Sometimes my job is filled with innocence, aggravation, sorrow, enthusiam, bitterness, denial, anger and a myriad of emotions. These soldiers, airmen, seamen and marines, mostly boys and sometimes girls, come through our hospital with all manner of injuries, mostly derived from IEDs, accidents, gun shot wounds and occasionally from sheer bad luck. As one could understand the wounds and emotions go hand-in-hand.
Saturday I met a boy that I wanted to put in my pocked and take home. (We shall call him Ruiz.) Due to some internal brain trauma he was suffering stroke-like symptons. His brain was short circuiting and he was having a very difficult time making the words to vocalize what his mind was thinking. My first hope, prior to meeting him, was to come up with a creative solution that didn’t involve doing a shoe exchange at the 11 hour mark into a normally 8 hour day. After meeting him I couldn’t bring myself to do it. He had my heart with his utterly boyish innocence as he slowly and carefully asked me for the right size shoes to wear them to church. Somehow a size 8.5 got put into the size 13 box and naturally it didn’t make much sense to me, let alone to his misfunctioning brain. He was genuinely sweet and very lost and gave me the biggest hug when it was all said and done.
Fast forward 72 hours. Partner-in-crime Mark and I found him in a different room of the same ward. Ruiz was sitting on the edge of his mattress twitching and fidgeting. He gave us a feeble smile as he declared “Look! I’m wearing the church and pants you bought!” As he pointed at each piece of clothing. “You make my heart happy!” Than his frown melted around the edges. “I can’t see! My left eye isn’t working! Yesterday I could see and today it is blurry and I’m freaking out a little. I keep praying to God. I don’t understand. I didn’t do anything to them. … I gave their children cookies and candies. I didn’t do anything to them. I just drove a convoy. … The IED exploded right by the door and I kept driving and driving and driving. …”
What do you do? Sometimes they just rip my heart out and I want to place them into the gaping wound. I want to love them unconditionally and protect them from the PTSD and the emotional and physical adjustment that is going to happen after they leave our moderately protective mid-transit hospital environment that smothers them with attention and care and return them to the states. I want to guarantee them equal or better treatment where they are going but I can’t. I don’t know that for certain.
Ruiz broke down at the deepest level I’ve seen to date. He couldn’t remember his wife. His bride. He pointed to his ring and said “I talked to her. I remember giving her a ring and her giving me a ring at our wedding. The best day of my life. I just don’t remember. … Yesterday I called my father to wish him a happy father’s day and he cried and cried and cried. … I talked to my baby boy. He told me over the phone in Spanish that it was ok. He said Papas, You Love Me. I do. I do love him. I just want to remember. I want all my words back.”
I want to give them all their words back. I want to give them their limbs and memories and heart and souls and time. I want to give them a reassurance that their family will be able to handle all the tumult and life adjustments from their return in whatever physical, emotional and spiritual states they may be in. I can only give them clothes and a smile and my prayers.
We can’t ever forget.
The summer offensive is on. The heat has been turned up and with it the injuries have been pouring in enmass. The Ruiz’s and Smith’s and Johnson’s and so on and so forth. Some in the US celebrate in death of Osam.a bin L.aden. I roll up my sleeves everyday and join the masses in the care of the wounded from the wars that continue.
Validation (by hughnewman1024)
Charlie is so chipper. When I first met him he was grinning from ear to ear and struggling to zip up a toiletry bag single-handedly, braced awkwardly against a table with his nub. I shuffled a bit from foot to foot torn between wanting to jump to his aid and knowing he’d having to figure it out on his own. I also didn’t want to offend him by assuming that he’d want help. Charlie is 25 years old if a day.
Charlie ended up getting my help, with a twinkle in his eye. As he struggled with the zipper he remarked, I’m going to need to learn this sooner or later. I sagely suggested he sit on the bed and brace the bag between his knees. Worked like a charm. He was very excited. I wanted to explain that I was born in a creative MacGuyer household but I kept it to myself.
I hope Charlie can continue his optimistic attitude throughout life. He was snarkishly whipping out comments like ‘sure they can photograph me for your publicity op, I’ll wave my nub at them.’ I’m not sure if it was partial fingers or a whole hand but his self deprecating humor had just the right touch of humility to not come off as self hating just humble.
When I saw Charlie today, while dropping off gear for his roomie, I saw three female guests lazing around in chairs eating up his every word. It was a breath of fresh air that helped lighten the entire atmosphere in the ward.
We all need to adopt Charlie’s attitude. When life hands you lemons make a killer sangria. If life takes your hand become Jack Sparrow and rock it.
support: Wounded Warrior Project. WWP was founded in Roanoke, Virginia by a group of veterans and friends who took action to help the injured service men and women of this generation*
support: Fisher House Foundation. Providing a “home away from home” for military families to be close to a loved one during hospitilization for an illness, disease or injury.
support: USO. supporting the military members and family members. Until Every One Comes Home*
meet: widow of a wounded marine. life gets messy and complicated when PTSD comes home.
be proactive blog: MILblogging.com.
sam came in looking a little rough around the edges. his full on grizzly adams beard and afro-fuzz haircut was as far from a high and tight as you could get. the right side looked a little melted and frazzled. a swath of gauze and tape concealed his right eye. from the left side of his forhead to his collar board was a myriad of scratches and scrapes. as unconventional as it may seemed he reminded me of a little kid who took a face plant over his handle bars. if only it were an innocent injury and not a result of an incident in the desert.
sam had the sweetest demeanor he had our awesome and wonderful nursing staff eating out of the palm of his hands. and by out of the palm of his hands i mean smiling while they helped with all the daily nursing duties and ease of comfort in our fine hospital. i stalked his comings and goings for his first 48 hours until i could track him into his room around surgeries and apointments so i could buy him some civilian clothes.
the nurses had the cutest comment about him: sam would like you to buy him a nice outfit. a real sharp high necked jacket, snappy blue jeans and some sporty nike’s. he wants to look really classy so when his wife meets him at the airport she’ll be a little distracted that he looks so pretty that hopefully she won’t freak out so much over his injuries. he loves her so much he wants to soften the blow. that was probably one of the sweetest things i’ve ever heard about a stranger.
sally is amazing. when i first met her she was a bit hestitant over the uncertainty that comes from a stranger spending $250 on her for clothing sight unseen. buying clothing for women in a small retail store with limited options come be a bit nervewracking for the shopper [me] i can only imagine being on the opposite end of the party. initially we decided to wait and see if she went outpatient and could do her own shopping. as these things happen at our hospital, she ended up in surgery and got the joy of not being allowed out of the building prior to her air-evacing back to the states. so shopping i sent.
sally is a very interesting individual. she found her niche when downrange. sally is active duty Army. her job is unique in that she wass a medic beyond the wire. she was doing hands on medical care in a very high tense situations. for an adrenaline junky like herself she felt it firmly filled a niche that had been aching and empty.
sally is a lance armstrongstyle cyclist. she does medevil sword fighting. she is into bungee jumping, sky diving and all manner of heart racing activities. she explained to me that being on the front line in the middle of the action and taking care of her soldiers for a year was an amazing experience.
sally is also a self-admitted victim of PTSD. she was doing mini-classes and allowing herself be a bit of a PTSD guinea pig for the high school CNA students at the hospital i work at. it is incredibly intimate to meet a wounder warrior, a patient and have them describe their trauma in such a way. she described the panic she felt when the doctor took away her bottle of afghani-water. in the desert bottled water is their life. they do everything with it, including brushing their teeth. she said she had a loong discussion with the sink in the hospital bathroom. it was very lengthy and involved a few tears. sally mentioned that it took awhile in observation room to stop twitching in her sleep. compared the bombing, rumbling and desert noices all the electronics, chattering and hospital noises kept putting her on edge. one of the hardest things to adapt too had been the silence of her hospital room. she had been so accustomed to tents fully of slumbering bodies in the past 12 months that a solitary sleeping room was very disconcerting to say the least.
sally still has her biggest challenge to face. she is heading stateside within the next 24 hours. she is going to have to reacclimate to a house of two teenagers and a spouse. she’s going to have to the emotional and physical transition is something that only she and others in her shoes can begin to understand.
don’t forget sally.