So, when I got to Sonja and Jon’s apartment, Sonja was still in town. Good start! I met Jon and their severely disabled son Nejc. Sonja came home soon after I got all my stuff up to their flat and parked Rowenna safely in the cycle room downstairs. They normally eat promptly at midday, so I was offered a two course meal soon after arriving – however, I’d not long had breakfast so really wasn’t hungry. Sonja was terribly concerned that I didn’t eat enough protein as all I had was the soup.
I must tell Nalc’s story. Jon and Sonja have two children – Nejc, the oldest and also a daughter – who is married and has two boys herself. Sonja didn’t get pregnant straight away – it was a lot of bother taking temperatures and having sex during ovulation before she ‘fell’ pregnant and so she was overjoyed to have Nejc. He was a bright and happy boy – the clown of the class and liked by everyone. When he was 18yrs old, he went to college to study Engineering. When he was 19yrs old he was in a car with a French driver who was driving too fast – Nejc was severely brain damaged (the right side of his head smashed like an egg) as a result of the car accident. The driver walked away.
Nejc was in a coma for 7 months. He had extensive injuries and underwent much surgery – including a reconstruction of his right eye socket with plastic to bring his eye back into the right place. Eventually, Jon and Sonja signed the paper to donate his organs and they turned the respiratory machines off, expecting him to die. Only he didn’t - he carried on breathing.
Sonja cried for the next three months solidly. Jon was treated for depression. Nejc was eventually discharged to a home for retired people where he stayed for several months, but eventually Sonja and Jon brought him home where they have been caring for him devotedly for the past 10 years.
Nejc has terrible spasms in all his muscles – sometimes his jaw even locks open. This causes him considerable discomfort. He also has epilepsy. Sonja and Jon have to give him 5 meals a day – pureed, as he can’t swallow easily – with his medications crushed into the food. Nejc also can’t suck from a straw or ‘sippy-cup’ so they have to pour fluids into his mouth. I saw ‘before’ photographs of him and I can say that he most certainly is NOT the boy that he was.
Sonja and Jon care for him 24 hours a day, every day, with no respite care available. They have some support – he goes to the same home for retired people for a full bath twice a week- this happened the day I was visiting –and I went with them. The residential home is modern and rather lovely (compared to some I have seen in the UK) – there is a ‘dementia’ café and a beautiful garden to sit out in – but it’s for old people – not a young person like Nejc.
Nejc also gets a new wheel chair every 5years – though Jon thought the first chair better than the second. Jon is very handy at ‘fixing’ things and has made adaptations to the wheel chair to make it more comfortable for Nejc – to prevent him injuring himself when his limbs spasm. Jon and Sonja also got tax breaks when they were both working – though both are retired now.. The State pay a small carer’s allowance. The insurance pay out was paltry – I’m not sure why though Jon did explain. IN fact, any mistakes in this story are a result of my misunderstanding.
All in all, a tragic tale, but one of enormous love, sacrifice and dedication by his parents.
Jon talked to me of Slovenian politics and history – he reads voraciously. I’m ashamed to say I didn’t take it all in – as I was feeling sleepy by that stage. I do recall him saying that Slovenia has twice the mortality rate from accidents than neighbouring Austria or Italy. Bovec had two fatal accidents (one from climbing) the weekend Nina and I were there.
Sonja occasionally gets to itch her travelling bug (she likes travelling, whereas Jon is happy to stay at home) by taking day trips. She was going away for a day trip this coming weekend – to Italy. She gets up at 5am and doesn’t come back till very late. This is as long a break she can take as she has to be there for Nejc.
Sonja and Jon were surprised by my visit to say the least! They have NEVER had a 5W visitor before and Sonja is a lone member in Ljubljana. They were very interested in my travels so far and intend to follow the blog, which will be wonderful –and I hope I was a not too demanding and interesting interruption to their routine. Nejc seemed very interested in me – he really maintained eye contact and had a good look. He doesn’t get to see many other folk these days, apart from his mum and dad.
Sonja has actually met Frances, the English founder of 5W – which is more than I can say. She got the newsletter in the mail while I was there – I get mine via email. Sonja also showed me a picture she had done by a caricaturist when she was on holiday once. I offered to paint a portrait of her and she agreed. She kept my attempt and laughed as heartily at the result as the Viennese Artist did when I painted him! I like that my daily draws make folk laugh. J
I am very pleased to have met Sonja, Jon and Nejc, and loved visiting them and gaining some insight into their daily lives. I thank them from the bottom of my heart for their generosity and kindness most sincerely for opening their door to me, and hope we stay friends and meet again at some point in the future.
I stayed the night and got very clear and precise directions to Postojna (where I plan to do the tourist thing and visit the caves) from Jon – including where to expect hills and where to expect flat riding!