Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Beginning of this season

This season of my life began a little over a year ago.  It was the night before Thanksgiving and my parents and my kids and I had went to my sister's house for Thanksgiving.  It was about 8:30 and my cell phone began to ring.  We were in the middle of making pies but I cleaned my hands and went to my phone expecting it to be my husband, who was deployed to Iraq.  Instead, caller ID said it was Renee, my husband's ex-wife.  While I was a little disappointed that it was not Allen, I answered the phone not sure whether it would be Renee or Little Allen, their 17 year old son.  What I heard next has forever since changed my life.  (That is, what I can remember of it.)

I remember Renee telling me that she had something she had to tell me.  She went on to say that the Army had been trying to get in touch with me.  I remember thinking it was crazy for her to call me telling me something like this.  I couldn't imagine what she was talking about.  She proceeded to tell me I needed to call a phone number because Chris, (my husband's middle name which much of his family calls him), had been critically injured.  My family at this point knew it wasn't good whatever the phone call was.  One of them actually took over the phone call for me, because I was quickly falling apart.  The only thing that had registered was that he had been critically injured.  That is actually all she knew.  I will fill in the rest of this later in the post.  She gave them my father-in-law's phone number and said we needed to call him.  

Needless to say, I was pretty much a mess at this point.  My family all wanted to know what was going on but I didn't really have anything I could tell them.  My dad offered to make the next call to my father-in-law since I could hardly talk.  I quickly took him up on that offer although I will say it was really hard to sit back and try to get the story second hand.

My dad then immediately called Jimmy, my father-in-law who lives in California.  He relayed that Chris, or Allen as we all know him, had been critically injured in Iraq.  He said that the military had been trying to get in touch with me but had not had any luck.  They then moved to the second contact which was him, Allen's dad.  He had tried to call me at home several times but also had no luck.  He did not have my cell phone number so he tried Renee, to see if she would have it.  Luckily she did.  (Even though, it was very odd getting this first notification from an ex-wife, it was okay.)  All Jimmy knew was that he had been critically injured in a blast and that they were trying to get in touch with me.  He had been given a number to give to me.  This number ended up being my line to any information on my husband for the next few days.  

While my dad spoke to my father-in-law on the phone, I was able to somewhat get a grip on myself and my emotions that were wildly spinning out of control.  As soon as they were off of the phone, I called the number we had been given in hopes of getting some real, first hand information.  The number ended up being to somewhere in Virginia.  It was actually a department of the casualty affairs unit.  They told me anything they could about Allen and his condition and what had happened.  During this phone call I learned that my husband was the gunner on a truck traveling south of Baghdad on route Tampa.  (This instantly became another big question, as my husband wasn't normally the gunner, but the driver.)  The truck he was gunning for had been hit by an IED (improvised explosive device for those of you who may not know).  He had been critically injured.  They told me that he had a collapsed lung and that he had been having seizures.  He was transferred to a hospital in Iraq, I can't remember if it was Baghdad or Balad.  As soon as he was stable enough he would be transferred to Landstuhl, Germany.  I was told that I could call this number back as often as I wanted to in order to receive updates on his condition and whereabouts.  They also read the actual incident report to me over the phone.

This began the waiting period.  I had to relay all of this once I got off of the phone, that is if I could remember everything they had just told me.  Now I know that I was in shock.  I could not stop shaking or get warm.  I was freezing cold as soon as this horrible news started opening up to me.  That coldness will be forever etched in my memory.  No matter what I did I could not get warm and I am typically the one who is always hot, not cold.  

I told my family as much as I knew, which was not much.  They helped me make phone calls to let others know what was happening and to start some prayer chains.  I had to call my father-in-law back and Renee to let her and Little Allen know what was going on.  I have a hard time recalling much of this entire period due to my shock but I am going to try my best to get it all out here.  I hope to get some healing as well as possibly helping other's who have faced, or who will face, a similar situation.  

I remember trying to sleep.  I think that I did sleep some but it was not restful at all.  I remember calling the number back around 3:00 am.  I didn't want to just continually call them as I knew they had other families they were available to as well.  I do remember asking if there had been any casualties or any other injuries and them passing on to me that Allen was the worst.  That was a relief to me.  I knew that if there had been casualties, that would be something that he would have a really hard time dealing with later on down the road.  I also remember asking them how soon  they should have an update on him because otherwise I would just stay on the phone till they could tell me something new.  They had told me about six hours or so.  That is why I didn't call until 3:00 am.  

When I called at 3:00 am, I found out that he had been transferred to Landstuhl, Germany.  This was a good sign, because at least he was stable enough to be moved.  He was in ICU and was unconscious.  He had a chest tube inserted into his left lung to help reinflate it and to drain any fluid in it.  A ventilator was breathing for him.  He had seizures at the site of the explosion but they couldn't tell me anything more.  After this call I tried to go back to bed, but it was pretty much a useless cause.

Thanksgiving morning I called again.  This time I was transferred to the ICU desk in Germany where I could speak to his nurse.  This was a huge relief.  Now I was getting somewhere.  The first time I talked to his nurse, he was still unconscious and they wouldn't know much until he woke up.  They were expecting him to wake up sometime later that day.  He was still on the ventilator but was stable.  The nurse had told me that I may get to talk to the doctor at some point and to ask to be transferred any time I called the number and I could get updates directly from them.

My sister and mom prepared the entire dinner that day.  I could not tell you whether or not we ate turkey that day or not, other than I can assume we did since it was Thanksgiving after all.  I remember not being able to sleep but not really being awake or in the moment either.  I really just sat there, not doing anything.  I called a couple of more times throughout the day but really had no new updates.

At some point throughout this day, someone had called me to make travel arrangements for me and up to 4 members of his family to go to his bedside.  The army would pay for it and we would be taken to his bedside once he made it back to the US.  The kids really couldn't go because of their age.  The army would have let them go, but I didn't want them walking in to something before I had the chance to see it first.  The other thing was it had to be immediate family.  They wouldn't let my family go.  They offered it to his dad but he hadn't seen him in over ten years.  So, they didn't make arrangements for anyone but me until Allen was able to ask for people himself.

Before I went to bed Thanksgiving night, I called once more to see how he was doing and if he had awakened yet.  Much to my surprise they put him on the phone!  Not only was he awake, he wanted to talk to me.  He had been asking for me ever since they took the tube out of his throat.  Hearing his voice made me cry, like I hadn't done that enough already!  He was so hoarse and worn out but nothing could have sounded better.  He was alive and talking to me, so that was all that mattered in that moment.  He didn't talk to me long but I remember so clearly him apologizing for getting blown up and coming home "jacked up".  He still carries this burden of guilt.  I hope that someday he will be able to lay that aside.  He definitely has nothing to feel guilty for.

We still had some ups and downs the next few days but at least I knew he was alright.  He was still in ICU and still had his chest tube in.  The next day he had more seizures when they tried to get him up to walk.  He actually had quite a few seizures while in Germany.  He ended up being in Germany until Sunday when he was flown to Walter Reed Army Medical Center where I was waiting for him.  He was still in ICU and the chest tube remained in for the flight just in case the altitude caused his lung to collapse again.  But, he was conscience and seemed to be of sound mind.  

There is still much more to our story but I am going to stop for tonight.  It is New Year's Eve, our 6th wedding anniversary.  Many times it feels like it's been much longer than six years with all we've been through.  I'm just thankful he is here to celebrate it with.

Even Now.......