only get worse before it would get better.
Going back to Croatia stirred so many memories, memories that had lay buried for so long. It wasn't even that they were bad memories, but, it's hard enough for Abby knowing that I still love Danijela. When we first dated she accused me of being in love with a ghost, and I suppose it's true, that it'll always be true. Danijela was my first love, she was the woman I lost my virginity to, she was the mother of my first two children, and had the three of them not been stolen from me we'd still be together today. I can't change how I feel about her, but, for the longest time the only way I could get through the day was by not thinking about her and our children.
Going back to Croatia changed all that, and when I wasn't looking after my father I found it easy to call up those same memories I had avoided for close to ten years. I didn't realize how ready I was to face them, and it took so little, a walk down a certain street, a familiar smell, and the sun setting over the water. I hesitated returning to Vukovar, I wasn't sure that I wanted to revisit the memories that lay buried there. It's funny, how one memory can change everything...
It was late, my father had gone to bed hours earlier and I was sitting on the terrace with working on my fourth or fifth beer with nothing but a couple of candles for lighting. I suppose it was inevitable that my thoughts would wander, I just never expected them to go where they did, especially after so long. It started with the flicker of the candle flames, I just remember staring at them, and not being able to pull my eyes away. After a while, things seemed to fade away around me and the only thing I saw were those flames, but, there were more then I remembered lighting, and that confused me at first, until I heard her voice...
"See, that's much better, now come back to bed." Danijela patted the empty space beside her as she spoke, then followed the action with a smile as her husband rejoined her.
"We should save the candles, who knows when we'll be able to get more." As he took a seat on the side of the bed Luka leaned over to give her a kiss.
"Aren't you worried that we'll wake the children?" He kept his voice low as he glanced first to the mattress where Jasna slept, and then to the crib that held Marko."
"You worry too much." Danijela lifted a hand to the side of his face, coaxing his gaze back her before sealing it with another kiss.
"It seems like forever since we've had any time together." She whispered the words in his ear, her lips so close that he would swear he could feel the tickle of them as she spoke.
"I know, between studying and my shifts, and the queues..." His excuse was stopped before he could finish as she captured his lips with hers.
"I don't want to talk or hear about anything out there, let's just pretend nothing exists but us." She gave him another quick kiss before sliding her hands under the tail of his shirt.
"I think you should take this off..." Abandoning the tail she turned her attention to the buttons down the shirt's front, releasing first one then the next from it's hole until it was open and she could push it off his shoulders.
"And what about you?" His question followed a soft laugh as her fingers tickled his skin.
"What about me?" Bracing her hands behind her, Danijela leaned back, as a smile slowly spread teasingly across her face.
"I think that what is good for me, must be just as good for you too." After reassuring himself that both children were still asleep he slid his hands under the hem of the cotton top she wore.
"Oh, you do, do you?" Danijela laughed softly, and while offering no resistance neither did she help him undress her save for lifting her arms so he could free her of her blouse.
"You are so beautiful." Luka leaned over his wife as he eased her back down on the bed, then, almost as an afterthought, he leaned over to blow out the candles, plunging the room into darkness.
So many memories...
"Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes." Oscar Wilde
Part of being a doctor is learning to accept that you aren't going to be able to save every patient who present themselves to you for treatment. As a med student, losing your first patient can be devastating. You question every action you made, and even if you find no mistakes you're still left wondering if you couldn't have done more. In the worst case scenario, the loss can be enough to make a student so unsure of their own abilities that they may very well walk away from medicine entirely. I'm not saying it happens often, but, it happens.
We've all lost patients that we know we shouldn't have lost, whether it's because they were just too far gone when they arrived in the ER, or their condition was just too complicated. As hard as that is when it happens, we accept it as part of being a doctor, no different than knowing that some patients will require x-rays and others will need surgery.
There are those times though when things happen that shouldn't, times that eat at you long after the patient's face and sometimes even their name have faded from your memory. Rick Kendrick is one of those for me, even now, almost six years later I can close my eyes and see his face, see his fiance's face, and know that I was responsible for stealing their future from them. The difference with this young man's life, and his subsequent death is that I remember far too clearly the mistakes that led to his death, and no amount of regret on my part can change what happened.
In my own defense I wasn't scheduled to work on the day that all this happened. The night before was our Department Christmas party, I was going through a difficult time, had drank far too much, and expected to spend the next day sleeping it off. I woke to find Erin standing over me with the phone, and despite my protests that I wasn't supposed to work, Kerry's demand that I do just that. I knew I wasn't in any shape to be seeing patients, I should have stood my ground and refused to go in, but, I didn't.
Rick was one of the first people I saw when I got there, I remember him coming up to the desk to say he was feeling better and he was even thinking of leaving. I convinced him to stay, to at least let us look at him, though at the time even he thought he was fighting nothing more than the flu. He was around twenty I think, and accompanied by his fiance, Laura, I wonder now if I remember them so well because I saw Danijela and myself in the way they acted toward each other. To this day I don't know why I didn't listen to those who tried to warn me that it was more than the flu, even Abby saw it, but, not me, I was too stubborn, or maybe I was just too full of myself. By the time we realized that there was more going on, Rick had to be intubated, and even then I put the tube in wrong, causing even more problems for him.
As hard as it was knowing what I had done to Rick, it was even worse explaining things to his fiance, Laura. I remember wondering how I could look at her, knowing I was responsible for destroying all of the dreams the two of them had for their future. She wasn't angry with me though. Even when I explained that it wasn't the flu but rather Leukemia that was causing all his symptoms. Of all the things she could have said, the only thing she asked was why it had taken so long, he'd been there all day and nothing had been done, if only he'd seen someone sooner, maybe things would have turned out differently. I almost wished she'd yelled at me, she could have hit me in anger, but, no, all she did was ask me to sit and pray with her, as if that could undo everything. By the time Rick left the ER he was as good as dead, a machine was breathing for him, and it was doubtful he would ever regain consciousness again.
There have been others over the years, but few have affected the way Rick did, his death is one that I carry as a reminder. Never again will I let myself be forced into a shift I know I'm in no shape to work, if only the cost of learning that lesson hadn't come at such a high price.
I suppose in a way you could say that Abby and I have had several periods of separation, some intentional, some forced by circumstances brought on by one or both of us. All inevitably followed by our decision to reunite and give it one more try. It wasn't always that easy, or maybe easy isn't even the word I want, I know that's certainly the case with the first time we broke up.
When Abby and I made the decision to begin dating for the first time, it was not long after Carol Hathaway had left County. Now, just to clarify, Carol and I never really dated, but, we did become very good friends, and I became very attached to her two young daughters. For me, it was a way of filling the emptiness that had been with me since my two children had been killed, I can't really say what she was looking for in our relationship. I hadn't been at County long when we started spending time together, but, she was alone, and she had those two beautiful baby girls, how could I not offer to help her when she asked. I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy her company, and to be completely honest, she was the first person I even remotely let my guard down with since Danijela's death. I think in a way we needed each other, and that need is what allowed our friendship to grow as quickly as it did. When Carol decided she had to leave, I was lost, not so much because she was going to be with the father of her daughters, but because I felt as if I had lost my children all over again.
Abby was the one who initiated things for our first date, and though she couldn't know it, she was only the second woman in my life I had ever dated. Some people would say that what happened on our first date was a warning to us but, if it was, neither of us was listening. We struggled with our relationship for a year, but, we both carried far too much baggage and in the end we parted following an argument where we both said things we regretted almost as soon as they were said.
While it didn't happen immediately, over time Abby and I were able to put aside the anger that had marked the break-up of our relationship. It's funny in fact how quickly we realized what was important to us once it was no longer there in front of us. Unfortunately, by the time that happened she was in another relationship, but, I welcomed her friendship again and I suppose in a way it allowed me to learn more about her without the pressures of an actual romance. During the time Abby and I were apart, I went through a rough patch, lots of drinking, casual sex, living fast, it was like I became another person, and he wasn't someone I liked very much. I had reached the point where I hated everything about my job and myself when I decided to go to the Congo. It's funny, being there, going through everything I did, it almost cost me my life, but it also saved me from myself. I wasn't able to go to work right away because I'd contracted malaria while in the Congo, so, I was left with a lot of time to think about what I'd been doing with my life. I realized that I couldn't keep wasting it the way I'd done before I'd gone to the Congo, and by the time I returned to work I was a different person.
I'm not exactly sure when I made the decision to return to the Congo, but from the day I walked back into the ER, I knew I wouldn't be staying. I couldn't help feeling that I could do so much more there than I could ever do in Chicago, and then I met Alex. It's funny, here is this kid, pops up out of nowhere and we just connected. I thought I found someone else to care about, or maybe it was just another instance of my needing to be a parent. I didn't plan to start dating his mom, but over time it happened, and one day I realized that with him, with Sam in my life, I didn't need to go anywhere. I thought everything was going fine between us, eventually they moved in with me, we were like a family, we had everything we could want, and then she thought she might be pregnant. Suddenly, it all fell apart. Nothing was the same to her, and she decided that what I wanted from the relationship wasn't what she wanted. It turned out that she wasn't pregnant, but, it didn't matter, they moved out, and I was left feeling like I had lost another family. I couldn't handle it, I started drinking too much again, and Abby was there for me.
I don't think either of us expected anything to happen that first night, but it did, and it just felt right. We agreed this time around to take things slow, maybe that was what made the difference, well, that and her eventually learning she was pregnant. It wasn't long after that we decided she'd move in with me. It hasn't been perfect since the birth of our son, but, we're working through our ups and downs, we have to, there's too much at stake not too, besides, I love her too much not to.