Sunday, November 6, 2011

100 Days in Bethesda

15 weeks ago today I received the call that changed our lives forever.  That call had a ripple effect, effecting not only my and Krystina's and our immediate family's lives (that is purposely singular), but our extended families, our friends and their families, and also the communities of Parsippany and North Caldwell, and beyond.  This has taken on a life of its own, and I am hearing from people from around the country how this has effected them.  I am humbled by it.

We have been in Bethesda for 100 days as of tomorrow.  100 days of hospitalization.  Tonight we met a man whose son was injured in October, and he sustained double amputation of his legs and has limb salvage of one arm, similar to Derek (but remember what i said about ordering that Whopper?  Everyone gets different condiments/dressings/etc. - a different collection of wounds and side effects), but he only spent two days in ICU, and he is almost ready to be discharged as an outpatient.  We have seen so many like this.  Derek was hit hard. 

These last 100 days have been trying, humbling, encouraging, heartbreaking, hysterical, tearful, etc.  We have fun the full gammet of emotions.  Most of all, these past 100 days have meant a major change for our lives.

Before that call, I was a single mom of 5, just barely making ends meet by living within my means.  I was working in a law firm where I enjoyed my job and the people with whom I worked.  How many people can honestly say they like everyone in their office or place of employment?  I did.  I felt the stress of my life from being a single mom with one son in the Navy, another son in a war zone and 3 children in high school with no child support and no help from their father, but I was doing it.  I always had the attitude that this was life and I just had to deal the hand I was dealt. 

My attitude hasn't changed even though everything else has in the past 100 days.

Mike is now home from the Navy, having finished his tour of duty.  He and my father are holding down the fort at the house and dealing with our mini-menagerie.  Their lives are turned upside down.  Mike had expected to get out of the Navy and enroll in a few college courses at county college in September before deciding where he wanted to enroll for his full-time college.  I heaped a lot of responsibility on him.

My father is 74 years old and still not over the loss of my mother only 3 years ago.  Watching his grandson go through this has torn him apart.  But he has gallantly made the trip to and from the hospital on several occasions because nothing will keep him from seeing Derek, not even his broken heart.

My sister and her husband took on the responsibility for my three high schoolers, in addition to their own three children, full-time jobs, football and tennis, and other responsibilities.  Yvette and Brian opened their hearts and their home to my three children.

My three high schoolers have had their lives completely torn asunder.  Not only did they have to see their brother lying in the ICU so close to death and hear the doctors spewing all their doom and gloom, but they left their home, pets, comforts, schedule, routine, and lost their mother for an unknown period of time.  They are wonderful.  They understand that I need to be here.  They understand that Derek's needs were greater, and that Kiki could take care of them for the time being.  But they have to be wondering when and if life will ever return to "normal."

Krystina, God love her, dropped out of school, quit her job, and left everything to come down here.  She will return to school eventually, but right now her concern is Derek.  She is a true blessing.  Derek couldn't be any luckier.  He chose wisely when he chose her, and she is blessed with....  Well, tonight he picked up his little mirror and said, "mirror mirror, on the wall, who is the most handsomest amputee of all?"  His sense of humor is amazing.

Krystina's family is dealing with the heartbreak of seeing someone they love in such a dire condition and having Krystina leave home, out of state no less, a lot sooner than expected.  There are other things with which they are dealing, but I will respect their privacy and not discuss them.

And surely Derek's life has changed.  He was so into his martial arts.  UFC, MMA.  His career goals and aspirations will all have to change now.  This is what broke my heart that first week.  But a Four Star General we met last week and saw again today was so impressed by Derek's story and his attitude that he had Derek retell it to visitors today.  As I've said before, Derek used to think if he lost even a pinky, he didn't want to live.  But when this happened, he knew he just wanted to survive, and he is intent on living life with the same quality as before.

Over the last 100 days, we have watched Derek go from a vibrant, full of life man, to a small child barely clinging to life.  He stuggled for each breath; we were so close to losing him.  He ebbed and flowed so many times in the past 15 weeks.  He stood on the threshhold, outside Death's door, but he would not walk through.  He is a fighter, and he was not ready to succomb.  He was not ready to leave.

We have battled heartbreaking loss, crushing set backs, gruesome wounds, horrific nightmares, funny but scary delusions, invasive infections, irresponsible medical staff, and bureaucracy.  But we have also had fabulous nurses, amazing doctors, superior service providers (OT, PT, some RT),  awesome corpsmen, heart warming experiences, hysterical fits of laughter, humbling episodes, and leaps of progress.  We have met some of the most amazing people I have ever had the pleasure and honor or meeting, and i will never forget them.

This has been a true roller coaster ride with highs and lows, twists and turns, and stomach clenching moments.  But like all thrill rides, it will end one day.  We will get off this crazy ride, and we will be better for the experience.

15 weeks after his injury, 100 days in the hospital, and Derek is finally on the right track.

In a few years, we will look back on all this, when the new normal has been on our life, and I hope that in reflecting on our time here I see that we left this place better for us having been part of it, and that we were part of the effort to bring this face of war on the homefront to the American people so that more people become aware of what our boys face when they get home.

No one should have to fight this fight.

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