It took only a few days and I knew that this was not the Dean that I sent to Afghanistan a year ago. I knew that this was more than just reacclimating. The first thing I noticed was that he was forgetting what I told him 10 minutes ago, then he was repeating stories he had told me earlier that day over and over. He didn't want to leave the house. He wanted to be alone a lot. He couldn't handle the lights or sounds of our house. And as he became more and more accustomed to being back home and now wearing his civilian clothes, he settled into his new self even more. Where just a few weeks ago driving in the car was this routine we had to do to get him home for a day, now driving in the car was a very scary endeavor. I realized that when he was in uniform and in the car, he was being a soldier and "soldiering" his way around the world....tough exterior, always battle ready, no weakness! But in civies he was afraid, vulnerable, and alone. When we would drive, he would freak out that me driving 20mph was WAY too fast. He was jumping out of his skin at any random piece of garbage on the road. In his mind everything around him could be an IED and blow up. The cars that drove next to us could be an ambush. The people at the store could be following him and watching him and could take him out. Leaving the house became too much to handle.
Way back in May, during his R & R he wore civies and wasn't like this. But looking back I now had a deeper meaning to attach to his statement that "this isn't my home, my home is in Afghanistan". In May wearing his civies was just a costume he was wearing to fit in while on this "vacation" from battle. He wasn't really here....he didn't live here. Yes in May he was nauseous in the car and thought I was driving too fast but he wasn't as emotionally reactive because he was still being a soldier maintaining his strength to back to battle. Now in November was a whole different story!
As I started to realize how different he was, I started to do what I always do....RESEARCH....lol.
We began our journey with the VA in December of 2010, got super lucky to get the most awesome primary care doctor on the planet, and started to get confirmation of all the problems that had been hiding underneath his tough exterior. While at Ft Lewis he tried to tell them that his back hurt and his neck hurt, but they didn't listen. They gave the same scripted response that the papers say he's here for the elbow and so that's what they will treat him for. Nobody at Ft Lewis paid any attention to all that was going on with Dean and nobody was communicating with me at all. They told him that he's taking up a bed that a soldier with no legs could be using. They told him that he's not big Army, he's National Guard and so let them take care of you. They made him feel so worthless there which only added to him feeling depressed. Now at the VA he was being listened to and encouraged to express his feelings about things. He told them his back and neck was hurting so they sent him to get MRI's and x-rays. He said he couldn't hear things very well, they sent him for a hearing test. He said he was repeating things and forgetting things so they sent him for TBI testing. This went on and on from December of 2010 until about September of 2011.
In that time we discovered the extent of his injuries. He had sustained a broken back, likely in his first blast. He has degenerative disc disease in his back and neck, some hearing loss, TBI, severe and persistent PTSD, headaches, balance problems, tinnitus, and sacro-illiac dysfunction.
Throughout this year of discovery, I accompanied him everywhere and became his working memory and decision making helper. I became his calming safety and his rock to lean on. I became his caregiver.
His injuries have come to define our life now since every minute of our family's day and our future plans are all determined by them. Day to day I remind him to take his medications, to wake at his intended time, to eat, to shower, to put clean clothes on, and to our day's activities. I remind him of his goals and why they are important to him. I remind him of our discussions and the conclusions to them. I keep him on track. I also watch him for symptoms that visibly show but he doesn't recognize like him having a bad balance day or being dizzier than usual or him having hurt himself yesterday by overdoing it and so to take it easy today. I have to try and control the noise level in our house (with a 3 year old boy) and be mindful of lights. I can tell when he has a headache and know to ask him for verification because he won't know that he can take an Imitrex and he won't know when he can take another one. Why not just set an alarm to go off and remind him of these things? We have tried to set alarms for things and he looks at his alarm, reads what he needs to do, heads off to accomplish the task, and by the time he gets to the right room he forgets why he came in there and finds some other reason to be there. He doesn't remember that his alarm is what brought him there. Walking from one room to the next presents so many new stimuli that he is in a new time that is not connected to 2 minutes ago. For this reason, I am his caregiver.