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Archive for June, 2015

“This didn’t just change his life, but the whole family.” Cheryl Gansner, Dole Fellow and Operation Homefront’s Hearts of Valor Program Coordinator. Gansner joins us as a guest blogger for PTSD Awareness Month.

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In July of 2006, Cheryl’s husband, Bryan, was severely injured by an IED in Iraq six weeks before coming home

 In July of 2006, my husband, Bryan, was severely injured by an IED in Iraq six weeks before coming home. As a social worker I knew that he might experience some form of PTSD. Once he arrived at Walter Reed, I kept my eyes open for any signs. Initially, he didn’t seem to have nightmares or jump at loud noises and he seemed in good spirits (the morphine may have helped).

 

A few weeks later, with daily surgeries, I was providing non-stop care and he was receiving a constant stream of meds. I noticed that he wasn’t sleeping in spite of heavy doses of narcotics. He said he was re-living the trauma every time he closed his eyes. Apparently his brain was trying to process what his body had experienced.

He finally fell asleep one night for a few hours and the nurse came in to take vitals. It was dark in the room. He started screaming at the nurse saying she was an Iraqi that had come to kill him. She quickly left the room. He looked absolutely traumatized when I turned on the light. His skin was gray and his pupils were hugely dilated.

That night started a long process of counseling and recovery. We spent years trying to adjust his medication combination. He spent his nights down in the basement in the recliner trying to sleep and I was alone in our bedroom. He shut out family, friends…everyone. This went on for about three years.

I was at the end of my rope. I was burnt out from my job as a social worker and caregiver. I finally got some direction when Bryan became sick with a terrible double ear infection that threw off his balance. When I took him to the doctor, he was asked what medications he was taking. Bryan said “none.” My jaw nearly hit the floor. I knew things had taken a turn for the worse, but I didn’t know he had taken himself off his meds.

When we talked more, he said he was having the urge to jump out of the car or drive off bridges and overpasses. I got him to see his psychiatrist at the VA right away and he started on a different combination of meds.

Unfortunately, things got worse. He wanted to divorce, quit his job and live in his parents’ basement. I was a complete wreck and felt like I was watching him slip away. I decided to talk to a friend/mentor about what was going on. She told me about a clinical trial using Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) for TBI and PTSD. Bryan felt it was worth a shot since it wasn’t another medication and was minimally invasive.

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The treatment helped and he was on half the medication. I noticed that he was laughing again, engaging in conversation and doing well in his job. Since then, he has had two more rounds of HBOT which have also helped.

 

 

 

Does he still struggle? Yes, PTSD hasn’t gone away and he isn’t cured. But we have learned to work together as a team. It has taken years, more than nine years to be exact, and lots of patience but now he tells me when he needs to leave the room, or leave a location altogether. And I don’t get upset about it anymore. I connect with friends to vent and get ideas on what I can do to help him. Having a support system is vital in a post-injury life.

Cheryl, Bryan and Emory at their recent vow renewal ceremony in Hawaii.

Cheryl, Bryan and Emory at their recent vow renewal ceremony in Hawaii.

 

We’ve been through a lot together. Today WE are stronger. I say ‘we’ because this didn’t just change his life, but the whole family. Recently, we renewed our vows on the exact beach we got married on. I am so thankful that we didn’t give up and that my hero chose to carry on instead of letting it defeat him!

 

If you are struggling with the challenges from PTSD, reach out for help. Don’t try to face this alone. If you are a caregiver, join Hearts of Valor and reach out to friends. Together, you can educate yourself on PTSD.

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The author's husband and daughter, shortly after he returned from deployment.

The author’s husband and daughter, shortly after he returned from deployment.

As my husband prepared to leave for the first time since our oldest was born, I remember confessing to a seasoned military spouse that I feared she wouldn’t remember her Dad. She had been a wonderful mentor to me, and herself was a mother of four, and a military spouse for over 20 years. I figured if she didn’t know, no one would.

After I asked, she sort of cocked her head to one side, and with a knowing smile, told me, “They don’t forget.”

I have to admit that I wasn’t entirely sold on that. “But she’s so young and he will be gone for so long.” This was way before the marvels of Skype and social platforms, and as a submariner, we were limited to radio messages and the occasional letter or call, if we were lucky. How on earth was I going to keep their connection all of those months that he would be gone?

But she was right. Just as he was never “gone” for me, he was never “gone” for her. He may not have been physically present, but he was there. At the table, at the park, while reading her a bedtime story.

When he first returned, and we met on the pier, there was a moment when my heart sank a bit when our daughter greeted him with a curious look. But then he took off his cap and the biggest smile of recognition spread across her face.

They don’t forget. Because in many ways, Dad is never “gone,” he’s just not here. It’s a distinction that may not make sense to some, but does to military children.

The baby in this blog is now about to turn 18, and if you ask her about those many years her Dad was deployed, don’t ask “what it was like to have Dad ‘gone?’” She won’t know how to answer. My mother, the daughter of a World War II veteran, won’t know either. Because, for them, Dad was never gone, and certainly never forgotten.

Surely, there are times when the days seem to go on forever, and you miss them terribly. It hurts, and there are tears and even anger. But those are the things that are forgotten. That’s why reunions are so emotional. All of the negative, if any, flees and love floods in.

This goes out to our deployed Dads today, but we also know there are many Dads whose sons or daughters are in harm’s way. We want you to know, too, that they never forget that you are with them, guiding them and giving them strength as you have done all of their lives.

Happy Father’s Day from all of us at Operation Homefront.

 

 

 

 

 

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O’er the Land of the Free…

Sunrise on Omaha Beach at Normandy, France on the 70th Anniversary. June 6, 2014 (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

Sunrise on Omaha Beach at Normandy, France on the 70th Anniversary. June 6, 2014 (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

 

 

Flag at Eielson Visitor Center, Denali National Park. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Flag at Eielson Visitor Center, Denali National Park. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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And the Home of the Brave…

 

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Marine Sgt. Maj. Samuel Heyward Jr., recruiting command New York sergeant major, salutes as a large American Flag is presented across the field at the New York Giants military appreciation game vs the Dallas Cowboys, here, Nov. 14

Photo By: Sgt. Randall A. Clinton

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Standing watch at Section 60. This is the section of Arlington National Cemetery for veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

 

“And when we view a flag, which to the eye is beautiful, and to contemplate its rise and origin inspires a sensation of sublime delight, our national honor must unite with our interests to prevent injury to the one, or insult to the other.” Thomas Paine, Dec. 9, 1783

Flag Day reminds us that we all live and breathe under the same beautiful symbol of American freedom. Long may she wave!

 

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