Rob C. Jarosh 2017-12-07 15:39:04
The Conversation I Wish I’d Had It’s a little scary when you see you missed a call from a sister-in-law who you rarely talk to except on birthdays and holidays. On April 1, 2014, while getting ready to take my son and daughter to the pool on a Spring Break visit to Arizona, I saw that I missed such a call. When I called back, Angel was sobbing. Her husband, my little brother Chris, had overdosed on morphine, first prescribed to him many years before to relieve the pain from a low back injury he suffered while serving in the Persian Gulf War as a member of the United States Navy. Two surgeries did nothing to relieve his chronic pain, and over the years Chris was prescribed a steady diet of painkillers. In the ambulance Chris suffered a pulseless cardiac arrest. He also suffered an anoxic brain injury and stroke. He initially survived, regained consciousness a few days later, and spent two weeks at Mercy Hospital in Mason City, Iowa, before transferring to the Veteran’s Hospital in Des Moines. An MRI confirmed permanent brain damage, and for weeks our family and doctors wondered whether and to what extent he would recover. When Chris was “awake,” eye contact was intermittent at best, and he did not speak; sometimes he would squeeze someone’s hand. On April 24th, an aggressive infection began ravaging his body. Eight days later, on May 2, 2014, my little brother died. Christopher Joseph Jarosh had just turned 41. He left behind a wife, a teenage son, his mother, and me, as well as in-laws, cousins, aunts, and friends. Chris was my only sibling. We grew up on various military bases, an experience that lends itself to being close. Some of my happiest memories of childhood involve being a big brother—tennis matches (I was John McEnroe; I made Chris be Bjorn Borg), boxing matches (I was Mohammad Ali; I made Chris be Leon Spinks), pool tournaments (I was Minnesota Fats; I made Chris be Willie Mosconi), and karate tournaments (I was Daniel Larusso; Chris was Johnny Lawrence, and the tournament always ended with a Crane Kick). Being a big brother was good stuff. In early adulthood, I remember how proud I was while Chris served in the Navy, when he got married, and when his son was born. But after we both had families and Chris moved back to Iowa, where our late father had lived, Chris and I grew distant. Certainly, the fact that we no longer lived near one another contributed, but Chris was slipping into a dark place, and it was easier for me to pretend like I didn’t know. By around 2005, and for physical or psychological reasons, or both, Chris stopped working. By 2007, he used a walker or cane to get around and was clinically depressed. He lived in government-assisted housing. He was prescribed a list of medications that filled half a page. I talked to him on the telephone occasionally, but never about anything significant. Usually, we talked about the Iowa Hawkeyes or the Minnesota Vikings—the easy stuff. My last memory of being with Chris prior to his overdose was when I was in Mason City after our dad died; we went out to dinner and watched the Vikings beat the Green Bay Packers on Monday Night Football. It was October 5, 2009, almost five years before he died. After Chris died, I ordered and reviewed his medical records; surely there was someone I could blame. Among the diagnoses he had lived with for years were: 1) Chronic opiate dependence due to low back pain; and 2) depression with history of suicidal ideation. The diagnoses were not surprising, but they startled me. There they were, in black and white, over and over again in the medical records, forever memorializing something I simply did not want to acknowledge or address while Chris was alive. The deeper I dug, the more I saw just how devastating the two diseases had been for my brother over the years. And the more I realized that they were things I never tried to talk about with him. Today, more is known about depression and addiction than ever before, and awareness seems to be increasing. The opioid crisis —particularly as it exists with respect to injured veterans—has been in the national news for several years. In the October 2017 issue of Wyoming Lawyer, Bar Counsel Mark Gifford wrote a compelling article about a dear attorney friend who killed himself, and about the struggles the legal profession faces in terms of substance abuse and mental illness. If you did not read it, you should. For the longest time I held the all-too-common belief that illnesses like addiction, depression, and anxiety are “not real medical conditions; they are things you can control if you just put your mind to it.” Countless people still hold that opinion, I’m certain, and I can’t change their minds. Nobody could have changed my mind; except Chris. And that only happened after he died. I miss my little brother. I wish the world would not have been so cruel to him. I wish I would have tried to talk to him about his suffering. I do not know what I would have said, or if it would have mattered. But it couldn’t have hurt. If this column inspires just one person to have the kind of conversations about addiction and depression with a loved one that I never had with Chris, sharing this story will have been worthwhile. I hope that someday everyone will be able and willing to talk about things like addiction and depression without being embarrassed or uncomfortable, just like we talk about other diseases; without worrying about the stigma, what people will say, or what people will think. That would be a good day.
Published by Wyoming State Bar . View All Articles.
This page can be found at http://digitaleditions.walsworthprintgroup.com/article/From+the+President/2957621/459691/article.html.