Monday, October 17, 2011

Humbling Thank Yous


It is quite humbling to me to accept or to ask for help of any kind. 

When I found myself a single mother of five children between the ages of two and ten, I was earning $35,000/year part-time at a law firm.  Shortly thereafter, I had to leave my position at the law firm due to a myriad of reasons, the most important being that I needed to be more accessible to my children and the firm I was with wanted me to be full-time.  It just wasn't right for me at that moment when the children were going through so much due to their father's abandonment.  I tried my own practice, and I taught Catholic school, which does not pay well.  Child support was sporatic, at best and nothing over the last few years, barring a few small payments. 

Money was tight, to say the least, and we often shopped at bargain stores, such as PayLess, Walmart, K-Mart, etc., because I simply didn't have a dime to spare.  Hand me downs from friends and family were welcome and humbly accepted.  If not for the love and support of my parents, my children and I would have been homeless.  Over the years, especially when my mother became ill, I was able to pick up more of the financial responsibilities, but my mother basically provided a majority of the support for my children.  My mother passed three years ago, and now all of the financial responsibilities are mine alone. 
We make it, just barely most months, but we do it.  I have never received public assistance with the exception of NJ KidKare Health Insurance for my children when I could not afford to put them on my health plan at the school where I was teaching.  I did it on my own and made other arrangements with my mother for the financial and emotional support.

Truth be told, even if I had been making $250,000.00 a year and could afford my own mansion, I would have continued to live with my parents because that was home.  My mother would not have let me take my children from her home without a fight.  She loved those children with every fiber of her being, and she willingly gave everything she had to help me in my hour of need.  It still hurt that I had that need.
In return, my children and I served soup kitchens, stocked food pantries, and donated our clothing to the less fortunate, and I reminded them every time that if it wasn't for Noni and Papa, we would have no choice but to use their services ourselves.

I've also tried to teach my children the importance of reaching out to those less fortunate.  I think I've gotten through to Kellina most of all, my little bleeding heart daughter, but all of them have soft hearts in their own ways and at differing times, even when they try to hide it from me.  I've seen their kindness and charity towards others when someone is down, whether it be to offer a ride, buy lunch for a friend who forgot his lunch money and not expect to be repaid, donate his/her last few dollars that he/she was saving for ice cream to something in school just because it touched his/her heart that day, etc.  They have come to me and asked to allow a friend who is down and out to spend the night because he/she had no where else to go that night.  These stories warm my heart.  They are teenagers now, and they are sweet in their own way, some of the time.  My silly 17 year old son dyed his goatee pink for breast cancer awareness this month!  Oh, Ryan.

This situation we find ourselves in presently is beyond anything I could comprehend.  I do not know what the future holds.  Could I leave tomorrow?  Maybe.  Could I live with myself if I did?  No.  Not a chance.  Derek needs me.  Every day I see another way that I am needed.  Sometimes it is a simple thing that probably would be no big deal and would work out okay in the end, but other times, it is a big deal and needs my fight.

The CT scan on Saturday was such a fight.  Dr. Bograd told me today that my instincts are good, and that I was right to take the conservative route and not mess with the dressing.  If I had not been there, the dressing would have been removed.  Usually that is done in the PACU under sedation.  And Dr. Goodlett said he does not know why radiology was pushing for oral contrast and an abdominal scan, because all he ordered was pelvic with IV contrast.  Another misread of the order/notes?

Unfortunately, this is where I need to be.  My firm has been wonderful.  They are not pressuring me to return, and they are really working with me.  It might come to the point though that I have to leave the position because I cannot keep them hanging on forever.  I don't know what is happening from one day to the next.  We are still not out of the woods.  The mucus plugs and breathing issues are serious.  Pnuemonia is still an issue, although not as serious because a lot of the fluid from behind the lung is gone.
This is so overwhelming.  And asking for help from anyone is beyond me.  Chief Mark Deuer of the North Caldwell Police Department started a fund for Derek, Friends of Derek McConnell, PO Box 1811, West Caldwell, NJ 07006-1811, for donations for Derek and for the family to help us through this time.  The donations on this website help keep this site going so other family members can share their stories.  All are appreciated and show a wonderful outpouring of love and support for Derek.

Sue Kappock, 4th grade teacher at Gould School where all of my kids attended, held a bake sale in Derek's honor and raised over $1,300.

Marie Thomas, married to a retired Roseland cop who served with my brother-in-law, held a bake sale at her employment in Derek's honor.

Maura Stonham-Steffens, a fellow facebook army mom, sells products and donated her commission to Derek.

Maria Fornaro, my dear friend, has been working the ELKs, VFW, American Legion, etc. for donations, and has even scheduled another pasta dinner in Derek's honor through the American Legion.
Friends have delivered food, magazines, baked goods, toilitries, etc., including Christina Tavares and Dana Ritter, who delivered a delicious dinner tonight.

Don Patterson of the Marine Liaison Office gave me this wonderful leather Army jacket that keeps me warm on cold days.  He also gave us fantastic blankets, snuggies, vests, flags, etc.  Don is wonderful.  He stops in to see us all the time.

There are so many others that come by too, but my lack of sleep brain is a little out of it right now.
But a special, huge, major thanks has to go to Tom Mautone of the North Caldwell Police Department tonight who took it upon himself to schedule a huge pasta dinner with three seatings.  They had raffles, entertainment, and delicious food.  He started it on his own, and then my awesome brother-in-law, Brian Maglio, jumped in to help.  My cousin-extraordinaire Michelle Mercer stepped in to cook and serve.  The dinner was a huge success.

A family came whose son had been killed in Iraq in 2005.  They donated a substantial sum of money to Derek, and also a personal donation to me.  You could have knocked me over with a feather when I heard that.  Worrying about the financial impact of this and supporting my other children weighs on me.  If not for the kindness of my sister and her husband, I would be lost right now because they are giving them a safe place to live.

Tom delivered an iPad to Derek so he was able to skype with everyone during the event.  We saw people we have not seen in years!  Friends from North Caldwell, Nutley and Parsippany, as well as New York came out.  Representatives from the Adopt A Soldier Platoon were there and listeners from PLJ!  Partners from my firm came out to support us, the town council from North Caldwell, teachers from the schools, Fr. Anthony, I could go on all night.

I am completely overwhelmed by the love and support from the community.  I do not know what the future holds.  We received some wonderful news today as a result of the CT scan, but we also received some scary news that could put Derek's recovery back several months.

On Dr. Goodlett's last day on this service, he came in to chat, and not just about his precious little girl and to shoot the breeze.  He told me he was going to give it to me straight, and to tell me all possible scenerios, because he knew I was having trouble communicating with the ortho team, and he didn't want us to find ourselves a couple of weeks from now being handed a consent for extensive, major surgery and not understanding the hows or whys of how we got there.

The good news is that the abscesses have gotten much smaller, with the exception of a small one in the front of the bladder, which might explain the bladder spasms, but the antibiotics should work on that.
The bad news is that the CT scan also revealed calcium deposits in the right leg (the high above the knee amputation), which is basically bone growing within the muscle.  This is normal when there is TBI and blast trauma, but the extent of it and how it is treated varies.  Derek has a tendancy to develope scar tissue and for that scar tissue to harden.  The treatment is an anti-inflammatory drug, that he has been on for a while as it is.  If that doesn't work, they try to aspirate them.  If that doesn't work, they cut them out.  If they cut them out, the concern is there will not be enough soft tissue to cover the remaining femur - there was barely enough there to cover it to begin with.  A free flap would be needed, but given his blood pressure and breathing issues in the OR, that would probably not be the best option.  The only other option is another hip disarticulation - removing the right leg at the hip, the same as the left leg. 

Derek was very quiet about it, even though I kept telling him that was the worst case scenerio and only a small chance.  He didn't snap out of it until he spoke with his angel, Krystina.  Krystina's response to the news was, "Really?  Take more?  What the hell?  Oh well.  Whatever.  It is what it is.  We will deal with it no matter what happens.  So the rehab might be longer but you'll still get to do whatever you wanted to do, it'll just be a little more challenging."  I love her.  Hard.

Derek said to me tonight, after talking to Krystina and after seeing the outpouring of love and support at the pasta dinner, "I'm glad if this had to happen, that it happened to me, because I know I will be okay.  If this had happened to some of the other guys, they would give up.  They wouldn't make it.  I won't give up.  I like a challenge.  I will beat this."

The bottom line of tonight's message is thank you.  Thank you for all of the good wishes, prayers, visits with homemade food, care packages (although it takes forever for them to get through the hospital system), donations to the Friends of Derek McConnell fund that will help ease Derek's needs and any family expenses that cannot be met after my savings are depleted.

But Derek is only one.  When this is over, I will direct my energy to help more wounded warriors and their families.  I will try to raise money to assist then and their families during this hard time.  I will work on that group of problem solving meetings to discuss how to make this better for us as we go through this process.  I will make my mark here at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center Bethesda.  And to springboard off my friend Jessica's blog from the other day, we do have to do something for the kids, too!  So, it's time for Jessica, me, and any other strong minded, strong willed, go get 'em women/men here in Bethesda to get together and make waves!

In the meantime, thank you.  You have all humbled me tonight.  Through your kindness and humanity, you are making it possible for me to help Derek, and, as a result, to help others like him.

God bless you.

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