Every year we go to a reunion in North Carolina for Samaritan's Purse Operation Heal Our Patriots. I love going and seeing everyone again, feeling the love of that entire organization, eating the delicious food, hearing the speakers, the whole experience is fabulous...well....if you take out all that Dean goes through to go there.
Dean does pretty well day to day on the farm. His disabilities are almost unnoticeable when he's doing his daily routine. I learned during our trip that that is solely due to the fact that his day is a predictable routine. Once you change something up, he begins to feel uneasy. His uneasiness is an upward slope that leads to pain & panic.
The uneasiness started the morning we left home when at 4 am we were in the car headed to the airport. There hadn't been any noticeable stress in packing and we made sure he got to bed early and could handle the early wake up. The morning was going pretty well. But as I was pulling out of the driveway he simply mentioned, "We're not supposed to be in the car this early...I don't like this feeling". He didn't say it in a he has a weird premonition type way. He said it in a this isn't my normal routine, Rainman sort of way. I put my hand on his leg and I assured him everything would be fine. We're doing this together and we brought medicine to help him if he needs it. He's such a trooper that he just rolls with it and pushes through whatever he feels.
TSA actually was prepared this trip and I didn't have to call and check up on any of their agents. They were all very punctual with all the right details so that made my job easier. We got to the airport and the TSA guy was there ready to help us. He got the wheelchair and got us through security without a hitch and took us to the gate. (I do always wish that TSA and the people that are hired to push the wheelchair through the airport would be trained in the "shut up technique" where they didn't sit and talk the ear off the disabled person whom they assume must have a walking problem only -- either that or I need to learn to somehow explain to them that a "brain injury" means it hurts his head for them to yammering on and on about their life). We made the first leg of the trip pretty good. He complained a bit about the small aircraft which he knows all about, the class of plane, when they were built, what type of equipment is on board, etc....cause he's my own personal Google...and when we landed he filled me in on an Afghanistan memory. Apparently each time he landed in Afghanistan the plane did what is called a "combat landing" where the plane basically heads straight toward the ground as if the plane is going to crash but of course doesn't and this is to avoid being shot out of the sky by the enemy. That's a nice fact to hear now as we're landing honey....lol.
At this second airport is where our trip gets it's first whiff of grumpy. We had lunch, he had a beer, we waited by our gate which I had already spoken to the desk about having us get an early boarding -- that's my first job when we reach our gate -- well because of the way all the asshole passengers were gathering closer and closer to the boarding entrance and because the airline employees weren't doing anything to create order there, Dean began getting really pissed off. I'll tell you that people at the airport are already assholes when it comes to a wheelchair person anyway...they don't get out of the way, they don't notice you're there as a person. I know for sure that if he were to stand up and put his "man energy" out there, people would get out of his way, but he's at one of his most weak and vulnerable states at an airport because it takes all his energy just to be there and not talk and not think. So here we are waiting for the airline attendant to call for pre-boarding, all the other passengers are inching closer and closer to the boarding area so that Dean is behind people (he has to stay in the location where a giant pillar is to his back because he needs to have his back up against a wall and I need to be watching and protecting his back...so we're by the pillar). He wants me to go up to the attendant and tell them what I've already asked and arranged for. I'm here trusting that they'll make it right and at this particular time Dean did NOT trust them. So he's telling me to go up there and I'm telling him I already did and it's ok and to calm down. He isn't calming down and now people in his immediate vicinity can hear him getting upset. One man seemed to feel really bad for Dean and he went to the attendant and reminded them that Dean needs to pre-board. Now everyone is looking at us and I am so embarrassed -- both because my husband won't calm down, won't trust people to do their job, and because I didn't just go up there myself and do what this other man ended up doing for me. I just didn't feel good about any of this situation. Well thankfully the attendant started coming our way and Dean saw that he was soon getting the hell away from all these crowding assholes so Dean starts pushing himself forwards and yelling to people "EXCUSE ME" and just going and if someone's legs get rammed he doesn't care. I just blocked this all out and wanted out of there.
Thankfully we made it on the plane without fists thrown. At this point he needed a Larazapam!
The closer we get to our destination and with the help of that wonderful drug he gets better and better, calmer and calmer and our night actually turned out really awesome! We actually had a "date" when we got to our hotel in Charlotte. We went to a restaurant in the same parking lot as our hotel (that makes him feel safe cause his room is right there), we ate, he drank a couple beers, we flirted (which was my favorite part and so unlike him to do in public...lol), then we went back to our room *winky face*. We even topped the night off with a nightcap in the hotel "bar" (basically a countertop where they serve drinks in the lobby...lol) and then went up to bed.
The next day he got to sleep in until almost noon before we had to drive to Asheville to our reunion.
The weekend went alright. I approached this weekend a little differently than retreats in the past. Previous retreats would always leave me crying somewhere feeling alone because MY husband was the one that couldn't participate hardly at all. MY husband was the one everyone would ask about "Where's Dean"?, "Is Dean not feeling well"? blah blah! I would always think "No he's not feeling well, he's got a brain injury and ya I know all these other guys do too but I don't know why MY husband can't seem to function with his"???? This weekend I went into knowing he wasn't going to fully participate and that instead of withdrawing and feeling lonely, I was going to participate in things alone and just be happy about it.
He and I learned to plan his energy out a bit. We knew he couldn't do group breakfast, group lecture, group session 1, group visiting, group lunch, group lecture 2, group session 2, group visiting, followed by group dinner, group closing lecture, and visiting like everyone else does. We knew that he could choose 2 or maybe 3 of those things to participate in and he would need rests in between but it's funny how even when you know something sometimes you don't navigate it well. The first night we checked in and he was grumpy and said "I don't want to see people" and I thought "Of course you don't cause this is a reunion (the purpose of which is to see people)" so I let him decompress in our room and I went and visited with people. I got him to join us for dinner after taking a Larazapam and then he went back to the room while I finished out the night. The next morning he did breakfast and lecture and was wiped out. He needed a giant nap during session 1, visiting, lunch and lecture 2. I got him to go to session 2 after a Larazapam which was super informative and he really liked it! The next day we were leaving so he came to breakfast and then we packed up and left. It was all like a whirlwind and was over like that. *Note - he's not supposed to take these Larazapams more than 3 times a week. This is his 3rd one in 3 days and I know he'll need one tomorrow. Oh well, I guess we'll find out what happens when he takes 4 in 4 days.
One aspect that I don't know how to handle about our reunion weekends is that all the couples we went to Alaska with know Dean but Dean doesn't know them. He only recognizes one of the guys and that's because the one activity Dean participated in in Alaska was going on the fishing boat and this guy (and his wife) were on the boat with us. This guy and Dean talked while on the boat and so his memory is tied information he learned about this guy. Now this guy is on Dean's facebook friend list and so that helps Dean remember who he is. At the reunion though couples may say "Hi" to him and Dean says Hi back but with a look of who are you on his face. I hope that the couples understand that Dean just doesn't know who they are.
Reunion is over, we're driving back to Charlotte. Dean sleeps. As we near Charlotte I realize we have about 3 1/2 hours before we have to be at the airport (5 1/2 hours before our flight leaves). I ask Dean he he feels about letting me drive into Virginia or something so that I can say I've been there. He's adamantly opposed to this idea which I don't understand. He stressfully explains to me that he will feel safe when we get to the airport and through security where he knows that he's relatively out of danger. This is news to me. Here we are, in our own rental car, with no people around us, no danger of him being touched or talked to and he's counting down the minutes until he can be through security at the airport! Well great. This is a new one. I don't get to take a longer drive and instead we sit at the airport for 5 1/2 hours....yeah.
The TSA agent, an older guy, who helps us at the Charlotte airport must be new and he's a talker! He doesn't know that he can get us through security quicker because Dean's a wounded veteran. He doesn't seem to know what he can and can't do and since I've been through this apparently a lot more than he has, I tell him what he should do. Of course when he finally does what I suggest (after first explaining to me that that's not how it works) it does work just like I say it does....how fun for me to teach this new dude how to help a wounded vet. The guy is pushing Dean's wheelchair as he talks to Dean about every thought in his head, "Maybe I'll push you over here while your wife does this and that way we can blah blah", "Why don't I take this route because it looks like this elevator is closer" -- Dude...shut the hell up and just do what you are going to do without the freakin commentary, ok? Well Dean is way nicer than I am so Dean tolerates this guy's voice.....until he snaps and can't take it anymore....which is what I knew was coming. Dean visibly snaps a bit (he always snaps carefully because he really is very scary to people and knows this and his intention is not to scare people) and asks him to stop at this bathroom. While he's in there I have a little talk with this guy who is visibly shaken by Dean's baby-snapping. I tell him about his brain injury and that he can't ask him questions and tell him step by step what he's doing, Dean can't handle all that, it's hurting his brain. I explain that in Dean's mind he's in danger from all these people and he can't keep us safe if he's having to listen to his commentary. Dean just needs to get through security as quietly as possible. I tell the guy, "If you have questions, direct them to me please". Dean knew I would give him "the talk" while he was in the bathroom. When Dean came back I had a Larazapam and his migraine meds waiting for him.
Now the guy had a whole new focus...get us through security! Which he did. So now we could relax. We found the USO and made ourselves comfie...as comfie as we could with a packed USO. We found a corner in the little playroom that had no children in it, Dean sat on a kid chair with his back against a wall and after I got him a few comfort items and could feel that he was calm enough I wondered around to find out where we could eat lunch.
Found a great place with yummylicious food that with Dean's two $12/each bloody mary's cost us $77!!! Holy crap.
Fast forward, we finally got on our non-stop flight to Portland. Made it home, got our car, drove home, everything was great, got Dean to bed by midnight -- Whew!