Monday, November 26, 2012

Justin the Marine and a very important vow


In the spring of 2011 we took a family trip to one of our favorite locations, South Padre Island, Texas. On the way there, we decided to stay in a hotel on Fort Sam Houston, an Army Post in San Antonio, Texas. The hotel is located near Brooke Army Medical Center and serves as home to many wounded Veterans.

We had the good fortune to be able to meet one of the wounded warriors named Justin. I wrote this about him then: 
 Justin was 12 on September 11, 2001. Now he's a 22 year old amputee. A marine whose 4 year tour would have been over in October. He's married and has a two year old son. Quite miraculously he is still alive and he's willing to talk about what happened. 
We got to spend a couple hours with Justin and his wife, listening. They will be here at Fort Sam Houston for the next couple of years. The first of which will be for physical therapy, the next will be for the medical board process that will end his Military career and begin his life with the war hero, Disabled Veteran designation.
 He joined the Marines in 2007, and married his wife shortly after. He deployed to Iraq in 2008 and to Afghanistan almost 7 months ago. Six months to the day that his enlistment would have been over, he stepped on an IED (it was the 18th one he had found). It threw him about 100 feet and tore off his right leg, most of his left leg and his personal "first aid kit," the kit that contained his tourniquets. He felt no pain, just had an intense ringing in his ears as he sat up and got to work on stopping his bleeding. He packed the remains of his right leg with sand and created a tourniquet with what shreds of clothing he had remaining for his mangled left leg. His fellow Corpsmen knew they shouldn't approach him in case of a 2nd IED but from what we've learned, those kind of rules go out the window when it comes to helping a battle buddy.  
The next four months he spent in hospitals in Afghanistan, Germany, Maryland and now here at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio. At Bethesda alone he had 22 surgeries. He has no idea how many he had before that. He was kept heavily sedated on psychotropic drugs.  
 Meanwhile back in Louisiana his wife received a phone call telling her to check her email. The email contained the casualty list. Thankfully for her, her Marine brother was there with her. He had just returned home from deployment and was able to help her through the next 23 hours of not knowing if her husband was alive or not. All she had been told was that he was identified by his dog tags.  On the 23rd hour, Justin had a fellow Marine call her and hand him the phone to let her know he's not dead yet.  It took another day after that before she was formally told by Casualty Notification. I say he wasn't dead yet because he did technically die twice after that.
Justin is still on drugs to control the nightmares, but has a fabulous attitude, a foul mouth, and a great sense of humor. He's blessed to have his wife and infant son by his side for what now is the third month that they've lived in this hotel.  

What is it that will keep this young couple together as the years roll on? Statistics are not in their favor. Most of us will never have to face the overwhelming challenge of being married to an amputee suffering PTSD. However what we will inevitably face in our marriages will require the same commitment and steadfastness that will be essential for this young wife.

In April, an injury RLB suffered years ago in Korea raised its ugly head once again. Unlike six years ago, it is not healing and the pain is not subsiding. His last seven months have consisted of doctor's appointments, tests, consultations, and physical therapy. Without the two narcotics he is on, his pain level is at a consistent 8 on the 1-10 scale. His primary care doctor put him on an physical profile that restricts his movements essentially to "permission to breathe with caution." Those of you in and around the Military will understand. For those of you outside of it, what this means is until further evaluation and a new profile, he is not only restricted from the physical activity listed, it is unlawful for him to break his profile.

Most women have a fantastic ability to deal with emergency situations. We can multitask and expend untold energy to accomplish all that is required in a time of need. Built within us is an essence of self preservation that encompasses our families and supersedes selfish desires and self pity.

What happens when it's permanent, when it's no longer an emergency situation? When the vow, to promise to be true in sickness, is brought before you to uphold and there is no end in sight?

It was following a routine spinal injection that this became a potential reality for me. RLB's pain level spiked to a 10. I sat helplessly by as he suffered what was obviously the most excruciating pain he's had since the night that left him in the emergency room in April. He was four months in to what was supposed to be recovery and we were back at day one. All the hope I had for this to be a short term situation left. I began to see this for what it really might be and all that would be required of me to continue the emergency tasks I had been performing, permanently.

I am so thankful for the changes that were brought about in our marriage three years ago. When I finally understood that my respect for RLB and submission to him are decisions I make, not for RLB, but for God. There is nothing that RLB does or does not do to earn or deserve my respect and submission, therefore there is nothing he can do that will cause me to not respect him or submit to him.

"As unto the Lord" remains when all of the negative effects of chronic pain and the drugs used to minimize it are present: frustration, irritability, bouts of depression, anxiety, stress, hopelessness, sleeplessness, etc.

Because of my surrender to God's commands, great things have been able to happen for me. As I lean on Him and hold steadfast to His Word, I have been able to eliminate many things in life that just don't matter and hold tight to the things that do. As I take care of the things that make RLB's home a sanctuary and a place of healing and rest, I have no time remaining for negative things like toxic relationships, petty or selfish individuals, and unnecessary material things.

This time has been fantastic for our children as well. There's been no family vacation, no roller coasters, no boogie boarding at the beach, and no fishing - our favorite things to enjoy as a family. Instead there have been countless hours of listening to RLB pour out wisdom and guidance to all of us. We still play fun games and entertain ourselves with movies and sports but even then something will come to RLB and we'll pause whatever we are doing and listen and discuss.

I urge you all, no matter how long you've been married, to heed the words of Mathew 7:24-25:
Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.

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