Friday, June 15, 2007

I'm OK-You're OK

I sit tonight in the kitchen of the Fisher House just staring at the T.V. while trying to collect my thoughts. Starting yesterday, the country was informed that the Army has realized there is a need for more mental health professionals to aide soldiers returning from war with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). They claim to be adding two hundred new employees to help combat the never-ending war that remains in our loved ones mind. I wish more than anything that tonight I could take a deep breath, relax, and fall asleep with the confidence that our military is taking the proper steps to ensure my family is able to heal from the violence we have encountered. Unfortunately, that's not an option.

One of the first nights I had with my husband after the injury will forever be burned into my mind. He had been in an excruciating amount of pain the entire evening. It was still early in his hospital stay so the doctors had yet to find a pain cocktail that his body responded to. Just like the evening before, the nurse entered the room and handed J.R. a cup filled to the top of pills. Desperate to make the pain subside for a few hours, J.R. swallowed them in one giant mouthful. An hour later he was drifting off to sleep.

I started making my bed for the night after I was sure he was sleeping. This would be my second night of sleeping in the fold out chair that I would soon learn to hate. I had no more than crawled under the covers when J.R. sat bolt upright in bed. "Get them off me. Get them off me now. The bugs they're all over me get them off. They're in the bed. Make them go away." Unsure of what he was talking about, I jumped out of bed and rushed to calm him down. After a grueling twenty minutes he was able to once again close his eyes. It didn't last. Again his mind took over in his sleep. This time he felt as if someone was in the room and he was under attack. He awoke panicked and sweat soaked. I sat on his bed and held him in my arms. I promised him that if he just close his eyes he would be able to sleep and that everything would be fine. I was in the room and I was going nowhere. But everything wasn't fine. No more than an hour after he closed his eyes the terror began. On this night J.R. would relive the entire accident.

"Are you ready? Hey, I'm talking to you. Are you ready to go? We have to get on the road. It's time to head back south." J.R. was mumbling in his sleep.

"J.R. what are you talking about. We aren't going anywhere. Go back to sleep."

We went back in forth for a while before I realized what was going on. He was prepping his truck for convoy and in his mind it was December 19th. His nurse assured me that this was normal and to just keep an eye on him. I listened as he spoke to his men as the convoy went down the road. He mumbled so much I had a hard time understanding. That is... until they hit the EFP.

"Hey. Hey guys... guys I can't feel my arm. Guys my arm. My arm. My arm is gone. Guys help me. My arm is gone. Help. Help. I need a tourniquet . I'm bleeding out. It's gone. Holy shit my arm is gone."

By this point J.R. was screaming at the top of his lungs. He was sitting upright in bed. I bolted out the door and yelled for the nurse. Together we muscled J.R. back down on the bed. He was thrashing. At this point more nurses were filling the room. His screams could be heard throughout all of Ward 57. I retreated to my bed and allowed the nurses to help my husband. I pulled my legs up to my chest and tried to ignore my husbands screams.

"Stop stepping on my arm. It hurts. Give me pain killers. Your stepping on my arm. Get off of it. My hand. My hand. My hand is gone. God damn it I told you get off my arm."

The nurses were calm as they helped him fight through the night terror. They played the roll of the army medics, telling him that he was going to be fine. Helping him fight through the pain. Then all of a sudden came relief. It came in the form of a shot. The medicine entered his body and within minutes the terror was over. He lay in his bed. Calm. I sat on the chair and cried. I cried for my husband, for the pain that he was in. I cried for our dreams that were now garbage. I cried out of exhaustion.

The next morning J.R. remembered nothing. He didn't understand why my eyes were so puffy and I was so tired. That same morning I walked out to the front desk and asked that my husband meet with a mental health specialist and be screened for PTSD. I waited a week and still no doctor came to speak with him. I put in another request for J.R. to be seen by a doctor. One more week and still nothing. My manners were gone. I threw a fit demanding that he be seen by someone from the psych department. They sent a doctor... in training. We saw him once. ONCE. As if one visit would fix his mind and he could continue living his life in perfect harmony.

I continued to ask and I continued to receive the same answer. "The psych department is stretched very thin and they can't make it to every patient." It took another week, but finally, a doctor (we'll call him Bob) appeared one morning from the psych department. However Bob came right in the middle of J.R.'s morning therapy session of PT and OT. After explaining to the him that every morning my husband had therapy on the third floor from 9-11 he agreed to stop by later in the afternoon. He never did. Instead Bob once again came by the next morning while my husband was at therapy. One more time I kindly reminded him that every morning from 9-11 J.R. was unavailable. It finally clicked with him after about a week and for the first time since his injury, J.R. was able to speak with a therapist on a regular basis. So I thought.

We saw Bob a few times. Then J.R. went outpatient and we could no longer meet with Bob. Once again the war for a therapist began. After a few more weeks of phone calls and digging I landed J.R. an appointment. The appointment was at 11 so we ran from physical therapy up to the doctor's office. We were no more than two minutes late, but the doctor was gone. He told the woman that appeared to be some kind of an assistant that he had left and to pass the message onto us. Furious I stormed back home with J.R. After that, I gave up. There were other battles to fight and I was running out of hot air.

We were fine for a few weeks. And then the dreams returned. Constantly waking up in the middle of the night in fear that an IED had exploded outside the window. For weeks he was permanently attached to me at night. And although I usually don't mind to snuggle up at night, it is very different when your husband has the death grip on you while you're trying to sleep. I was exhausted. I no longer had the help of the nurses to care for my husband. His memory was non existent with the meds he was taking so it was almost as if I was taking care of a small child. A very stubborn small child with a lot of needs. He couldn't dress himself, could barely feed himself, and still needed help taking a shower. I was so wrapped up in taking care of him that I completely forgot to take care of myself. Then the fights began.

Once again I started asking for a therapist. This time, it only took a week. We saw him twice. Things didn't go so well. After our second and final appointment I returned to our room feeling defeated. Not once had any member of the staff here asked if I was ok. If there was anything that I needed. How I was handling my husband's injury. I was realizing that I was no longer able to handle the stress of taking care of J.R. For months I had been bottling up every concern, every fear, and every frustration inside. I had a break down. Two weeks later family arrived and I was able to leave and go home for a week of alone time.

Since that week things have been a million times better. J.R. has been able to cut back on his meds which has made a world of difference. I now see the man I married shining through the drug haze. The fights are less often and less intense. And we are able to realize when a little time apart is needed. It's amazing what taking care of yourself for a while can do for your mental health.

It is also important to remember that even though my husband may be the one that lives with the memory of the explosion, we all live with the memory of the healing process. This war has taken it's toll on me as well. And sometimes even I need professional help to deal with our new life.

My whole point to this long winded story is that two hundred added employees isn't enough. There are over 25,000 soldiers that have been wounded in Iraq. 25,000. Just to help the wounded alone there are not enough employees.

Now add in the thousands of soldiers returning from war and remember it is not just the soldiers that need help. The families need to be included. There are wives, husbands, mothers, and fathers that deploy with a soldier. It's hard.

I see the army putting a band-aid on our veterans. A fresh coat of paint to cover the walls. A few added employees to make the press happy. But it's time to peel the band-aid off and realize the cut needs stitches in order to heal. This war has been going on for years and the end has yet to be in sight. There will continue to be fatalities and injuries. This is the reality of war.


FbL said...

Thank you so much for sharing that. It helps those of us who haven't been through what you're coping with understand it a little bit.

I'm so sorry you've had to deal with this. But it sounds like you're coming through with flying colors. My favorite line was "I now see the man I married shining through the drug haze." And the drug haze will fade as he continues to recover. He WILL be back. :)

I know it's a long road ahead, but it seems maybe the end is just now in sight on that distant shore. Keep on keeping on. We're here for anything. Just ask. Actually, you don't even have to ask--just tell us how things are going and if we see a need we can meet, we'll be there.

You and JR and loved and appreciated more than words can say. I wish I had a magic wand to instantly relieve the consequences of his service to us. *hugs*

nationalguardwife said...

Thanks for sharing. I have no words to give to you to make things better. I am glad to hear that you two are working better and healing. I will keep yall in my prayers.

Anonymous said...

I have a doctoral degree in psychology with a lot of rehabilitation psychology experience. I am currently looking for a job and have to tell you that federal/va jobs for psychologists right now is where the openings are. Every facility seems to be adding staff and experience with PTSD is a requirement for hire- especially for slots in polytrauma, SCI, or TBI rehab. Almost all also require experience working with families/caregivers. I know it doesn't do much for what you've already been through, but I can say that on the VA side they are trying to get more people in to help. These positions are also being advertised with quick closing times- I had one interview two weeks after an application was turned in and a decision is expected in another week (one month from the date the job closed). For the VA, this type of speed in hiring is unheard of.

Sgt. L's Wife said...

Thank you for sharing your story. You are an amazing woman with more courage and fight than you probably realize. You are truly a hero and while I don't know what you are going through and have no magical solution or words of wisdom only prayers and blessings for your family.

Army Wife said...

What a courageous post...

but I would not expect anything less....

keep being an advocate for your family, although I know it is a tiring job, and does not pay well...

because someone has to do it.

Lara said...

You are an amazing couple. Thank you for sharing your story. You are in our prayers.

Cricket said...

You are in our prayers here at Chez Engineer. I am glad you have some help and please, when you can, keep
us posted.

Stacy said...

What an exceptional post Josie. Thank you so much for sharing this with us all. Please know that you too are a HERO in my eyes.

Keep taking those breaks away from each other if that is what helps.

Homefront Six said...

Josie ~ I truly wish I had had the opportunity to introduce myself at the MilBlog conference.

You and J.R. have been in my prayers since the day I learned of his injury. And there you remain. Thank you for sharing this.

liberal army wife said...

your bravery in telling us this, and your courage in caring for your husband are so amazing! You and your husband are in my thoughts and with hope for the future.

and I'm glad you got some alone time. Take care of yourself, as well as him.


Johannah said...

Your strength to stand through it all is amazing!!

Thank you for posting! It gives us all a little hope...

Anonymous said...

Hi Josie, I have some questions for you that you might be able to answer (or perhaps one of your readers could answer). I am asking these questions in an attempt to figure out how I might be able to help (with a small financial donation) veterans who are coping with PTSD or similar psychological issues. Is there a fund that you know of where citizens can donate money towards paying for counseling and other therapy for vets? I have searched around on the 'net already, but I haven't found anything specific. Do you know anything about the limits the VA places on the psychological care? For example, my civilian health plan only allows a maximum of 50 therapy appointments per year, even though each year is 52 weeks in duration, and I figured the VA might have similar limits. Essentially, I want to help out in some small way, but I can't find any information out there on how to donate resources towards promoting the mental health of vets. All the websites seems to focus on physical health, which is incredibly important, but I wanted to try to help vets get psychological care, too. Thanks for sharing what you and JR have been going through.

FbL said...

Anna V,

You might want to consider a donation to a non-profit organization that advocates for veterans. Organizations like American Legion, the Military Order of the Purple Heart and the VFW work with congress to make sure that the VA gets the funding it needs to help soldiers.

Just thought I'd throw that out there...

Tracy said...

Josie~thank you for sharing your story. I admire your strength and commitment to J.R. You will continue to be in my prayers as you BOTH heal.

Norma said...

You have shared an important story. I'm linking.

mamaworecombatboots said...

You are a brave young woman Josie. I applaud you for your dedication to your husband. It is just not fair to have such a burden placed on such a young couple.

It IS tough and anyone who says or thinks different doesn't know what they are talking about. But I can see you both will overcome this hurdle and emerge on the other side. Please do what you must to care for yourself and keep your own strength up.

The one advantage of middle age is knowing that this too shall pass. God bless.

seaons1234 said...

Josie, as I read this I said out loud to myself, "yes Josie, you did it". It brought tears to my eyes and touched me to hear you express and SHARE what you have told me you are going through. So raw the emotions, the frustrations. So well written-expressed. This will make such a big impact to anyone who reads this. To add some support to the need for therapists, my understanding is that when someone goes through a traumatic experience the first 24 hours are critical. A person needs that support in the first 24 hours to have the best outcome possible in regards to their mental health and PTSD (or a soon as physically ready). What you have been given should be criminal and is inexcusable. As a country we have learned a lot since Vietnam so there are no excuses. If they say they didn't know any better, it is a lie. The way your needs are constantly ignored is just as inexcusable. Again, they do know better. I hope what you wrote is read by someone in a place of power and their conscious leaves them no choice but to act on this and begin to make it better for all who serve (counting their families). You know you can call day or any time at night, we miss you. Your courage is inspiring.
all our love,


Anonymous said...

Dear Josie:

I wish that there was something that I could say or do to help ease the pain and stress that the two of you are going through. Please know that there are people out there who care about you, and would do anything for the two of you. You are both young and strong, and have much to offer the rest of us.

RPL, soldier angels, nyc

Desertphnx said...

Hey you... this was great.

I look forward to reading more. By sharing your side and his, you're helping yourself and those out there who have gone through/will go through all that you have together.

Stay strong.

Together, we'll all pull through this war. Sometimes when there's not enough out there, we turn to each other. We've always taken care of our own. As soldiers, we understand that the sacrifices we make are our own, as they our immediate families as well. As you bear the burdens, so must all of us.

If you can't get help from higher up, look to each other. Some of the best ways to heal are through sharing our own experiences with those who have their stories as well.

Sometimes counseling and therapy comes from each other... and with time, these wounds will heal. The scars will never go away, but we soldier on in spite of them...

Lee Anne said...

What a wonderful post! Thank you for sharing your story. Sending good thoughts and prayers your way...

Anonymous said...

I don't really like to think about what our life would be like if we didn't have our therapist. She is a godsend. I seriously lucked out with the doctor we were sent to.

Getting off the meds was a huge help, as well. All the narcotics they keep the guys on is utterly ridiculous... and they interfere with anti-depressants and other tools they could use to help heal their minds and memories.

Well written, hun. I'm so proud to know you.