Good-bye Twentynine Palms

It took us two weeks and a great deal of persistence for my husband to be transferred to Balboa Naval Hospital to receive further care.  Good-bye Twentynine Palms. After we arrive in San Diego, my husband’s first appointment for an evaluation was the next day.  We were cautious, yet optimistic that these professionals would be able to help my husband deal with the demons in his head. At this point, my husband was constantly reliving his experiences in Iraq. I wish I could help him quiet his mind, but he said his thoughts wouldn’t go away. He was sleeping very little, yet it was a struggle to get him out of bed to eat, exercise, or take a shower.  My husband kept saying that he wished he came home with a physical wound because no one understood what he was going through.

 

After leaving the hospital we had mixed feelings. The most discouraging part was that the next appointment wasn’t for six weeks. My husband pleaded with me for help. He couldn’t image living this way for another day. I assured him that he would get well and we’d find others that could help him. With the help of friends and family we started to find mental health care providers in the community that had experience with depression and combat stress.  It was going to be expensive seeking help outside the military system, but I knew it was the right thing to do. I have since learned of an organization called Give An Hour.  Providers around the country provide free counseling to troops and their families. It’s another avenue to explore if you are not satisfied with the care you are receiving at the military clinics or VA.   The most important thing is it’s confidential.

 

Appoints with a civilian psychologist and psychiatrist were made for the following week. More help was on the way.

Off To Visit The Wizard

Today was my husband’s first appointment with his psychologist and psychiatrist, the wizards. This is the term used by the military when referring to mental health providers. My husband’s uncle took him to his appointment while I stayed at home with our son. Several hours later they returned. We convened around the kitchen table. I was so eager to hear what was said during his appointments. I wasn’t prepared for what was next. My husband informed me that he had been diagnosed with a personality disorder. What!?!?  My husband continued by saying that they would treat him at the base clinic and the next appointment was in two weeks.  This did not sit well with me. I had a lot of questions. My husband can be a little quirky, but he didn’t have a personality disorder.  With my husband’s increased feelings of anxiety, we were back at the mental health clinic within two days. This time I went in to talk with the psychiatrist.  When we walked out I was laughing. Probably not the reaction you would expect. During our visit, the doctor had informed us that not only did my husband have one personality disorder, but two.  I knew this wasn’t right. The fight was on to get the correct diagnosis and care.

 

This has happened to hundreds to returning servicemen and women. At the time, I thought we were alone.  Unfortunately we’re not. In a blog titled, Denial in the Corps more stories are shared about the horrific care that our troops receive. Since, leaving Twenty-Nine Palms 19 months ago, our family made sure that an investigation into the care of past and present Marines and Sailors was initiated. Do you know any troops that are experiencing depression, anxiety or post traumatic stress disorder?  If they are not seeking help, please encourage them to seek the care they deserve even if it means visiting a mental health care provider in the community vs. the military health care system. 

Help Is On The Way

The next evening at 8pm, the doorbell rang. My husband jumped up from the couch and said, “Who can that be?”  We had been in our new home three days and no one from his unit had come to visit. This may have been for the best since he wasn’t up to making small talk. I opened the door, knowing that it was his uncle. My husband’s uncle drove three hours after getting off of work to come see his nephew. My husband looked so relieved to see him. They gave each other a big hug and didn’t stop talking for three hours.  His uncle stayed the night and offered to go with my husband to his scheduled appointment to see the psychologist the next morning.  I greatly appreciated the help.

I didn’t know anyone in town or at the base and our son didn’t want me to leave him at the childcare on base while I went to my husband’s appointment. This was the start of the most difficult part of helping my husband heal from the trauma he experienced in Iraq. My husband many times wanted my undivided attention and so did our son, sometimes at the exact same time.  I felt so torn.  Who needs me more?  Over the next few months I learned how to divide my time so my husband and son got what they needed. Although, I know my husband got the shorter end of the stick. I can say that I really tried to be there for my husband as much as possible, but many times he had to cope on his own because I was taking care of our son.  As far as taking time for me that was on hold.

The one thing that gave me comfort is the fact that I knew my husband was going to be well again. I knew with the right help, he would heal. I didn’t know how long it would take, but deep down I knew it would happen eventually. That is what kept me going.  Over the last 18 months I have met a few wives that may be caregivers for many years to come. Their husbands have returned from war with extensive injuries leaving them unable to totally care for themselves.  These wives yearn to be wives again instead of caregivers. Their roles have changed and it must be heartbreaking knowing that their lives may never be the same.

The Next Morning

In the morning, my husband woke up extremely anxious. He paced, he cried, he screamed. He wasn’t violent, instead he was very, very sad. He was glad to be home, but something had changed and he felt like he had no control over his thoughts or emotions. Our son was eager to wrestle with his Dad.  My husband desperately tried to play with him.  My son comes running into the kitchen saying, “Mommy, Daddy is crying.”  I explained that Daddy was sad because of some of the things that he experienced while in Iraq, but that he was glad to be home. I told our son, “Daddy loves you very much.”  Things didn’t get any easier as the day went on.  My husband wanted to sleep all day. He must have been tired after the long trip.  When he woke up before dinner, I encouraged him to call his best friend.  Family and friends had been calling all day to talk with him, but he didn’t want to take the calls. I knew he wanted to share his thoughts and feelings and he needed to talk to someone other than me.  I dialed his friend’s phone number and said, “Hi, it’s Lisa. Nico would like to talk with you. Be patient.” I handed the phone to my husband and he didn’t emerge from the bedroom for two hours. He handed the phone back to me and I spoke with his best friend for a few minutes about what to do next. His friend was going to rally the troops and help was on the way.

 

The Day He Returned

I stood with our three year old son on my hip waiting in a field with dry, dead, scratchy grass under my feet. We had been there for four hours anxiously awaiting the arrival of my husband.  His flight from Iraq was late and it was a long bus ride to the base.  Even though it was a long day, I would wait forever for him. The buses arrive and my husband’s unit stands in formation. I saw him immediately, although I hardly recognized him. Through brief phone calls and emails a few weeks prior to his arrival home, I knew that he wasn’t himself, but I wasn’t prepared for what I saw. His stature was much smaller. He must have lost 20 pounds. He tried to smile in response to my smile, but the expression on his face looked more like he was asking for help.  I could tell he was relieved to see me.  They broke formation and all of the wives, girlfriends and children run to greet their Marine for the first time in a year. Instead of picking me up and giving me and our son a big hug and kiss, I got a pat on the back.  Oh boy!  With no prior experience with depression and anxiety, I had a huge learning curve.

 

Our son fell asleep on the way home in the car. When we arrived at new home in a new town, I tucked him into bed.  My husband slowly came in from the garage. I rushed up to him eager to show him around the house.  He didn’t respond with equal enthusiasm. I fed him dinner and we went to bed. We were both exhausted emotionally and physically, but we spent most of the night talking. Tears were also shared, lots of them. 

The Invisible Wound

My grandmother gave me her copy of AARP magazine today with a note attached that read, “No return.” One page was ear tagged. I opened it to find an article titled, “When Wounded Vets Come Home.”  My grandmother probably thought it would sit on my desk until I was ready to read it, hence the note, “No return.” For those of you that are not familiar with AARP, they are an organization that addresses the interests and needs of senior citizens.

It’s been 18 months since my husband returned from his second tour in Iraq.  He didn’t return from Iraq with a physical wound, instead he experienced trauma that outwardly isn’t very obvious.  It has been referred to as the invisible wound.  My husband came home with major depression and anxiety and shortly thereafter was diagnosed with PTSD, post traumatic stress disorder.

I am ready to read the article about how more troops are surviving injuries from war with support of their parents and spouses as caregivers. I could read it because my husband is healing and resembles the man I married before his last deployment to Iraq. However, this wasn’t the case 18 months ago.