Way back in 1996, I first fell in love with the sport of hockey. My older brother Brandon was watching a Capitals game in the family room and I saw Mark Tinordi crush a guy into the glass. “Is that a penalty?” twelve-year-old me asked. My brother explained that it was legal. I instantly fell in love with the sport.
A few months later, my Dad took my brother and I to a Caps/Rangers game at USAir Arena as a Christmas gift. But my Mom (Jenny) was a different story. She had trouble understanding the sport’s more confusing rules (icing and offsides) and strategy (forechecking). The names would also prove to be difficult. “How did Steve Kon-a-wally-chuck-chuck (Steve Konowalchuk) do? Did Yagger (Jaromir Jagr) score a goal or just mope around?” My Mom would catch a game or two and always pay attention to the hockey highlights on the 11pm news, but the sport always remained on the periphery for her. That has begun to change.
With RMNB becoming such a big part of my life, my Mom has started to watch games more religiously. She even has a favorite player (whose name she can actually pronounce right). So on Christmas, I surprised her with her very first hockey jersey – 20 years after my Dad got my brother and I our first hockey tickets.
Spoiler: she was thrilled.
I got mom an authentic jersey of Braden Holtby.
“I LOVE that guy!” my Mom said of her favorite Caps player. I asked her why.
“He’s a hard worker,” she said. “He’s really a team man. It really makes me mad when those defenders leave him out to dry during games.”
Then she added one other reason.
“He’s also kinda hot looking,” Mom said.
Giving my Mom her first hockey jersey was particularly meaningful for me because it represented a lot of different things. It was nice to legitimately surprise her and repay her for all the wonderful gifts she’s gotten me over the years. It’s also a great feeling when your parents fall in love and totally get behind something you do. But the best part about this gift was that I was even able to give it to her at all. Let me explain.
When I was a senior in high school, my Mom went to the hospital because she was in a lot of pain and her stomach swelled to the size of a beach ball. Doctors weren’t sure what the problem was and after about three weeks of tests, they sent her home with pain killers. That very next night I awoke to an ambulance in our driveway and people rushing up the stairs.
After Frederick Memorial doctors saw Mom, they had an ambulance rush her down to Georgetown University Hospital. They immediately did exploratory stomach surgery. This is what they found: Two-thirds of my Mom’s small intestine and one-third of her large intestine had died due to a blood clot in the portal vein of her liver.
That afternoon, my dad drove up to Frederick High School to take me down to see Mom. She was on a ventilator and facing one more major surgery to reconnect her remaining colon. The doctors were not confident she would survive (I think the chances we were given were 10%). That was really difficult for me as a 17-year-old to process.
The doctors also told us that Mom had Factor V Leiden, an extremely rare blood clotting disorder.
But that next morning, my Mom did survive her surgery. She remained at the hospital and rehabilitated for most of my senior year. During that time, she re-learned how to walk again – even without the help of a walker. And in June 2002, because of all of her hard work and fighting, she made it to my high school graduation. 14 years later, Mom has to visit the doctor a lot and take pills frequently, but you could never tell anything this severe happened.
“It was a horrible ordeal,” Mom said. “Clots continually cause pain until medical intervention. I definitely believe in guardian angels. This is why I take things one day at a time. Sometimes my stomach feels great, other days not so good.”
My Mom fights hard and makes the most out of each and every day. From my perspective, these qualities make her a lot more similar to her favorite hockey player than she might even realize.
So Mom, if you’re reading this (which I know that you are), I’m glad you liked the gift. I hope you know that you’re my hero. Each and every day I have spent with you since you got sick is the best gift anyone has ever given me.
Russian Machine Never Breaks is not associated with the Washington Capitals; Monumental Sports, the NHL, or its properties. Not even a little bit.
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