Justin Hatchett loves his class schedule at Bluegrass Community and Technical College because after his last class wraps up at 12:15 p.m. Thursday, he's free for a long weekend.
"My friends get aggravated with me," Hatchett said. "I already have my bags packed and my truck loaded" every Thursday morning.
But it's not because Hatchett's weekend plan consists of parties, hanging out with friends or even hitting the books.
Hatchett, 21, is in a hurry to be back home in Mackville, where a 950-acre farm is waiting for him, with a barn filled with tobacco that has to be stripped and a herd of cattle to be fed. What might be the most surprising is that he is eager to hop on a tractor and ride across grassy fields.
That's surprising because, two years ago, Hatchett narrowly escaped death after a tractor accident. Hatchett was in the University of Kentucky Chandler Hospital for two months.
Hatchett said he still thinks about the accident sometimes.
Hatchett still rides the tractor that crushed him two summers ago. At first, he said, "I wasn't really cool with it. I'm used to it now."
In some ways, he finds comfort there.
"My thinking time, I guess, is when I'm on the tractor way back in the field," he said.
On June 18, 2008, Hatchett was pulling a hay wagon behind his tractor while family friends on two other tractors used hay forks to load it up.
The 12,000-pound tractor went into a skid on a dew-covered hillside, tipped and then landed with its four wheels straight up in the air.
The rear left fender pressed across Hatchett's abdomen, below his rib cage.
He spent 30 minutes under the machine, and he remembers it all.
A helicopter took him to the hospital.
His spine was fractured in three places; his pelvis crushed. His right shoulder blade was fractured.
Even more serious was the internal damage. His small intestine had been cut in multiple places.
He received 28 units of blood products in the first hours after the accident and 78 units in all, the equivalent of 13 two-liter sodas.
Hatchett's mother, Jeannie Hatchett, said said that at one point a hospital employee told her it might be a good time to call family members to the hospital, because her son might not have much time left.
Hatchett developed infections. He ran an unexplained fever and battled pneumonia.
He endured 16 surgeries — several of which were to remove portions of his small intestines as tissue there continued to die.
After two months, Hatchett was able to go home.
He was released from the care of the doctors at UK about eight months ago, although he still texts his favorite nurse to keep her up-to-date on developments in his life.
He's regained all but 10 pounds of the weight he lost after the accident, which temporarily stripped him of the muscular build he had developed as a high school basketball and football player.
And for the most part, he has moved on with his life.
"I don't ever say a word to anybody about it," he said. "Nobody at school has a clue."
He's back to playing basketball with friends on campus, carrying feed buckets to the cattle and pulling all-nighters when the homework piles up. He expects to finish his degree after three more semesters.
But farming is what his daddy does, and it's what Hatchett plans to do full-time as soon as he completes his associate's degree in business management at BCTC.
"I've been really careful," he said, noting that he took the top rail in the barn when it came time to hang the heavy sticks of cut tobacco last summer. That way, he said, "I just got one of every three sticks."
Sometimes, he said, he has pain in his hips and pelvis.
"If I do a lot of activity, like movement, it'll hurt lying in bed at night," he said. "It's nothing that I can't live with."
Jeannie Hatchett was recently driving a church bus loaded with children when the kids began begging her to tell them a story.
"We want to hear about Justin," they said.
So, she said, she "went back to the very beginning," to the day 2½ years ago when her only son went out to haul hay and ended up with injuries that could easily have left him maimed for life, or worse.
And as the bus rumbled along, she says, "You could've heard a pin drop."
It's a story Jeannie Hatchett says she sometimes wishes she could forget.
But in other ways, it's something she needs desperately to remember.
"We realize how close we were to losing him," she said. "If I forget it, I forget how blessed I am. And I don't ever want to forget that."