This Greek Easter my family will be celebrating not just one person who rose from the dead after the third day, but also my father-in-law who almost died in a barbecue accident.
Last year, when COVID-19 shut down Greek Easter, my father in-law Alex was determined to keep doing the thing he loved the most - getting on the charcoals and preparing his famous souvlaki.
While he prepared the barbecue, he did something that many Greek men do - throwing petrol on hot charcoals to quicken the lighting process. His impatience meant he inadvertently created a mini fire ball that blew back on him and caused a quickly moving flame that begun to spread all over his upper body.
When his wife Maria heard Alex’s screams, she ran out from the house to a horrific scene of her husband on fire and the smell of burnt skin. While Alex had got the hose to douse himself, and they both tried to take his flaming shirt off, it was in vain as the material had melted and seared onto his body.
With red fiery flames still burning on his hands, chest, back and other parts of his body Maria ran across the road and got help from her son Nick and daughter-in-law Jaclyn who lived across the street. Jaclyn quickly dragged her father-in-law under the shower.
The pain my father-in-law felt at the time was excruciating. The fire had caused part of his skin to melt off his body, and with the cold water gushing onto his fresh open wounds Alex whimpered like a wounded animal. He begged to be taken away from the shower and that applying some cream would suffice but Jaclyn ignored his protests to let him go. Instead she held him underneath the stream of cold water for 20 minutes until the ambulance arrived. It was exactly the first aid he needed and later the paramedics would say that it helped saved his life. The paramedics themselves were incredible, and very much the heroes of the day. To them, my family will be eternally grateful.
It was at that point that my wife, one-year-old daughter Sia and I arrived at the scene.
When my wife found out what happened, she ran to her nephews to hug and comfort them, all the while ignoring the no hug COVID policy that was in place. Then she ran into the backyard to see how her father was doing and that was when she heard her father’s screams as streams of water ran onto his third degree burns.
When NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian shut down Greek Easter celebrations, my parents and in-laws were aghast that the Government enforced lockdown was going to ruin their annual family ritual. But privately, my wife and I were relieved that the celebration was off. Negotiating the logistics of two barbecue feasts on the same day over the past six years had been stressful, and had begun to take their toll on our waist lines.
I felt angry at Alex because like my father he had been throwing petrol on his BBQ for the past 50 years. Unfortunately this technique is common and happens every Easter by Greeks in Greece and all over the diaspora.
But then the relief turned to guilt, then horror and anger when I found out what my father-in-law had done. I felt angry at Alex because like my father he had been throwing petrol on his BBQ for the past 50 years. Unfortunately this technique is common and happens every Easter by Greeks in Greece and all over the diaspora. We have admonished our fathers for this practise for years but unluckily, my father-in-law paid a potentially deadly price. What’s even more incredible is that the same day Alex had the accident, another Greek-Australian 70-year-old man also caught on fire while lighting a BBQ - and they both ended up in the same hospital.
Alex was taken to the Concord Burns Unit and we were happy that he was going to be treated at a world class facility. This is the same hospital where many of the Bali bomb victims recovered from their injuries so we were optimistic he was in the best of hands.
But later that evening, the doctors painted the worst case scenario imaginable for Alex. He had been put into an induced coma and they told his son Nick that even if he was able to survive the next few days, that given his age (75) and the severity of his burns, there were no guarantees that this body could fight the ordeal.
What added an element of even greater danger to the situation was that my father-in-law’s hospital stay was at the same time that the COVID-19 outbreak was at its peak in Sydney. This meant that strict guidelines were in place. This was particularly difficult for my family as Greeks don’t follow hospital rules when a loved one is staying there. So adhering to the rule of no more than one visitor permitted and actually paying attention to the visiting hours was especially challenging.
Lucky for my father-in-law, his good health, lack of drinking and smoking meant that he recovered much better and quicker than the doctors thought.
Lucky for my father-in-law, his good health, lack of drinking and smoking meant that he recovered much better and quicker than the doctors thought. The process of having skin grafted from his legs and thigh to his hands, arms and chest and back meant that his body would recover. To aid the healing process, he would need to wear a body suit for 18 months.
Now, 12 months on, my father-in-law is still wearing the suit and he has slowly but surely mended from his injuries. But while his scars continue to heal, they will remain a constant reminder of how fortunate he is to survive, and how in a single moment - your life can change.
After initially vowing he would never cook on a BBQ again, Alex is back doing the thing he loves the most: getting on the coals and boasting about how his BBQ pork souvlaki and pork belly are better than anyone else’s. There’s just one drastic change — he definitely doesn’t throw petrol on the charcoals anymore.
After missing out last year (and no disrespect to Jesus), the second coming our family hope to celebrate this Greek Easter is the moment Alex finishes off what he started and we get to eat the best souvlaki pork we have ever tasted.