World Suicide Prevention Day 2017

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*****

 

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Letter to the Editor

My Wife was asked by our local newspaper to talk about being married to/life with a combat veteran.  The story was never published, but we did get to meet with the mayor of our community and submit the paperwork needed to have a banner with my photo placed on a post somewhere in the township, as they have done for many other veterans.  I wanted to share what she sent.

 

Being married to a combat veteran is hard.

“Hard” is an adjective that means “requiring a great deal of effort,” in case you were wondering. Which makes me rethink the adjective I just used to describe what being married to a combat vet is like. A better word may be demanding. At any rate, being in a romantic relationship with someone who has contributed firsthand to the atrocities of war is by no means a cakewalk.

It requires a great deal of understanding. In my experience, combat vets largely believe they are undeserving of love. I do not know why this is. In our eyes, or at least in mine, they are selfless and valiant heroes deserving of so much more. They do the jobs that most “men” cannot and will not do. These veterans do the unspeakable for the sake of their country, and the aftershocks of their violence unfortunately do not leave them once they get back home.

Beyond this, I would venture to say every combat vet has been touched by death. To them, they are undeserving of life’s pleasures because of a perverse, disproportionate logic: Each vet knows someone who was killed in the war they continued to fight, and there was likely someone they loved among those lost. A brother in the truest sense, in their eyes. Those men will never have the chance to be happy, ergo, the vet shouldn’t be happy either. In his words, anyone could have been killed. It could have been me. So why should I be happy — HOW can I be — knowing how easily our places could have been switched? It’s the most disconsolate way of torturing oneself I have ever heard of. He’ll torture you with his words: You don’t get it. You’ll never get it. You just can’t. But hopefully, it will mean enough to him that you care enough to try.

I endure many a sleepless night because my vet does. But not once have I ever complained about getting alarmingly awakened by his blood-curdling scream, or being kept up most of the night by his muttering evil memories in his sleep, or even consoling him when he is sobbing uncontrollably on the edge of the bed. Where most women might silently protest, I do not. I endure these things because I almost feel a duty to; my vet spent nearly two years in a desert so I could sleep safely at night. Even though “sleep” is sometimes an undiscovered venture, I at least know I’m safe because I lie next to him. This moves me to another point: their strength, in every sense of the word, is totally unconquerable. My vet reminds me there is no tragedy that can befall me that cannot be overcome. He reminds me that there is no one or thing that I should fear as long as he is in my life. Both his physical strength and emotional strength have all but totally abolished fear from my life. Many people choose to ignore our vets or hate them for what they’ve had to do. Many people are ignorant of what being a combat vet even really entails or means. It is an honor to be among those who respect, admire, and appreciate their sacrifices, both great and small.

Pushing On

It has been over a month since my initial post and I received a ton of positive feedback.  I had so many reservations about posting about such things, in fear of being looked at too closely.  Paranoia is an ongoing side effect that still causes me a lot of issues today.  I wanted to get some more thoughts down while I was able to since I have been laid up for a while after a hip procedure I had done.

 

I’ve had a lot of nightmares lately stemming from the first time I fired my weapon at another human being. The image of watching as the rounds shredded through his body is haunting.  It was like watching a movie, in slow motion.  I remember his eyes, the whites around them in particular.  It was almost like I could see the life leaving his body and it just become like doll eyes, glassed over.  I did not have time to reflect on it then, I had to just keep doing my job,moving and protecting my brothers around me.  It wasn’t until after things calmed I realized what I had done.  Being raised a Catholic growing up, church every Sunday, CCD, bible study, etc it was very hard to grasp what I had just done.  I took a life, me, I was responsible for that man not going home to his family that night for just doing the same thing I was doing.  I was defending my brothers in arms; he was defending his brothers, his home, and his beliefs.  As misguided as we perceived them to be, it was still a horrific thing I did in my mind.  I remember talking to my NCO’s and them telling me that everybody felt that way their first time. They assured me it becomes just a memory in time. They lied,it never goes away, it’s always there. It’s only the first you recall vividly they said; if only it were true.  I can recall EVERY life I took, EVERY face, EVERY jerking motion, EVERY sound, EVERY smell.  I carry it EVERY day.

I gave a presentation in April to our local PASS UG in Pittsburgh.  It was the first time I ever presented to a group of SQL professionals and naturally, my anxiety was a bit high.  I think I did very well, I had a great turn out and I engaged the audience.  I went home that night feeling so proud of myself.  I was so excited when I got home, my Wife decided to take me out for some ice cream.  It was such a good memory that I hated for it to go away.  But it happened.  On our way home that night, it was dark and as I was going down the road there was something lying in the lane we were in.  I immediately slammed my brakes, and froze.  My Wife would later tell me that I began to shake, and my knuckles turned bright white from gripping the steering wheel so tight.  She had to ask a couple behind us to help get me out of the seat and lay me down in the back.  I remember getting home and lying on the couch, I don’t remember the neighbor helping me into the house, my Wife calling my doctor, my parents.  She didn’t know if I was going to need to be sedated or not.  It turned out that all of this over a garbage can lid in the road.  A goddamn garbage can lid forced me into locking up so tight.  I flashed to an IED, I didn’t want to move, I was scared to move, I didn’t want it to detonate.

Every time I have an episode, I always feel bad for those around me have to see it and to help me with it.  It’s hard to ask for help for some people, I am one of them.  I later did go to my neighbors home and thank him for helping, and all he could tell me was “Semper Fi my brother”.  I never knew my neighbor was a Marine, so out of this came a positive.  Me and my neighbor now talk about our time in, and trade stories.  He never did see combat, but he knew the daily routines.

 

Several people in the PASS community deserve my deepest thanks for helping me get these published: Bill Wolf(@SQLWarewolf), Monica Rathbun(@SQLEspresso), and Kenneth Fisher(@SQLStudent144).  Thank you all so very much for helping and offering your support.

Awareness

I am usually not that open about issues, but several people I hold close asked me too.  I have also been told this can be therapeutic, so we shall see.

Majority of the community that I have had the pleasure of working with, or spoken with know that for a time I was an active member of the United States Marine Corps.  I still hold my service as one of the greatest accomplishments in my life, and I always will.  My story is about not only my time in but the struggles I endure after getting out.  I’ll begin below, but please be forewarned, this may be a bit graphic.

I was sent to Iraq in March of 2003, near the beginning of the invasion.  This would be my first combat tour and naturally, I was anxious, and my adrenaline was always high. The anxiety that I felt far outweighed the fear that I had beneath  I was always on edge at first, always wondering what that sound was, what that was moving in distance?  These things subsided after several times out away from the base.  I was able to settle in by going through the rhythm of my patrol and checking corners; my head on a swivel. It wasn’t until after the first combat action that my unit was involved with that I saw what happens in war.  This I will never forget. We lost 2 brothers that day, one of which passed after we carried him 3 miles. Losing somebody because you could not get him help fast enough, or because I could not help him myself weighed heavily on me.  I recall blood on my hands, my pants. His blood, it still is as vivid today as it was then.  I wish I could say that a thing like that passes over time or it becomes less and less vivid, but I wake up still feeling as if I still had it on me.  This man was my friend, my partner, my Brother.  Sadness turned to rage, I wanted to go back and just level the place.

Fast forward 6 months.  While travelling to our next AO, one moment we were sitting in the back discussing our lives before the Marines, the next all I felt was extreme heat, everything went black.  I woke up with my ears ringing and my right leg feeling as if somebody was burning it with a cigarette.  I looked down and found it bleeding pretty heavily.  Looking about the inside, everybody was shuffling around, trying to make sense of what just happened, was it an RPG, an IED?  We had no idea, we just knew we had to get out and prepare for an assault if it came.  I was the one with the worst wound, so they dragged me out and propped me up against the tire of the transport.  Nothing came, and less than 20 minutes later CASEVAC was there for myself, and the driver.

When all was said and done, I had 11 pieces of shrapnel removed from my right leg, hip, and knee.  It took me a few weeks of healing, and PT, but I returned to my unit. By then we only had 4 months left on our tour, which included several engagements, more casualties, but thankfully no KIA’s.  I can’t explain how many times I still think of those 4 months and I can’t imagine how we did not lose anybody with some of the things we did/saw.  Many of those images, memories are forever burned into my mind, and continuously play.

At the end of those 4 months, 90% of my unit decided to volunteer for another tour.  I was one of them.  I couldn’t leave all of my brothers here to fight and go back to the world.  Thankfully, things were beginning to calm down for us.  It was almost a year before we experienced any more enemy contact. We drilled all the time to be ready for it, but when it happened again, it was a bit unnerving how fast it came back to me on what to do.  It was like riding a bike, it was that fast.

It was coming up on 8 months into our second tour.  While out on patrol on the outskirts of a town, our patrol began taking fire from several locations to the front, and left flank.  To the right was nothing but open ground, and we knew what was behind us.  We formed up and split off, half left and half forward.  While suppressive fire was being provided on the forward location, I was ordered to move up and secure a forward position.  While advancing, I saw small flashes and then I was on the ground.  I was struck once in the chest, and once in my right leg, the flashes were those of the muzzle of the rifle firing at me.  I can still remember what the ground looked like, what the smells were around, what it felt like.  It took me a moment to realize what happened, I was on the ground and our corpsman was pressing on my chest, I remember him talking to me to keep me calm.  I remember telling him to keep his ass down…wouldn’t be any good to me if he took one.  I recollect him laughing while applying the tourniquet to my leg.  It seemed like hours before CASEVAC was there lifting me out.  I remember thinking to myself, this is it, I won’t get to tell my mother or father that I love them again, or to see my sisters walk down the aisle at their weddings.  Even writing this, I begin to shake as I fight back those tears.

Once stabilized, I was sent to Landstuhl in Germany.  My mother made it out to see me about a week later.  I think back to her , being a nurse all her life, walking into the room, and she saying was the first time seeing all of the machines hooked up actually intimidated her.  I was her baby, the youngest of three.  She never left my side, the entire time I was there.  It took several weeks before I was released.  I was found unfit for combat, and man did that hurt…I had never been told I couldn’t do something.  I remember feeling so down knowing that I couldn’t cut it.  I was given my discharge and returned home to Pittsburgh about a month later.

That is when everything began to get worse.  I became very depressed at home.  I went to the VA and they just told me this was normal, it would pass, and to take these pills.  Everything would be ok, they said.  No need to speak to anybody, just take the pills.  Pills turned to alcohol. And by alcohol I mean a fifth a day.  I worked some shitty jobs…auto parts counter help, unimart overnight clerk,and pizza delivery driver.  I had a few relationships, nothing would ever work out, I had too much ‘baggage’.

8 months into being home, in October, my oldest sister, Missy, unexpectedly passed away. I was crushed.  My oldest sister was far from my best friend, but she was still my sister.  I still miss her every day. I think of her often and I carry a picture of her in my wallet still.  My entire family was shattered for such a long time.  I found I couldn’t recover from something like that without some sort of bad habit forming.  I drank more, and secluded myself from everyone.  My parents withdrew from the world as well, living in their home, not coming to family functions anymore, not making an effort to see how the rest of us were doing.  You could tell a piece of my Mother, and Father died that day. She was,their first born, their baby.  I could never wish that on anybody.

Lucky for us, the rest of my family would not give up on us.  My aunt’s dragged me out of my home and forced me to talk to them, to try and get a sense of why I chose to be this way.  Many of my friends wanted to help, but they did not understand why it was hard to open up on such topics. How do you explain to somebody what it was like to know the trigger you pulled took away a father, a son?  How do you explain what it’s like to drag a wounded brother out of a burning transport?  The smell of burning flesh, the screams, the blood, and one cannot simply put those things into words.

The nightmares, the constant paranoia, these things are still a constant in my life now.  However, using coping mechanisms that I have learned, I am able to live a semi-normal life. I am happy to report though that I was able to overcome my drinking problem, I have made lasting friendships, and best of all, I was able to marry the love of my life. The woman who always tells me that no matter what happens, she is my rock. Not many men will admit to breaking down to their wife, but there have been too many times to count where she has picked me up, dusted me off, and cared for me when many others would have just walked away.  She will never know how much she means to me, I try to show her more every day.

My purpose for this blog post is to raise awareness for other Veterans, like myself, who suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder(PTSD).  This is not some made up condition that one just sucks up and moves on from.  If it were not for my family, and most importantly, my Wife, I could of been on the street; begging for money. Or worse, I could of been one of the 22 veterans a day that take their own life.

 

“So that all may enjoy heavenly freedom,
We need those few who can bring hell on earth.”

 

**There is so much more to this that I could share, but it’s a very trying thing to do to have this all written out.  I have to thank several people for inspiring me to do such things. First of all, my wife, I would never be who I am today without her.  My mother and father who have always been my beacon in life to know where home always was and to show me the way.   My friends, all of you have dealt with the symptoms in one way or another, and have still stuck around, I love you all. **

 

Here are some links regarding PTSD including organizations where donations are accepted:

 

PTSD Changes Thinking

 

http://www.helpguide.org/articles/ptsd-trauma/ptsd-in-the-family.htm

 

https://support.woundedwarriorproject.org/default.aspx?tsid=1143&ovr_acv_id=1704&campaignSource=Online&source=BS16010&gclid=CMHQzMrk-ssCFUFehgodFsAFrg

 

http://ptsdusa.org/support-u/make-a-donation/

 

A U.S. Marine Christmas

After spending numerous holidays away from my family, this pulled the heart string a bit.  Each Christmas dinner, my Mother and Father both give me an extra hug and kiss and tell me how thankful they are that I am home that Christmas.

 

‘Twas the night before Christmas, he lived all alone, In a one-bedroom house made of plaster and stone. I had come down the chimney, with presents to give and to see just who in this home did live. As I looked all about, a strange sight I did see, no tinsel, no presents, not even a tree. No stocking by the fire, just boots filled with sand. On the wall hung pictures of a far distant land. With medals and badges, awards of all kind, a sobering thought soon came to my mind. For this house was different, unlike any I’d seen. This was the home of a U.S. Marine.

I’d heard stories about them, I had to see more, so I walked down the hall and pushed open the door. And there he lay sleeping, silent, alone, Curled up on the floor in his one-bedroom home. He seemed so gentle, his face so serene, Not how I pictured a U.S. Marine. Was this the hero, of whom I’d just read? Curled up in his poncho, a floor for his bed? His head was clean-shaven, his weathered face tan. I soon understood, this was more than a man. For I realized the families that I saw that night, owed their lives to these men, who were willing to fight. Soon around the Nation, the children would play, And grown-ups would celebrate on a bright Christmas day. They all enjoyed freedom, each month and all year, because of Marines like this one lying here.

I couldn’t help wonder how many lay alone, on a cold Christmas Eve, in a land far from home. Just the very thought brought a tear to my eye. I dropped to my knees and I started to cry. He must have awoken, for I heard a rough voice, “Santa, don’t cry, this life is my choice I fight for freedom, I don’t ask for more. My life is my God, my country, my Corps.” With that he rolled over, drifted off into sleep, I couldn’t control it, I continued to weep. I watched him for hours, so silent and still.

I noticed he shivered from the cold night’s chill. So I took off my jacket, the one made of red, and covered this Marine from his toes to his head. Then I put on his T-shirt of scarlet and gold, with an eagle, globe and anchor emblazoned so bold. And although it barely fit me, I began to swell with pride, and for one shining moment, I was Marine Corps deep inside. I didn’t want to leave him so quiet in the night, this guardian of honor so willing to fight. But half asleep he rolled over, and in a voice clean and pure, said “Carry on, Santa, it’s Christmas Day, all secure.” One look at my watch and I knew he was right, Merry Christmas my friend, Semper Fi and goodnight.

Background

So, I have never ever ever created a blog entry before and I am still not even sure if I have done this correctly!  But here it goes…

I graduated high school in 2000.  I knew that I was going to go into Technology for my career, but I didn’t know where at(hardware, software, development, maintenance, etc).  I was 17!!  I had no clue!!  I went to community college for a bit, and did not enjoy the classes.  They essentially had VERY dated equipment, and I ended up teaching my instructor more than he taught me!  I turned 18, and still did not know what I wanted to do.

While contemplating what I wanted to do, several of my friends went into the military upon graduation(they were old enough, I was the baby!).  I decided I wanted to serve my country and possibly find a career inside of the USMC(United States Marine Corps).  If there is one thing I can tell you about the military…if you do not know what you want to do when you enter….they FIND something for you to do!!  After getting through basic training, I wanted to go for “Force Reconnaissance”.  I got to jump out of airplanes, amphibious assaults, fast rope(rappelling from a helicopter), and so many other things.  By the time I left the Marine Corps, I was a Corporal.  I had several combat tours, but was permanently stationed in Okinawa, Japan.  I was medically discharged after receiving multiple wounds during combat.  I received a Purple Heart with one leaf.  I wish I could of continued to serve, however, I still attend as many benefits as I can for my brothers and sisters in arms.  If we ever meet in person at a SQL Event, or just in passing, and you want to talk about the Marine Corps, I am always willing to talk about my experience.  It formed my foundation for who I am today!!

Fast forward 5 years…I was working at a crappy job for a Data Center/ISP company.  I was performing rack installations/hardware setups/cabling for a very very very low sum of money(seriously. it was bad).  My best friend had been working for my current company for several years and took my resume without me knowing and got me an interview.  I was hired on the spot for Technical Support.  The money was almost double my salary doing the installations, and it did not require travel!  I went through the training and began falling in love with this company.  They have done so much in the HealthCare field, and you probably never even heard their name, TeleTracking Technologies.

I cannot say enough about TeleTracking.  The work we do every day here truly changes the world of health care.  From decreasing the time it takes to be admitted, to increasing the standards of care at hospitals, I cannot think of another company that I would want to work for.

I have been involved in numerous huge projects for TeleTracking.  The biggest so far was our Royal WolverHampton Trust project.  This project was based out of WolverHampton, UK.  Read this article(http://www.royalwolverhamptonhospitals.nhs.uk/news/hand_hygiene_sensor_technology.aspx) for an overview of the project, and I love speaking about it, so please ask me anything you want to know about it.  This is just one of the MANY projects that TeleTracking has changed the world of HealthCare with.

I am now a Solutions Engineer for the Support Services department at TeleTracking.  I am just a glorified DBA.  And by DBA I mean, Does ‘Bout Anything.  I do DBA related work, development work, process improvements, process design, SCRUM meetings, I do it all folks!

Feel free to contact me anytime!