So, yesterday was World Suicide Prevention Day. This day, my Wife and I spent outdoors taking a hike on a beautiful set of trails in a state park in PA(Mcconnells Mill). Yesterday we spent over 4+ hours just walking on trails, taking in the vast beauty this time of year brings to the Pennsylvania countryside. Trees are beginning to change, the air is a bit cooler, the water provides that soothing sound you hear on those calming CD’s/MP3’s.
This year, this day marked an extremely huge point in my life. Last November so many things happened that began spiraling my mind down into the dark recesses that your worst nightmares reside. On Veterans Day, two of the bravest, wonderful, loving souls both had tragedy strike them. I will begin with the first, and describe situations from there. This are a bit lengthy, but this will be the first time I publicly spoke and acknowledged the events. Some of my closest friends knew of this, but many will be finding out for the first time.
In the early morning, my Wife and I made our way out to Toys R Us by our home to wait in line for the NES Classic Edition. We were having a great morning, we had McDonalds breakfast(A rare occasion for us). We sat in the car telling stories about childhood memories playing the games that are included on the classic. Talking about who will get to play first, whos gonna beat who in which game, etc. We got our system and began heading home.
We were home for a short time when we received a phone call from my Father-In-Law. My Wife’s Grandmother had been in the hospital for a few days because of some swelling in her legs. She was due to come home just that day, which was important to us because she was to accompany us to a dinner at the VFW as not only my guest, but as the Spouse of a lifetime member(Her Husband passed a few years before, but she began going with me as a way to stay connected with him by seeing and talking to his friends/brothers). My Father-In-Law’s voice was shaken on the phone, he explained that Nunny B(Grandmother’s nickname from us) had a massive stroke and was being closely monitored. They already administered some therapy to reduce and mitigate the damage.
He needed to say no more. I was immediately on my feet, and grabbing keys. I told my Wife to grab our phone chargers and I would get the car brought around. We raced to the local hospital where she was, and found the rest of the family in the waiting area. Due to the size of the room in the ICU, only one person could visit at a time. Everybody was afraid to go in, so I volunteered as I did not want her in there alone. I went into the room and sat next to her, held her hand while talking with her. Majority of the conversation was me praying over her..and I normally do not pray. This woman was a devout Catholic and I knew she needed somebody to pray for her at the moment. She squeezed my hand and said “I knew I’d get you to see the light one day.”. With that, I laughed and brushed tears off my cheek. I told her, “You know, if you didn’t want to be my date tonight, a simple story of “I am having stomach issues” would of worked! She smiled and told me she was in alot of pain and asked if I could find a nurse.
Now, Nunny B had some breathing issues, she was already on oxygen 24×7. The nurse informed me they could not administer more pain medication due to her oxygen levels. So I did what I thought was best…I told Nunny B that the medicine was coming and to just try to rest. She asked for Chrissie(My Wife) to come in. I told her I would get her, she asked if we both could come in. I told her, “They didn’t have anybody there that could stop me!”
I went and talked to the family, told them she cracked a joke and she was in some pain and what the nurse said. I asked my Wife if she wanted to come back as Nunny B wanted to see her. She was afraid and I reassured her that it would be a good thing for Nunny to see her, or even just hear her voice. So, back we went, the Nurse looked at us and I motioned a 5 with my hand to indicate 5 minutes, and she nodded. We went in, and sat at her bedside. Chrissie talked to her, telling her that when she got out, we had to get her hair done, she was a mess! Nunny smiled again and told her she was sorry that she couldn’t make it that night, but we had to go. “Jim deserves this day, he fought so hard to have this day, they all did.” At that point, I stepped out of the room. I knew I couldn’t cry in front of my Wife, so I did so in the hallway before returning.
We stayed longer than 5 minutes, but the Nurse had no problem with us being in there. We stayed out of the way, making sure if any medical personnel came in, we moved to the side. We left after about 10 minutes as Nunny fell back asleep. We told the family how she looked and they should go in. Everybody did take turns going in and visiting. We stayed until around 5pm before Chrissie said to me we should head out and go to the VFW for the dinner. I told her that we did not have to, we could stay. She repeated what Nunny said, and I hugged my Wife and said goodnights to everybody and to let us know if anything changes and we would be back in the morning.
We went to the dinner at the VFW. We tried to remain in good spirits, but with Nunny B in the hospital it lingered in the back of our minds all night. We shared some stories, had a few drinks and of course a toast to our brothers/sisters who passed that year. We went home and got ready for bed, we were both exhausted. I had called my Boss and let him know the situation and to tell him I would be out the next day and would not be covering the ON-Call rotation, he said it was not a problem and that he would cover.
We laid down to try and sleep, and after about an hour my phone rang. I grumbled as I thought maybe somebody didn’t read the email about the coverage switching. It was my parents number. Now mind you, it is about 12:30AM, so I immediately went into fully awake. I answered, my Mother was crying on the phone saying that she needed me to come over and take her to the hospital as my Father’s arm was bleeding badly. My Father has been on dialysis for the past 9 years. The “port” in his arm developed an ulcer that opened when we was adjusting his blanket. Now, if you are not familiar with dialysis, this port is used to take his blood out of his body and put through a machine where it removes the toxins and is placed back in.
My Mother, the retired nurse of 40 years immediately tried to put pressure on the wound, but it would not stop. She called 911 before me and they were on the way. My Wife overheard the conversation, but she could not come with me in case something with her Grandmother developed. I understood, gave her a kiss and told her I would call her as soon as I had any further news. I raced out of the house and to my parents house. I called my Mother as I was getting close and she said the ambulance had just left but needed help in the house as she did not want the dog or cat to get in the blood and track it throughout the house. I pulled up and I swear, when I walked in, it looked as if this was a crime scene. There was blood all over the spare room where Dad would sleep, and the kitchen where Mom put him in the chair. I had a hard time not losing it there as it brought back horrible memories from the war. I helped her clean up as fast as we could, I called my neighbor asking them to come over and sit with the dog whom was beside himself as he did not know what was going on. The neighbor came over, and we left for the hospital.
We arrived in the ER, and had to go through the metal detector(I am a concealed carry permit holder, so I had to check my gun at the desk) and we got to the front desk. I sat my Mother down and told her I would find out where he was and if we could go back yet. The registrar looked at me covered in blood on my arms and shirt and asked if I needed a gurney, I told her that it wasnt mine it was my Fathers and he was brought in a short time ago. She looked him up and said he was not able to receive visitors at the moment, but we could go back as soon as they could allow it. So we sat, and waited…and waited…and waited. It seemed like hours, but it was only about 30 minutes. They let us back and Dad was there laying on his back. They had him hooked up to a few machines. Oxygen pumping in, blood pumping in, monitors beeping, it was too much. My Father is my idol. This man did everything for us when we were growing up. He joined Boy Scouts with me as an adult leader, and we went camping all the time, fishing, etc.
The most important thing my Father ever did for me(to this point) was when I returned home from the hospital after being discharged from the USMC, he took me to the neighborhood bar. He didn’t want to go to the VFW right away, he just wanted to share a drink with me, and talk. He told me that he missed me all the time while I was gone. That he felt as if his best friend in the world was gone. He was very happy that I was home, and that I was home safe. He stood up at the table, he looked over at the bartender(Ms. Accamando), and she turned off the jukebox. He looked down at me, his eyes watered a bit(I had never seen this man cry). He said “My Son, my best friend in the world, is home. He served his country. He has been gone for far too long, and from today on, my best friend will always be with me!” He grasped me so tight I swear I stopped breathing. He whispered to me “I love you kiddo…welcome home.”.
All of this came flashing back to me when I saw him lying there like that. My Father, my idol, my best friend..laying there so pale, so helpless. I passed out onto the floor at my Mother’s feet. I awoke on a gurney in the same room with him. He looked over and said “Boy, don’t you go doing that again!”. The Doctor came through, checked on me and got me some water. I looked at my Dad and I cried. My Mother was not in the room to see this, but it hurt me so much to see him that way. He said to me “I’m fine, dont you worry about me. Charlie couldn’t take me out in ‘Nam, no stupid medical device is gonna take me out either. He tried to stand because he knew I could use one of those hugs of his. I went to him, hugged him, and I gave him a kiss on the forehead, and told him “Well you lay there, take it easy, and I’ll be back in a bit. I have to call Chrissie and let her know you are ok, and call Kelley(My sister) and let her know as well.”
I stepped out of the room, and my Mother was in the hall. She said she already called Chrissie when I passed out and she was waiting for me to call her back. I called and I could tell by her voice she had been panic’ing herself. I told her that I was ok, and that I was just overly tired and with all of the events the past 24 hours I just went to sleep for a bit. She told me to come home as soon as I thought I was able to drive. The ER told us that Dad would be moved to a MED/SURG unit shortly because he would need to have that wound closed and they would need to start getting him ready for a central line so he could receive dialysis the next day. My Mother and I both went back in, gave him a hug and kiss and told him we would see him later. He was feeling pretty good from the medicine they had given him to help him relax a few minutes beforehand so we stepped out quietly.
In the car on the way home, my Mother broke down crying. She was so shaken by what had happened at home that she asked if she could spend the night at our house. I called the neighbor and let him know, so he let the dog out once more, and put the cat downstairs where his litter box and food/water was and let us know that him and his Wife would stop by tomorrow to help with the cleanup. I called Chrissie to let her know Mom was gonna spend the night, and she got the spare room ready.
The next few days nothing major happened. Nunny B remained stable enough to be transferred to a step down unit. Dad was coming home after being in the hospital for 4 days. Chrissie then began to focus on me. She told me that since the day everything happened, she noticed how bad my night terrors had gotten and she was worried and wanted me to talk to the Doctor. I told her I would, once we had Nunny B taken care of that I would talk to my Doctor and have some therapy sessions started again, and possibly an adjustment of the medicine I was on. She was right though..ever since seeing the blood at my parents house, I was reliving so many battlefield nightmares. I’d wake up sweating, panting, sometimes in tears. I’d wake up with scratches on my arms, my chest from clawing at myself trying to get the blood off of me. It was only going to get worse, and I knew that. I was trying to remain calm on the outside as my Wife needed me to be the rock she had been for me all these years, I needed to remain strong for her and hold it together for only a bit longer.
Nunny B was not getting better as fast as we thought she would. She had a tough time with the tests they were giving her. They would show her pictures and she was asked to describe what she saw. She had trouble forming words, so she would get frustrated and just want to stop. She suffered from alot of headaches(A side effect of the drug therapy she was given for the stroke) and was only able to take regular strength tylenol. I was able to get her up and walking for a brief time once. She walked to the hallway with me, and then back to her room. She developed a distaste for anything. Water tasted horrible, food tasted bad, another side effect of the stroke. She had lost so much weight but she still had her smile and her wit. She recognized all of the family(A blessing in its own right), she recognized pictures of her home, her car, and her friends. She did not have a concept of time however, she kept thinking she only arrived at the hospital a day ago, when at this point it had been 3 weeks. It was getting close to Christmas, and she did not start shopping she said. I would visit with her as often as I could, just so she wasn’t there alone. Every Sunday I would be there with her to watch the Steelers(If they played on Sunday) and that says alot about the love I had for the woman, I do not like football at all. We would both yell at the TV, talk about the past, the future, about Chrissie when she wasn’t there, just anything and everything.
The hospital finally discharged Nunny B the week before Christmas. She was living in an assisted living community already, so she could receive her rehab while there. Me and Chrissie decorated her apartment for Christmas(We found her decorations after we cleaned out her previous home). When she was brought into her room, she lit up. She loved Christmas. She loved her tree, her nativity set, all of her decorations, and most of all, she loved having all of the family together for the holidays. We got her settled and we started home. On our drive, Chrissie reminded me again to talk to the Doctor. Now that Nunny B was back home, I had no more excuses.
By this point however, I had already been sliding down the slope from where I knew I didn’t have the strength at the time to claw back from. I assured her that I would, that it was a Friday and I would call on Monday. I just wanted a nice weekend with her now that Nunny was home, and we could start to relax. We did some christmas shopping on our way home, got a few presents for our nieces(we always spoil them), I got a special gift for my GodDaughter. We had a nice dinner at one of our favorite restaurants, went home and cuddled up on the couch for a while. She fell fast asleep in my arms, and I always enjoy brushing her hair through my fingers, and rubbing her back. It usually knocks her right out. It started to get late, and I woke her gently and told her she should go lay in bed where she could stretch out. She asked if I was coming, and I told her I would soon. I wanted to take my medicine and wait a bit to make sure it started to work. I watched her climb the stairs, and enter our bedroom. I heard her talking to our cats whom always claimed our bed as theirs. She didn’t kick them out though, I heard her telling them to move over and share the bed. I smiled. I knew she was going to be ok.
I went into the bathroom and looked in the mirror. I stared at myself for a while. I opened the medicine cabinet and took out my medicine. I opened the top and looked inside at the pills. I began thinking about how many of those things I had taken and how they never seemed to help. I began thinking about all of the medicine I took and how it never suppressed the memories, the guilt, the gut wrenching feelings. I got so angry and so upset that I took the razor from the cabinet and before I could even think about what I was doing, I cut into my wrist.
I remember standing for a moment, then I remember being on the floor with the shower curtain on top of me. The next thing would be when I woke up at the hospital, almost 6 hours later. I was strapped down, there was a guard in the room with me, and I could make out Chrissie’s voice. My throat was very sore, so I tried to ask for water, but I ended up just sort of coughing and choking while trying to talk. The guard came over and asked me relax a moment, and he gave me some ice chips. He told me that he had to remain in the room for now, and that I was being placed under psychiatric hold for 72 hours. I asked what hospital I was in, and he told me I was at our local hospital. He asked if I remembered what happened and I told him that I did.
He motioned to the Dr who had ask Chrissie to remain outside for the time being. He came in and asked me my name, where I was, how old I was, basically making sure I was lucid enough to make any decisions. He asked me what happened, and if I felt safe at home. I told him about what happened, but asked him why he felt I may feel unsafe at home. He told me about the scratches on my body they discovered when I was brought in. I told him they were self-inflicted and that I suffered from night terrors. He didn’t understand why that would happen, and I was getting angry. I began yelling and cursing at him, telling him that he couldnt understand because he didn’t know and that he would never understand. At this point, the guard brought Chrissie in. The Doctor seemed to not approve of this and the guard explained to the Doctor that Chrissie was trying to explain to him before that I suffer from PTSD, and that I needed to be seen by a VA psychiatrist. The Guard(His name was Robert, and was a former Marine himself) explained to the Doctor that I had a past history and that he should contact the VA and have them send over their own Doctor.
Robert and the Doctor stepped out to call the VA, but Robert did leave the door open so he could come in if needed. Chrissie stood there…she stared at me for a long time. She had been crying, and I could see she had blood on her hands, her shirt, and her pants. I turned away from her, I knew what happened at that point.
When I fell, I pulled down the shower curtain. Chrissie, hearing this came downstairs to check and make sure I was ok. She found me…on the bathroom floor. She grabbed the towels and pressed as hard as she could while calling 911. She screamed for help and cried and she says she was yelling at me that I wasn’t allowed to do this, I wasn’t allowed to leave her like this. The fire department got there first, the door was still unlocked from us coming in earlier(I normally locked it while heading to bed). They used quick-clot on me and got me into the ambulance and off to the hospital as fast as they could. Chrissie asked for our neighbor to drive her there as they were outside when they heard the sirens and saw the lights in front of our house. She had to sit with our neighbor in the car and go to the hospital and keep herself composed long enough to know if I had made it, and that I was going to be ok.
After I turned away from her, she said to me “Why would you do this? Not to me, but to yourself? Why Jim? How can you not look at me and tell me what I’ve known for so long already? You could always tell me anything and everything. You thought you had this hidden and under control, but I could see it chewing away at you. You put on the act that you were fine, and that everything was under control, but I knew. The night you passed out when you saw your Dad, I knew this was going to happen if you did not get help.”
Now, some people wonder why she did not get me help. Simple…she tried. She called the Doctors, she made appointments for me and I always made a reason to not go. I didn’t want to go. I just thought with enough time I would push it down again, and leave it buried until I was ready to face it. I am telling you here, and now..that does not work. You will never be ready to face it. It will continue to chip away at you until there is nothing left of you that can be saved. You become the demon that you tried to bury. You become the type of person who shys away from any connections to anybody. You become the person you always read about after a suicide, “They were always so quiet, I never knew something was wrong.”
It took me a few months, but I was finally able to look Chrissie in the eye and apologize to her and ask her to forgive me. She saved me. Had she not heard the noise, I wouldn’t be telling you all this story today. I promised her that day that if I ever felt like it was becoming overpowering again, I would tell her and we would go to the VA that day. I haven’t had to do that so far, but I am still attending sessions weekly. I have been taking my medications as directed, and seeing my normal PCP for adjustments. I have begun to learn that I do not need to be the strong one all the time, that it’s okay to lean on people for help. It will be a year since my attempt in a few months, but in these past months, I can tell you one thing for certain…..
I am happy to still be with you all.
*****If you or a loved one need help or to talk about suicide prevention, call this number 24 hours a day, 7 days a week: 1-800-273-8255*****