Sunday, March 18, 2012


I am not a worrier.  Neither do I dwell a lot on physical infirmity.  I think that is a bit discomfiting to Maxim, who (I get the feeling) equates love with cluck-clucking over illness.  I never learned to do that because my mom was a "suck it up" kind of woman.  She still is.  I'm downright coddling, compared to her.  I'll offer kids aspirin (something we were not allowed except in the direst circumstances).  This morning Maxim was moaning about with a cough.  I suggested Nyquil (he said the cough had kept him up all night, so I figure he probably needed to sleep), but the Nyquil was gone.  My instinct was to shrug - well, too bad.  But, I remembered the Vick's Vapo Rub - you'd think I'd really found something there. It was as though when I brought it out, he relaxed.  Someone cared.  (And don't worry about Maxim - this cough is a good cough, as it comes from his quitting smoking.)

But this post is about Sergei.

Over the last few months I've found out about a lot of things in Sergei's life that I missed.  Injuries! Some which could have been fatal.  That boy's been through things that would even have had me distraught!  Of course, I knew he was a strong little guy.  Soon after we got him it came to our attention, after a visit to the dentist, that in Russia he'd had a root canal without anesthesia.  He recalls laying in bed and pressing his face up to the cold wall for comfort.  If you can take that, you can take a lot.

This spring he was having some back pain, and I took him to a physical therapist.  As she was evaluating his posture, etc. she chuckled, pointed to a scar on his side and said with amusement, "That looks like a gunshot wound!"

Sergei responded, "Yes; it is."  Mind you, he was standing; I was sitting in a chair and she on her stool, so she and I were eye-to-eye with him between us.  Oh!  The look she gave me!  Appraising.  Critical. Horrified.  I think she might have been getting her juices flowing to make some sort of "report".  Meanwhile, I was taking this in, too.

"What?!"  I exclaimed!  All the while I was dealing with my own astonishment, simultaneously, I was noticing that my not even knowing about it wasn't earning me any points with the PT, either.  "What happened?!"

"Oh I was out with my friend, and he accidentally shot me."

Horror on the face of the PT.  She asked, "Did you go to the hospital?"

"Well, no.  It didn't really go in very far.  And there wasn't any hospital we could get to, so he just dug it out."

If I'd heard this story previously myself, I'm sure I would have gotten much more enjoyment out of the PT's reaction, but I was so curious myself, and amazed - I asked him how old he was, and it turns out this occurred when he was six or so, and at the Children's Home near Rostov.....the same one where there had once been a swimming pool, but, disused, it had become instead a dump for anything too big to dispose of - and hence a wonderful place for Sergei to play, with large pieces of metal, and old machines and things.  This was also the place where crazed and wandering people of the area might stumble in to get some food.  Sergei has related sad memories of other kids making fun of some poor half-wit teenaged boy, who'd come begging.  He also remembered, with some horror, the day a mentally ill person showed up with a knife and after threatening the children, was chased away by a teacher.  Quite some place.  He was surprised he hadn't told me about this incident. Me, too.

Somewhere in there, you'll be glad to know, the PT was assured that Sergei was not in my keeping and not even in the country when all of this occurred, and she was able to relax.

This first orphanage was the place where Sergei was taken after his father passed away from TB and his mother lost her ability to care for him and his older sister.  Sergei has such warm memories of his father, but one particularly sad one was visiting his father in the sanitarium  and having to be separated from him behind a glass window.  Later, he was brought from the Children's Home, to this same sanitarium.  His records say he, too, had TB....but I rather think that they take any children who appear to be run-down or in need of its benefits to a sanitarium, where they get somewhat better food and daily vitamin shots.  Sergei did not like it there much, though, as it was boring.  He winced with embarrassment at one memory he shared from this place.  He'd heard that some of the children from his orphanage were getting to go back.  When a nurse told him that he wasn't one of the children leaving, as she exited the room, Sergei gave her the finger (truly this is not like Sergei, which is probably why it still embarrasses him).  In any case, while that nurse didn't see him do this to her back, there was a large window in the wall which allowed nurses at the nurses station right outside his room to see it all.   So, as the first one came out, her colleagues filled her in, and back she came under a head of steam to give him what-for.  I doubt he's given anyone the finger since.

His room there, which he had to himself, in addition to that window to the hall, also had two windows to the outdoors - facing a cemetery.  Sergei remembers standing at the window at night and remembering his father, who he'd last seen at that very place.  I can imagine it.....Since they don't light buildings with blaring great lights as we do, it must have been dark - just the light through the window from the nurses area shining....and that poor little boy, all by himself,  looking at the cemetery and thinking of his dad.  It just about breaks my heart.

Sergei at 9 at the Interdom
It must have been shortly after the incident of the shooting that Sergei was moved to Ivanovo, to the International Children's School, and one of the first things that happened there was imprinted on his memory - this was the injury that he did tell me about some time ago.  For some reason that he can't discern even now - he swears it was not intended to be mean - a girl tossed him a potted cactus. He'd already been warned that this particular cactus should never be touched.  But when she tossed it, it came at him in such a way that he had to catch it by the plant, rather than the pot and apparently those particular cactus spines were horribly painful.  Some spines have barbs on the ends of them which, of course, affect more nerve endings in more tissue than a simple spine and cause a great deal of pain. And some have a sheath covering their spines which damages tissue as it enters the flesh and adheres to the flesh when it is removed. Some spines will rip the skin off when they are pulled out. Sergei remembered the intense pain for hours after removing the spines.  Welcome to the Interdom!

The courtyard where "rockball" was played
Another incident which occurred at the Interdom left its mark. Literally.  Sergei has a big lump on his head to this day.  The children were playing another fine orphanage game similar to baseball, except it is played with rocks rather than balls.  Rocks would be lobbed at you and you had to hit them with a stick.  One of his friends, to be amusing, teased Sergei by acting as though he were going to throw a great big rock at him.  Of course he didn't - instead he threw it high - at the building - but when it hit the wall, it knocked a brick loose which then fell on Sergei's head.  

All in all, I think I am quite fortunate to have gotten him here in one piece - but how I love to hear these stories, which are like precious little jewels.  They give me a little window into the years I missed..  


Tina in CT said...


Mike and Christie said...

Oh wow! Loads of injuries! The root canal story makes me shudder. Poor guy!!!!
I can just picture that scene with the PT. LOL

Yankee Blog Reader said...

I don't think people understand how sad orphanage life is until they've been there or hear stories like these!


ko said...

He is an amazing person. I cannot imagine being alone for anything medical especially as a kid!!! Wow. His spirit is incredible! I'm in awe. He actually sounds like my father (very abused but turned out incredible CEO of a fast food chain and the best dad ever). The will power of some people are amazing.

on our way today said...

its a wonder these children survive insuch places

thisjourneyofmylife said...

I thought the bullet story was just hilarious. I can imagine the look on the PT's face when you asked Sergei when / how he got the wound. And her relief when she realised he was still at the orphanage when that happened. Oh my!
After reading those stories about his injuries, I can imagine you're relieved that he came in one piece!

Essie the Accidental Mommy said...

That boy is for sure a survivor! I mean, baseball with rocks? Yikes!

The Combes Family said...

Precious memories of your Sergei!

Hevel Cohen said...

Oh, the root canal... One of my boys had had the same experience before he was adopted, and he is pretty much set on having nothing but extractions done ever again...

kate said...

This is from a book I'm reading:
...and i ask you right here please to agree with me that a scar is never ugly. that is what the scar makers want us to think. but you and I, we must make an agreement to defy them. We must see all scars as beauty. Okay? This will be our secret. Because take it from me, a scar does not form on the dying. A scar means, I survived. In a few breaths' time i will speak some sad words to you. But you must hear them the same way we have agreed to see scars now. Sad words are just another beauty. A sad story means, this storyteller is alive. the next thing you know, something fine will happen to her, something marvelous and she will turn around and smile.

I couldn't help thinking of my little one when I read it. And I thought it again as I read your post.

Annie said...

Kate, thanks for sharing that.