Todd and Tara in hospital

Todd and Tara in hospital
My hero

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Wonderful Things

Some of the wonderful things I have experienced since my husband has been hurt is that people in the community where we live sent a lot of cards and some associations made quilts for him which were really beautiful. We received a few donations along the way, which helped for the gas that I had to buy going back and forth to Taylor every weekend from San Antonio to pick up our son.

Christmas was wonderful for us as we got to spend it in our own house, in our own city, and sleeping in our own bed! We were staying at the Fisher House at Fort Sam last year and it just didn't feel the same. At least hubby was in the room with me instead of being an outpatient. I always reflect on our past year during the holidays. I have always done this, ever since I lost my Granny in 1989.

Our lives have been filled with some wonderful people. My family is in the east coast and we are out here in Texas so they didn't come to help out when Todd got hurt. I really did not have any resources except for my friends.
My husband's family lives a few hours away and they stayed with him for a bit when they could get away from their own obligations and jobs.
It was nice when it was just my husband and I together at night, talking about what we were going to do when he gets medically retired and what are we going to do with our home repairs and what we love and miss dearly about our son.

Every Sunday leaving the Fisher House to take him back to my friends that took him in so he did not have to leave the school mid year was just a killer.
It was a palpable dark cloud on us that we could see when we woke up. Knowing I was going to have to drive back without him in the car with me.

I don't know if our son ever realized how much it killed us to say goodbye.
I am so thankful to God that we were all together and that we are living together as a family again. I can't express to anyone how nice it is to wake up in the morning and hear my son's laughs and to be around our dog and see our things and live the way we want to live.

I don't think my husband's family understands how much he has been away from home. Todd was deployed twice to war,spent many times away for hurricane duty and also went to mission trainings that took him away from his own bed.
We have most of the time- I think 14 out of 15 years of marriage we went to his parents house for Christmas, versus spending it at home and having our own tradition.

Now that CSF is injured, he just can't take such a car ride. The 3 1/2 long car rides just kill him. It takes a lot out of him. It isn't just the oppressive pain he has in his leg and back, but the energy it drains out of him. He received a couple of guilt-inducing calls and a card that did not have a nice Christmas message on it, but "hope you change your mind about the drive." Well, no one in his family has had a leg almost blown off. None of them are suffering from PTSD and suffer from the constant pain and sleep deprivation he does. None of them realize how when you add up all of these factors and top it off with a huge dose of pancytopenia (low blood cells of all colors), it makes it so he can't do anything the next day.

How long do I have to watch this crap go on and not say anything? His own father doesn't believe that PTSD is a real condition so my husband does not want me to tell him. I don't as that is his business. However, it is very sad for me to watch my husband feel like he is not being good to his family because he just does not feel good enough for a trip. He has his good days and his bad days. The bad days he can not get out of bed hardly. The good days he is smiling, looking good, almost a vision of his former self.

We (his son and I) understand the ebbs and flows of his health. No one else around him does. His own family assumed that once he got out of the hospital, all is good. It is sad the river of denial that flows through their minds.
They don't want to think about how his life is so different now, how his mind is occupied even in sleep with horrors none of us ever want to contemplate, and makes it so sleep even isn't fun. His legs, arms, body twitches a lot when he goes to sleep. He puts off bedtime every night as he doesn't want to face the nightmares. I know that is why he does it. I even got him to admit it one night.

People he knew prior to the IED blast look at him and see his sweating forehead, the cane he uses, and the painful gait he has. They think that the problem with his leg is all he has. I let people we don't know think that it is all he is dealing with and listen to them telling him not to give up and to keep up with his therapy. Like that is really going to grow back a new half of a quad on his leg. To me the bigger worry is why is he missing white and red blood cells? We have seen 3 hemooncologists and they do not have any clue. One suggested removing his spleen just to see if the white cells are being eaten up by it. I asked her what the probability is and she didn't have any. So here we are, a year later and no answers. How long can he live that way? How long can the pain medicines be cycled in and out without hurting him long term? Will he be able to grow old with me?

Those are the questions in my mind,I have resigned myself to pray for his comfort and quality of life and leave the rest up to the big guy upstairs.
That is all I can do.

We are excited about celebrating 2011. We have a lot of exciting plans. My honey turns 40 and I am throwing him a party. My hope for you all reading this is that your 2011 is healthy, fun, and happy.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

One year anniversary

One month ago yesterday was the one year mark of my husband's injury and also the anniversary of the death of his best friend and other friend that were in the hummer with him when the IED went off.

I see where he has made some progress- he has put on some weight, has thought of ideas for the future, has been doing PT like a fiend to help the remaining muscles in the leg he almost lost.

However I see where the memory seems to get worse (his is moderate TBI with PTSD and a side of severe pain)and his emotions are very close to the surface. The Neuropsych doctor we met with for the medical retirement process said that PTSD can also create issues with memory, that can appear to be PTSD symptoms.

Our 16th wedding anniversary was the 15th. I actually found out about his injury on our 15th anniversary. However he wanted to keep the 2 dates separate.

Yesterday a few people in his unit called, but he got mad and said,"They don't think about the loss of the guys or the attack until its that time of the year, but I have to look at my face in the mirror every day and every step I take, the pain reminds me of it every day." He was angry. I said,"You know, sometimes I wonder if you would have been better off losing the leg rather than keeping it as its all messed up and causes such pain." He said he wondered too, but I think he is better having it.

He agreed that being angry at the other guys wasn't reasonable, I think that is big progress. he said its not fair of him to criticize them.

Don't you all feel frustrated that life isn't the same, that all the other husbands and wives have easier lives, have no pain..and then I look over at my poor guy and he is suffering. It makes you wonder why luck works that way.
No doubt, I know there are way worse issues out there and worse problems, but am I the only wife that thinks,"Man, he is finally home, but he can't even sleep at night, can't walk without falling down, and feels responsible for the loss of his best friend." Kind of crappy.

We had hoped a year out from the blast things would have moved along better, he would have better recovery from his blood disorder (he is missing a ton of white blood cells so he doesn't have much of an immune system.)The doctors don't have any way to fix it and haven't really provided a real diagnosis.

There have been some silver linings - I got to retire from my stressful job and I get to home-school my son, which is a lot of fun. My family has had a lot of togetherness, which has been great.

So, chin up, enough of my pity party and on with the new.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Today, we had a meeting (we are going through the initial doctors meetings for the med board) and we met with the Psychologist at MEB.

I learned a few things today about TBI vs PTSD.
I knew that both affect the concentration that a person can have. However, PTSD causes a memory deficit because the person's brain is trying its best to hide the memory from the person's conscious mind. The hiding can't disseminate what they are hiding, whether it is the last deployment memories, or what was on the grocery list.

In the cognitive tests they give, they will be able to figure out after what is TBI related and what is PTSD. To me, that is pretty cool that they can figure out the difference. The doc told me that therapy that forces the person to confront the bad memories helps them attach less and less emotion to them and eventually, it cures them of the PTSD.

My husband said he never wants to remember everything from the day of his blast. I don't blame him, I wouldn't want to remember a day in which I lost my best friend, lost another friend, and lost the way my life is as I used to know it.

However, I watch him beat himself up for not being able to remember simple things he said about 15 minutes prior, or forgetting the page in the book he just got finished reading. In actuality, we got the results back from the test and it turns out they couldn't tell him what was due to PTSD vs the TBI. They said it was all cognitive working memory. So at least everything else is ok. Now it will just take time and counseling.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Happy Anniversary

It was October 15th, 2009. This was the day that would change our lives forever. I was at my best friend's house with my son and his friend, getting ready to go out and help throw a 40th birthday party for a co-worker of mine.

It was around 4pm on that Thursday when my cell phone rang. It was someone from Red Cross, calling to tell me that my husband and fellow team members were hurt by a roadside IED on the way back from a mission. I was totally shocked by the call. I can remember almost falling back onto the bed I was previously sitting on.

"Your husband has a broken leg and was intubated." What?? "What is really wrong? Why is he intubated? I don't have an MD by my name, but no one in God's name intubates for a broken leg." The voice on the other end of the line heard the panic and fear in my voice and said,"Ma'am, someone will call you from the medical team once he arrives to Landshtul." I said,"Ok."

I did not tell my son anything until I felt I had real tangible news. Every time my phone rang, it made my stomach hurt as I was on eggshells waiting for more information on my husband. I was the one in charge of my friends 40th, so I got dressed I swear I was on autopilot. I showed up, gave her the stuff I had picked up for her and the party goers. I left, went home, and threw up due to my nerves. I swear it felt like twelve hours that went by from that first phone call.

The phone rang, and it was a friend of my husbands. He was with him in Germany. He told me that he was looking right at CSF and he could see that all of his parts were still there. He said,"I am looking at his full naked splendor now." He gave me a bit more information on the injuries my husband sustained. It turns out when soldiers are hurt, they are stripped naked and put on gurneys and covered in blankets. When an IED or an RPG goes off, the person that is struck in the blast is covered with dirt. Over in Afghanistan, the dirt is like talc, so the wounded soldier looks like a statue replica, just with blood on it.

When soldiers are hurt in Afghanistan, they are stabilized at BAF (Bagrum Airforce Base),then flown to Landshtul, Germany where there is a great first class Army hospital. Once the soldier is worked on, assessed, and stabilized, they are flown to Bethesda, MD where Walter Reed hospital is. They re-fuel the plane and if the solider is meant to go back to Texas, they fly to BAMC (Brooke Army Medical Center), which is a damn good hospital.

During the time of waiting to get more information on my husband, I mentally thought of what to do with our son. He was enrolled in 7th grade and had a lot of pre-ap courses to take. On the date of the accident, my son had already attended a few months. I went in to work the next day (I worked as a technical saleswoman) and it was our end of quarter, which was a very intense time of year and also one that sets us up well lucratively if it is a good sales season. I had a few contracts at stake that I had put together and owned the relationship with the customers. I also had a few issues that had to be resolved. I focused on work until I got more information on when my husband was coming home as that was all I knew how to do. I told my son we would get things together once we knew timing and everything would fall into place. In my mind, I was trying to figure out what would we do with him?

On October 19, 2009, I received a phone call from the medical team updating me that Todd would be arriving by the medical helicopter. I was excited to finally get to see him, as he had been gone since January of 2009. I was worried at what his injuries would be like, but more importantly, it was him! He was finally going to be there.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Weekend Warrior- NOT!

Many people think that the National Guard soldiers are just weekend warriors, meaning they just serve one weekend a month and that is it. My honey has spent many times a month doing some training, a 5-day drill where he can't come home at night, or gotten deployed to hurricane duty. The Guard is utilized heavily for all US disasters. Very little people know that they actually helped defend the US in WW2. During Hurricane Katrina, those Guard members unluckily stationed in New Orleans got shot at by some gang members who did not want to be evacuated during the flooding. They were not armed to protect themselves, which was very frustrating to the soldiers and to the family members that had to worry about their safety.

Well, after the first deployment, CSF had about a year to catch up at his regular career. He only got to spend maybe 5 months at it before he was recruited into another mission to train for. Even though he was in the US, and no more than 30 minutes from me, he was unavailable to us. Not a big deal, by then we were used to it and in my opinion, once you deal with a deployment in a war zone, being apart in the US is not a big blip on the radar. Sure, you get lonely and miss the guy, but you aren't worried he is going to get blown to bits on a convoy. Kind of like when I took him to buy his cruiser when he returned from Iraq. My friends at work asked,"Aren't you scared of him getting killed on that bike?" I said,"Once you deal with a soldier in a war zone where people are shooting at him every day, a motorcycle seems so benign."

So... after the 6 months of school he went to, he wasn't able to be released from his one unit to the other to go to Afghanistan with his friends. People he has fought with in Iraq, people he has trained day in and day out with that he trusts with his life. He was to remain with his main unit. Well, ironically, about 2 months later he gets notified that he is to go and get deployed with a different unit entirely, and this time using the skills he does in his civilian life. In fact it was his degree that got him recruited. So this came from the big wigs up high, and superseded the management at his unit. He had to go. Managerial pissing match lost!

It was comical. Kind of. In his mind it was a toss-up if it was better to request to get deployed with his team-mates and do the deployment in Afghanistan, or take his chances and possibly go to Iraq again with his main unit. He would be stuck there longer and with new people he hasn't trained with. Fate intervened and he got to be deployed in Afghanistan on a different mission, however it turned out his friends were not too far from where he was.

Monday, June 7, 2010

After AIT reality

After basic training came AIT, I think that stands for Advanced Individual Training. What it meant all in all, my honey was going to be gone for 9 months straight since they did AIT right after basic training without any visit or break in between. He had very little access to phones, was locked down in his barracks, couldn't have a cell phone.. it was very annoying as they treat the guys in AIT like idiots, much like what he got at basic.

After 9 agonizing months for him, he finally got to come home. We were so proud of him, he looked so amazing. The class A's were stunning, and the BDU's were sweet! Yay uniform fetish! LOL. Our son was so proud of his father and was so happy to have his dad home. During that whole time, my son and I were a continual, tight, unit and did not have any family coming over to help us.

About a month later, Todd gets the call that he needs to go to Soldier Readiness Processing and get ready to be shipped to Iraq. This was in 04-05.
Of course my honey (lets name him CSF for Chemical Super Freak), picked a dangerous MOS and he went over as a gunner and a driver and helped blow up weapons caches.
Not fun for me!!! Talk about something that sucks!

It wasn't a surprise he got fast forwarded to Iraq, as he joined during a time of war. He did it on purpose, he did not want to serve in some protected role. He wanted to be out there, with his .50 Cal, taking care of his guys and being vigilant and trying to keep our country safe. I was so proud of him. He did not join the guard to just get the benefits, wear the uniform, and not do anything in return.

I had a talk with our son, (let's dub him CSF Jr. since he is a chip off of the block of CSF) about CSF's timeline for deployment and what we could do to help him on the homefront and how we would be Team MamaCSF. This got him smiling as he is a can-do, thoughtful cute little guy. Back then he was 6.
I was working full-time, which means a bit over full-time, more like 50 hours a week. We have an old fixer-upper of a home, which we love. However, it needs care. LOL. So I always had something to do. Between taking care of our son, my job, the house, and the senior citizen dog we had back then, I was leveraged for time.

Unlike the fun and laid-back atmosphere of deployment that the media portrayed the war to be back then,CSF was not able to get on a computer daily. I was lucky to get an email from him bi-weekly. Download speeds were from another era gone by and accessibility was down. Heck, he barely could get to a phone. I think he called once every week and a half. Not enough for me to feel good.
I got smart though, I looked at the map of Iraq to see where he is and I showed mini CSF so he could learn more about world culture. I would look at the ATM debit card log and see the city where he was at. Kind of like "where's waldo."

One week there was more than the normal amount of bloodshed and I was worrying in overtime. CSF said,"Look at the color of the T-shirts under the uniform. If they are beige, then they are our guys. If not, its either Marines, Navy, or Air Force." I know it sounds sick, but I felt better when I wouldn't see beige shirts in the photos.

One day I saw CSF Jr. look upset as he is a bright cookie and was watching the news and they were talking about the area where his father was. I told him that his father would be safe, he is going to come home to us, and we had to pray for him every day. I told him no more news, as it makes us upset and we don't need that.
So I took the calendar, wrote down CSF's date to return, and daily we would cross off a day. I also planned a monthly weekend get away for us, just to help break up the monotony of the deployment. We had some fun adventures. We would go shopping and buy stuff that we could ship to his dad. ***If you call the Post Office and tell them you are Military, they will send you free shipping boxes, tape, etc. for free. Just an FYI for you.

Well, the year went by, he came home safe and all was well.

Sadly, the fourth of July he got to be a part of, was still pretty recent from when he returned as when the sounds of the fireworks went off, his hands were shaking really bad and it was all he could do to light our son's sparkler.
I noticed a bit of anxiety from the war. Freaking war. Made me cry, I tried to hide it from them both. I thought, here he is home with us, on a day of liberation and independence. A day of celebrating for Americans and my poor husband can't even light a sparkler due to the hit on his nerves for the past year of hostile fire.

His pupils were so huge, his heart was pounding, and his jaw was tightly clenched.
I grabbed his arm, said hey honey..lets go inside and get a drink. I hugged him, asked him if he was ok as I didn't want to call him out in front of everyone.
It helped. I know he saw some catastrophic shit over there, he never would tell me all that he saw. I told him that in time, he needed to talk about it or it would fester and cause him some issues.

I noticed him withdrawing a bit from us and he would go work in the study more than he used to. Part of it was he had a lot of stuff to catch up on, but honestly, I think he just needed to decompress away from us. It hurt my feelings at first, but then I really started to analyze what he was doing versus what he had experienced and talked to mini CSF about what to expect from his father after experiencing war.
It helped out a lot.

Within a few months after his return, CSF started to act like himself again. We really had fun incorporating him back into our weekly routine that we had developed when it was Team MamaCSF Jr. I noticed that is a huge area that our guys need help on. Some of them feel left out when they come back, that we can manage great without them, so what do we need them for? So I sat down with him and told him what Mini CSF and I were up to. We gelled, it worked out great and we had so much fun showing him what he did to the house. Our family was reunited again, and had gotten back into its usual dynamics between husband and wife, father and son. :-)

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Beginning

I wasn't aware in 1994 that I would ever be a military wife. When I met my husband, he had always been civic-minded and very patriotic. He was a Chemistry and Physics teacher that had recently retired to get into working the chemical industry. Our family was in a car, enjoying a leisurely Sunday drive a few days after 9/11 happened.

My husband commented,"Here I am enjoying my freedom with my family, while our guys are dying in Iraq. I just feel like I need to do my part to keep that evil from invading our land and possibly hurting you or our son." He said he was thinking about joining the military to do his part. He asked me what I thought and I said he needed to do what he felt he had to do, and it was his choice and that I support him no matter what. Thus began his research into joining the National Guard.

A couple of weeks pass and he had a meeting set up with a recruiter.
He came home all excited from the meeting with the recruiter about the various benefits. With his classic sick sense of humor, he said, "Ooh they have death benefits so if I get killed, you will get $250,000." I said,"Very funny, but that would actually screw me out of some income as I expect you to at least live 'til 78 and what you would make as a chemist times 45 years of earning would definitely surpass that 250K. Plus, you are a much-needed fixture in our lives. I couldn't imagine it without you."

Did I mention he was only 34 at the time, without much cartilage or cushioning in the knee joints? Our son was maybe 6 at the time when his father left to go to basic training. Proudly, my 34-year-old husband kicked the butt of half the cheese-eating high school kids when it came to running and PT. He was so proud to tell me of his various accomplishments during the training. Plus, having been a high-school teacher, he was used to the tempers, testosterone, etc. that the younger privates were dealing with and the mind games the drill sergeants were using. It still sucked, but he made it through and his graduation was one of the proudest events for him.
He looked amazing in his Class A's. Damn, I love a man in uniform.