Katya, how are you doing?

"It was possible to leave Vitya, but not myself", – a conversation with Katya Kazakova.

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Winter seasons in Gudauri. Photo: Lera Polskaya

We are telling this story together with the website of RISK onsight magazine, which publishes an interview with Viktor Zakharin today!

 By Anastasia Chepurova
Photos: Ekaterina Kazakova’s archive

 

Katya Kazakova became known to the freeride community about four years ago as the beloved woman of the ski guide Victor Zakharin. A man from Kamchatka. Together they led a dream life when the job is mountains in different regions of Eurasia, vacation – surfing, and the ocean warmer than the Pacific.

From Katya’s post on Facebook
WHAT HAPPEN?
On March 21st, Victor fell very hard and was severely injured while skiing from the Koryaksky volcano on Kamchatka.
WHAT INJURY?
Hi’s got a spinal injury, after which his entire lower body (below the waist) has been paralyzed.
MORE DETAILS, PLEASE!
He got an explosive fracture of the body, and posterior vertebral elements with separation of the ribs, multiple fractures of the spinous and transverse processes in the thoracic spine.
And a slightly lower compression-comminuted fracture with narrowing of the spinal canal. Pneumothorax, hemothorax, pneumomediastinum.

Spring 2018. The usual heli-ski season was happening on Kamchatka, the tenth for Victor. He flew as a ski guide. Katya was involved in different administrative processes. When a little more than two years later, we started talking about this, Katya began like this:

Can you imagine how many people would like to support, but most satisfy their interest during these two years? That is, to call or write just like that, without introduction, and start asking questions like: “How are you? How is Vitya? Any chances? Will walk? What do the doctors say?..”

It turns out that the person who is next to the victim looks more accessible and less stressful – for the person who calls the source of information. It is impossible to imagine what kind of social pressure falls on him or her in an instant until this person starts to talk about this and about much more what is not accepted to discuss.
We ventured to ask Katya to tell a story about how her life changed at one point. When you don’t have to, but you’re still around. When every day was 100% connected with the mountains and the ocean, with work and hobbies – suddenly – you have to try hard to find yourself again. And to live.

Victor’s first attempts in adaptive skiing, Val Thorens, France, December 2017

 

Our note:
Katya was born and lived most of her life in Ukraine. Grandfather taught her to ski on Cheget when she was seven years old. She used to ski with her family back then, and later with friends.
While studying at the university, Katya became involved in organizing public events and worked in the event sphere for about eight years.
Graduated from the university in the spring of 2011, she left for work as an alpine skiing instructor in Bukovel (a ski resort in the Carpathians, Ukraine) in December.
For the 2014–2015 winter season, Katya went to Gudauri (a village and a ski resort in Georgia) for the first time to work as an instructor in SnowLab, where she met Viktor. But they started dating only a year and a half later.
In Gudauri, Katya worked three seasons in a row. And in the winter seasons of 2017–2018 and 2019–2020, she worked in Krasnaya Polyana as an instructor in Riders School at Rosa Khutor ski resort.
In the spring of 2017, she went to Kamchatka for the first time to work for the heli-ski company. That one and two spring heli-ski seasons after  Katya spent on Kamchatka, solving different administrative tasks on the ground.
In addition to skiing, Katya loves the sea, hiking with friends, and yoga. Katya’s parents run a yoga studio that they created with their daughter.

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Фэн шуй рабочего места сотрудника любого звена предполагает, что лучшая защита – стена за спиной. На стену желательно повесить пейзаж с изображением гор. Хуже, если придется сидеть спиной к двери или к окну, здесь и здоровья лишиться недолго. А тот, кто сидит к двери спиной – первый кандидат на увольнение. Сидеть же лицом к стене – значит, приобрести некоторую узость мышления.  Энергия Ци не будет задерживаться в кабинете. #snowlabgudauri #gudauri #georgia #caucasus #mountains #winter #ski #skiing #instructor

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First hours. Tell me please what was going on around you, and what was going on with you?
It was morning. Three helicopters with riders flew away. For a while, I was still chatting at breakfast with the wife of one of the guides. Then I went to my room, sat at the computer. And then a colleague called with the words: “Katya, Vitya is broken a little. Take his passport and other documents that are needed. Give it all to deliver to the hospital.”
I also thought that he probably broke his arm or leg. That is, a little broken. Before the groups returned to the base, I was relatively free, so I decided to go with the driver. Another such thought flashed: “Oh, cool, Victor will now hang out with me at the base.”
The helicopter pilot reported about the incident by walkie-talkie, so it was possible to call an ambulance directly to the heliport. So the driver and I drove up to Nikolaevka (the place where the helicopter bases), and I see an ambulance car flies to the highway. The speed looked like approximately 100 km / h. The signal yells. And I understand that when such a vehicle rushes at a similar pace, it is not a broken arm.
We arrived at the hospital. Not sure, but probably it was the emergency department. I go in; there are a lot of people, Victor lies, covered with a sheet, conscious. I come up in a whisper: “Vitechka, I’m here; everything is fine.” He lies, then grunts something, reaches out from under the sheet, and takes my hand; I ask him not to move. I lift the sheet and see that from the nipples to the pelvis under the skin is something that is incomprehensible, unnatural looks. Then one of the employees starts asking me questions. Everything is floating in front of my eyes. They give me some papers that I need to do something with, probably sign. I look at the text, but I don’t see the letters at all. Because the text is floating, at such moments, it is generally impossible to be involved in paper bureaucracy; there should be someone with you to help. It’s good that someone explained to me briefly what paper for what and why. So it was possible to consent to pass Vitya to the authorities as an innards’ donor or something.
I looked through one paper more carefully. It meant that the hospital staff must transmit to me all the information about what was happening with Vitya. If he doesn’t make decisions, then I make them, as the person responsible for him. And yes, I had to sign it on behalf of Vitya. Without this paper, his story would have gone further even slower and worse, and this document also helps you to knock on all doors. Indeed, in Russia, it does not work out differently. It’s not like in an American movie when hospital staff asks every time before giving an injection. They didn’t tell us anything until we got information ourselves.
At some point from the papers, I returned to Vitya. And he whispered: “Kate, I do not feel my legs.” All I could answer was: “It was you who hit very hard; everything is fine.” He asked to unfasten the ski boots, which he was no longer wearing. That is, he thought that his legs were squeezed by his ski boots so much that he does not feel them.

Transportation from Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky to Moscow by the regular Aeroflot flight, April 2018. Photo: Katya Kazakova

How long have you been with Vitya like this, in the corridor?
Everything that is described happened within about an hour. At some point, that same colleague arrived from our heli-ski base; they entered the room with our other driver, also a good person.
I clearly remember the moment that as soon as they went in and we met with our eyes, I just started to faint. The body realized that the emergency mobilization mode of all systems could be cut down; there is someone I can rely on. It began to darken in my eyes, and I scrambled out into the air.
The guys have been trying to find the right person who could decide on an emergency operation. When I returned, he, already freed from basic clothes, was asked to undress to the end, including removing baubles and other excess items. Nurses grumbled at the bracelet with skulls. In a way like “you shouldn’t wear something like this.” Vitya also had such a thread on his wrist, in several rings. We were in Sri Lanka six months before the heli-ski season, and in some of the evening after-surf walks around the monastery, a monk joined us. He walked, wandered, chatted with us, talked about the temple. And then he said: “Let me make amulets for you?” – and tied such threads to our wrists with the words that when the threads break, then the amulet fulfilled its purpose, it was preserved. In the hospital, nurses gave me scissors and insisted on cutting everything. There was a tough moment – as soon as I cut the thread, Vitya was taken away for many, many hours.
After Vitya was gone to MRI and further to the operation, I remember the conversations with the doctor very vaguely. So, it’s very, very important: it was after several such awkward moments when I was simply not able to pull myself together and concentrate when stress turned off my attention after 20 seconds of complicated terminology, I began to record all conversations with doctors – and not only with them – on a voice recorder. I kept the records, and we listened to them together with Vitya not so long ago. At that time, I regularly attended all dialogues with the doctors at home and googled what they had said.
At some point, with the words “you still won’t be allowed into the intensive care unit, and we won’t let you into the ward after the operation, it makes no sense to sit on a stool here” we were sent home. They promised to call after the operation. They also said that Vitya would live, but we should not count on the good.
Of course, there was no question of returning to work that day. I was thanked a lot for the fact that my colleague took all the duties of our heli-ski groups.
First of all, I went to Vitya’s sister to tell what had happened and to ask her to contact their mother – I had no idea how to build a conversation with her, especially at that moment. After Vitya’s sister, I moved to one of our familiar friends’ places. Another close friend came there as well. We talked. Many hours later, not able to wait longer, we started to call to the hospital ourselves. In the end, we got the answer: “The operation went through, Vitya is in intensive care, everything is fine. Come tomorrow. ” Everyone dispersed, I went to bed.
And, you know, there were two dogs at the flat, and they rushed around, and they felt that something restless. I buried myself in the pillow and cried for the first time.

Victor’s birthday party with non-alcoholic champagne at the Preodolenie rehabilitation center, 9th of May, 2018. Photo: Katya Kazakova

 

Did you often cry at that time?
Yes. More often alone, at night, but also I could do it with the colleague – she helped me a lot. If she were not there, everything would be a million times worse. Because she behaves incredibly collected in stressful situations, quickly and clearly. I could stress and talk, and make decisions, and cry, and scream with her.

What did you feel? Self-pity? Confusion?
You know, the word “freedom” means a lot to me, freedom in different interpretations. At that period, I cried, because, on March 20th, 2018, I felt just fine. I didn’t want to give birth to children; I didn’t want to get married, I didn’t want this whole family thing, certainty, home. I was fine. Vitya and I traveled, lived, and worked.
And on March 21st, I was deprived of freedom of choice. Now no one was asking me anything. Before that, I had the right to decide how our life together would change. From March 21st and the next six months, I roared because I was deprived of freedom of choice.

During the rehabilitation in Greece, autumn 2018, Halkidiki. Photo: Nikita Kutepov

 

Did you feel obligated to be with him?
No, not like this. I did not feel obligated. Not at all. At that moment, I just felt that there were only two options left: to be with this person in such a situation or to stay without him. All opportunities for the development of our relations were simply taken away from me. At the moment of realizing this, I, perhaps, really had a tantrum. That boy with whom I was dating for almost two years, disappeared. We are talking, and even now, I’m starting to get upset (crying). It’s just that he will never be the same, he will be different, but that person will never return. (silent for a long time)

Let’s go back to Vitya’s injury day for another minute and talk about what you had to do in the most stressful moments.
I immediately understood that Vitya had to be taken to Moscow. Roughly speaking, from the second day after Vitya’s fall, my colleague and I started working hard on the Vitya managerial project. In general, only having accepted for myself everything that was happening in this format, I was able to act. The first – is to decide where exactly to send Vitya to Moscow. We searched for doctors, surgeons, used acquaintances, and everything. Second – we thought about how to transport Vitya from Kamchatka to Moscow. After all, his lung was injured; he was on a ventilator, which means that he needed oxygen cylinders; these are all very delicate moments during air transportation. Checked: how much would private flight take, how much – a medical flight cost, how much does a regular Aeroflot flight cost, and is it possible to get there. The third – no matter how we tried to solve the first two problems, it was impossible to bring one to mind until you get a clinical report – a document on the operation and the current state. Because in the search for doctors, it is necessary to have a dialogue. “What is it broke?” – “Back” is zero information. I could not explain anything. The document was also knocked out with difficulties and by the efforts of the team again.
Still, it was necessary to keep in mind at once that everything is needed a lot of money. So, we’ll figure out how to get them. Need sponsors. So, well, here is our boss, he agrees to help. Put a tick in the column “sponsor.” Next: I have to present him with a payment plan. To do this, I have to find out the flight tickets cost, how much the operation costs, how much the ward costs. I had to find out all this, call the sponsor and say: “To implement the project, “Vitya. Operation” I need such an amount of money. I plan to distribute it according to the budget in this way.” When we completed this project – the second operation was done, already in Moscow – I started the next project, which was called “Vitya. Rehabilitation”. It lasted longer. And to search for additional sponsors, we have announced a fundraiser on Facebook. We collected a certain amount of money; we distributed it, discussing everything together with Vitya this time.
The installation “I am a manager” helped a lot. And the least help gave people who did not regard this as a project. Those who came raised their hands to heaven and said: “Oh my God, what will happen now?!” It is equivalent to saying, “Everything will be fine; don’t worry.” These words have no meaning. It won’t be right. Everything has to be adjusted differently. And you act. At the very beginning, words like “do not lose hope; everything’s going to be okay! Vitya is a hero. He will fight ”sound too dangerous; they make you relax and believe in a miracle. But the truth is that you have to work up a sweat.

After the operation, Vitya was immediately introduced into an artificial coma. He didn’t regain consciousness, did he?
Yes, for three days – this is called sedation. During those three days, I didn’t see Vitya – doctors didn’t let anyone in, and didn’t give information either. All that worked was to grab the doctor in the corridor by the sleeve, that doctor said four and a half sentences, and left somewhere. As we were told, “the operation was done; you just have to wait.”
By the way, do you know how they deduce from sedation? They just pull out a dropper and watch: if a person begins to coward from pain shock, then they cut him out. And how is ventilation checked? They pulled out the tube: breathed – okay, did not breathe – stuck it back—poke method.
Vitya was breathing on his own. As a result, we transported Vitya to the second operation on a regular Aeroflot flight already when he was breathing without mechanical ventilation, and his condition stabilized.

Did you talk to anyone then, except for those who were directly nearby? Wrote to someone? To cronies to somehow take a breath. Or didn’t you need it?
No, I didn’t need it. I did not have even a single minute for it. And at some point, I realized that I was physically sick to talk because everyone asked the same questions. You are saying something. A person who listens begins to cry or be terrified. This was utterly unnecessary then. It made it challenging to take concrete steps quickly.

I read that during complex operations in foreign clinics in the very first hours after the surgery, doctors sometimes ask spouses or partners of people in serious condition to make a decision “here and now” – will they stay with the one who is in intensive care or not because there is an opinion that to get and accept all the stress at one moment is simpler and more manageable. Have you thought about this choice?
I had a different situation. First of all, nobody told me this. And, secondly, I understood at that moment that if I did not resolve it, then Vitya would be worse. It will be somehow, but it will be worse. Therefore, when I turned the solution mode for the project-task on, I tried not to switch from it.
At that moment, I didn’t doubt for a second that I would stay with Vitya and would do all this.
I thought this way: that before the injury, I really loved Vitya, and that now I’m gone, time will pass, I will meet a new man, and I can love him just as much. One day he will ask me: “In grief and joy? In illness and health? ” And what will I answer him? “You know, dear, experience shows that I am excellent in joy, but somehow in grief, I’m not very good.” It was possible to leave Vitya, but not myself.
Doubts came much later when it became clear that this was a situation for years. For a very long time, you say to yourself: “Everything will work out; everything will work out; everything will work out.”
The turning point came when I had to answer the question “what if he will not walk.” It became clear that this is not fast. And if he still doesn’t get up at all, and his whole life will be like this, will we stay together or not?
There were different situations. All the moments when this question erupted into consciousness, I mercilessly rejected it. And at some point, my mother asked such a question.

Do you have a trusting relationship with your mom?
Yes. And with dad. I have very cool parents; I was fortunate with them. When I started to think about what will happen next, I simply asked them such a common thing: “What should I do ?!” Parents said: “We will not answer you. Only you’re able to answer this question to yourself. But in any case, no matter what decision you make, we will deal with this together.”

Was it after visiting several rehabilitation centers or in the process?
After a few of them, yes. And the most challenging thing was to answer this question. Take it for yourself. One doctor uttered a phrase that it’s impossible to do rehabilitation at all because the prefix “re” in the word “rehabilitation” means a return to a previous state. You must understand that you will not return to the former state. You will continue to live, and how you will continue to live depends on you. Good, bad, but not like before. Only from the moment you understand and accept this, it’ll be possible to move on to improving your life. Because while you live in references to the past, you get stuck mentally and emotionally, you don’t move.
This tipping point comes at different times. I lived it for myself twice. The first time, that was mentioned a bit earlier, happened, when we finally calmed down with the operations, when it became clear that the surgeries will not change anything in terms of regaining sensitivity and everything else. And that you need to deal with rehabilitation, which will eat a massive part of all resources. At that moment, I realized that no, we wouldn’t get off so quickly. And the second part of the crisis was when the first year has passed.

During one of the winter seasons in Gudauri. Photo: Sergey Potapenko

Did any friends help to go through these moments?
You know, I’m in Vitya’s world anyway. Yes, some of his friends became mine too. I can sincerely tell them what I think. But such people can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Of course, at the same time, everyone treats me very well. But there was one interesting turning point when we were hanging out with guys and had conversations, which, of course, touched our situation with Vitya. And I began to tell what I think, to describe the real state of affairs, specific stories. Pretty quickly, it became clear to the faces of people that they didn’t need my truth, that they were afraid of it; it was inconvenient to hear that kind of reality. It is very convenient to conduct a dialogue in the spirit of “you’re doing great, you’re managing.” – “thank you; we are trying.” But it turned out that it was necessary to be careful about how exactly everything is complicated – with such a truth. People just hide their eyes.

No one could say at least, “Katya, I don’t know what to answer you”?
Maybe someone said, but the point is that the evening turned into something like, “you have stopped believing in our Victor.” I’m not from Russia. There, at home, I have my inner circle. With my truth, I go there – to see my close friends, my family, my sister. A home is a place where I start the phrase, and I don’t need to chew it or finish it (Katya starts to cry), everyone understands everything, no one asks me the same exhausting questions. For some reason, everything is simple there. These people, like you, like many guys here, just follow Vitya and me in social networks. I arrive, we do something, communicate, hang out, and not even on the first day, but just at some point I start to tell something by myself, they don’t have to ask. Yes, everything is fine here, I adapted, found someone to communicate with, but still, I understand that in most cases, I am just a convenient character, link, communication channel.

But has Vitya’s social circle of contacts changed in these two years? Did someone fall off because they did not understand how to communicate now? Or, conversely, are there those who have become more involved in your life?
Vitya and I disagree on this issue. Suppose these are his friends, and I am an outside observer. But I did not have the task of being a hellish critic. I saw what I saw. Yes, a much stricter character and a categorical attitude to everything is my destiny. But I think that Vitya realizes all this, simply does not accept. That is his right. The situation showed that there are people who didn’t have bets, but they simply stated that they would be there and would support, but everything turned out very differently, unfortunately.
At the same time, there are people with whom Vitya was barely familiar, only a few months before the injury. And today they are very close friends to both of us. They help us in every way: they support us morally, at the first stage – with money, then they called us to live and even registered us in Moscow, because it greatly facilitated the process of organizing rehabilitation, and so on.
In general, the situation is that I had many attempts to ask Vitya’s friends to help me with this or that period.
Take/bring and help to do something – this is a one-time promotion. You see, it’s challenging to be the only constant motivator for these years. I wanted and want a friendly kick for Vitya from the outside: “go, do, try, fight.” After all, everyone on Instagram can see what a good fellow Vitya is; everyone sends him “thumbs up,” he is glad. But, behind the scenes, I stand, smoothly turning into a monster.

Hanging out with friends, summer 2018, Moscow. Photo: Inna Titkova

What can and shouldn’t we talk about with Vitya at first or forever – mountains, skiing? About how good was a day of skiing? Watch ski movies?
The essence of Vitya’s problem looks like this: the brain works fine, then it transmits a signal through the spinal cord. But the spinal cord misinterprets it. The idea of ​​the whole rehabilitation is to establish the correct reading of the signal. Vitya has strong, unscathed, awesome two legs, the same two arms, everything is fine with them. Therefore, watching a video is just what you need. You look and imagine that you ride. Well, that is, watching a video helps a lot. In Greece, the rehabilitation center had an exciting simulator – VR glasses (virtual reality glasses). For example, the first exercise is washing windows. To “wash the window,” you need to stretch and train the balance. When Victor washed the windows gorgeously, he moved to a new level and began to “ski.” In general, any rehabilitation can take place in VR glasses. The more you watch a video about what you identify with, the better. Cheating the brain is an excellent technique. The body does everything by itself. This method worked with Vitya very well, for sure. After all, he developed and improved off-piste skiing, including having seen enough of fresh video clips and films. It seems like he visually read all this – and the body began to ride.
Now, in my understanding, we have replaced VR glasses with the fact of moving to Krasnaya Polyana.

During the rehabilitation in Thailand, January 2019, Pattaya. Photo: Katya Kazakova

Who is the ideological mastermind, screenwriter, cameraman, and director of your documentary series? I am now referring to your accounts at Instagram, where you regularly post videos and photos about the recovery process. (With a single look it becomes clear that it is Katya).
I shoot videos about Vitya and post them to remind everybody about him, show how he fights, confirm that people have supported us not for nothing, and continue to assist with money or something else. The second important point is that I am doing this instead of answering the same questions that started two years ago and still appear. The most unpleasant and harsh thing is that people often ask simply to satisfy their interests. Classic questions: “Will he walk?” “And what do the doctors say?” It is wild pressure from people around who maybe want to talk with you, but it doesn’t look like a simple “how are you doing,” but as a continuous report, “Hello, how are you? What about Vitya? Have you tried medicine abroad? Have you done that? Have you done this? ” And over time, you realize that any dialogue begins to be not more than just a report.

Do you mean that this is simply a satisfaction of curiosity that cannot be turned into some kind of work or support?
If a person has no chance to walk, then the question “Is there any chance” sounds painful and offensive to him. If a person has an opportunity to walk, such as, for example, Vitya, always answering such questions is still emotionally very traumatic. As soon as we start saying “there are chances, everything will be fine, everything will be super-duper,” then the probability of becoming disappointed becomes a hundred times more painful than realizing the gravity of the situation and rejoicing when something new happens. There is white, there is black, but there is a nuance – in the picture, in the photograph. Have you heard about this? Imagine a ruler. Here (points to the left) black, here – white (points to the right), but this point in the middle is a perfect gray color. It’s called nuance. Moving it in one direction or another is very insulting, painful, and difficult. Do not touch it. Saying that everything will be fine and then disappointed is one side of the contrast. Assuming that everything will be wrong, not believing in anything, and giving up is another side of the difference, this is also very bad. Most of all efforts are applied to catch a nuance. So that everything in the picture in the photo as usual. Replace the words “picture” and “photograph” with the word “life.”

Style is everything. Photo: Katya Kazakova

How do you recharge your batteries?
My charge reaches 100% only when I visit my home. The rest of the time, I’m like a phone connected to the power bank.

A little earlier, you said that in the most critical moments of the first days, you didn’t even write to your friends. Has the situation changed?
I do not write messages because there are no emotions in the messages for me. If you write something like “I have bad times,” in the form of an answer to the question “how are you?” what will you get in the text? In the text, you get “damn it, Katya, hold on.” You read it, and you feel pity for the other side immediately. Why do I need it? I don’t want such a reaction. And when everything is okay, Vitya and I publish posts and stories. Probably, in ordinary life, people do just that: they brag to everyone, but it is not customary to complain about social networks.

But Vitya’s progress is his progress. There is something which only you have to live with.
The answer is the same – I go to my home. In between my emotional rehabilitation trips, I don’t do anything special unless I regret that in this whole situation, I can’t return to the yoga federation, where I used to work with my parents.
Recently, I began to study as a graphic designer – it’s great to be immersed in this process. I get lots of pleasure from it.

What did you do when Vitya despaired or fell into depression?
Vitya had a very severe crisis after the first year in a new state. We came to work on Kamchatka again in the spring, and literally, in the first week, there was a turning point, because he saw everyone leaving to fly, returning with impressions, discussing skiing. But a whole year has passed. And he is not with them. Then there were a lot of serious conversations, different situations. In general, the period on Kamchatka turned out to be probably the most difficult. Nothing helped. And then, at the end of the season, I set him a condition: either he gets into work, starts to exercise, or I’m leaving. So I said to him: “If you fight, I don’t care whether you succeed or not. While you will fight, I will help you with this, and I will be with you. If you give up, I’m not ready to be with you for a single minute. ” You see, these are two completely different worlds.

At the heli-ski base on Kamchatka, spring 2019. Photo: Katya Kazakova

Probably this is called love?
I think, yes. It’s just that it is continuously changing. Before everything that happened, it was love between a man and a woman. Now it is sometimes transformed into maternal love for her son. Especially when I communicate with him conditionally like this: “Vitya, did you do the exercises? Victor, did you walk today? I asked to try to do this and that. Vitya, have you tried it? ” Do I love him at these moments? Yes. Am I comfortable in this condition? Absolutely not.
At some point, our feeling transforms into love between brother and sister, between friends. Here we live, everything is fine with us, but it is different. Am I comfortable with this? Also no.
In general, Vitya and I live in a particular cycle of events. It took shape when we had already entered some rhythm of life much later than the frantic race of the first year. The period is as follows. We live together. We are very comfortable; everything is lovely. I help Vitya if he needs something. In some ways, I help something he does by himself. Over time, he begins to fall into a particular comfort zone when I start to do more, then more, then more. He, accordingly, does less and less. I’m starting to get mad at it, make comments to him. It builds up, and overtime develops into conflict. The conflict sometimes turns into a scandal with screams. As a rule, at this moment, I am organizing a “live as you want” boycott.
He begins to do everything by himself. He begins to involve himself in some kind of everyday life at home. He begins to walk more, calls to arrange classes, massage, and something else. More, more, and more, and as a result, it is returning to the previous level, and I begin to think: “Well done!”. I begin to be proud of him; I begin to rejoice. I tell myself that I should calm down, that in fact, everything is fine. On this wave we put up, we live together, everything is okay. Victor is involved; I help him. Over time, I begin to help more. He begins to do less. Etc. These are the circles in which the last year we have been conditionally living.
Yes, cyclicality is usual for any kind of relationship. But in our situation, everything is hypertrophied—emotional costs, including. I am anxious about such moments.
You know, there are two books that I recommend reading, not in terms of behavior after injuries, but in terms of any relationships. The author is Eric Burn, and the books are: “People who play games” and “Games that people play” – they were published in the 60s – 70s of the last century, and still work.
On the other hand, such thrashing gives some kind of breakthrough moments. Let me give you an example of one of the most striking – it happened when we lived in Moscow between trips to rehabilitation centers.
We were fortunate to manage to settle down at our friend’s place in the city center. Thank her so much. But old nine-story buildings usually equipped with another flight of stairs in the porches to the elevator. This stairway, I dragged Vitya in a stroller for a year. Vitya, as he could, helped with the wheels and railings. To be precise, the total weight consisted of the weight of the stroller – about 15 kg, the weight of Vitya – about 80 kilograms, and somewhere else nearby, there are food packages, for example.
I ripped off my back several times, to get out of these conditions often succeeded only with the help of medical treatment. One day, when my strength was exhausted, I simply declared that I could not carry such a burden anymore. It ruins health – that’s not funny when you cannot get out of bed because of pain and take at least a single step. Just set the condition that we buy some kind of protection on the ass, and Vitya crawls up the stairs while sitting. As a result, the protest led to the fact that Victor just suddenly decided to try to get up with the help of a crutch. He got up from the stroller, took a crutch, leaned on the railing, and went. It was the first moment when we realized that Vitya could walk up the stairs.

During the rehabilitation in Thailand, January 2019, Pattaya. Photo: Viktor Zakharin

You were happy, I guess?
Of course, I was delighted! (laughs) Kisses, love, we live on, happy, he walks up the stairs. But it turned out that for him to try, I had to rip off my back, roar, scream, and put an ultimatum. That’s how we live.

Is this about temper or what?
And the temper too. I am tougher. He is softer. We try to make the rattle from this resonance less, of course. And it gets smaller. Now we live a normal life.

Did you get the driving license because Vitya had to be transported? What other special skills did you acquire?
Yes, this is a separate delight and a new degree of freedom. My colleague in heli-skiing work, who helped all the superpowers, immediately said that when we move to Moscow, I can use her car. Well, I could only answer that I did not drive a car at all. As a result, I signed up for school, went through training, and passed exams.
What other skills? Well, not quite a profession, but I found and studied a dissertation on spinal injuries. Because at the very beginning of the Vitya project, there was such a situation: I asked the doctors questions, and in response, I heard: “First, go through seven years of medical, then I will talk with you.” I had to go through at least a dissertation, along with Google. Talking has become more comfortable. Expressions on the faces of doctors have become more relaxed as well.

Tell me, is the fact that you lived through an injury with Vitya, the strongest emotional experience in your life? Or was something more substantial?
There, where I come from, a war had happened. First of all, it was the most emotionally severe. I don’t know how to describe all this Too scary. Especially the details. But it happened to me, to my family, to my homeland. And this is really hell. You know, at that moment, everyone had to learn to act in a stressful mode, and, probably, this skill helped me to get through the whole hard times of the situation with Vitya in the “manager” mode, to pull myself together.

What do partners who are facing a situation like you and Vitya need to know?
If right on points, then: record all strategically essential conversations on the recorder; treat everything as a project; immediately clearly understand that money is needed, not sentimentality and nagging. Everything will be resolved only with cash, and they must be sought immediately. And then the moment you see all this is important. That is, something like “never give up.”
Some more important details.
Vitya had surgery in the first six hours after the injury. For some reason, people are not told about this. And time in such damages plays the most critical role; it is more than invaluable. If you do not do the operation within the first six hours, then the recovery can go much worse. For example, we have a friend with injury, easier than Vitya. He could recover faster. But doctors didn’t take the MRI correctly. They thought that the spinal cord was completely torn, and there was no point in rushing with the operation. It was not wholly torn; the injury was not terrible. But the surgery was not even done on the same day. Today, that guy is recovering, but very slowly.
Further, it is vital, for example, that, again, doctors do not say – that rehabilitation should begin almost from the moment the person got surgery. Conditional five minutes later. He needs to do massages, be sure to flex his joints because our smart body forgets the places that it does not use, forgets them out of the way. And the resource from there distills to other areas. Accordingly, all our joints, usually mobile, turn into contractures. They cease to be flexible. For example, one cool young guy, either 19 or 20 years old, a snowboarder, broke down somewhere in the regions. We met him at one of the rehabilitation centers. He lay for several months in a coma. Coming out of a coma, he was recovering and began to walk. But he walks like a tyrannosaurus – he cannot straighten his knees. That is, if his mother were told that you just need to do joint gymnastics, passive, stretch your legs twice a day, and they could avoid it.
There’s also a moment: if doctors don’t say anything, or if it is not possible to get precise information, this is not an excuse. Look for information in parallel on your own, at least in the network, in subject literature. Dig endlessly.

No life without humor. Photo: Katya Kazakova

Did you immediately realize that the operation will not solve all the issues, and the hardest will start next?
No. It has come over time. All the same, human nature is waiting for a magic pill. There was one of the rehabilitationists who said: “Well, Katya, you need to find successful outcomes of rehabilitation and take an example from them.” It was about the first six months. We started to google, dig Instagram, and all possible sources of examples. At that moment, I felt uneasy because there were simply no fruitful outcomes. And it was a shock. Vitya walked around thematic forums; I dug the rest. Then we concluded that those people who recovered simply scored and removed the life of the trauma as a nightmare. With Internet forums, by the way, there is a situation. If you write about gaining some skills, some kind of success in recovery, you will certainly get an answer: “So your injury is not so serious as mine.” So it is not surprising that no one is particularly eager to write about restoration there. Please try to avoid reading posts of such absurd shaming.
The same rehabilitationist told us not to communicate and not to hang out in Paralympic sports, because many Paralympics train and behave as if they have nothing to lose. And we have entirely different goals. Partly, in this regard, I opposed the purchase of Vitya’s unique design for skiing while sitting. As we call it, “sitters.” But then I agreed – after all, returning to the buzz that he received from skiing is excellent.

What would you tell yourself now two years ago?
I guess I would have built relationships with Vitya’s parents in a different way. I would immediately connect them to all processes and all tasks.
It just so happened that at that time, Vitya’s family was not there – his parents left Kamchatka a long time ago. And all the first days after the fall, I tried too hard to protect them from the horror of the real situation, so as not to injure psychologically. It seems that in the end, it turned against me. Because at some point, I began to take offense at them myself because they were not included in the process. And then straighten, adjust it did not work.

Enjoying the walk at Psaho Canyon, spring 2020, Sochi. Photo: Anastasia Chepurova

Are you tired?
I got tired in the first five minutes. Yes. But sooner or later evening comes when we lie on the bed and lying. At this moment, there is neither a stroller nor any kind of apocalypse. Vitya is just as ordinary, lying nearby, I hug him. And in this state, I feel comfortable. I don’t care he is broken or not broken – I love him.

 

PS.: I’ll allow myself to add that it’s challenging to find enough emotional words to describe how much Katya and Vitya are grateful to everyone who helped and helps them financially (and operations, transportation, rehabilitation, etc. are monstrously big expenses) and physically. If any of you read our conversation with Katya, just know this, please.

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