This is about our family's journey to a new norm after our son Chris was seriously injured in an IED explosion while deployed to Afghanistan. I chose the title "A Misfit's Mother's Journey" to honor some small way all the amazing young men in his squad, "Martin's Misfits". I owe a debt to these amazing men who worked together to save my son's and his buddy's lives and to the young man who sadly lost his life. This is a debt I can never repay. I hope you will find inspiration in our story and admiration of the young men who understand the consequences and are still willing to risk life and limb in the hope of protecting others.
Friday, July 20, 2012
I can finally hug him!!!
A little, wrinkley, pink bundle with big blue eyes is all I saw. "Hey Handsome. Welcome to the world, I've been waiting for you. You are so loved!" is what I said to him as I joyously wrapped my arms around my little man for the first time. With the exception of the births of my other children, I never imagined I would experience those feelings of exhilaration and joy again, until now. As I entered the room there was a bright light over his bed and he was holding onto a trapeze, lifting himself up as he readjusted his body. While I did notice his legs, all I really saw was his handsome, handsome face. I wrapped my arms as tight as I could around him and told him I loved him and I didn't think anything would ever compare to the first time I held him until now. I didn't want to let go when I hugged him goodbye at the beginning of his deployment and I definitely didn't want to let go now. I cried a bit out of the sheer joy of finally being able to hold and kiss him. When I did let go, Wayne moved in to give him a hug and kiss. Seeing the two of them hugging made me cry. I knew how much Chris means to Wayne and that Wayne was just as relieved as I was to finally be able to hold his boy. I was able to get my first good look at his legs once Wayne let go. I'm still trying to figure out how I felt and feel about them. I wasn't disgusted or angry or sad or anything like that. It was just so surreal. I gave birth to a beautiful baby boy with 10 fingers and toes, now the toes I was so used to seeing for the last 21 years are no longer there. It was like he was hanging his legs in water and I kept waiting for him to pull them out. He was laughing and joking with his friend and the corpman; it did my heart good to see him honestly handling all this so well. I first took inventory of his room, it was your typical hospital room, sterile and bland though they did try to add some color with the furniture. This ward is supposed to be specifically for the wounded warriors, so taking into consideration all these young men have already lost, they hooked them up with a really great TV/computer-in-one set up. I then took a look at his bed, again your typical hosptial bed but with metal bars at both ends and one going down the middle with an orange trapeze attached to it. The trapeze chain must have been too long for Chris (he has a tall torso) cause it was looped over the bar once. There was an IV pole full of bags, PCAs and PCEs and lying on the end of his bed were his wound vacs. Now it was time to take a close up look at his legs. His right leg was the longest; the end had these dark grey sponges with a couple tubes coming out of them, held in place with a sheet of clear plastic tape. His left leg was shorter and set up pretty much the same way. The sponges made it hard to really get a good look at the actual damage. I peered at all the shrapnel wounds on his legs and arms. The backs of his poor legs and butt were horribly peppered, I don't think I could find a single square inch that didn't have a mark. All I could think of was how uncomfortable it must be for him to be sitting on all that and I could tell it was uncomfortable cause he kept shifting side to side. His left arm had a lot of peppering too but his right was relatively free from marks. The worst thing he had on the right was a cast on his ring finger from where it was smashed by something which broke the very tip of his finger. I couldn't help but think how ironic and appropriate it was to be that finger. Hopefully a reminder from the universe that his marriage is smashed, that he needs to move on and there should be no going back. After being there a little bit I couldn't wait anymore and asked if he was willing and able to tell us his story. He said yes and began. It was night, at the end of an unpartnered foot patrol, on the way back to base. They were standing in an area they had swept for IEDs, split into two columns. His buddy Brad walked up to their Squad Leader Nathan to talk to him and on his way back to his column he stepped on a pressure plated IED. The squad lept into action and after Chris helped set up the landing zone for the medevac he went back to help TJ get Brad onto the litter. As he walked around the litter to help pull Brad up, Chris stepped on the second IED. He felt himself fly up in the air and land on the ground where he thought what the hell did he trip over. He could tell his legs were gone, but didn't want to believe it. He dug himself out of the crater, rolled over and took the thor off then decided it was time to look at his legs. They felt like they were on fire; he looked down to see his right leg completely gone and the left hanging on by a tendon, ligament or whatever. My heart was breaking for him. I wanted to hug him; to take away all the pain and horrible memories, but I knew it wasn't the right time and let him finish. The explosion that got him also peppered his squad leader's face with shrapnel and he could see his buddy TJ lying face down on the ground. He had hoped it was only cause he was knocked unconscious, but feared the worst. Because of the positon the corpman was in when helping Brad the second explosion ripped the med pac apart and destroyed all medications left in there, leaving none to give to Chris. He remained calm and collected cause he knew freaking out wasn't going to make anything better so why freak out. Thankfully Chris decided to keep breaking in his new diaper with the new kevlar because despite the middle piece being shredded it really protected his special friends. Then he began to talk about the moment he realized TJ had been killed. After a couple buddies came to help him, a couple others turned TJ over and Chris could see the shrapnel that hit TJ killed him. My heart fell to pieces for him. I had always prayed that Chris would never be in a situation where he believed he was the reason why one of his buddies died and here it is. No, no, please no! It takes a lot to make Chris cry, to watch him break down and blame himself for the death of his best friend was so hard. All I could do was hold him while he sobbed and repeated he killed his best friend and how he would give anything to change places with him. For the most part I let him talk cause it was what he needed, but I did try to remind him the only person responsible for this was the jackass that planted the IEDs. As I said before, Chris is stubborn and it didn't matter what we believed. Even though I don't agree with how he sees things and as heartbreaking as it was, I did truly understand why and where he was coming from. I was so relieved to hear him say he had no intention of tarnishing TJ's sacrifice, instead he was going to use it as motivation to be the best he could be. We sat there in silence for awhile, as I held his hand I prayed for him, Brad, Nathan and TJ's family. For the strength needed to get through this traumatic time and to be able to quickly find their way thru the darkness and move into the light and love of all those around them. Shortly after that we met his squad leader Nathan outside Chris' room. The look on his face made me go to him straight away. I could tell he blamed himself and was afraid we blamed him too. I hugged him tight and thanked him for looking out for my boy, crying while I said it of course. He kept apologizing and I told him he had nothing to apologize for. I have my boy because of him and his squad and I will be forever grateful to them. I could tell he still felt guilty so I was determined to make sure over the next several days or however long it took to make sure he understands there is no blame, at least not from us. He came into the room and we talked about all kind of things but also about that night. It was neat to watch Chris and Nathan praise each other for how they handled everything. Nathan was blinded by the shrapnel but still worked the communications to get the medevac bird in. It was funny how each would get on the other for not taking credit where credit is due. I just wanted to shake the both of them and tell them to take their own advice. Stubborn, stubborn Marines. After Nathan left Wayne and I went to meet Brad. When we first got to his room it was just him so we had a few moments alone to talk to him and hear his side of the story. Basically it was the same as Chris' but where Chris blamed himself Brad talked about how awesome he was. Brad's parents and wife came in shortly after that, so we made our introductions then left them alone. I knew understandably they wanted alone time and I did want to get back to Chris. As we left Brad's room I said a little prayer that one day Chris will see himself through the eyes of his friends a little more and eventually blame himself a little less. It did strike me as 'funny' that Chris and Brad are twins. They do sort of look alike and their injuries are identical, though Brad's are a bit more intense. We spent some more time with Chris, but we needed to get to the Fisher House and get some sleep. It has been a long and emotionally draining day/night and tomorrow would be upon us before we knew it and tomorrow starts his surgeries. We kissed and hugged him goodnight then went to settle in.