- Walking With My Wounded Warrior
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- Meet 15 Extraordinary Wounded Warriors Who Are Stronger Than Ever
I needed to back away from everything and try to rejuvenate. I'm not finished with that, yet. I do not know how long it will take me to get back some semblance of who I was before the last ten months happened. I walked away from my entire life to help Derek, and I've lost so much as a result. That's hitting me pretty hard now. I don't know what really led to this. I guess certain thoughts have been bantering about in my noggin and I just want to get them out. Perhaps this is like Prof. I can only hope. Some of these are not good thoughts.
I feel like I am adrift on a raft in the middle of the ocean. I need to find solid ground. It is so hard for me to ask for help.
Walking With My Wounded Warrior
I've asked for help a handful of times, and usually I am disappointed. It really annoys me when people in power offer help or to arrange a special visit, and then when you ask, they ignore you. I experienced that so many times, and the one that stung the most was the person I thought was my best friend in the world.
The other one that ticked me off was someone everyone in the world knows, because he is in the news every single day. Most people will offer to help, but they do not mean it. It's an empty promise. Or, it's a promise made with the best of intentions at the time, but when redeemed, it is not convenient. Most people do not want to be put out, but they feel they have to offer.
When I offer, I mean it.
Not many have taken me up on it. If it is within my power, I will do it. Well, maybe some questions to appease my curiosity. Having reached out to people who offered to help and then were not there when I asked, I've become too cautious. I thought I could always rely on the one person I considered my best forever friend in the world, but I guess I wasn't perfect enough the last ten months and that is now over. I am SO happy and relieved that Derek's guys have made it home from Afghanistan safe and sound and in one piece. I am also a bit bitter and sad. Not because they were not hurt I would never wish an injury on even my worst enemy!
I am thrilled for them and for their families. But I hurt for us. I hurt for Derek. I wish he had gotten his homecoming. I wish we could have gone to Fort Drum to welcome the boys home. I wish Derek was one of them. So, it makes me happy, sad, thrilled, bitter when I see happy homecomings, because ours was denied to us. Does that make any sense?
It is hard for me to admit weakness. I am a strong woman, and I know that. But I have my moments, and when I do, it is hard for me to admit it. I usually put on a brave face and say I am fine. Today, I am fine. It takes a lot to make me cry. I do not usually shed tears. I cried a lot when Derek was first injured.
For the first week, anyway. I cried a couple of weeks ago when I felt I was just getting kicked too many times. Sometimes I tear up, but they crawl back into their cave before they fall. If I do cry, it's a sign that I am really hurting. I've cried a lot the last two weeks. I hate doing laundry. I would rather clean a bathroom then do laundry. I love Harry Potter. I do not like Twilight. Harry Potter is the ultimate love story. There is sacrifice and heroism. It's a story of a girl who falls in love with her stalker and then plays with the hearts of two guys. Just my humble opinion.
Oh, and I'm finding the Sookie Stackhouse books painful to read. I loved the Hunger Games books. Yes, I read it when it was a Twilight fan fiction. I do not carry a grudge, but I do not forget. I will forgive and move on, but I do not forget. Even if the person who wronged me does not ask for forgiveness, I will move on. There is only one person who I hold any bitterness towards, and it is because of recent events, not the past.
I had moved on from the past. I think most of you can guess who it is. He has wronged me and my children so many times and he was the one person on whom my children should have been able to lean. He abandonned the children 13 years ago and left me to struggle to support them on my own. I tried to get him to pay support, but he failed and refused until Probation caught up with him. So what could I do? I did the best I could for my children. Then Derek met the IED.
He came to the hospital. He had not seen the children in 12 years. I did not keep him away, although I wanted to. Because I didn't know if Derek would want him here or not, I was not going to be the one to send him away. I did blow up at him in front of Building He caused so much drama and so many problems that I finally snapped, but I still did not ask him to leave. When Derek woke up, he did it, and I supported him.
I have been blamed for worse. Derek and I and the rest of the family know the truth. I have horrible taste in men. I've pretty much given up on the dating scene because I do not trust my own judgment. I have looked around to see if there were any decent guys in Bethesda, but all I have found were married men, kids, and jerks. And at this time, I think I have a slight stalker problem. Racism and discrimination turn my stomach.
I hate when I am called a racist because I do not like someone when it has nothing to do with race, religion, creed, gender, etc. I make my decisions about people based on morals, values, words, and actions. Race is not always the determining factor. But if you listen to the media, Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, and others like them, you would think everything is determined by race.
When politics gets between friends, it breaks my heart. I lost a friend because of politics. Just because we are on two totally different teams does not mean we can't get along. We acted badly when an disagreement occurred, and that was it. I'm in a crowd of people, but I'm lonely. I missed family dinners. Eating alone is depressing, but that's what I did for most meals. I feel guilty whenever I feel pain, which is all the time. The range of motion is pretty much gone from my neck and it hurts all the time, but when I see what the wounded warriors do in spite of their injuries, I shut up.
I miss my church community, but I feel so disconnected from them. I am angry at God. I've tried to get beyond it, but whenever I do, more crap gets thrown at me. My crap bucket is currently overflowing. So, I'll deal with it myself. That doesn't mean I don't believe By way of example, so many attack the gay community and say that they are damned because it is against the Bible, but I believe it is Matthew 7: Isn't that up to God? I say, live and let live. If two men or two women want to be together, who am I to condemn them? I'm leaving it in God's hands to judge us all in the end.
I simply cannot stand it when people use their soldier's injury to make money or get attention. We are all in this together, and to give all of the attention to one or two, it is hurtful to the others. Come on - share - spread the love. I hate the position I am currently in. I lost my job. This is not a good economy and employment is scarce. I need a break. It's stupid, but it's an escape from reality.
I cannot deal with idle chit chat. I hate the telephone. I have so much on my mind and weighing down my shoulders, that to stand around and shoot the breeze is beyond my comprehension. I find myself avoiding people and situations because I just do not want to deal right now. I wish I could afford a maid. Wednesday, April 4, Be Prepared. The old Boy Scout motto - Be Prepared - is so apropo to so much of life. Is anyone really prepared for this life? I doubt it, but when information is available and not provided, that irks me. We should make it our mission to get as much information ahead of time as possible, no matter what we are going to do.
Ask questions, do your research, exhaust all avenues. I feel we were as prepared as we could have been for what it really means to be an outpatient, even though it does not feel like enough. We spoke with a lot of wounded warriors and family members, and we asked a lot of questions. We were told it was intense. I was dismayed the other day when I met a mother who walked into 62 for their first overnight and had no idea what to expect, what was in the apartment, etc.
I gave the doctors a list of everything and asked them to make it available. I was told it would be. This mother should have been prepared. The WTB could provide a list of the amenities offered by 62, as well as list of where to find what you need, including where to buy groceries. Derek met with wheelchair clinic the other day. The day before he met with one of the OTs who is an expert on wheelchairs. He shaved at least an hour off of the appointment by allowing Derek to try different wheelchairs and talking to him about all of the options.
He then gave Derek a handwritten list of the things that Derek had preferred. It made the appointment go a lot smoother and quicker. Be prepared before all appointments. Krystina goes through Derek's meds so that she knows which ones need to be refilled and which ones are okay. This makes the session with the doctor and pharmacist much easier, and it cuts back on having too much of any one medication.
It also helps because the doctor at the Warrior Clinic is I don't know how to say this nice. I am not happy with his PCM. And the nurse practitioner is worse. I'll leave it at that. We cannot change because there is only one doctor for Battle Company. I think that is nonsence. So, we must be prepared for every appointment because the doctor sure isn't! Derek is also educating himself on the different prosthetics and procedures so that he can make good decisions and get the best care and equipment out there.
Derek is getting better and stronger every day. We try to be prepared as best we can.
Some people are so clueless. Some people, who you would think should know better that is. Most people do not get this lifestyle. They have never experienced anything near to being called close to the path we now walk, so it is inconceivable to them. I am not writing this to criticize, but rather to educate. This did not start for me when Derek was injured.
When I told someone my son was deployed, I was often met by well-meanies who just didn't get it. I just sent my son off to college. Because college and Afghanistan are really so alike. Yes, you had to say good-bye, but that is where the similarities end. Yes, he was healthy, but he was in mortal danger every day. He was shot at. He had to watch his friends get hurt, die. He was able to call home once every couple of weeks. So, please, tell me again how you get what I'm feeling. And then he met the IED.
Then he became a Cat-A casualty himself. He was the reason for the blackout. That week between the phone call and the drive to Bethesda, I told so many people what had happened. Yes, they meant well, but some of the comments were just So not the same. Thank you for the sentiment, but Almost daily we encounter people who mean well, but they don't get it.
While still an inpatient, I was met with, "He shouldn't still be in the hospital. He is barely walking! Yes, that is a wonderful thought, but he is not yet ready for even an extended trip home. Derek will be in rehab for at least a year, if not longer. That means, he will not be home. He will be at Walter Reed. Yes, he might be able to come home for a short time on convalescent leave, but not until renovations are completed so he can get in the house.
We have to widen doors, install a ramp, renovate a bathroom, etc. He has no legs. He will need to be able to get his wheelchair everywhere he needs to go. Every day, we encounter people who stop short in front of us, refuse to move out of the way, play "chicken" with the wheelchair, come around corners without looking, push baby carriages into the hall without looking It is easier when you have legs to avoid these obstacles or if there is a collision, it will be mostly minor.
A lb electric wheelchair isn't as easy to move, and if he hits you When someone is using crutches, in a wheelchair, wearing a brace, using a cane, etc. Last week, we got onto an elevator and a woman in uniform got on behind us. She tried to push past Derek while he was moving. I told Derek to roll forward and she stumbled.
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When she got off, he asked me why I had him move forward, and I told him. A man on the elevator commented that maybe she was just steadying herself. I told him the elevator has a railing, and he would not like it if she had used his shoulder to steady herself without asking his permission first. A person's wheelchair is no different. It is part of him. And then there is the stress and changes to our life. I had to leave my other children at home.
One wife I know took her children out of school, away from their friends, away from the home, because Daddy needs this to make him better. Another wife was already home schooling, but she had to take her three children and move away from their home, extended family and friends. Another mother left her four children and baby grandson behind, because she felt she couldn't remove them from school at their level. They are living with friends of the family, because extended family was not available for her. Another wounded warrior lost custody of her children when she was hospitalized and now is starting the long road to not only healing, but getting her children back.
My heart breaks for each of these women, and so many others who are in similar situations. Unless you are in this situation, it is hard to say what you would or would not do. If someone had asked me one year ago what I would do if Derek was injured, I couldn't have answered. We take one day at a time and do the best we can with the hand we are dealt. I am probably going home soon.
Not for good, but because I need to find a job and take care of my other children. I will be back and forth often, as much as I can. Over time, though, you become quite numb to the fact that there are HRs down in the cargo box. Numb to what is going on around you. Numb to your friends and family. All your emotions shut off. Then the sleep deprivation and the night terrors start. Before long, your body breaks down as well. I had nine service-related surgeries—on my cervical spine, my shoulder, my wrist and an elbow.
My doctor down at Bethesda Naval Hospital told me due to my arm damage, I would never again do things I loved again like archery, rowing and rock climbing—basically anything that required upper body strength. This made me bitter and angry at the whole world. It not only took me out of action; it also exacerbated the PTSD. I would jump and startle at the drop of a hat. I would disappear for hours on end, and when it started becoming days, my wife was extremely concerned.
I just wanted the pain and useless feeling to stop. Then, in , I met a woman who would later become like my adoptive Momma. Her name is Mary Ellen Whitney. Momma runs a place in New York called Stride, which teaches adaptive sports to youth with special needs. There is also a Stride Warrior program for vets.
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On my first outing with Momma, she and her husband LJ took me snowboarding. I never thought I could do it: At one point I said to Momma: I was in the pool floundering and turning in circles. The swim coach jumped in with me and asked me what the hell was I doing. Take your damaged arm put it in your hand in your pocket. Use the good one and the good one only. Something clicked in my head. What else can I do? I went and saw the shooting coach, and then cycling and archery. I took a bronze on freestanding rifle shooting. Momma gave me the saying and I live it every day of my life now: You learn to live with it.
And adaptive sports are one of my tools for living with it. I will survive this. Archery, Track, Volleyball Current location: I was stationed at Yokota Air Base in Tokyo, Japan, and was almost at my five-year point of remission from testicular cancer. I had just gone through my annual scan and doctor visit without a hitch, felt healthy, and was focused on my career and enjoying family time overseas.
It turned out that my ribs were ok, but the doctors saw a tumor in my chest wall and wanted to get additional imaging to investigate. I never returned to Japan after that. While there, I received an email that said the Air Force Wounded Warrior Program had an introductory adaptive sports camp coming up designed just for people like me.
I made a ton of friends and benefited from talking to other warriors who had gone through similar experiences. I am still recovering from some of the negative effects of chemotherapy but am in remission again, have been returned to Active Duty and am a member of the Air Force team at the Warrior Games. I feel very blessed and excited for what the next two weeks will hold for my teammates and I, and for what the Air Force Wounded Warrior program will do for others in the future.
Volleyball, Cycling Current location: PTSD, traumatic brain injury, hemorrhages, occipital neuralgia. When I was told my medical limitations would limit my deployments and my ability to do my job, life as I knew it came to a sudden halt. I began to lose purpose with myself and our family. I began to feel as a burden. For so long I worked hard and believed deeply in what I did. In the winter of , a teammate who was also getting ready for medical retirement approached me. She patiently spoke with me for over two hours.
In January I joined the program. It brought me back to the spirit I had held for so many years, the unconditional mindset of not accepting restrictions on my life—of finding an adaptive way of thinking and finding ways to get me back into living. Before my medical issues, I was an avid outdoorsman, triathlete, diver and sky-diver.
It all fed my competitive nature and desire to shatter through any wall put before me. Now, with their assistance over the last six months, I not only woke up that sense of purpose, I also placed as a primary athlete with the Wounded Warrior Team.
I will proudly represent our Air Force, our staff and coaches, our Team and our recently lost teammate, Master Sergeant Richard Gustafson. No one fights alone. Air Force Master Sergeant Events: Cycling, Field Current location: PTSD, traumatic brain injury. I think of who I was six months ago and barely recognize myself. I was angry, bitter, and resentful. I wanted to be left alone.
I pushed people away. I hurt my family and friends and grew more bitter and angry by the day. To the point where I choked. I am the least athletic person on this side of the planet, and my name is not synonymous with any sport. So I told her I was not interested. After numerous panic attacks and several nervous breakdowns, I boarded the plane. As Wounded Warriors arrived at the hotel, I listened to their stories. I came to a sudden realization: I found different sports that I could do because they adapted them to me.
Meet 15 Extraordinary Wounded Warriors Who Are Stronger Than Ever
After that camp I came home different. My family noticed immediately. I have a network of people who I can trust and reach out to for help. I understand I am not alone. With coaches, staff and fellow athletes by my side, I began to let go of the old me. I am a work in progress; I always will be. I know it will be alright, one day, one moment at a time. I am now closer to the person my family deserves. Practicing for the Games helps me focus on the positive.
Air Force Staff Sergeant Events: On October 28, , I was involved in a motorcycle accident that crushed my left heel. After four weeks and several surgeries to save my heel, my wife and I decided the best option for our family was to amputate my leg. My main concern was to be able to continue serving in the military as well as live a functional lifestyle.
On November 25, my left leg was amputated below the knee and my life was forever changed. I got my first leg on February 10, and was walking unassisted three days later. I started going to the gym every day, learning to adapt and overcome all the new obstacles in my life. Eventually, I was returned to active duty and things were starting to feel normal again.
Then in mid January, I got a phone call from my Recovery Care Coordinator telling me about an adaptive sports program. Initially I was hesitant to apply because I did not compete much growing up, but once I arrived to the Air Force trials and learned about what adaptive sports really are, I was hooked! I was fortunate to make the Air Force team and have the opportunity to compete in track, archery and shooting. I had no idea the programs and opportunities that were available to me. I have had a blast over the last few months learning new sports and seeing improvements throughout my training.
After the Warrior Games, I will continue to train and try new adaptive sports and just see where it takes me. Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant Events: Cycling, shooting and sitting volleyball Current location: PTSD, traumatic brain injury, left leg injury. May 8, , I was wounded by a rocket-propelled grenade in Marjeh, Afghanistan.
Unfortunately, reality would send me down a different path, and the unspoken truths about being injured would become my new norm. I struggled to find my way out of this fog of pain and uncertainty, and one of the beacons would be adaptive sports and recreation. Marine, exceeding daily challenges is expected of every Marine.
For the first two years, friends and family had no idea I was even hurt. I would endure extensive medical appointments and evaluations and be introduced to a variety of therapeutic activities. Although the medical and mental health professionals gave me an understanding of my situation, adaptive sports like seated volleyball, hand cycling and shooting gave me a feeling of purpose and a new sense of challenge in my life. Marine Corps Sergeant Events: I played soccer for 18 years, and seated volleyball is just as fast and competitive but more difficult with all the obstacles and rules.
Like soccer, I get the same rush of adrenaline and sense of purpose that my team is depending on me. I find myself lost in the moment, which is exactly where I want to be. The feeling that there is nothing else in the universe but that intense excitement I get while playing a competitive sport—I thrive for that feeling all the time.
The feeling of belonging and being depended on comes in at a close second. The individual sports are all about doing my personal best and being able to mentally and emotionally stay in the game. Yes, I am still a part of a team and they support me, but this is personal. It is centering mental focus to overcome any pain, doubt, and inability you might have, in order to finish the match the best way you can. At the end of the Games, I would hope to leave with a medal in every event I competed in, along with the motivation of what it took to get to that point. Not every athlete here will take home a medal, but what they will gain is a new sense of pride competing against so many physically strong competitors.
In the end they are finding their strengths, both physical and mental. Injuries to lower back. I suffer from degenerative disc disease from my L2-S1 vertebra, and since my injury it has been an uphill battle both mentally and physically. There have been days I was unable to get out of the bed, but there have also been days that I am able to go out and do the things in life I love so much. After my injury, I was told I would never be able to compete in sports at the level I had before. Volleyball, track and basketball were always a huge part of my life, and I knew that I would not settle for anything less than being back on the court and track.
The day I arrived I knew that I would be able to focus on getting back into the sports I loved so much. It took about two weeks for me to understand my whole outlook on life and sports would be changed and that I could play the sports I wanted so desperately to play.