It was crisp and clear with minimal wind. Perfect for flying. A relief for my exhausted mind that wouldn't be able to take another set back. I had waited long enough. I was finally going to see my husband for the first time since he lost his arm to a roadside bomb.
I don't remember sleeping the night before. There were so many thoughts and fears running through my head. How many tubes would he have running into him? Would he be really drugged up? Would he recognize me? Would I be able to even hug him? Does he realize that he's lost his arm? Do I realize that he's lost his arm? I couldn't shut my brain off. All I could do was run around the apartment and continue with my busy work.
I went down the checklist:
Unplug all appliances including washer and dryer
Wash sheets and remake bed
Water heater off
Breakers flipped off.....
And the list went on. I wasn't sure just how long I would be gone for. It's scary to leave home and not know what the future holds for you. To not be sure when you will walk in the door and sit in the familiar surroundings of home. I lugged the million pound suitcases to the car. It was filled with clothes varying from dress up to sweats, a few summer shirts, and many winter sweaters. I tore as much out of my closet and filled the luggage as full as I could possibly make it.
After loading the car I took one final look around the apartment. With a deep breath I bit down on my lip and told myself now was not the time to cry. I walked out the door and climbed into my car.
As I drove to the airport I made a mental note not to speed. Although I was confident no cop would actually give a ticket to a young wife on her way to be by her injured husbands side, I didn't want to risk a ticket. So I drove slow. The entire way to the airport I kept asking my parents if we remembered everything. They reassured me all was packed and loaded and that they would do a double check of the apartment when they returned.
I walked into the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport and the timing couldn't have been more perfect. J.R.'s parents had walked in just moments before and they were there to greet me as I came in. I said a brief goodbye to my parents and ran through the line to check my luggage.
"Yes, hi. I just need to check these two bags please."
"Where are you traveling to today?"
"No, what airport are you flying to."
"I don't know. Washington, D.C. Is there more than one airport?"
"Yeah. Are you going to Dallas?"
"Why would I go to Texas... I'm going to D.C."
"No... Dallas.. it's an airport in D.C."
"I dunno, what's the ticket say?"
"It's right here you're going to Dallas."
With great confusion I looked at the ticket only to realize she was saying Dulles. Gotta love language barriers.
"Yeah, sure, I guess that's right."
"Please place your bag on the scale." With difficulty I threw the bag onto the metal ledge. "Your bag is to heavy. Either remove some items, or pay the fee."
"No, it's not to heavy." By this point I'm flustered, tired, and I just want to be at the gate. "I'm on military orders and see... umm.. hold on.. let me find the spot. God damn it. It's in here. Hold on. See.. see right here... this line. My bag is allowed to be overweight."
"Ma'am the government doesn't make our rules and regulations. You'll have to pay the fee."
"No, no, no. I'm on my way to see my husband. My husband that just got his arm blown off so that you could stand here and have a job. These are government orders. I'm not removing anything from that bag and you will not charge me extra. Comply with the orders or let me speak with your supervisor."
"Here's your boarding pass, have a safe flight."
Boarding pass, ID, in-laws, and wow look at that security line. I was amazed at how many people were in the airport on Christmas day. How many of these people were on there way home to celebrate? How many of them didn't have anyone to celebrate with? And how many of them just simply didn't celebrate Christmas? All questions that I will never have the answers to, but they gave my mind something to think about besides my husband laying in bed with one arm.
It wasn't long before we boarded the plane and were safely in the air. This would be the first of many flights between Minneapolis and Washington. It was also the longest. The crew did their best to entertain everyone as it was Christmas day. At one point in the flight the ran toilet paper from the rear toilet up to the front of the cabin. They then hit the flush button and we all laughed and cheered as we watched the line of paper fly down the aisle and down the loo. I highly suggest trying to convince your next flight attendant to perform this experiment. It's very entertaining.
After touching down in D.C. I practically ran to the baggage claim. We met up with our driver and made our way to the car. They picked us up in nice car with a man dressed in a suit. This would be the only time that ever happened. We drove for what seemed to be hours. Finally we exited the highway and made our way down Georgia Avenue to the front of Walter Reed's gates. I stared at the hospital. Knowing that J.R. was inside I wanted nothing more than to open the car door and run inside the building. But first, we had to check into the Mologne House Hotel.
We walked through the doors of Mologne house and my first reaction was "wow." The Christmas decorations were out and the grand staircase was right in front of me. It was a beautiful room and my first thoughts were convincing myself that this couldn't possibly be that bad. We checked in, found the room, and hauled all the luggage in. After throwing the last bag down I was running to the hospital. We were now not on government hurry up and wait time, but my time and I was going to see my husband NOW. By this point it was raining and dark. I had no idea where I was on post and I didn't know which direction to go. With one failed attempt at finding the hospital, we returned to the front desk of Mologne House and asked for directions. This time I was sure I knew where I was going. I bolted out the door and with J.R.'s parents in tow, I walked briskly towards J.R.
We walked in the front door of the hospital only to realize that we had no idea where to go. It was Christmas day, late at night, and there was nobody around to ask for help. All I knew is that J.R. was in ward 57. We found the elevators and went down to the main level and found an information desk. They weren't much help. They told me all the information I already knew and told me to go back to the elevator and go to the fifth floor. Off we went. The elevator doors dinged open as we arrived on the fifth floor. I turned left and saw the sign for ward 57. I'm pretty sure I ran.
As I walked into the ward I wasn't sure what to do. Cry, smile, laugh... which emotion was it running through my body? Then is dawned on me, there are dozens of rooms. Which one is his? The nurses station was empty but standing just across the hall was a family of three handing out Christmas packages.
"Who are you looking for?"
"Salzman. My husband. Do you know what room he's in?"
"Yeah, he's right in here. He's been asking for you. He's been wondering when you were going to get here."
I walked to the door and there sitting up in bed was J.R. He was pale, dirty, and looked exhausted, but he was sitting up.
"Jo, I need a bucket NOW."
"Where, where J.R. where is the bucket?"
"Jo, hurry up."
"J.R. I don't know where the buckets are. Who knows where the bucket is?"
"Here." The volunteer mother grabbed a bucket and threw it under J.R.
Moments passed and I kept waiting for him to throw up. But finally he just asked me to take the bucket back and announced that he was fine.
I threw my arms around him.
"Are you ok? Are you sure? I love you. You scared me. You're sure you're ok? How's your arm feeling? Is it ok? Are you sure?"
He probably wanted to knock me out but hey... it's a wife's duty to make sure everything is ok.
After hugging him for what seemed to be an hour I let go and moved aside. His parents swooped in and he once again listened to a series of questions regarding his current state.
Time passed much quicker now that I was finally with J.R. Soon it was late and his parents left for the hotel room. It was time to get down to business. J.R. had barely had a sponge bath since his injury. He was dirty, sweaty, and his face needed attention. I rounded up all of the supplies that were going to be needed for a bath. I scrubbed every inch of him down. As I washed him we both resisted tears. Never in a million years could we ever have imagined this. Faced with caring for my husband who had very little use of his hands, I began to realize what I was up against. After his bath, I brushed his teeth. By the time we were done cleaning him up we were both exhausted and frustrated. The idea of sleep began to sound very inviting.
I began to make my bed from the pull out chair for the very first time. It wasn't until I sat down that I realized how hungry I was. I'd barely eaten in a week, and had had nothing but a handful of trail mix all day. I ran to the nurses station and asked if there was a cafeteria or any food being served in the hospital. Negative. I was suddenly facing a night with a very empty tummy. Seeing my state of despair and frustration the nurse left on a mission. Moments later he returned with a steak, baked potato, and green beans. I cried. I cried over food. I cried over J.R.'s arm. I cried at my clumsiness when giving J.R. a bath. I cried from exhaustion. But mainly I cried from happiness. I had my husband alive and in front of me. I could see his face and touch his skin, he was real. What more could I possibly ask for?