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.