Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Because I Promised: An Injured Soldier Story

This is a difficult topic for my family. It has taken us awhile to be willing to share it. I'm panicking a little now as I go to post it. Our hope is that it will help someone going through the same thing. My husband has given permission to tell his story. He has read this and edited it for his comfort.

Weight of War
©2014 Mariah Green

Loving a soldier is difficult just as that. But very seldom does it stop there and loving an injured soldier can become even more difficult. When you face deployment and the job a soldier does, you face the reality that your spouse could become injured and even disabled. Just in 2012, there were 2,447 wounded soldiers in the Afghan conflict alone. Unfortunately, the type of work makes getting hurt common. However, reality is that when something happens it is still just as shocking and alarming as with anyone else. You just can't be prepared for something like that.

At least I didn't feel prepared for the call I got. "Hey, babe. I'm in the hospital. No don't cry. I'm ok...but they think I broke my back." I will NEVER forget that day. It was horrible. Now I was lucky enough to have my husband be the one to call which obviously told me he was alive and well enough to be talking. But at the same time he gave me horrible news and the pain in his voice was like knives in my gut. And I was helpless. I wanted nothing more than to run to his side and hold his hand, but he was 1000s of miles away in another country where I couldn't get to him. He was only on the phone with me for a few minutes and he left with the promise of calling when they had results.

My husband's accident did not break his back. That was the good part. It did, however, leave him with significant spinal disk damage both in his lower back and his neck. For anyone who has dealt with bulging or herniated disks you understand all the complications and pain that can come from it. Which is exactly what he is dealing with. Not to mention he has a lingering TBI. These are things common to soldiers. In fact they have estimated that there have been 5,644 new cases of TBIs in the military just this year. What isn't normal are the strange symptoms that he has...and it seems like new ones are surfacing every day. No one seems to have answers for them. Not just on how to treat them but for even why they are happening. For the first two years after his accident, not much was done. No one took him serious. There were a few tests here and there but the end result was always just take more pills. Our belief is that modern medicine, which includes pills, has its time and its place but that it shouldn't be your first choice of remedy. We would much rather have the problem fixed rather than masked. Which I guess would lead me into explaining exactly what he has going on.

It started with pretty normal things. He had chronic severe headaches along with some memory issues, common for people who have suffered a TBI. He obviously has pretty severe back pain as well. But each of these things have progressed from normal pain into things that are not only excruciating but debilitating in ways. He now has sciatic nerve pain that causes him to feel like there are hot knives being ran up and down his legs. He rarely can stand up without walking around in a way that we lovingly refer as "like a Disney witch." He developed a stutter and he has a very hard time concentrating. Working out has become almost impossible for him due to random dizzy spells that are most prominent when his heart rate is up. These are all things he has been living with for years. However, for no apparent reason all of these problems have seemed to exploded all at once which has sent him spiraling into a dark place. Add in some sleep issues and you have the humbling word "MedBoard"* fall from your doctor's lips.

All of his injuries have caused lifestyle changes. It made some things we used to do impossible and other things became necessary. Some days we have to cancel plans to do anything because he is just in too much pain. Activities have been cut short from the onset of a sudden migraine. There are weekends where he does nothing but sleep. I'm having to learn to appreciate a different man because he came back changed in more than physical ways. You don't see the things he has and been through what he has and not be effected on an emotional level. He is often moody. There are times where he won't interact with me much, where I feel like I'm having to drag every word from his mouth. These are things that have been going on for awhile. But these changes have not made my husband any less loving and wonderful. It hasn't made me love him any less. I have grown to expect them and accept them. I did think we knew about all his symptoms though. I wasn't expecting a new one to come roaring in like a hurricane.

My husband has always been a very independent person. He is also very proud. It's a fault, he'll be the first to admit it. I think this played into why he took so long to tell me about his newest developing problem. When he finally did, he told me with eyes down and a defeated tone in his voice. I was stunned into silence. I knew he had been sleeping poorly for awhile but I had no idea it had been effecting him this badly. There had been a few lighthearted mentions of falling asleep at stoplights but I had laughed it off as just a random happening. But looking at him right then, I was kicking myself for not hearing his cry for help earlier. With embarrassment etched across his face, he admitted it was much more than what he had mentioned before. Not only was he falling asleep at several lights on a daily basis, he was also beginning to fall asleep while driving. I was horrified and wanted to cry. He could have died. He could have hurt someone else. It was like waking up to find you were living in your nightmare. I had to remind myself several times during his confession that he HADN'T been hurt and now that I was aware I could make sure he never was. That was the moment we realized life as we knew it was changing majorly. He couldn't drive anymore. There was no explanation for why he was falling asleep. It happened without any pattern and at random. We couldn't know when he would be safe or unsafe. And so independence on both our parts came to a sort of end. So did my love of sleeping in. I took on the job of being my husband's driver.

Let me just take a moment to explain what being my husband's chauffeur entails. We live about 20 min away from post. With traffic in the mornings it can take us 25 min to get to his work. He has to be at work by no later than 6 (but with the military early is better.) We get up at 5 to gather everything together and be ready to leave in time. I drop him off and he has to take all his stuff with him to shower and change at work because I would otherwise have to wait in the car for an hour. Then the day begins. Some days it is simple. I just pick him up at the end of the day. He walks to get lunch and bums a ride from his soldiers if they have to be somewhere else. But with all his health problems he has a LOT of doctor appointments. So there are several days a week that I spend driving back to get him for an appointment and then waiting at the library for the next appointment. Lets just say I've been getting a ton of reading done.

And it is no picnic for him. Do you have any idea how much independence you have to give up when you aren't allowed to drive yourself anywhere? Not only does he struggle with feeling trapped but he feels guilty for making others drive him. He can't come home to shower and have breakfast after PT. He has to bring everything with him and get ready at work. He doesn't get to come home for lunch unless he is lucky enough to have an appointment near noon and then we can go out together for a rushed meal. He has to wait for me to get to him every time he is done working. Sometimes he is forced to walk to places.

Other things in our life suffer too. We pay more for gas now due to all the back and forth. We spend more money on food because often we only have time to get something on the run.  The house basically looks like a tornado hit it at all times. I never seem to manage to finish chores that I start. I was supposed to have a part time job to help ends meet but I can't do that now. 

At times it gets completely overwhelming. Sometimes there is nothing left to do but sit in your car and cry. And I've done just that. I've laid my head on the steering wheel and just sobbed. Cried because I was losing hope. Cried because I felt completely drained, like I had nothing left to give. I just didn't have the energy to continue on. I wanted to give up. I cried and I prayed. And it was okay. It is okay for me to feel like this. It is okay to give in to the tears and the heartache. It is okay to turn to God when I have nothing left and ask him for help. Because after it all, I get back up each time and pushed forward, renewed with new energy and hope from the Lord. I keep going, knowing that I am not alone in this. Knowing that this is what the Lord asks of me. Knowing this is what my husband needs of me. 

Please don't get the wrong idea. I do not write this to complain or to get sympathy. I do not talk about my husband's pain to get attention. We have chose to share our story because we want to make people aware of what some families might be going through. We want to spread understanding and support. We hope that maybe, just maybe, our story will help someone else who feels like giving up. We want to send out hope and strength. Know that you are not alone. Know that you CAN get through this.

I will not say this is easy. I won't insult myself with that lie. Everything is still a work in progress. Doctors are still looking for answers. I won't say that there hasn't been times that I wanted to give up, that I think longingly of a life without it all. It hurts to see him hurting. It sucks to feel helpless at times. It is hard to give up dreams for something that seems so unfair. But I will not leave. Because I love him. Because this is not his fault. Because he sacrificed everything for me and this country. Because it could be a lot worse than it is. Because he is a wonderful man despite any of his illnesses. Because I am not that kind of woman. Because I promised.

Credit to Katydid Photography

* A MedBoard or MEB (Medical Evaluation Board) is an informal process comprised of at least two physicians who compile, assess, and evaluate the medical history of a Soldier and determine if the Soldier meets, or will meet, retention standards. If the Soldier meets retention standards, the Soldier is returned to duty in their respective or current Military Occupational Specialty (MOS).