The Highway to the Danger Zone Zone

R has to wear a C Pap mask at night for his sleep apnea. I call it his C Pap smear machine because I’m immature.

He will never let me take a picture of him with it on, let alone possibly publish on this fine blog, so here is a picture of one.

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Please note that the couple above is NOT US. First of all, our reading habits are the opposite; I read while R slumbers. Second, I am clearly not Caucasian. Thirdly, the woman is probably super sensitive to her husband’s condition.

I, on the other hand, frequently make comments such as:

• “Hey, how is it out there?”
“Where?”
“On the highway to the danger zone.”

• {mocks Darth Vader breathing}

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• “Are you my mummy?” {In reference to Doctor Who; in which he is sadly not a fan. Yet.}

• “If I cover the filter by your nose, will you swell up like Harry Potter’s aunt’s friend?”
“NO!”
“Let’s try!”
“NO!”

• {Insert joke about sex appeal of the mask and/or breathing}

Other times I bring up anecdotes about his machine. Sometimes I’ll be sleeping rather peacefully, facing him, when all of a sudden I am woken up by a face tornado… Only it’s not a tornado. It’s his breathing mask and it’s blowing in my face.

Luckily R has the same warped sense of humor I do and at best, laughs at my jokes. At worst, pretends to be sleeping.

It turns out that all this time his decibel-breaking snoring was because he couldn’t breathe! Add to this that tumor constricting the space in his neck! Can’t a guy cut a break?

Nope. Not at all. He’s a fighter. He’s got this.

He’s got this with a huge snorkeling apparatus on his face.

But really, if you think about it, I’d much rather have a face tornado than sleep alone. I’m sure he feels the same, minus the Darth Vader jokes.

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The Wounded Warrior Reflection

I imagine it would probably be pretty hard to be married to me. Independent, bordering on stubborn. Ambitious, yet oddly lazy. Overscheduled, but naps when life gets too overwhelming.

Sure, the eye candy factor is there. (Heh.) Volunteering and work and kid activities are out of control but can you imagine being thrown into an instant family with loud (but awesome) kids and an eccentric wife who is constantly on the go?

R will be thrown.

He will be thrown back into our crazy hectic lives very soon. I’m afraid that somehow blogging about it will jinx the actual retirement date but how much worse can everything get? I mean, honestly, between his accident, recovery, therapy, a huge thyroid the size of Texas and he’s still fine.

What I cannot seem to grasp is how I’ll need to change.

I look forward to being part of a parenting partnership for the first time in God knows how long. I look forward to consulting with another adult about our dinner plans, sharing chores, and holding hands. I look forward to being US again.

I will probably forget to consult R about day-to-day things, about oh-by-the-way-did-you-want-to-go-to-the-gym-too, about what he wants our master bedroom to look like. In case you’re wondering, it looks like MY room with chick lit and urban fantasy novels strewn about along with my odd collection of tank tops for every occasion.

There will be a lot of things we won’t be able to do or do as long. Last time R was home, the kids had an amazing school event… but the crowd made him nervous and the trip to the zoo two days prior had made the pain in his left leg much worse.

Today for Mother’s Day, we drove down to Sausalito and was annoyed by marveled at the number of people on their bikes and walking the trails. I doubt R would be able to do any of that.

Professional sports games are out of the question. Never mind that he has never been a sports fan but hey, beer and nachos make everything better, right? No more cheap seats on the lawn for us; R would never be able to sit on the ground. No more stadium seats either as the crowd and noise would probably make him retreat to the car.

I always wondered how certain social situations affected him. He’s fine at parties. Our house, his friends’ houses, at the house of a relative’s… it is not a problem for him.

Last Christmas he tried to mail some packages to family in Utah. The post office in December? Hello? He said he could do it himself but I offered to come along. He didn’t decline. After a few minutes in that crazy post office, he looked confused and lost. I handed him the car keys and whispered that I’d meet him in the car.

But I’m sure that I don’t help matters either. I’m pretty short so I zip in and out of crowds pretty easily. Once I have my mind set on getting a specific size box on the other side of a crowded post office, oh, mark my words, I will have it in my hands within minutes.

He met some friends at a bar a few weeks ago when he was still in Virginia and he couldn’t handle it. The noise, the music, dozens of people all around that he didn’t know. He had to leave.

If I had been through what he had been through, I would have had to leave as well.

I’ve started to have brief conversations with the kids about what it’ll mean to have Daddy back home. Nothing scary, nothing odd. Just little suggestions of how our schedule might change, how we’ll have to help Daddy out a bit. I hate crowds myself which is why we’re that family that shows up early to events and appointments so we get good parking, we get there early, we get in first, no crowds, and most importantly, we leave first. That won’t be a stretch.

The other day after telling the kids how we need to help Daddy when he gets home, M said, “Is that why you always tell me to go with Daddy to the store?”

Wow. I never realized that.

R gets flustered easily and forgets words. Sometimes he even curses his TBI.

Sadly, sometimes I don’t always sympathize because not all disabilities are visible and I forget he has them. That’s something I need to definitely work on.

For A’s first communion, R baked a beautiful lemon cake from scratch per her request. He said the cake was magnificent, a fact I do not deny. However he was unhappy with the frosting, which was also made from scratch. He was up until midnight baking the cake and almost threw the entire cake away because according to him, the frosting ruined the cake.

“Why did you frost the cake then if the frosting was so bad?” I asked. “Why didn’t you just make another batch of frosting?”

He looked at me and sighed. “I don’t know. I guess I was so set on getting this cake done I couldn’t step back and NOT frost the cake.”

I know we’ll all need therapy. He needs to get back into a regular therapy session. I need to attend training on caregiving, on being the other half of a couple, and all of the stuff I need to know on patience and how not to roll your eyes when it seems like your husband is making excuses. Wow, I sound like a total bitch. Totally need therapy, I know.

I know we’ll get through this transition but it still terrifies me.

I’ll Stand By You

I had never seen this logo until two years ago.

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And now I can’t stop looking at it.

There are days when I feel so emotional, so ragged that any tiniest thing sends me deeper into a rabbit’s hole. I think it might be the combination of many things. I have been popping Benedryl like candy for the last two weeks. Allergies are making me miserable. Dehydration could be a factor. A seemingly beautiful day feels like a hundred degrees when you’re running around and helping clean up after a church picnic. Sometimes a year to R’s retirement seems like it will be here sooner than I know; today it feels like it is lifetimes away.

I ran across this video on YouTube tonight.

I still keep in contact with a couple of milspouses I met while our husbands were recovering at the VA in Palo Alto. They are running marathons, speaking at conferences, and everything else you can think of, all while caring for their Wounded Warriors.

Right now I feel like I am carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders and I don’t understand why. I am doing none of those things above and I certainly cannot care for my husband three time zones away.

Right now I can barely care for myself.

While the kids were on the trampoline,

I tried to get some pics of the eclipse tonight. I couldn’t get a picture of the eclipse but the shots I took were interesting, like some sort of code.

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I’ll let you know when I understand.

Christmas bliss is coming to an end

My husband has been home for two long, glorious weeks and sadly the departure date will be upon us. We all have the look in our eyes whenever his time with us is whittling away. The far-off gaze thinking about the memories we’ve made and the time we spent together with a bit of sadness mixed in.

We have been married for eleven years now and while the pain of our separation never really goes away I think I have gotten used to it.

The kids, however, are torn. The middle child A is excited that she will see cousins tomorrow but knows Daddy will leave soon after. The oldest one has always held it in, to the point where I ask friends and family to talk to him just to see how he’s feeling. I am afraid he might be getting used to it too.

The youngest one, who has probably had the most time with him, is hard to read. I know she thinks about him when he is gone. She gets that look in her eyes and if her big brown eyes were any clearer I am sure I would be able to see the memory of watching the latest Chipmunk movie with him.

When we were in the car today, R said he doesn’t want to go. Of course he doesn’t. I cannot imagine having to live without your kids, your spouse for months at a time.

I replied, “I don’t want you to go either but you need that foot of yours fixed.”

He still has excruciating pain in his left foot, pain that he has been hiding from me for many months. I have massaged the bottom of his foot to find each time what feels like a taut thick rope running from his heel to his toes. I show know mercy when I rub it out, trying to alleviate this muscle spasm as soon as I can. He’s cringed in pain when he is on his feet too much which is always since he insists on cooking almost all of our meals. (Not that I mind in the very least!) He gasps when sudden nerve pain strikes various parts of his lower body without warning.

I ask him what his pain is on a scale of 1 to 10, just like they do in the hospitals, and he says that it can get up to a 7 or 8. An 8 must be pretty bad. He will never say a 10, even though to me the pain would be a 15 or so, simply because he’s experienced a true 10. A 10 to him would be having his pelvis crushed in a car door. Again.

As soon as he gets back to Virginia, he will fly out to Texas to a rehab center where he will get a new foot/leg brace, one that will correct his foot drop and constant foot pain and one that he will actually use.

I did not know this but his pain is so bad that if this brace does not help, he would like to consider amputation and he wondered how I felt about that. Now I have no idea what his pain is like, what he endures on a daily basis, and surely I am in no position to have an opinion, but I kept my answer simple.

“You should do what you need to do.” Meaning that it is his body, not mine. Meaning while amputation is a huge decision, it is not mine to make. It is not my pain but I feel his.

He should do what he needs to do.

And so I am enjoying my last bit of time alone at our neighborhood coffee shop while he feeds the kids leftover Mexican food, gives them baths, and puts them to bed. Tomorrow we expect a full house with family and friends. Tomorow we expect to stay busy so the reality of going back to normal does not set in until the very last possible moment.

Tomorrow we expect to have stomach pains not caused by too much food or imbibing too many spirits but because we will be making that sad drive to the airport again on Sunday.

Our saving grace is that these trips of taking Daddy to the airport are almost completely at an end. And that makes for a happy new year in the works.

May you have a wonderful and safe new year from our family to yours,
Alma

Dinner at the embassy and glimmers of hope

Second day in Bethesda. Going to see Daddy.

I am my own traveling preschool. I have found that walking around with three kids tends to attract a lot of attention… from other kids. I can’t tell you the number of times random toddlers have been caught up in our family parade, the number of times preschoolers have wandered around with us for a few seconds before we realize that I’m not their mommy, and the number of times parents have been frustrated while trying to persuade their kids NOT to follow us.

It happened when we were in Bethesda last April.

"I wanted to press the button!" Only heard this several DOZEN times a day.

The Warrior Family Coordination Cell was a godsend. They organized events that got families of Wounded Warriors off base that gave them the tiniest break from worrying.

When we received an invitation to go to dinner at the Royal Dutch Embassy, I can honestly say I didn’t want to go. My husband’s parents and brother had already left for home. It had been a couple weeks that I’d been out with all three kids by myself since the accident. While our kids are very well-behaved, they were still kids and I was mortified at all the possible things that could go wrong.

Most importantly, what would I wear?

Welcome to the embassy. We will be running around in circles in the driveway while mummy drinks the free wine.

I was relieved to know that it was not a sit down affair and children were welcome. Phew.

We arrived by bus and marveled at the architecture and landscaping of the embassy. The kids and I took a few pictures. I had a lot a glass of wine.

I saw a couple of babies at the dinner, both securely fastened by Baby Bjorns to their parental units. This wasn’t children, I thought. Babies weren’t children! Children run, pull table cloths, and say inappropriate things at the wrong times. My three were getting antsy inside and I could tell they needed to run so we went outside and found a table for us.

I let them chase each other in the large front lot of the embassy because why not? Better out there than inside with glass bottles and people to knock over, right? They were soon joined by a boy about M’s age. And the chasing continued.

I later caught up with the boy’s mother. She said that her son saw my kids from upstairs and wanted to come out to play “with all the kids”. They’d moved to DC area about a year ago from the midwest. His father lost both legs when his vehicle ran over an IED in Iraq. She had to pull her son out of school mid-year and start over in DC so they could be together while her husband continued his rehabilitation at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

I had to swallow because the lump in my throat was hard to ignore. I asked her, “How is your son coping?” I apologized immpediately after I asked. I felt stupid for wondering, for prying, and for thinking that I had any right to any information not offered.

If she was offended, she didn’t show it. In fact, she said it was okay and went on, “My son does remember a time when Daddy had legs and I’m thankful for that. He [her son] is going to a new school and he’s doing well there.” I admired their courage, openness, and honesty. I felt a glimmer of hope when I talked to her and when I watched all four kids run in circles.

VIPS in the pic above. I'm sure the people behind them were pretty important too.

Later that night after the girls fell asleep, I asked my son M what he thought of the embassy. He talked about his new friend and how his dad got hurt in Iraq too. He talked about how his new friend’s dad’s legs had to be cut off. Then we sat in silence. He was able to fall asleep quickly that night.

The week before he cried himself to sleep every night. He wanted to go home and to go back to school. He hated sharing a room, let alone a bed, with anyone. He tried to make deals with me like promising he’d clean his room for a month if we went home.

I didn’t blame him. I wanted to go back to normal too. If I recall correctly, I was making trying to make deals too. Just let my husband live and I’ll stop being a Christmas Catholic. Just let my husband’s pelvis heal and I’ll read the Bible more and to the kids, even the boring parts. Just let my husband keep his left leg and I will do whatever you want.

I didn’t exchange phone numbers or email addresses with that family. My husband’s accident had happened only a couple of weeks before so I was still numb. Looking back I realize now that so many reached out to me and while I heard it, I didn’t listen. I couldn’t listen. It was hard to hear anything over the echoing, neverending worry in my head.

All I remember is being thankful that the kids and I met another family who, while their circumstances were far different from ours, faced an extremely difficult situation and who were now trying to move forward in their lives. I had hope that no matter what was happening, recovery for my husband was not only a possibility but a real goal. No matter what, we could face this accident and we would move forward like that brave little boy.

If you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some reading to do.

Thank You For Not Leaving Me

I heard those two words a lot from my husband throughout our marriage. Thank you for getting me Taco Bell. Thank you for cooking (though that one was rare because I don’t cook). Thank you for getting me the new Stephen King novel. Really sweet nuggets of acknowledgement that he didn’t have to say but did anyway.

One thank you I didn’t expect, especially after the accident, was this: “Thank you for not leaving me.”

And he said it repeatedly.

To which I’d reply, “Why would I leave you?” Dumbfounded, of course.

Then he’d rattle off reasons why any woman would leave at this point in our relationship. “I’m broken. Look at me. I don’t even recognize myself.” Sure, he was banged up, physically and at times, emotionally. So?

“I’m useless. I can’t even help you with the kids.” My husband was bedridden for about two months and in a wheelchair for four. Um, you are supposed to heal right now and not worry about us. Besides, I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve left any combination of the children in his care for short periods of time, even when he was at NNMC in Maryland. In hindsight, maybe it wasn’t the smartest thing to do but I wasn’t gone that long and I left the potty-trained ones.

This isn’t to say that we didn’t have some dark moments since the accident. We did. Oh, good Lord, nothing harmful. Just really deep and sad insights about where he’s been, where I’ve been, where we’ve been as a couple, and where we’ve been as a family.

There was one time (oh, he’ll be mad if he discovers this blog) when he was still over at the VA in Palo Alto that shook me to the core. He was still in a wheelchair, still learning how to transfer from bed to chair and back and that day he was transferring to the toilet when all of the emotions building up inside of him exploded. One of the kids didn’t put on the toilet seat properly which caused him to almost fall. The kids and I were watching TV in his room when I heard a crash and an F-bomb. Okay, he’s a sailor. It was a string of swear words and a nurse that was helping him left in a hurry. Other nurses came to assist.

I asked what happened in there and he was still angry, still swearing. And I know it wasn’t anyone’s fault. No one had done anything wrong.

But I started bawling and the kids were looking at us with big eyes. Even now I can’t type this without blowing my nose a gazillion times.

In this moment, everything became clear. He’s here but he’s not. He’s been through something so terrible and so awful and so nightmarish; I couldn’t deny it any longer.

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My husband is a Wounded Warrior. He’s not going to be the same.

Ever.

I believe because of his stubbornness, his determination not to let this rule his life, he will try his damndest to keep it together.

Now if you know me personally, you’d probably describe me to be positive, funny, and extraordinarily beautiful (had to throw that last one in there to see if you were paying attention). I don’t wear my dark emotions on my sleeve. I tend to glean over scary details. But who wouldn’t? Self-preservation? Maybe. Still in denial? Perhaps.

I am sort of embarassed to admit that we went to marriage counseling after this while he was in Palo Alto but it was the best thing for us. The psychologist was a very sweet woman who baffled my husband when she suggested she take the kids for a couple hours so we could spend some time together and they followed her like Pied Piper. It was essential that we had someone listen to us and help us sort out emotions that were starting to bubble over.

He shared with her that he thought all the women he saw at the VA, spouses of Wounded Warriors or of TBI patients, were amazing. Their husbands, he said, were really lucky their wives were still with them.

Later I asked him, “Why wouldn’t they be?”

He said, “Most women would probably leave.”

I shook my head. “I think those women would have left anyway, accident or not.” Like when we used to talk about how he knew so many people in the military who cheated on their spouses. But I believed they would have cheated anyway, even if they weren’t in the military.

I have seen many spouses spend almost every breathing moment with their loved ones. They’d stay until a nurse or doctor gently suggests they go to their hotel rooms to get some rest. I met an Army wife in Bethesda who’s husband was wounded by an IED a second time, the first being only three years earlier.

Are these spouses amazing? Absolutely. Show me one that would leave at the first sign of hard stuff and I would bet my favorite Coach platforms that she was planning on leaving regardless. Just needed an excuse, that’s all.

So in case you were wondering, he still thanks me for not leaving. And when he does, I take a deep breath and say, “I’m not going to leave you. I’m not going anywhere.”