Sunday, July 22, 2012

A New Year Dawns

July 23, 2011 dawned like any other Saturday after a long week at work.  I woke around 8 a.m., and began to plan out my day.  I had the usual weekend errands on my list: shopping, bills, cleaning, laundry.  It was a little early to be getting up, so I snuggled in bed, watched a little mindless TV (Disney Channel, I think), and pet my cat, Skitty.  I planned to get moving around nine.

The phone rang at 9:28 a.m. as I was separating the laundry.  I glanced at the number, and since it was a number I didn’t recognize, I almost didn’t answer it.  Sometimes, I wish I could have ignored that call and have everything stay the same. 

That was the call that changed our lives forever. 

I heard the words no military Mom ever wants to hear.  “Ma’am, I am sorry to have to tell you this, but your son, Derek, was injured while out on patrol this morning.” 

The room spun.  Everything disappeared.  I sat in a daze listening to the calm, professional voice on the other end of the phone.  I couldn’t comprehend what I was hearing.  There was so much I needed to know, but most important, I needed to know that he would live.  The Captain could not promise me that.

I immediately dialed my sister, Yvette, who was on vacation with her family in Myrtle Beach, SC.  I hated to interrupt her down time, since she does not get much of it, but I knew I needed her, and I knew if I did not tell her immediately, she would never forgive me.  I then ran to the basement to tell my father. 

Once I had told Yvette and my Dad, I was a little calmer.  A little.  Microscopic.  At least I was no longer crying.  As hard.  Now it was time to shatter Krystina’s life.  She was on the beach with her mother and her aunt.  I told her that Derek had been injured.  No response.  I told her that he was hurt bad, and that his legs were gone.  She simply said, “Okay.”  She was in shock.  She later told me she turned to her mother after I said that and started to cry.  Her mother took the phone and I relayed what little information I had.  Within a few hours, Krystina and Raffaela walked through my door.

After I called Krystina, it was time to change my children’s lives forever.  Michael had just arrived home from the Navy the day before.  He was out with friends, so I called him.  I then woke Kellina, Ryan and Sean and told them the devastating news.

The next few days were a blur.  My phone was never further than arm’s reach, even when I sat in court.  I asked the judge’s permission to keep it in my lap in case the Army called with even a little bit of news.  I jumped every time I heard it ring.  I begged, pleaded, bargained for any news, any iota of information that let me know he was still alive.  The Army was very good at keeping me informed, even though news from Khandahar, Bagraam Air Base, and then Landstuhl, Germany was not always accurate.

I just wanted hands and eyes on.  That finally happened.  It felt like a lifetime later, but it was only six days.  Krystina, Kellina, Sean, and I took off for Bethesda, Maryland on Friday morning, July 29, 2011.  Michael and Ryan followed soon after.  

Derek arrived about an hour after we did.  What I saw broke my heart.  My strong, healthy young man was lying in a bed… broken.  His legs were gone.  His right arm was in a brace.  He was wearing a cervical collar.  He was yellow.  His dreams were shattered.  He had wanted to either become a cop or join the FBI.  Martial arts was his life.  Everything would be different now.  Would he even live?

Those first days, weeks were stressful, hard, incomprehensible.  Several revisions to the wounds after he arrived in the US caused the amputations to creep higher.  For a while we were afraid he would lose his pelvis.  He had several fractures – skull, jaw, pelvis.  His right arm was broken with severed tendons, muscles and nerves.  The doctors could not say whether he would ever have a functioning hand again.  He had TBI – traumatic brain injury, as well as internal injuries, including acute renal failure.  He also had about seven different infections fighting to take him from us.  He went septic, full system shut down, and the doctors told me they didn’t know if they could save him.

Over the next several months, we struggled to keep Derek alive and get him stronger.  228 days in the hospital.  36 surgeries.  19 procedures.  129 blood products.  54 days on a ventilator.  98 days on oxygen.  34 different medical teams. 

For four months, the doctors could not promise me that he would live.  He was still considered “in the woods.”  It was a happy day when the doctor walked in and told me the woods were in the rear view mirror.

In addition to having to watch Derek suffer and fear we might lose him, the changes in our lives since this happened have been numerous.  Some are positive, and some are not.  I lost my job, and in this terrible economy, I am not having much luck finding another.  Krystina had to leave school and work to be by Derek’s side.  I left home for nine months.  Kellina, Ryan and Sean had to leave their home to live with my sister for all those months.  Raffaela and Dennis lost their daughter and Michael lost his sister when Krystina left home to be with her soldier.  Yvette and Brian had to deal with three additional teenagers in their household.  Joey, Eric and A.J. (my nephews) had their home invaded by three teenagers.  My father, who is still not over the loss of my mother, had his life turned upside down and feared the loss of someone else he loved.  And then there is the extended family and all of our friends who also felt the effects.

However, as bad as this has been, there have been wonderful experiences. 

We learned to celebrate firsts again.  His first words were, “chocolate milkshake.”  We celebrated when he rolled over on his own, sat up, took his first steps.

There is a wonderful community of wounded warriors who bond together in their shared experiences.  They have the best attitudes, and if they can do it, what’s my excuse?  There are triple and quadruple amputees running around the matc.  And those prosthetics make great beer mugs.  The carbon fiber keeps the beer nice and cold.  I don’t know this from personal experience, but I’ve heard stories. 

The medical staff and support staff at the hospital are some of the most wonderful people I have ever met.  Top notch.  Best medical care in the world.

I have made lasting friendships with people with whom I credit saving Derek’s life, and people who were so wonderful to us during the hell we lived.

The kindness of people overwhelmed us.  North Caldwell and Parsippany both adopted Derek as theirs and stood by us.  We received care packages, donations, letters, visits, too numerous to count.  We met celebrities and politicians. 

Non-profits helped us with dinners, rooms when family visited, necessities, and friendships.

And Derek beat the odds.  His recovery has been long and hard, but one year later, the soldier so many thought would not survive his wounds has faced the worst and come out on top.  He is on schedule to get his knees in about a week.  He has gained weight and looks healthy.  He is strong.  Most importantly, he has a never give up, never give in attitude that will take him far.  He jokes about his condition and show us all that Derek is still Derek, only shorter, as A.J. said.
Throughout this journey I have often said “Climb to glory, soldier.  All the way.  To the top.”  We have made it.  There is still more to be done, but we are there.  Derek will dance at his wedding.  He will walk Krystina down the aisle.  I always knew it in my heart, but now I see it.
Thank you to all who have traveled this difficult road with us.  Thank you for the prayers, care packages, time, love, tears.  I will never forget you.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Land of the Free?

I have tried to stay away from anything political, but this is really bothering me.

I am talking about how far political correctness has gone in this country.  In particular, I am upset about our children not being allowed to show patriotism, as recently shown in the story about PS90 in Brooklyn, New York.

The principal, Greta Hawkins, decided that Lee Greenwood's song, "God Bless the USA" was inappropriate for the kindergarten class to sing during their moving up ceremony.  Never mind that it has been sung in the past.  They are also not allowed to wave American flags.

At first the stated reason was that she did not want to upset the other cultures who would be attending the ceremony.  Wait... what?  Last I looked at the map, Brooklyn was still part of the United States of America.  I don't know about anyone else, but if I moved to England or Mexico or Japan, and as a result, my children were enrolled in school there, and at a ceremony they sang a patriotic song, I would feel privileged to be allowed to partake.

I certainly would never be insulted because while in another country that country showed it's patriotism.

However, after the media firestorm over her comment about insulting other cultures, she changed her tune.  Apparently, "God Bless the USA" is not age appropriate.  Let's look....

If tomorrow all the things were gone,
I'd worked for all my life.
And I had to start again,
with just my children and my wife.

I'd thank my lucky stars,
to be livin here today.
‘Cause the flag still stands for freedom,
and they can't take that away.

And I'm proud to be an American,
where at least I know I'm free.
And I wont forget the men who died,
who gave that right to me.

And I gladly stand up,
next to you and defend her still today.
‘Cause there ain't no doubt I love this land,
God bless the USA.

From the lakes of Minnesota,
to the hills of Tennessee.
Across the plains of Texas,
From sea to shining sea.

From Detroit down to Houston,
and New York to L.A.
Well there's pride in every American heart,
and its time we stand and say.

That I'm proud to be an American,
where at least I know I'm free.
And I wont forget the men who died,
who gave that right to me.

And I gladly stand up,
next to you and defend her still today.
‘Cause there ain't no doubt I love this land,
God bless the USA.

And I'm proud to be and American,
where at least I know I'm free.
And I wont forget the men who died,
who gave that right to me.

And I gladly stand up,
next to you and defend her still today.
‘Cause there ain't no doubt I love this land,
God bless the USA.
Apparently, it's that dreaded first verse - If tomorrow all the things were gone / I'd worked for all my life. / And I had to start again, / with just my children and my wife.

That is inappropriate for five to six year olds?  Okay, let's say for the sake of argument, we give that to her.  They could have changed the words to the first verse.

So, what song did she want them to sing?  Well, the perfectly age appropriate "Baby" by Justin Bieber.  Let's take a look at these "appropriate" lyrics:

You know you love me, I know you care
Just shout whenever, and I'll be there
You are my love, you are my heart
And we will never, ever, ever be apart

Are we an item? Girl, quit playin'
"We're just friends," what are you sayin'?
Said "there's another," and looked right in my eyes
My first love broke my heart for the first time

And I was like baby, baby, baby, oh
Like baby, baby, baby, no
Like baby, baby, baby, oh
I thought you'd always be mine, mine

Baby, baby, baby, oh
Like baby, baby, baby, no
Like baby, baby, baby, oh
I thought you'd always be mine, mine

For you, I would have done whatever
And I just can't believe we're here together
And I wanna play it cool, but I'm losin' you
I'll buy you anything, I'll buy you any ring

And I'm in pieces, baby fix meAnd just shake me 'til you wake me from this bad dream
I'm goin' down, down, down, down
And I just can't believe my first love won't be around

And I'm like baby, baby, baby, oh
Like baby, baby, baby, no
Like baby, baby, baby, oh
I thought you'd always be mine, mine

Baby, baby, baby, oh
Like baby, baby, baby, no
Like baby, baby, baby, oh
I thought you'd always be mine, mine

When I was 13, I had my first love
There was nobody that compared to my baby
And nobody came between us who could ever come above
She had me going crazy, oh I was starstruck
She woke me up daily, don't need no Starbucks

She made my heart pound
I skip a beat when I see her in the street
And at school on the playground
But I really wanna see her on a weekend
She know she got me dazin' 'cause she was so amazin'
And now my heart is breakin' but I just keep on sayin'

Baby, baby, baby, oh
Like baby, baby, baby, no
Like baby, baby, baby, oh
I thought you'd always be mine, mine

Baby, baby, baby, oh
Like baby, baby, baby, no
Like baby, baby, baby, oh
I thought you'd always be mine, mine

I'm all gone
(Yeah, yeah, yeah)
(Yeah, yeah, yeah)
Now I'm all gone
(Yeah, yeah, yeah)
(Yeah, yeah, yeah)
Now I'm all gone
(Yeah, yeah, yeah)
(Yeah, yeah, yeah)
Now I'm all gone, gone, gone, gone
I'm gone 

I guess it is much better to insult Americans by not signing a patriotic song.  Let's face it, why should we sing a patriotic song that might hurt the sensitivities of immigrants who chose to come here, when we can sing a song that will insult only those with morals?

Once again, after it hit the media, she changed her mind about Baby, and now that is not going to be sung.  But she still will not allow a patriotic song.

In the past, Ms. Hawkins tried to stop the children from reciting the pledge of allegiance and from singing America the Beautiful.  I think she should pack her bags and leave.  There is a ferry leaving in five minutes for Cuba.

This woman, who was not arguing the religious aspect of God Bless the USA, at least not at first, is a Jehovah Witness, which is her right to chose her own religion.  However, she is a principal of an elementary school in the UNITED STATES, and she won't even stand for the pledge of allegiance.  I get that she claims it is part of her religion not to salute a flag, but what message is she sending to young children if she won't even stand?  We are not asking her to pledge, simply to stand.  It's a matter of respect.  So, if she is free to exercise her religious freedom, why aren't these families free to show their patriotism?

Our young men and women go off to war to defend our right to be idiots and to insult other people with our stupid opinions.  It breaks my heart when I think of all of the brave young people at Walter Reed and other military hospitals fighting to put their lives together.  It is because of them that she has the freedom to do stupid things like this and impose her simple minded beliefs on innocent children.

But should we let her?  This is a free country, after all, so where is the right of those children and families to sing a song they had practiced and liked and anticipated?

To add insult to injury, New York Schools Chancellor, Dennis Walcott and New York City Mayor, Michael Bloomberg are standing by this idiocy.

Just a few similar incidents I was able to find:

In May 2010, a student in California got in trouble for drawing an American flag during a middle school art class.  It was deemed offensive.

In April 2012, two students were punished in Texas for wearing a "Homes for our Troops" shirt.

In 2005, a student was called to the office and accused of wearing gang colors.  The colors?  Red, white and blue.  Her uncle was serving in Iraq, and she wore the necklace to support him.

In May 2010, students in the San Fran area were chastised for wearing red, white and blue on May 5th.  Last I checked, this was America, not Mexico.  We should be allowed to wear whatever colors we want on whatever day.

In May 2011, in Massachusetts, an 11 year old drew a picture of an American flag and was not allowed to hang it in the classroom because it would have offended one other student.

In November 2010, a California boy was forced to remove an American flag from his bike. 

It breaks my heart that we have been reduced to a country that has to hide who it is so as not to offend others who come to our country voluntarily.  I submit that everyone should wear an American flag on every Monday of every week [because Friday is taken for Red Shirt Friday (Remember Everyone Deployed)].  If not a t-shirt, then a flag pin.  It is time to stand up and show those liberal bureaucrats that WE ARE PROUD TO BE AMERICAN!!!!

Articles about Greta Hawkins:

After all these comments, why is she permitted to remain?

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Confessions of a Wounded Warrior Mom

It has been a while since I've written anything.  I needed to back away from everything and try to rejuvenate.  I'm not finished with that, yet.  I do not know how long it will take me to get back some semblance of who I was before the last ten months happened.  I walked away from my entire life to help Derek, and I've lost so much as a result.  That's hitting me pretty hard now.

I don't know what really led to this.  I guess certain thoughts have been bantering about in my noggin and I just want to get them out.  Perhaps this is like Prof. Dumbledore's Pensieve.... once I take them out, I can categorize them and file them away never to be thought of again.  I can only hope.

Some of these are not good thoughts.  Not good things.  But I'm human.

I feel disconnected. I feel like I am adrift on a raft in the middle of the ocean. I need to find solid ground.

It is so hard for me to ask for help.  I will accept it, sometimes, but I find it so hard to ask for it.  I've asked for help a handful of times, and usually I am disappointed.  It really annoys me when people in power offer help or to arrange a special visit, and then when you ask, they ignore you.  I experienced that so many times, and the one that stung the most was the person I thought was my best friend in the world.  The other one that ticked me off was someone everyone in the world knows, because he is in the news every single day.  Not a fan.

Most people will offer to help, but they do not mean it.  It's an empty promise.  Or, it's a promise made with the best of intentions at the time, but when redeemed, it is not convenient.  Or, it is meant but only if it is something small and easy.  Most people do not want to be put out, but they feel they have to offer. 

When I offer, I mean it.  At least I hope I mean it.  Not many have taken me up on it.  If it is within my power, I will do it.  No questions asked.  Well, maybe some questions to appease my curiosity.  Having reached out to people who offered to help and then were not there when I asked, I've become too cautious.  My sister is the one and only person I feel I can rely on 100%, although I'm sure if I asked certain friends they would be there too.  I thought I could always rely on the one person I considered my best forever friend in the world, but I guess I wasn't perfect enough the last ten months and that is now over.  It hurts.

I am SO happy and relieved that Derek's guys have made it home from Afghanistan safe and sound and in one piece.  I am also a bit bitter and sad.  Not because they were not hurt....please!  I would never wish an injury on even my worst enemy!  I am thrilled for them and for their families.  But I hurt for us.  I hurt for Derek.  I wish he had gotten his homecoming.  I wish we could have gone to Fort Drum to welcome the boys home.  I wish Derek was one of them.  I wish we could have gone to the Post-Deployment Ball and had a blast, like we did at the Pre-Deployment Ball.  So, it makes me happy, sad, thrilled, bitter when I see happy homecomings, because ours was denied to us.  Does that make any sense?

It is hard for me to admit weakness.  I am a strong woman, and I know that.  But I have my moments, and when I do, it is hard for me to admit it.  I usually put on a brave face and say I am fine.  By fine, I mean Fed-up, Insecure, Nuerotic, and Emotional.  Today, I am fine.

It takes a lot to make me cry.  I do not usually shed tears.  I cried a lot when Derek was first injured.  For the first week, anyway.  I cried a couple of weeks ago when I felt I was just getting kicked too many times.  Sometimes I tear up, but they crawl back into their cave before they fall.  If I do cry, it's a sign that I am really hurting.  I've cried a lot the last two weeks.

I hate doing laundry.  I would rather clean a bathroom then do laundry.

I love Harry Potter.  I do not like Twilight.  Harry Potter is the ultimate love story.  It encompasses every aspect of love - friendship, parent/child, friends, mentors, lovers.  There is sacrifice and heroism.  Twilight?  It's a story of a girl who falls in love with her stalker and then plays with the hearts of two guys.  Just my humble opinion.  Oh, and I'm finding the Sookie Stackhouse books painful to read.  Very juvenile.  But the story is intriguing.  I loved the Hunger Games books.  Fifty Shades?  She didn't change enough of it, so I am annoyed at how Edward and Bellish Christian and Ana are.  It's another woman falling in love with a controlling stalker.  Yes, I read it when it was a Twilight fan fiction.

I do not carry a grudge, but I do not forget.  I will forgive and move on, but I do not forget.  Even if the person who wronged me does not ask for forgiveness, I will move on.  There is only one person who I hold any bitterness towards, and it is because of recent events, not the past.  I had moved on from the past.

That person?  I think most of you can guess who it is.  He has wronged me and my children so many times and he was the one person on whom my children should have been able to lean.  It's the hurt towards the children that I find the hardest to forget.  He abandonned the children 13 years ago and left me to struggle to support them on my own.  I tried to get him to pay support, but he failed and refused until Probation caught up with him.  So what could I do?  I did the best I could for my children. 

Then Derek met the IED.  He came to the hospital.  He had not seen the children in 12 years.  I did not keep him away, although I wanted to.  I really wanted to tell him to leave and let us heal as a family, but I didn't.  I did not hold any ill will towards him, I just did not want to deal with the stress of having him around.  Because I didn't know if Derek would want him here or not, I was not going to be the one to send him away.  I did blow up at him in front of Building 10.  He caused so much drama and so many problems that I finally snapped, but I still did not ask him to leave.  When Derek woke up, he did it, and I supported him.  I was blamed.  So what?  I have been blamed for worse.  Derek and I and the rest of the family know the truth. 

I have horrible taste in men.  I've pretty much given up on the dating scene because I do not trust my own judgment.  I attract jerks, losers, stalkers and abusers.  I have looked around to see if there were any decent guys in Bethesda, but all I have found were married men, kids, and jerks.  And at this time, I think I have a slight stalker problem.  It's disconcerting.

Racism and discrimination turn my stomach.  I hate when people make determinations about a person and his/her abilities simply by virtue of race, religion, creed, gender, hair color, style of dress, etc.  I hate when I am called a racist because I do not like someone when it has nothing to do with race, religion, creed, gender, etc.  I make my decisions about people based on morals, values, words, and actions.

I do not like the way so much is couched in terms of racism.  Race is not always the determining factor.  But if you listen to the media, Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, and others like them, you would think everything is determined by race.

When politics gets between friends, it breaks my heart.  I lost a friend because of politics.  Just because we are on two totally different teams does not mean we can't get along.  We acted badly when an disagreement occurred, and that was it.

I'm lonely.  I'm in a crowd of people, but I'm lonely.

I missed family dinners.  Eating alone is depressing, but that's what I did for most meals. 

I feel guilty whenever I feel pain, which is all the time.  The range of motion is pretty much gone from my neck and it hurts all the time, but when I see what the wounded warriors do in spite of their injuries, I shut up.

I miss my church community, but I feel so disconnected from them.

I am angry at God.  I've tried to get beyond it, but whenever I do, more crap gets thrown at me.  My crap bucket is currently overflowing.  I've tried turning it over to God, but when I do, it gets worse, and something horrible always happens within days of saying I give it to Him.  So, I'll deal with it myself.  That doesn't mean I don't believe.... I'm just overwhelmed.

It irks me when people say they must follow the Bible to the letter, but many of them do not.  By way of example, so many attack the gay community and say that they are damned because it is against the Bible, but I believe it is Matthew 7:1 that says, "Judge not that ye not be judged."  How can they judge the gay community, then?  Isn't that up to God?  I say, live and let live.  If two men or two women want to be together, who am I to condemn them?  It does not impact on me, raise my taxes, force me out of my home, change how I live my life, so why should I judge them?  I'm leaving it in God's hands to judge us all in the end.

I simply cannot stand it when people use their soldier's injury to make money or get attention.  I also do not like the way some get showered with benefits and some are ignored.  We are all in this together, and to give all of the attention to one or two, it is hurtful to the others.  Come on - share - spread the love.

I hate the position I am currently in.  I lost my job.  This is not a good economy and employment is scarce.  I need a break.

I play Cityville.  A lot.  It's stupid, but it's an escape from reality.

I cannot deal with idle chit chat.  I hate the telephone.  I have so much on my mind and weighing down my shoulders, that to stand around and shoot the breeze is beyond my comprehension.  I find myself avoiding people and situations because I just do not want to deal right now.

I wish I could curl up in bed with a good book, a glass of iced tea and my Skitty Cat and not move for a month.  Maybe longer.

I wish I could afford a maid.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Be Prepared

The old Boy Scout motto - Be Prepared - is so apropo to so much of life.

Is anyone really prepared for this life?  I doubt it, but when information is available and not provided, that irks me.  We should make it our mission to get as much information ahead of time as possible, no matter what we are going to do.  Ask questions, do your research, exhaust all avenues.

I feel we were as prepared as we could have been for what it really means to be an outpatient, even though it does not feel like enough.  We spoke with a lot of wounded warriors and family members, and we asked a lot of questions.  We were told it was intense.  But not everyone is being prepared. 

I was dismayed the other day when I met a mother who walked into 62 for their first overnight and had no idea what to expect, what was in the apartment, etc.  I gave the doctors a list of everything and asked them to make it available.  I was told it would be.  This mother should have been prepared.  The WTB could provide a list of the amenities offered by 62, as well as list of where to find what you need, including where to buy groceries.  *lightbulb on*  I'm going to make that suggestion tomorrow.

Derek met with wheelchair clinic the other day.  He was prepared.  The day before he met with one of the OTs who is an expert on wheelchairs.  He shaved at least an hour off of the appointment by allowing Derek to try different wheelchairs and talking to him about all of the options.  He then gave Derek a handwritten list of the things that Derek had preferred.  It made the appointment go a lot smoother and quicker.

Be prepared before all appointments.  Krystina goes through Derek's meds so that she knows which ones need to be refilled and which ones are okay.  This makes the session with the doctor and pharmacist much easier, and it cuts back on having too much of any one medication.  It also helps because the doctor at the Warrior Clinic is.....  I don't know how to say this nice.  She's ....    I am not happy with his PCM.  And the nurse practitioner is worse.  She actually laughed at Derek when he told her something.  I'll leave it at that.  We cannot change because there is only one doctor for Battle Company.  I think that is nonsence.  These guys deserve the best care, not an idiot for a doctor and a bitch for a nurse practitioner.  So, we must be prepared for every appointment because the doctor sure isn't!

Derek is also educating himself on the different prosthetics and procedures so that he can make good decisions and get the best care and equipment out there.

Derek is getting better and stronger every day.  We try to be prepared as best we can. 

Climb to glory!

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Yes It Is Rude, Thank You For Asking....

Some people are so clueless.  Some people, who you would think should know better that is.  Most people do not get this lifestyle.  They have never experienced anything near to being called close to the path we now walk, so it is inconceivable to them. 

Just as there are so many lifestyles and situations I cannot comprehend.

I am not writing this to criticize, but rather to educate.  Maybe after reading this, just one person who didn't get it and maybe said or did something that could be perceived as rude, will see someone who is wounded, ill, disabled and open his/her eyes to the life they lead.

This did not start for me when Derek was injured.  Most people cannot conceive what it is to send a child off to the military or on a deployment.  When I told someone my son was deployed, I was often met by well-meanies who just didn't get it.  My favorite response of all time was when the fellow attorney turned to me and said, "Oh, I know JUST how you feel!  I just sent my son off to college."  Seriously?  Right!  Because college and Afghanistan are really so alike.  Yes, you had to say good-bye, but that is where the similarities end.  Your son is happy, healthy, learning, most probably partying, able to call home every day, not in any danger, etc.  My son?  Yes, he was healthy, but he was in mortal danger every day.  He was shot at.  He had to watch his friends get hurt, die.  He was able to call home once every couple of weeks.  Facebook maybe a little more often, if they weren't on another black out because of yet one more casualty.  I signed off from each chat wondering if I would ever speak with again.  So, please, tell me again how you get what I'm feeling.

And then he met the IED.  Then he became a Cat-A casualty himself.  He was the reason for the blackout.

That week between the phone call and the drive to Bethesda, I told so many people what had happened.  In addition to the wonderful responses, I also got, "but the war is over," "I know how you feel.  My son was in an accident and hospitalized for a week," "why did you let him enlist?" and other such comments.  I was sitting there not knowing if my son would live to fly to America, or even what condition he would be in if he did, and people didn't get it.  Yes, they meant well, but some of the comments were just.... what?!

One doctor stood at Derek's bedside and told Krystina and me she knew how we were feeling because her husband had deployed.  So not the same.  Thank you for the sentiment, but ... no.

Almost daily we encounter people who mean well, but they don't get it.  While still an inpatient, I was met with, "He shouldn't still be in the hospital."  Or one month after injury, someone asked me, "Is he home, yet?" and when I answered... "Well, why not?"

Someone asked Derek to compete in a tough mudder style "race" this summer.  He is barely walking!  Yes, that is a wonderful thought, but he is not yet ready for even an extended trip home.
Derek will be in rehab for at least a year, if not longer.  That means, he will not be home.  He will be at Walter Reed.  Yes, he might be able to come home for a short time on convalescent leave, but not until renovations are completed so he can get in the house.  My sister is kindly tearing her house asunder to make accommodations, because there is just no way for my house to be renovated, and I might have to sell it if I cannot find a job.... fast.  We have to widen doors, install a ramp, renovate a bathroom, etc.  He has no legs.  He will need to be able to get his wheelchair everywhere he needs to go.

Every day, we encounter people who stop short in front of us, refuse to move out of the way, play "chicken" with the wheelchair, come around corners without looking, push baby carriages into the hall without looking.....  It is easier when you have legs to avoid these obstacles or if there is a collision, it will be mostly minor.  A 370 lb electric wheelchair isn't as easy to move, and if he hits you..... ouch!  The electric wheelchair is easier to manuever than a manual or power assist, too.

When someone is using crutches, in a wheelchair, wearing a brace, using a cane, etc., that device is an extention of his/her person. 

Last week, we got onto an elevator and a woman in uniform got on behind us.  She tried to push past Derek while he was moving.  There wasn't enough room between his chair, and the wall of the elevator.  When she saw she couldn't fit, not for lack of trying, she turned to the front of the elevator and leaned against his chair.  I told Derek to roll forward and she stumbled.  When she got off, he asked me why I had him move forward, and I told him.  A man on the elevator commented that maybe she was just steadying herself.  I told him the elevator has a railing, and he would not like it if she had used his shoulder to steady herself without asking his permission first.  A person's wheelchair is no different.  It is part of him.  Hands off.  Please.

And then there is the stress and changes to our life. I had to leave my other children at home. So many do. One wife I know took her children out of school, away from their friends, away from the home, because Daddy needs this to make him better. Another wife was already home schooling, but she had to take her three children and move away from their home, extended family and friends. Another mother left her four children and baby grandson behind, because she felt she couldn't remove them from school at their level. They are living with friends of the family, because extended family was not available for her. Another wounded warrior lost custody of her children when she was hospitalized and now is starting the long road to not only healing, but getting her children back. My heart breaks for each of these women, and so many others who are in similar situations. Unless you are in this situation, it is hard to say what you would or would not do. If someone had asked me one year ago what I would do if Derek was injured, I couldn't have answered. We take one day at a time and do the best we can with the hand we are dealt.
I am probably going home soon.  Not for good, but because I need to find a job and take care of my other children.  I will be back and forth often, as much as I can.  This is tearing me apart.  I told someone the other day, who is not part of this lifestyle, and the comment I got was, "He is stable now, so what's the problem?"  That may be a simple, academic response, but there is so much more in the heart.  I watched him fight back from the brink of death.  I like most of his present team, but his primary doctor makes me beyond nervous.  Last week, she made a mistake with his pain meds.  No, we cannot change.  That's ridiculous, but it is how it is for now.  That makes me nervous.  I am torn.  I want to go home, because I feel it is time, but I want to be here, because I feel I can still help, and I am not comfortable with certain situations.

In discussing this with Derek last night, he suggested I start a non-profit to help wounded warriors.  He said, "Why don't you do that Hookers for Heroes?"  Wait... what?!  Did he really just say that?  Yes, he did. 

This concept is running joke among some of us here.  One of the wives was in her husband's ICU room and one of the medical staff asked her who she was and what she was doing there.  It was the way the question was asked that was just so wrong.  Her response?  "I thought he was cute, so I stopped to visit."  One of the women who work here said to her that her response next time should be that she is with Hookers for Heroes.  That would set them on their heels if she responded like that! 

How do you deal with rude behavior from the medical staff, family members, strangers on the street?  Humor, sarcasm, and an open mind.  Most people do not mean to be rude.  They just don't get it.  That's why we call them well-meanies.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

More Low Down on 62

We finally finished our inprocessing.  27 signatures, plus paperwork, interviews, meetings.  It was intense, but we finished early.  It took us 12 days, and we were given 30.  Had to get it done and off our plate so we could move on.  Move on to Battle Company, regular appointments, new adventures.
The inprocessing is different for the different services.  I was told that the Marines do not need signatures, but they have a page load of appointments.  I was also told by a Marine wife that she was told she and her children do not matter... it is all about her husband.  Krystina and I were given quite different treatment.  We were told that we matter, and if we need anything at all, we just need to ask.

On the Army side, once the inprocessing is done, you are turned over to your new platoon - either Able or Battle.  Then the fun begins.  The guys are expected to attend formation three times a week.  However, if they have an appointment, that takes precedence.  If the formation is mandatory, they will be told to change their appointments.

What is 62 like?  It's a real nice two bedroom apartment, but it has its limitations.  I previously posted pictures, a description of the apartment, and the contents of the kitchen, to assist anyone moving over here as to what they need to supply, the space available, etc.  Now I will address the difficulties we have experienced.  If just one of these make it to the higher-ups who can make changes, we will be happy.

The grade of the driveway leading to 62 is quite steep.  Electric wheelchairs handle is easily, but manual and power assist do not.  I guess it's a good workout for them to work those arm muscles pushing themselves up the steep hill, but going down..... guys have fallen.  I am concerned that they will be going too fast and will not be able to stop themselves before they reach the road.

The walkway to the wounded warrior parking lot is also a problem, but that is scheduled to be fixed within the next week or two.

The parking lot is small and not easy to maneuver.  Each lane ends with more parked cars, and it is too small to K-turn, so you must back out of the aisle.  Wounded warriors are given a blue hanging tag in order to park in the lot, but spaces are limited.  Anyone without a blue tag gets a $40 parking ticket.  The first time I went to Pass and ID to get the parking permit for the van I was given a yellow one.  I asked a cop who was driving through if it was a problem, and he recommended I park in the America Lot until the next day when I could get the right tag.

The apartment itself also has limitations. 

 - Bathroom.  The shower leaks and there is no vent.  The basin is not angled so that the water runs into the drain.  I guess to make it more stable for the guys.  The result?  A very wet bathroom floor, pooled water in the corners of the shower, and trapped steam.  This causes mold to grow, so cleaning is essential.  The shower head also does not stay up and points straight at the wall.  I used twist ties to hold mine up, but that is not an option for Derek and Krystina.  Derek needs to be able to take down the head to wash himself.

 - Front door.  The door is a safety concern.  It is heavy and not easy for the guys in wheelchairs to open.  There is no "peek hole" and no safety chain, so you have to open the door to see who is there if they do not answer when you ask, and once the door is open, anyone could push right in.  The front desk is supposed to refuse to give out the room number to anyone who asks.  The proper procedure is they call on the phone and ask if you want to see the person.  Then, it is our choice whether the person comes up, we go down, or the person is asked to leave.  This was tested a short time ago when someone came who we did not know.  They sent him up even when Krystina said, "No, thank you."  I pitched a fit, and it will not happen again.  It better not.  There are certain people we do not want to visit.

 - Beds.  Another difficulty in the room is the beds.  They are too soft, and as a result, they have given Derek a terrible back pain.  I sleep on the floor, because I have an injured back to begin with, but that is not an option for Derek.  Operation Homefront had some donated tempurpedic style beds, so Derek was able to get a new bed.  It is helping so much.  A hurting back was impacting on his ability to function and get to therapy.

 - Keys.  Some of the apartments have difficulty with their keys.  Some do not.  Some of the apartments the keys expire every month or so.  We had to have our door reprogrammed yesterday because after getting the keys rescanned twice, they still didn't work!

 - Fire.  The elevators stop working in the event of a fire.  We are on the 4th floor.  Derek cannot do stairs.  They assure us that in the event of a fire, fire doors close to trap the flames in one area, and then the fire department comes to the individual rooms and help those who are not able to do the stairs.  Doesn't make me feel better.  What if the fire is in the room next door?   Or this apartment?

 - Warrior Cafe.  The food is ... okay.  It's not the best.  It is expensive.  The guys have meal cards so they can eat for free, but if we are not with him, it costs. 

When the building was built, families and wounded warriors were asked what they needed.  Simple things like bathroom vent, showers that drain, peek holes and comfortable beds should have been provided without menion.

Nothing comes without challenges and difficulties.

On the plus side....

 - The rooms are spacious enough for a wheelchair to maneuver. 

 - The closets are large and accessible. 

 - The bathrooms have enough space for the wheelchair and the guys to move around. 

 - The kitchen is functional, so meals can be prepared and the Warrior Cafe avoided. 

 - The Warrior Cafe does have a pretty good variety most days, with vegan and vegetarian options.  The other day everything had cheese but the salad, so I was out of luck, but most days there is a better variety.  It may have been limited due to the drill they had on base that limited access for over a day.

 - There are pull cords in case of an emergency.  The call goes to the duty desk downstairs and someone will respond.  There is a cord in each bathroom and two in the living room.  The ones in the bedrooms are hidden behind curtains.

Overall, the apartment is comfortable.  Of course there are pluses and minuses.... positives and negatives.  That's life.

The good thing is that life continues.  Whatever obstacles we face, we eventually overcome.  Everything is temporary.  We can do this.

Friday, March 23, 2012

~~Adventures of Gingerbread Baby~~

A couple of weeks ago, a first grader from Tennessee sent Derek a gingerbread baby to have adventures with him.  We took him with us everywhere, and he had a great time!  The following is his story.  Because it is being sent back to first graders, I've written it in what I hope is wording that the first graders can read themselves.  Thank you for allowing us to have these adventures, Mara and Marisa!

Gingerbread Baby Visits with Team Derek

Gingerbread Baby went to Walter Reed in Bethesda, Maryland to stay with
Derek and his family.  The hospital cares for soldiers
who are hurt and helps them get better.
Gingerbread Baby met a lot of heroes in his travels!

Every day, Derek works out in the Matc (mat see)
(Military Amputee Training Center).
Gingerbread Baby helped him lift weights!

Derek lost his legs, and Gingerbread Baby cheered him on
when he took his first steps on his new legs!

All that hard work made Gingerbread Baby and Derek very tired.
Shhhhh.  Don't wake them up.

Derek also hurt his arm and can barely move his hand.
He works hard every day so that his hand will heal.
Gingerbread Baby counted how many blocks Derek was able to move.

Some of the heroes played with Gingerbread Baby.
Oh no!  Do not eat Gingerbread Baby, Will!

Gingerbread Baby tried on Derek's new legs.
Silly, Gingerbread Baby!  They are too big for you.

That cupcake looks good!  Gingerbread Baby was treated like a hero on Valentine's
Day and given a big cupcake by Derek's physical therapist.

Oh, Gingerbread Baby! 
Those are for the guys' legs, not your head!

Gingerbread Baby has to make sure he is healthy.
Dr. Diego gave him a check up.

Service dogs help the heroes and their families.
Bobbie gave Gingerbread Baby a ride.

Gingerbread Baby played with Tootsie, Laura, and Bobbie,
three service dogs at the hospital.

Gingerbread Baby visited Washington, DC with Team Derek.
It was windy on the top of the Newseum, so Gingerbread Baby hid in
Derek's backpack.

At the Museum of American History, Gingerbread Baby
pretended to hop on a subway.

Gingerbread Baby and Team Derek visited the Washington Monument.
Gingerbread Baby is hiding with Derek's sister.

Gingerbread Baby went for a walk around Washington, DC.

Gingerbread Baby joined Derek's family in the Matc.

Be careful, Gingerbread Baby!  Don't let Derek step on you!

Derek left the hospital after seven months and Gingerbread Baby
was there to celebrate with him.  After a good dinner,
he sat in Derek's favorite chair and watched TV.

Team Derek went to a fancy restaurant with other heroes for lunch.
Gingerbread Baby ate so much!

Don't forget to wash your hands, Gingerbread Baby!

Gingerbread Baby drove to New Jersey
with Derek's Mom for a weekend.

Jessica from Team Allen played with Gingerbread Baby.

Derek became sad when it was time for Gingerbread Baby to leave,
so he asked if he could stay a little longer and go to the zoo!
He not only went to the zoo.

"I love history," said Gingerbread Baby as he looked at
the Capitol and the Washington Monument from the Lincoln Memorial.

The whole family went to The National Zoo.
"Thank you for bringing me, Derek,"
said Gingerbread Baby.  "I love animals."

He saw....

and tigers...

and little monkeys!
Oh my!

"I love the zoo."


"Good bye, Team Derek!  I had fun!" said Gingerbread Baby
as he prepared to return to Tennessee.  Gingerbread Baby missed
all of the children in his first grade class.  He wanted to go
home and make sure the children were working hard!

Team Derek and Gingerbread Baby had a good time.
Thank you for visiting, Gingerbread Baby!