Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Wounded Warrior Trip to NYC

One of the extraordinary opportunities we have had due to Allen's injury was our trip to NYC.  Right before we left Walter Reed, I received an email from a lady named Lynda Thomson whom we had met while Allen was an inpatient.  Lynda works for the FDNY and had told me that sometimes they sponsor trips for wounded warriors and their families to go to NYC.  I had told her how much we would love that.  Little did I know, our wish was about to come true.  

The Free Masons of New York were sponsoring a trip for several families and Lynda was organizing it.  She remembered us from Walter Reed and emailed me and asked me to call her.  As soon as I was able to I made that phone call.  Lynda told me that they had a trip they would like us to come on and needed to know if we were interested.  I immediately let her know we wouldn't miss it for the world.  We were thrilled.

The first week of May, 2008, Allen, Makale, Dreyson, and I boarded a plane to LaGuardia.  We were all so excited.  We were going to be spending the next week in NYC with 7 other wounded warrior families.  Our instructions were to look for the FDNY guys and vehicles that were going to pick us up from the airport.  

Our flight was great and we were met at the airport by some firefighters.  We then loaded the van and went to Nathan's Hot Dog Stand on Coney Island where we met Joe from the Masonic Lodge and Lynda.  They were both phenomenal people and we had a great meal at the famous Nathan's.  After eating, we caught up with the rest of the families at the new memorial wall for 9/11 on Coney Island.  We took some pictures and had some time to look at the wall.  It is a very nice memorial and has a lot of meaning for a group of wounded warriors.  Next, our family and Joe headed to the aquarium at Coney Island.  The other families had already gone through as they had earlier flights.  We then went to Fort Hamilton where we stayed for our trip.  We had an awesome room there that was filled with all sorts of goodies.  Shirts, toys, FDNY stuff, candy, cookies, chocolates, you name it, they had thought of it!!  That evening we went to dinner on Fort Hamilton at the officer's club.  The group of WWII POW's were there, as well as a ton of other people.  It was nice to have an entire week to honor us and our sacrifices.

Each morning we met as a group for breakfast in the hotel lobby.  We would then get on the FDNY family bus and take off for the day.  Each day was filled with fun stuff for all of us to do.  (I am going to try to remember this the best I can, as I am writing it a year after.  I wish I would have written all of this down when it happened.  It is hard to believe that it has been a year already.)  

One day we went to Ground Zero and to the tribute center.  This was very emotional and moving for us.  I remember on the 5th anniversary of 9/11 and how much that day sticks in my mind.  Of course, the 9/11 also sticks in my mind.  But the 5th anniversary really hit me hard.  I never realized that 9/11 would personally affect me the way it did until the 5th anniversary, and I was at home with 2 kids and my husband was deployed to Iraq.  When the events of 9/11 happened, I wasn't even married and hardly knew Allen.  So, it just really hit me on the 5th anniversary and therefore going to ground zero and the tribute center was pretty emotional.  We were actually able to go all the way down into ground zero and they stopped construction for us while we were there.  One of the firefighters, actually sang a hymn while we were down there, half in arabic and half in english.  It was beautiful.  

Another day we went to the statue of liberty.  We rode on a FDNY fireboat to the island and had a beautiful show along the way.  Another FDNY fireboat sprayed the harbor with red, white, and blue water.  It was amazing!!  The crew and everyone involved in this day were incredible.  It is a day we will never forget.  

The Empire State Building and Top of the Rock were both a lot of fun.  Out in front of the Empire State Building we were serenaded by the FDNY bagpipers, well, two of them anyway.  They played several songs and ended up drawing quite a crowd.  They were so cool.  I had not ever seen a bagpipe up close!!  It was quite an honor to have them play for us!!

One evening we were invited to a black tie event at the Natural History Museum.  It was fun to get all dressed up and to see the other's beautiful dresses.  And of course, all the men in their dress uniforms were awesome!  The event was for the Free Mason's and since they had sponsored our trip we were invited.  Here, we got to meet Bernie Williams from the Yankees.  After words we were all starving so we stopped by the deli from the movie When Harry Met Sally to grab some food.  It was delicious and a lot of fun!!  The kids had a ball this night too.  They all hung out together in a hotel room with one of the firefighters and his family and Lynda's niece and her friend.  They did a great job with the kids in a very tiny space!

Many of our meals were in Little Italy with fabulous Italian food.  It was a lot of fun seeing the different areas of the city and getting to experience so much.  On Sunday afternoon, we went to the Diva's with Heart concert at Radio City Music Hall.  The concert was Dianna Ross, Gladys Knight, Chaka Kahn, and Patti LaBelle.  It was amazing!!  It lasted about 4 hours or so.  Wow is all I can say.  While we attended this event, Lynda took the kids to Toys R Us and to the Hershey's Factory.  They too had a lot of fun!  

Another thing we got to do was tour the Yankee Stadium.  This was the old Yankee Stadium, not the new one.  We could see the new one but we are glad we got to see the old one before it was torn down.  Another highlight was hanging out in the firehouses.  We were able to eat lunch in a couple of them and it was a lot of fun just being with the guys in their houses.  The firehouse museum was also fun.  The memorial there is emotional like the other ones and dedicated strictly to the firefighters.

One day we went to a fabulous bakery in Brooklyn.  I am going to have to look through my stuff to find the name of it, but it was incredible.  The pastries looked more like art, than something you could eat.  They let us choose anything we wanted.  Allen fell in love with cannoli and they gave him like a dozen to go which he ended up eating each morning for breakfast!!  I'm sure he would have them delivered if he could!!

One evening we went to the Masonic Lodge and were the guests of a dinner and magic show.  The kids really enjoyed the magician and it was nice to be able to talk with some of the masons who had made our trip possible.  We also attended their yearly meeting and the wounded warriors performed their color guard.  It was a great honor to share this with them.

Our last night there we went to dinner at Mars 2112 in Times Square.  This was for the kids mostly but it was a great time.  Allen actually had a major flashback/anxiety attack there.  Lynda had a couple of the guys take him to the firehouse in Times Square where he ended up eating dinner and hanging out till we were finished.  He had a great time with them and I am so thankful they were so great with us.  This entire trip, they were very cautious and aware of our needs and totally catered to us.  It was incredible.  After Allen was gone to the firehouse, I went back in and had dinner.  I was able to sit at a table with WWII POW Ralph and with a lady who has become a great friend of mine, Barbara Aran.  I'm so thankful Lynda insisted on me letting the guys take care of Allen so I could enjoy my evening.  Otherwise I would have never had the chance to know Barbara like I do.  She is wonderful and is such a great friend to us.  I hope we get to go back to NY sometime so we can see her and all of our wonderful friends there again.  

While our entire trip was wonderful, meeting all of these incredible people was the best for me.  Hearing the stories of the WWII POWS, hanging out with the FDNY people who all have such a story to tell as well, the Free Masons, and all the others was my favorite part of the trip.  We made some lifelong friends from this trip and I will forever be grateful for this trip of a lifetime.

We can't say thanks enough to the Free Masons or to Lynda Thomson for this trip.  

Even Now..........Gina

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Kansas City VA

Since we live in a small community, most of Allen's care has been at the VA in Kansas City, Missouri.  The doctor and nurse case manager from the CBWTU really wanted him to get his psychiatric care at a VA and the one in KC has a good program for this.  There is another VA that is closer to us than Kansas City, but we had not had good experiences there in the past.  Actually, Allen refused to be seen at that particular VA.  

The care we have received here has been outstanding.  We both are very happy with his psychiatrist and his counselor.  We have developed very strong relationships with these two men.  They have both done an outstanding job with his treatment.  They always make sure we are completely involved in his treatment plan and they never make us feel rushed.  It is so amazing that in today's world, we have found medical providers who make you feel like you matter to them! 

 We see his counselor once a week, religiously.  Even if Allen has a bad headache or doesn't feel like going anywhere, we do not miss this appointment.  Jeremy is incredible.  I attend each of these visits with Allen, although I have offered to wait in the waiting room.  Allen really wants me involved in these sessions, and feels that he doesn't have anything to hid from me.  So, I've been to each and every one.  The nice thing is, we have been able to deal with anything that comes up through each week.  Jeremy's philosophy is that if it has anything at all to do with Allen we can talk about it.  We have developed a great trust and respect for Jeremy and both of us look forward to this appointment each week.  Jeremy has helped us deal with all aspects of PTSD through education and awareness.  We have also dealt with other issues that all end up relating back to the PTSD or TBI in one way or another.  We talk about parenting issues, marriage, family, friends, life, everything!  He has made a huge difference in our life and our road to recovery.  He is truly one of our many blessings!

Dr. DeMark is Allen's psychiatrist.  He too is awesome.  He mostly oversees the work we do with Jeremy and does medication management.  We feel that he truly cares about us and our future.  He has always been willing and open to ideas we have in regards to Allen's medications and care.  We are thankful to have him on our team!

While the VA is quite a drive for us, much of Allen's care has ended up being provided through them.  We have also seen an occupational therapist there to help with some cognitive issues.  Kristin was also a wonderful provider.  Allen was already seeing a speech therapist for this same issue here in our own community so we didn't work with Kristin for very long.  However, she is wonderful and does an outstanding job for our veterans.

One doctor that we saw here wasn't our best experience.  I'm not going to mention a name or specialty because I do not want to put that out there out of respect for the doctor.  However, I do feel our experience with this doctor is an important part of our journey.   During our first appointment, this doctor was asking Allen several questions regarding his symptoms for his brain injury.  Many of these types of questions, he doesn't have the answer for.  So, he always refers them to me.  They ask things like what he does during his seizures.  Allen has no memory from these seizure periods so he refers them to me.  This particular doctor was not interested in anything I had to say.  I was actually politely asked to be quiet that my in put was not important.  Neither one of us were happy with this experience as I often know many of the answers that he does not.  Thankfully, this is the only time we have had this happen to us.

Another department Allen sees regularly is neurology.  They monitor him for his migraines and seizures.  They really do not have an answer as to why he is still suffering so often and severely from these, but they do their best to manage them with medication.  Sadly, migraines seem to be a signature injury from this war and are very difficult to manage and prevent. 

One of the best parts of the VA system for us is that we have a whole team of people working for us in the OIF/OEF office.  The KCVA has an entire staff devoted to just OIF/OEF veterans.  The people in this office are awesome!!  They always have an answer and if they don't they can find it.  Terri, the nurse case manager in this office has been a rock for us.  These people show great compassion and understanding.  

Overall, our care at the VA has been better than the care we received at Walter Reed as an outpatient.  After all the bad things you hear about the VA, we are very thankful to have the providers we have.  We have been extremely happy we have this VA to provide Allen with his care.  

Even Now......Gina

Monday, April 20, 2009

Allen Before

Lately, I've been asked many times what Allen was like before his injury. Often, I struggle to come up with words that describe how he used to be. So, I figured I should do an entire entry on this topic. I'm going to start this blog entry with a picture of Allen and I from his welcome home ceremony, November 2006. This picture was taken right after the welcome home ceremony for his first deployment to Iraq with the 2/137 INF. When this was snapped, we had literally just found each other inside the ceremony and then all walked outside. It was such an awesome day. He had been deployed for 15 months and it was so wonderful being reunited after such a long, stressful time. We were all ecstatic!

I love this picture of us. I recently found it while looking through some pictures for a project I will write about later. It really shows his personality. Allen was the life of the party. He was silly and playful most of the time. You never knew when you were going to be attacked by the tickle monster or shot with some water, even inside the house. It was almost like having another kid!! Many times I was getting on to all of them, not just the kids!

Allen was also very kind and compassionate. If anyone needed a hand for anything, Allen would step up to the plate. A couple of our neighbors are single moms and often called on him for help with their car or around their house and yards. He loved helping others out. It made him feel good to be able to do something nice for people. I think it also gave him a sense of accomplishment.

Another side of Allen was his calmness. He never really worried about much of anything. He was so laid back and never had a harsh word for anyone. I'm not sure he ever even raised his voice at anyone. Even when he was stressed out, he always had the ability to keep his cool and talk things out with people. He was amazing this way. Something I always wish I had been able to do. He was never quick tempered or snippy. It was part of what I loved best about him!

The bond Allen had with our kids was unbelievable. Our youngest son Dreyson and him were almost connected constantly. I think I was more of a babysitter. The only time I had to do anything for him was when his daddy was at work. He lived for taking care of Dreyson. He loved carrying him around in his back pack doing his thing. I think part of this was because he has always tried to take care of me and to make life as easy for me as possible. He always put us first, before anything else. As long as we were happy, he was happy. He never asked for anything other than our happiness. He coached Makale's basketball team and would play anything with Makale. It didn't matter what else he had going on, he would stop to play with the boys.

While much of this has changed in Allen, I want to make it clear that we all still love him, even now. We make sure we tell him this regularly. The goal for all of us is not to get back to what used to be, but instead, to make the most out of what is, at any given moment.

Even Now......Gina

CBHCO Arkansas

After leaving Walter Reed in March 2008, we flew to Little Rock, Arkansas to be in processed for the CBHCO, which has since been renamed the CBWTU-AR.  Essentially this is a program developed by the army, mostly for injured National Guard members.  I think there are eight or nine of these throughout the United States.  They allow injured service members to move home to receive their care in their own community.  

  The injured service member remains part of a medical hold unit, (the CBWTU), and has a chain of command.  Since the CBWTU may be in another state, accountability is kept by phone and by having the soldier report to a local armory or other government facility.  Allen reports to the armory everyday that he does not have medical appointments.  The normal duty day for this type of program is eight hours a day.  However, due to Allen's condition, he is required to report for four hours each day, unless he is attending a medical appointment.  

This program does have very strict requirements that must be met in order to remain in the program.  If a wounded warrior is not complacent, they will be sent back to a main treatment center where they will have to live until they are finished.  One of the requirements for Allen to come to this program was that I was available to him 24/7.  Since he is not allowed to drive, I have to be available to drive him to all of his medical appointments.  I also have to be with him in case of emergency situations.  He often has migraines that require additional trips to the hospital.  He also still has many flash backs and periods of disassociation.  When these occur, it is essential that I, or someone else familiar with these episodes, are near so that he is not alone.  While I know many of his triggers, there are still some things that happen totally unexpectedly that send him back to Iraq.  Another requirement for him to remain in this program is that he attends weekly psych appointments.  We do this at the Kansas City VA.  

Our flight arrived in Little Rock on Sunday afternoon and we were met by one of the guys from the CBWTU.  He took us back to our room, (which was not the greatest), and gave us brief instructions on where to report the next morning.  Our room was in a cinder block building with someone's old bedroom furniture.  It's not that it was bad, it just wasn't even remotely similar to a hotel or anything else I'm used to.  It also wasn't the cleanest place in the world.  There were actually left over french fries under the desk!!

The next morning we reported to the building right behind our room.  For the next four days we would be reporting here each day in order to get in processed.  Each day was filled with meetings, doctor appointments, and paperwork.  It was fine, but there was information overload.  Thankfully, much of this, I had heard before while at Walter Reed.  We also met Allen's chain of command, which has since changed a couple of times!  Everyone was very nice though and it was nice to be able to have a face for the people we would be dealing with on a daily basis for the next who knew how long.  (Currently, it has been 13 months and still counting).  

On Friday of this week, we flew home to Kansas.  It was so nice to be home and to know we would be home for awhile without having to leave again.  We finally felt like we would be able to get into some type of a routine which I had greatly missed.  Having a routine is critical for me.  So, I couldn't wait to get back into a normal one.  Our kids were more than thrilled to have us home, although they too had to get used to living with Mom and Dad instead of Grandma and Grandpa, and Aunt Chris.  Of course, we don't quite have the same rules as grandparents and aunts!!

Currently, Allen is still a part of this same unit.  We had serious reservations about going into this program at first.  While at Walter Reed, I was paid a per diem for being his caregiver.  However, this special pay is not available for CBWTUs.  Since I am required to be available to him constantly, this is one of the unfair parts of leaving the major treatment facility.  However, we really needed to get home to our kids and our own support system.  We were also concerned about the medical care he would be giving up by leaving such a world renowned facility like Walter Reed.  But, we decided that we really needed to try it for the sake of our kids.  We are extremely happy that we did.  In many cases, we have received better care than we did while being treated at WRAMC.  I have decided that is because WRAMC receives the worst of the worst.  So, many times, the other wounded warriors get pushed down between the cracks.  There is also a lot of discrimination against the guys with the invisible wounds, whether they are physical or mental.  So, for us, coming home to the CBWTU was a wonderful choice.  Overall we have been pleased with his care although there have been some things that haven't been addressed like we would like.  But, that is just life.  No system is perfect and you have to learn to get the most out of each opportunity instead of becoming bitter and negative.  

My advice to anyone fighting the system taking care of a wounded warrior, don't give up.  Keep fighting the fight, taking care of your warrior to the best of your ability.  And whatever you do, don't let the negatives out weigh the positives.  After all, you are the lucky one, you still have your soldier to fight for.  May God bless you all and keep you healthy and let you see the positives.

Even Now.......Gina


Saturday, April 4, 2009

Colorado Technical University Online

While our time at Walter Reed was filled with both good and bad memories, many good things did come out of it. One of these was a wonderful opportunity for a scholarship to Colorado Technical University Online. While Allen was an outpatient at Walter Reed and we were staying at the Mologne House, CTUO had a table set up in the lobby of the Mologne House. One day while we were heading in to eat, a man sitting at the table invited us over to talk to him. He was a representative of CTUO and was there helping wounded servicemembers apply for a wounded warrior scholarship to Colorado Technical University. They were awarding 25, full ride scholarships to wounded warriors and were inviting Allen to apply. Along with the scholarship came an apple laptop and books. The entire degree would be cost free to the recipient.

Allen decided that it would be a great opportunity to apply. He had always wanted to go back to school, and with his future so undecided at this point, he felt it was a great opportunity. Over the next few days, we worked on the application, which included an essay over why he should get the scholarship. He worked really hard on the application and the essay, and I helped him polish it up. His essay was based on the Soldier's Creed and turned out great. I really hoped that he would be chosen.

About a month after turning in the application, he was contacted by CTU. He had indeed been chosen as a scholarship recipient and classes would start in April 2008. They were going to have an awards banquet at Walter Reed for all of the recipients. We were really excited. We knew that going back to school would be a struggle for him with his brain injury, but also the doors it could open for our future.

The banquet ended up being right before we left Walter Reed to go home. So, we were able to attend and ask questions to learn more about the program. Allen received a full ride scholarship in an associate's degree in IT. All of the classes are online and it is set up to be an accelerated program. The classes are taken two at a time in five and half week sessions. A mac book was being provided by Apple to each of the recipients to make sure they had all they needed to be successful. Allen was among the first group granted this awesome scholarship and the university was hoping to continue offering more.

Currently, Allen is working on his associates degree in IT. It has been a real challenge for him to keep up with his studies and his health. Migraines keep him down a lot and makes it a difficult task to get assignments finished and submitted on time. His professors have been wonderful and very flexible with him. He has really enjoyed it so far. I have to help keep him on track and do a lot of proofreading. But, it is worth it. There have been several sessions though, that I really wondered if it was just too much. He gets so many feelings of accomplishment though out of it and has been able to remain on the Dean's list. He has had to only take one class a session in order to keep up, but the school has been incredibly flexible. It will just take him longer to complete his degree. However, he figures he would rather do it right than worry about the speed.

My advice to anyone who was wounded or a caregiver of someone who was wounded, always explore your possibilities and what is available to you. You sacrificed so much, and there are many organizations out there who want help. Let them help you. If school is what you think is right for you, do your homework. Look around at many programs to decide what is right for you and if there are any scholarships available. Talk to other wounded warriors and their caregivers. Often, we are each other's own best resource.

And, most importantly, remember, you are not alone. Other's are out there even if you do not personally know anyone else. We are out there.

Even Now.......Gina

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Dr. Ike Nnawuchi

January 15, 2007 is a day that will forever be in my memory.  This is the day, I briefly touched on earlier, that we met Dr. Ike Nnawuchi.  What an amazing person.  I thank God that he came into our lives that day and that he was able to see Allen at one of his worst moments.  (Not that I want people to see him at his worst, but finally a psychiatrist was able to see some of the things that I see on a somewhat regular basis.)  

As I said in my last post, the night we met Dr. Ike, Allen was on the floor in a public place, searching under tables and chairs for explosives.  Not something every person sees their husband do!  Some of that night is a little fuzzy in my mind.  I'm sure I was somewhat in shock and not exactly sure what I was supposed to do or how I should react.  It is extremely difficult seeing someone you love, acting so bizarre and being totally unresponsive to anything else in his environment.  I do not exactly remember how the evening ended, other than the fact that I had been given business cards from every person in the room telling me to call if I needed anything!  

Later, Allen and I talked about that night.  After the episode, flashback (still not really sure what to call them), he has no memory about what he has done.  So, generally sometime within the following 24 hours we talk about the entire incident.  I always have to tell him exactly what has happened and try to see if he can tell me what he was feeling or actually seeing.  He has not been able to recall any of this so far from any of these episodes.  While we were discussing this particular one, Allen told me I should call Dr. Ike.  (We immediately started calling him this because I didn't know how to pronounce his last name!)  I was hesitant because I wasn't exactly sure why he had been with Major General Bunting and so many people tell you to call if you really need something but then pray that you never do.  I didn't think Dr. Ike really fell into that category but you never know.

Things seemed to settle down for a few days and we didn't really talk too much more about it.  However, Dr. Ike kept coming up in our conversations.  Some of it was a curiosity as to why he had come to see us, but more was because we genuinely felt a connection with him from that first night.  Allen kept telling me to call him but I was nervous.  I used to be shy after all!!  We finally decided we would call Colonel Faulk instead, as we had met him several times previously and knew why he was coming to visit.  He was the air surgeon for the Air National Guard and friends with MG Bunting.  Allen actually ended up calling him and just talking with him about what Dr. Ike was wanting to do.  Col. Faulk told us that he would be thrilled to hear from us and was very interested in our case.  He was hoping to get involved in some of the military side of treating the psychiatric wounds.  

After Col. Faulk convinced us we should call, we did.  I can't even remember whether or not I called first or Allen did.  I do know that we are both very grateful that we made that call.  Dr. Ike is now a very close friend of ours, much like family.  We saw him a few more times while we were at Walter Reed.  We were able to meet his wonderful family, his wife Jackie, and their (now) 5 children.  

Dr. Ike was the head of emergency psychiatry for the Washington D.C. metro area.  He has very impressive credentials as a psychiatrist.  This however, is not what makes us so thankful for him.  It is his compassion.  He has a true desire to help people heal, to get better.  He is there for us any time we need him.  Sometimes I wonder how often he gets to see his family, with the amount of time he gives to everyone else.  

Seeing him at Walter Reed was always a highlight of our day there.  He is such a great friend as well as doctor.  There have actually been several times since coming home that I do not know what I would have done had I not been able to get in touch with him.  One of these times involved Allen having another severe flashback.  The flashback had started in the car.  It had been going on about 20-30 minutes before we made it home and thankfully, my neighbor was home and helped me guide him into the house.  When he came into the house, he came in as if he were clearing a building.  You could actually see him holding his weapon in his hands as he did it (even though he had no weapon.)  I did not know what to do and I was scared.  This was the worst he had been since leaving Walter Reed.  It was also emotionally harder on me because bringing him in the house didn't snap it.  I truly thought that coming into his own home would break this horrible trance like state.  I was wrong.  Once we were inside and he began clearing the entire house, I was able to get Dr. Ike on the phone.  We talked for a few minutes and threw around some options.  One of which was to call 911.  I was very afraid to do this.  I did not know what they would do.  I did not want him coming to in the state hospital tied down and looking at me as to why I put him there.  We were also afraid that it could escalate the whole situation.  I was not sure how Allen would react with police and guns, lights and sirens.  It is not an easy situation to be in.  Dr. Ike stayed with me on the phone, supporting me and giving me ideas of things to try to say to him to bring him back to reality.  Finally, after over an hour, he leaned against the wall grabbing his chest, where his chest tube had been.  (At the end of every single severe flashback like this, his wound site, as he calls it begins to hurt.  We've had it checked by several doctors and it is fine.  However, it causes him severe physical pain when the flashback is about to end.)  He slid the floor clutching his chest and began to come back.  It was difficult for him to talk as he was trying to catch his breath and he was still in much pain.  But I could see it.  I can see clear as day, when he comes back to reality just as I can see him leave.  The flashback was over.  

Dr. Ike stayed with me on the phone the entire time this was happening.  When I called, he had been in with a patient and still made himself available to me and Allen during our crisis.  Without him supporting me through this, I think we both would have needed 911.  This episode happened in the early afternoon and Ike continued checking on us the entire evening and even the next day.  This type of dedication and compassion is hard to come by in today's world.  I truly do not know what where we would be without Ike in our lives.  

So, to you Ike, I say thank you.  You are an amazing man, doctor, and above that friend.  You are like family to us.  Please know how much you mean to us and how much we thank God that you came into our lives that day at Walter Reed and that I finally got brave enough to call you!!  To many more years of friendship, we look forward to our journey that lies ahead.

Even Now......Gina

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Out patient at Walter Reed

Up until the time we came back to Walter Reed, January 6, 2008, we didn't have a lot of complaints about the care Allen received.  Even now when asked about his care at Walter Reed he says he couldn't have asked for more while he was an in-patient.  Then, he gets to the part when we returned to Walter Reed for what we thought would only be a couple of weeks.  Little did we know it would turn into almost 3 months before we would make it back home.

The Hilton Hotel in Silver Spring, Maryland was our home for the first month of this time.  We could have stayed there the entire time but we fought to be moved to the Mologne House which is on the campus of Walter Reed.  We grew very tired of the shuttle that we had to rely on to get us back and forth.  The vehicle used was questionable.  One of the drivers always smelled of alcohol.  Several times we had to wait anywhere from 2-4 hours for the shuttle to come pick us up to take us back to the hotel and this was after several phone calls assuring us they were on the way.  Overall, it was much better for us to be on campus and not have to rely on a shuttle!

Upon our return, we had several appointments we had to make.  The first on the list was to meet with his nurse case manager who was in charge of transferring him into the community based healthcare organization which would allow him to receive his care at home.  Our first meeting went down the drain immediately.  We found out that Allen's case manager hadn't done anything on his case while we were away for the holidays.  (Something we quickly learned was that if you want your case to move along in this part of the system, you have to be your own advocate and make sure everyone is doing what they are supposed to be doing.)  Also, we were told that his case manager was going on leave to have surgery so we would be temporarily handled by another case manager.  We thought we were simply returning to DC to finish the paperwork up that would transfer him to this community program where he could live at home.   

The case manager that took over our case temporarily was awesome.  She was a psych nurse and we quickly fell in love with her.  She was great at her job and felt like family.  She started making progress on our case quickly, but also let us know that it was going to be several weeks in getting it all done.  Before our other case manager returned,  we requested to be switched to this new case manager.  We were both extremely disappointed that he had dropped the ball on our case which was keeping us from our kids that much longer.  This time was extremely frustrating for us which did not help Allen's mental recovery at all.   I started seeing some of the drastic signs and symptoms of the severe PTSD he continues to suffer from today.

One of these times happened in the bar area of the lobby of the Mologne house shortly after we returned to DC.  We were meeting Major General Bunting, Colonel Faulk (M.D.), and some other people he brought with him.  One of these other people has been one of the relationships we are so thankful for, Dr. Ike Nnawuchi, psychiatrist.  When we first sat down I noticed Allen was not really present.  He had a very strange look on his face and he was not there behind his eyes.  Shortly after we all sat down, Allen pushed back from the table and got on the floor searching the floor and under the tables.  (This was, by far, the worst I had seen at this point.  Thankfully, both doctors were there with us to witness it and to reassure me!)  This actually went on for quite a while, several minutes.  Finally, the trance like state, just kind of went away.  I have since learned that this is a form of his flashbacks and periods where he breaks from reality.  When these episodes happen, Allen has no warning they are coming on and no memory of them afterward.  They are very bizarre and hard to explain.  At first they were quite frightening but I've come to accept them as part of his condition and have learned to deal with them as a normal part of life.  I no longer get upset or worried when these happen.  I have certain things I do to try to bring him back which may or may not work.  (I'll explain all of this in a future post.)  All of the people that were there with us gave me their contact information and told me to let them know if they could ever do anything for us.

The other main appointment we had every week was with Allen's psychiatrist there.  This was also another extremely frustrating thing.  One of the psychiatrists that he had as an inpatient was great.  However, he wasn't there after we returned.  The one we saw there changed his meds every single week.  At one point he left for 2 weeks and never let us know and wouldn't assign us to anyone else so that Allen could still be seen.  This doctor never did any type of therapy with Allen other than medication management.  He also recommended Allen for a medical evaluation board just a couple of months after his injury.  I guess he thought that he was never going to get any better.  The requirement for this recommendation is that the service member has received optimal health care.  We didn't end up having this evaluation until over a year later!  That always seemed to amaze me.

Another department we were frustrated with was the speech department that evaluated him for cognitive therapy.  He had a hard time finding the right words and memory issues from his brain injury.  He had a couple of appointments with the speech therapist who concluded that once he got his PTSD under control everything else would fall into place and was therefore nothing she could do for him.  Once we came home, he was reevaluated by a speech therapist here in Ottawa, and was seen 3 times a week for almost a year (Thanks Julie and Brooke, awesome speech therapists!)  All the while, he still greatly struggles with PTSD. 

While we had many frustrations, we also had many positive things.  Allen had a great chain of command.  We also got to meet so many great people, some of whom were wounded or family members, others from the community, and others who work at the hospital.  Many of these people we are still close friends with today.  We also had the opportunity to do a lot of fun things that we never would have done.  We did all of the tourist stuff, went out to eat for the Friday night dinners, had some great events we were able to attend, and many other things.  We were able to network and meet many high ranking military officials.  

The first weekend in February, Super bowl weekend, we were also able to have my sister fly with our boys to see us for a weekend.  The Yellow Ribbon Fund paid for a hotel room for them that connected with our room at the Hilton.  We did all of the sites down on the mall.  A friend we had just met the day before they came, volunteered to rent a van and spend the day with us sightseeing.  She actually wouldn't hear of anything else!!  Leslie Commins is still one of our close friends today.  It was extremely hard to tell the boys goodbye again that time, especially since we had no idea how much longer it would be.  I actually thought that we were going to just go ahead and move them there with us after that weekend.  I thought for sure we would have them back by the next weekend and they would stay until we returned home.  However, we never did bring them back.  We kept thinking that it would only be a couple more weeks and we hated to pull them out of school for that.  We did take them to a huge super bowl party and got some great door prizes.  They also got to meet John Voigt that weekend.

We also got to meet some other neat people.  Michael W. Smith was performing a concert on my birthday and we were planning to go.  However, Allen had a migraine that day that took us to the primary care clinic that day so we missed the concert.  While we were in the waiting room waiting to go back, Michael W. Smith walked through.  So, we got to meet him and he gave us an autographed CD.  Now, I think that may have been better than actually seeing the concert!!

While much of this time here was difficult and frustrating, we also had good experiences.  The friendships we made during this time are worth all of what we went through.  We thank God for all we've come through and what we've learned because of it.  While the path we travel is still very difficult, we are thankful to have Allen home and to have our family together again.

Even Now......Gina 


Saturday, January 31, 2009

Convalescent Leave

After about two weeks of inpatient care, Allen's doctors allowed him to take 30 days of convalescent leave so that he could be home for the holidays. We were pretty exctied about this since it had been a couple of weeks since I had seen the boys, and it had been almost a year since Allen had. It was also time for the boys to get to see Dad. They had done remarkably well under the difficult circumstances, but it was time they could see for themselves that he was okay.

December 6, 2007 Allen and I left Walter Reed and flew back to Kansas. There were many hoops to jump through to get everything approved and taken care of before we left, but we did it. Going home brought many emotions for all of us. Allen was completely overwhelmed and relieved to be home. I was overjoyed to see my kids again. It was the longest time I had ever been away from them at that point. The boys were just thrilled to have both of us home. After all it had been about 11 months since we had all been together as a family.

We spent several days just being home and together. The boys still had school, but outside of that we didn't do a whole lot. It was a difficult time to be home in some ways, just because of the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season. We actually requested that not a lot of people come by to visit so that Allen felt completely comfortable and had a little bit of time to adjust to being back in America. He also had to adjust to being a dad and husband again. For a long time, throughout the length of two deployments, he only had to take care of himself in the day to day. Now he had to adjust to being a part of a family again, and an active part at that. Still today, some 14 months later, we are all still adjusting. It does get better, but it takes a lot of time and patience from everyone.

The 30 days at home went way too fast. We enjoyed a quiet Christmas and New Year, with just our immediate family, my parents, and sister. It was awesome being a family unit again at such an important time of the year. On Christmas Eve we went to a Candle light communion service at our church, something we do every year. We had them reserve the back row for us, but Allen still had a very difficult time with it. We actually ended up making a quick exit and had to get him home. The candle light and being around so many people is a big trigger for him. However, at the time I was still very much learning what his triggers are. It can be very scary when a new trigger makes it's presence known, but I had to learn to stay calm and handle the situation. Even now, new things will trigger him that I am not prepared for but I have the confidence to handle them calmly and swiftly. We actually have not been to church since this night. Hopefully someday soon, he will have the confidence and tools that will allow us to attend services again.

The first part of January took us back to preparing to leave Makale and Dreyson again. We were to fly back to Walter Reed January 7, 2008, for what we thought would be just a couple of weeks. That couple of weeks turned into closer to three months which I will go into in a later post. Needless to say now though, our kids are leery of us having to leave and the time we will actually be gone. Makale regularly reminds us, that we were gone much longer than the two weeks we had promised.

Leaving the boys to go back to WRAMC was really difficult for me. I have a very hard time with goodbyes period, but to leave my kids again was awful. The few days leading up to leaving and then telling them goodbye was extremely painful. We were all in tears. Thanks so much to my wonderful parents and my sister who took care of the boys while we were gone. I know it wasn't easy, but they did an outstanding job.

Even Now.......Gina

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Ward 58 WRAMC

Our time on Ward 58 brought many things. It was a time for healing, learning, fear, love, understanding....just to name a few. During our time here as an in patient, I saw many things that I have now come to know as normal. They were however, very scary the first few times I experienced them.

Once we moved to the fifth floor, I became more of Allen's caregiver. The nurse's here were mostly wonderful. However, we did at times have the ones we wish we had never met. We also met some who became our friends and we still keep in contact with. Really though, the nurses had it pretty easy in our room as I did everything I could for him. And, let me just tell you, I was definitely not cut out to be a nurse. I do not do blood well. Scraped knees are not a problem, but cuts or running blood have me running.

Allen was still very sore and stiff, especially from his chest tube. I learned to help him sponge bathe, change his dressing on his wound, dress, toilet and whatever else he needed. One of my scariest nights the entire time I was at Walter Reed happened the first night we stayed on Ward 58. Right after moving to this floor, they hooked Allen up to an EEG to monitor his brain waves. I had been instructed to push a button on the machine if anything out of the ordinary started happening with him. They were looking for seizure activity. Initially the night started out okay. However, about 1:00 am it took a turn for the worse. I think that a nightmare started and at times there seemed to be some seizure activity. The nurse ended up being in our room the majority of the rest of that night. I do not think anyone near our room got any sleep. (I also have to say that this is the worst night he has had since the blast. He still has nightly nightmares, but this was by far the worst.) Several times through the night, the nurse called for help from other nurses on the floor. She had control over the button the rest of the night and I don't think she ever put it down. Allen became very vocal and agitated although he was still asleep. He also looked extremely fearful. The longer it went on the worse it all became. I was terrified but also able to keep very calm and quiet. I just kind of watched it all unfold from the corner of the room. At one point during this nightmare, he actually saw me and he said to me, "Oh hi honey, come one we have to get to the gate." So, he came conscience enough to know I was there but instead of coming back out of his dream, he took me into his dream with him. He also happened to get a hold of my hand during that brief moment and wouldn't let go. He squeezed my fingers so tight that at one point I was afraid I may end up with some broken digits. He never did get combative and managed to stay in his bed although there was a great deal of movement involved. I think it was about 5:00 am when he finally came out of this state. It was really bizarre. It appeared that he was awake and I now think that he was more awake than asleep. I think it was a severe flashback rather than a nightmare. Then I had no idea what was going on or why. I remember later feeling like he was never going to really come home. I also remember being afraid that he may end up in an institution or hospitalized for a psychiatric problem. For the EEG they had a ton of leads glued to his head and then wrapped with gauze. He kept grabbing at the wrap thinking it was his kevlar helmet. He kept saying how tight his kevlar was and that he needed to get it off. We managed to keep it on and keep him from getting any further injuries. It was a long night and very scary for me, but also helped to prepare me for things I have had to deal with since.

That was the worst time during the entire in patient stay. They continued to monitor him on the EEG for 24 hours. The test ended up showing no seizure activity in his brain, but me and the nurses sure thought he was having seizures throughout that whole episode.

The rest of the time Allen was an in patient went very smoothly. He still did not want me gone for too long so I kept up the same routine of spending the night in his room then going to my room to shower in the morning. There were a couple of nights though that I had to get some sleep so I stayed in my room. He had someone in his room constantly doing something so it was hard to get a large block of sleep at one time. I knew that I had to get some uninterrupted sleep or I would end up sick as well.

We had several visitor's during this time. I already mentioned the celebrities that come through. We also had a social worker who would come see us as well as members of the Kansas National Guard who were in DC for meetings. Our state Adjunct General, Major General Bunting came to see us 3-4 times throughout our time at Walter Reed. We really like everyone from home who came to see us. It was always nice to catch up on stuff from home. Having MG Bunting come also made us feel like our sacrifice had not gone unnoticed. He truly cares and is a very genuine man. He made us thankful to be from Kansas.

On December 3, 2007 Major General Bunting came back and presented Allen with his Purple Heart award. Allen was so shocked that he was actually getting this award. I remember how honored he was and still is for that matter. He also brought several other Kansas officials with him. We had also invited some of my relatives to come who live in Fairfax Virginia. I had not seen them in years, and once again, Allen was so thankful that people would actually do this stuff for him. The nurses on the floor actually went and found a flag and held it up so that there was a flag for the back drop of the presentation. (You can see in the pictures that the flag is actually being held up. We laugh about that now.) Allen also insisted on wearing his uniform for this, even though he was still an in patient. Major Gonzalez brought him a new uniform so that he could be ready and he insisted on wearing it. I don't think he ever got the boots on but I'm sure he would have if he could have or if I would have let him!!

December 5, Allen was discharged from the hospital to go to a hotel to finish his recovery. They were giving him 30 days of convalescent leave so that he could go home for the holidays. They didn't have any rooms at the Mologne House still so they put us up at the Hilton in Silver Spring, Maryland. We stayed there a couple of days before going home for the holidays. We had to return January 6, 2008.
Even Now.....Gina

Saturday, January 10, 2009

SICU at Walter Reed

My first days at Walter Reed were overwhelming and had me out of my comfort zone most of the time.  Allen was in the SICU when I first saw him.  I was absolutely amazed at how great he looked.  He had some tubes and wires but greeted me with a huge smile.  His little room was pretty full when I arrived.  I had beat him to the hospital but they didn't take me to see him until he was somewhat settled in his room.  

The nurse was there trying to get everything settled.  It was pretty close to shift change too, which made things that much more chaotic.  There was a doctor or two in with him as well as SSG Sylvia Bastian, the National Guard liason for Walter Reed.  She ended up being a Godsend for us and we still keep in touch with her.  

One of the first things I remember about seeing my husband that first evening was that he quickly said hello to me and then turned to the doctor and asked when he could return downrange to his guys.  The doctor basically laid across his chest and told him very firmly that he would not be returning to Iraq anytime soon.  It was almost as if he had been waiting to see me since he was back in the states and as soon as he had he was good.  He was ready to roll as he would say.  

After seeing Allen, I didn't go back to my room until the next day.  He didn't want me to leave him, nor did I really want to leave him either.  I was also a little paranoid about finding my way around or back to my room for that matter.  Walter Reed was a big place and really intimidated this sheltered midwestern girl!

This is another area that needs to be improved on there for the families who are coming in.  I had no idea where to go or what to do.  I knew that there was a meeting the next morning (Monday) in the Mologne House lobby at 1000 hours.  (Everything worked on the 24 hour clock the military uses.)  In order for me to receive my per diem I would have to report to these meetings twice a week to sign in.  I had been told there was a shuttle that ran around the campus and that it would take me back to the Mologne House.  I also knew that I could walk, but once again I had no idea where it was.  (I am completely direction illiterate!)  

So, the first night I was there I stayed in a chair next to Allen in the SICU.  It was a very restless night as I was uncomfortable and in an ICU where there is always a lot going on.  I was very relieved though in a lot of ways because I had actually gotten to see Allen and see that he was going to be okay.  

The next morning I met another wife who was leaving the SICU to go back to the Mologne House.  So, she showed me around the hospital a little and showed me the short cut back to the hotel.  That was another one of the many angels who came our way.  She had been there for 2 or 3 months at that point and her husband was still in the SICU.  

The meetings that I had to go to were very overwhelming at first.  They are put on by the SFAC (soldiers family assistance center) and give out all the information we as caregivers need.  They go over benefits and all sorts of stuff.  They also passed out a map, (what a concept!)  

After the meeting I had major information overload.  I went back to my room for a shower and then headed back to the hospital.  When I got back to the hospital, Allen was in quite a bit of pain.  They had removed his chest tube while I was gone.  I was really thankful that I had been gone for this.  While I can now handle many things I never thought I could, I still do not handle blood and cuts or holes in the body very well.  I did however have to learn how to dress the wound from the tube as they did not stitch it.  They said that it was better to let it heal from the inside out.  

By that evening I was gaining confidence.  I now felt more comfortable finding my way around the hospital and campus.  I at least knew I could find the cafeteria, subway sandwich shop, and my room.  I was good.  I still didn't sleep in my room though.  Allen really didn't like me leaving him for very long at a time.  So, my routine became heading to my room in the morning to shower and change clothes and then going back to his room until the next morning.

After they had removed the chest tube, neurology came in to do their initial exam.  The neurologist actually tried several things to make him go into the seizures.  He even talked him into hyper ventilating which worked.  He actually hyper ventilated and began having seizure like activity.  I'm sure that my eyes were huge as I watched this all unfold.  However, this is when I probably first started becoming aware of the calmness I was able to deal with this stuff with.  It was very hard to watch though.  It did help me handle situations later on  though.  I figured that the more I saw in a controlled environment the better off I would be in the long run.  (This was so true as I have had to watch some pretty scary moments with my husband since this time.)  

Sometime throughout this time in the SICU psychiatry also came in and did evaluations.  They were always very nice and Allen really liked one in particular, Dr. Clark.  He was LTCOM for the Navy.  After Allen was moved to outpatient, he mentioned really missed Dr. Clark.  Many times he commented that he wished he could just talk to him again.

Later that Monday, Allen was transferred out of the SICU to the 5th floor, ward 58.  This is where the head trauma patients are.  Most of the guys wounded in theater would end up on ward 58 or 57.  Ward 57 was for the amputees.   These are also the wards where the celebrities who come to Walter Reed visit.  It is great that they take the time to do this.  However, more of them should.  We had the ARMY cheerleaders from West Point visit and the NFL referees from the Redskins.  Queen Latifah and Morris Chestnut were rumored to be coming when we were there but they never showed up.  Stevie Nicks came through but we were at an appointment and missed her.  She gave out ipods to all of the wounded warriors she met with.  The NYC Fire department came through the first part of December and brought a group of World War II POW's with them.  That was probably our favorite group.  We actually made lifelong friends with some of these people.  We also got to go on a trip to NYC with them later (more about that in another post.)  

Thankfully Allen's time in the SICU or any ICU didn't last too long.  Once he was moved to the other ward it was much easier for me to stay with him and help take care of him.  At this rate, I was beginning to think we wouldn't be there too long.  I was sure we would be home before Christmas!  

Even Now....Gina

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Arriving at Walter Reed

The Friday after Thanksgiving, November 23, 2007, I headed home from my sister's house.  She lives 2 1/2 hours from us and I had no idea when I would be leaving to be at Allen's bedside.  I had been told that Allen would be transferred back to the states as soon as there was a flight available and he was stable enough to make the trip.  I was also told that when he was put in the air, they would call me with my flight information.  They reassured me that I would be there waiting on him when he arrived.  However, at this point they still didn't know for sure where he would be going when he came to the states.  They had mentioned Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Bethesda Naval Medical Center, and Brooke Army Medical Center.  They thought it would be Walter Reed but didn't know for sure.

For a person who likes to plan things in advance this was not an easy time.  Of course, the trauma of it all was already extremely difficult, but then the addition of more uncertainty made me crazy.  The wait of all of this was horrible.  I think that it would have been easier on me to go ahead and go to Walter Reed.  That way I would know that I would be there as soon as he got there.  It also would have helped to acclimate myself to the hospital and the whole complex of Walter Reed before seeing my injured husband.

When I headed home from my sister's house, I left the boys behind.  I just needed to get home, in case I had to head to the airport.  My parents and my sister were planning to head to my house later in the day.  Looking back, I had absolutely no business driving home that day.  I should have just left my van at my sister's house and rode with someone else.  Most of the drive home is a complete loss for me.  I have a very hard time remembering any of it except for getting pulled over by a highway patrol officer.  This I remember!  I was speeding, (imagine that,) and he pulled me over.  I obviously didn't look too good and he even asked me if I was okay.  I explained my situation and he was nice enough to let me go.  He didn't even ask for any of the normal stuff.  He just asked me to set my cruise control and take it easy.  (Which I did.)

I also had a bit more of a reason to panic on my way home.  Just before I left my sister's, I had called to get an update on Allen.  I was transferred to the ICU in Germany and they couldn't find him.  They told me that he had been transferred.  I even asked some questions as to whether or not they were sure and they were positive.  I asked where he had been transferred to and they didn't have the record of that.   So, I panicked a little and thought that he had been transferred to the States and that they hadn't called me.  I was afraid that if I didn't get home I might miss my flight to meet him.  Upon arriving back home I called the person making my travel plans.  He did some checking and called me back.  He told me that they had just transferred him to a different floor.  He had been moved out of ICU, not to the States!  While I was relieved that he had been downgraded from ICU, I was not pleased about this mix up.  

Once my sister and my kids got home, we began trying to make plans.  That is not an easy task, when you are at the complete mercy of the Army, let me tell you.  I was very fearful of flying by myself.  I am a small town Kansas girl who had NEVER travelled on my own.  I had never had to be the grown up on vacations or trips I had taken in the past!  I was terrified.  We tentatively planned to have my parents keep the boys and my sister was going to try to travel with me.  However, we all did realize that this was Thanksgiving weekend.  We also knew that since my family was not considered his immediate family, the military would not make any arrangements for any of them even if we payed for it.  So, we were not able to try to get her an airline ticket until after I found out my arrangements, which were going to be completely last minute.  I didn't really like my odds, but what could I do about it? 

The rest of this weekend is pretty much a blur.  I think I was still in shock.  I was physically worn out but couldn't rest.  I didn't want to interact or talk to anyone.  I just wanted to get to wherever I could see my husband.  Allen's time out of the ICU didn't last long either at this point.  They had gotten him up to walk and he began having seizures on them again.  So, they moved him back to the ICU where he remained until after he arrived at Walter Reed.     

I can't remember for sure, but I don't think that I found out my itinerary until Saturday evening.  I would fly on Sunday morning.  Allen would also be flying out of Germany on Sunday and would arrive at Walter Reed Army Medical Center on Sunday evening.  They assured me that I would be there waiting on him.  Needless to say, we were unable to get a flight for my sister.  I was flying on one of the busiest travel days of the year.  

Sunday morning my sister drove me to the airport on her way back home.  I was nervous and sick after having to tell my Makale and Dreyson goodbye.  (Makale was 11 and Dreyson was 4.)  It was hard enough having their dad gone, then injured, but now I was leaving too.  It was very hard on all of us.  

My flight ended up being fine.  I had no trouble even at Reagan International and finding the baggage claim and the people there to pick me up.  They sent a soldier in uniform which made it pretty easy to tell he was probably there for me.  It was dark, early evening, when I arrived and they took me straight to Mologne House (the hotel on Walter Reed) to check in.  They didn't have room for me there and put me up in the Guest House right across the street.  This was fine except I did have to share a bathroom with another room.  It ended up being fine though and was a very nice room.  From here they took me straight to the hospital.  We entered WRAMC and signed into the front desk.  We then went to the SFAC which is a family assistance center.  A lady took me into her office, (I cannot remember her name but she is a sweetheart).  She gave me a ton of stuff and pointers.  It was information overload about procedures, benefits, and a plethora of other important info.  (This is one of the things that I think needs to be changed.  I tried to give some suggestions to the powers that be while I was there but they didn't seem to care.)  She also explained that the buses hadn't come in yet, so I had beat my husband there.  After receiving all of the directions and information she had to give me, she took me to the SICU to see my husband.  

Finally, what I had been waiting for, for the past 11 months.......

Even Now,


Thursday, January 1, 2009

Deployments before injury

Allen is a member of the Kansas National Guard.  He has several years of active duty under his belt and just passed his 19 years of service mark.  His home unit is the 2/137 INF.  He was a part of bravo company, but I think he is now officially part of echo company.  They have completely restructured and he has not been an active part since this has occurred.  

August 2005 brought our first deployment into the war zone of Iraq.  He deployed with b co 2/137 INF.  They did warm up at Fort Sill and Fort Irwin.  He left the USA October 31, 2005.  (At least, that is how I remember it.  Allen accuses me of having a sympathetic TBI, kind of like sympathy weight gain men get with their wives pregnancy!)  During the first part of this deployment, Allen worked at the joint visitor's bureau on Camp Victory.  I used to tease him that he had it too easy there.  He literally called me several times a day.  Sometimes, it was to the point that I had to get off the phone in order to get things done!!  

The second part of the deployment wasn't like that.  He left the JVB to do base security.  His team was responsible for securing a portion of the perimeter of Camp Victory.  This also was not too bad since he really stayed on the Victory complex most of the time.  He had easy access to phones and internet so communication was pretty easy.  Looking back now, this first deployment was a walk in the park.

Towards the end of this deployment, Allen called one day and said that he had something that he wanted to talk to me about.  He went on to say that they had put out at formation that another unit was looking for volunteers to do a turn around mission.  There was another unit from Kansas that was deploying to Iraq and were short several men.  The command had put it out that if any of our guys were interested to let them know. 

 So, we talked about it.  I really felt that it was his decision.  Don't get me wrong.  I would have been irate had he not asked me first.  However, he was the one who was soon to be coming home to a civilian job he really wasn't very happy at.  He truly loves the military.  When he puts on that uniform, he is a totally different person.  I left the decision with him.  If he felt our family would benefit from it and he truly felt that is what he wanted to do then I would support him. 

We didn't really talk about it a whole lot again.  I knew that he was probably going to give them his name and I really was okay with that.  Once I get into some sort of a routine, I have found that I can do about anything.  Routine is the key for me.  

November of 2006 brought him home again.  We had the welcome home ceremony and all the welcome home adjustments.  I had always thought they were crazy when they told me there were coming home adjustments.  Little did I know I was very wrong!!  (That is for another post!)  

When he came home from that deployment, he really didn't know whether or not he was going on the return deployment.  He even went back to his civilian job because we didn't know.  He made several calls a week and no one seemed to really know.  Then, shortly before Christmas, he got that phone call.  (Then I wasn't so sure I should have been so supportive.)  It is totally different to let them go once they've come home, than from agreeing while they are away.  The call said that he had to report January 2, 2007.  

The holidays came and went much too quickly.  We had only had him home for 60 days, the day he ended up leaving again.  He had to do some paper work January 2 in Topeka.  He didn't have to leave until January 10.  

This deployment he would be deploying with the 731st medium truck company.  We didn't even know where they were out of when he left!  We knew from Kansas, but not exactly sure what part of Kansas.  That was hard because we knew no one from this unit.  His mission this time was convoy security.  He did end up having six other guys from the 2/137th go with him.  The Magnificent Seven.  

During this deployment, our communication was often few and far between.  He was out on missions a lot of the time.  Downtime was spent sleeping, working on trucks, waiting in phone lines, at the gym or at the range relieving stress.  Sometimes it was really hard, but I also had confidence in the Army.  I knew that if something happened to him I would be notified very quickly.  So, I really didn't worry too much.  It also made the time we did get more special.  I learned what to tell him about and what could wait until he came home. (I kept a journal of things so that I wouldn't forget important things that I didn't tell him at the time they were happening.)   I knew that if something happened to him because he was worrying about something here, I would never forgive myself.  I also knew that there were some things that he needed to know about even if he might worry.  For example, our youngest son was hospitalized twice while he was deployed.  

This second Iraq deployment ended November 25, 2007, the day I met him at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

 I learned a lot about myself during these deployments.  Probably more than I ever thought I would.  I learned even more about myself in the year since his injury.  That is one for another post that is able to stand all on it's own though.  

Even Now,