A day in the life

A Day in the life

As I was going through my documents to prepare for meeting with our
representatives in Congress, I saw this story. I had written this for a
freelance job, but it was not published.

On this day, I am now fifty-one and my aunt has moved up into heaven as of
two years ago. This piece illustrates what many caregivers go through. Now I
just care for my husband and my senior citizen dog, Ted. My son is now twenty
four and he is self-sufficient and we are proud of him.

I woke up before my alarm after about four hours of straight sleep. My eyes
felt a bit grainy as if I needed to go back under for a couple of hours.
However now that I am forty-six, I am like a senior citizen.

Once the sun is up, I am awake. I am close to eating my dinner at 3pm as
well. Hahaha. I got up and saw that my husband left a bottle of medicine next
to my side of our sink vanity in the bathroom. That means he needs a refill. I
get him to wake up after he put on his pain patch as it makes him very sleepy
for the first hour or two. We eat our breakfast and then it is time to blaze
the road to the VA in Temple, Texas. It is about an hour drive from our home,
and we allow extra time because there is ALWAYS construction or some idiot
tying up the road which is only 2 lanes during some of the drive.

The appointment with the doctor went fine and the doctor ordered lab work,
which is routine for my husband with his myriad of health issues. We go to the
desk. He asks the clerk if he was having a good day and he just stares at my
husband as if he has 3 heads. My husband is hard of hearing due to the brain
injury he suffered. I looked at the clerk and said, “Did you hear him? My
husband asked if you were having a good day.”  I smiled at him, as I know
most of the employees are nice, are overworked, and underpaid. He looked at me
stonily as if I were asking him if he would like me to pull his fingernails

We walked away. Then we went to the Travel line, where the VA reimburses you
mileage if you must drive over a certain distance. It is not a tough process
and I think it is pretty awesome they do that. The woman behind the window
responds happily to my husband’s query as that is his greeting to everyone we
see behind a desk.

Three hours later, we are eating lunch and its go time to get back to our
home as he had a civilian doctor’s appointment. At this stage of the game, we
use more civilian providers for things as the offices are only 5-30 minutes
from our home, which causes less physical discomfort for my husband.

I had to drop mail off at the Post Office and then we get to his doctor. By
this time, I am yawning a bit and my brain is screaming for some good dark
Columbian coffee. We get through this appointment, and we walk in the door. My
elderly aunt calls me, telling me her nebulizer broke. She uses that for
breathing treatments and she has end stage lung disease. I start mentally
panicking as I think where I am going to get one of those, it is the end of the
business day, and it is Friday. Then I see my husband’s empty pill bottle in
front of me.

It was a Friday afternoon, and the pressure was on. Was I going to be able
to reach his doctor’s office in time to get the authorization necessary so he
would have his medicine over the weekend? Was I going to be able to find my
86-year-old aunt the equipment she desperately needs? I email the doctor’s office
for my husband and call them on the phone to light them up. I call my aunt’s
oxygen supply company thinking since they provide air, they must provide
nebulizers. They do not.

I start calling the local pharmacies around our area and find out that
Medicare only will pay for them with the bidder in the area that won the bid
for durable medical equipment. What? How would an elderly person who does not
use the internet figure this out? Thank God for Google as I googled, “Medicare
provider for equipment in Hutto TX” and there it was, the golden goose of
supply companies. I call her doctor after talking to the supply company as I
cannot buy the nebulizer for her without a prescription for it.

I look at the clock and its 5pm. My heart is pounding as I think about all
the deadlines and things outside of my control. My phone rings and it is my
aunt, telling me her nebulizer is fine and it just had a tube unplugged. I
laughed so hard. My phone pings, telling me the prescription is ready for my
husband. Like a boss, I roll through the drive through and pick it up, crisis

I got home and as soon as I walked in the door, the dog told me he needed to
go outside and take care of his business. As we were walking down my street, I
breathed in deeply and took in the fresh air and looked at the flowers I saw in
front of the various homes on my block. I listened to the birds happily
chirping and saw a Cardinal fly in front of us.

It was a gorgeous day. I put out all the fires I had to and chuckled to
myself at how close the timing was. After we finished his walk, I made myself a
cup of coffee and sat on my porch and relaxed. I read a book and mentally
unwound and re-wired myself at the same time, thanks to my Columbian friend.
What a day. Always an adventure.


Time for a change

It breaks my heart as I am reflecting on today’s American culture and what it was like in 1992. Sadly, many of the song lyrics in Public Enemy’s Apocalypse 91… The Enemy Strikes Black still ring true.

I remember thinking how much still needed to be fixed back then and I don’t see a whole lot of progress. It was my senior year of college at S.U.N.Y. Buffalo, when Rodney King got accosted in LA and the riots started. I had to leave the WBNY radio station that night with a security guard for the first time ever. I had never felt fear before living in America.

I can remember that year (before the riots) and getting pulled over by the cops. I had attended a concert and was riding in a truck with two of my black male friends. It was 3:00 am in the east side of Buffalo. A police officer pulled us over and flashed his flashlight in my face and asked me if I was o.k. I got frustrated for my friends. The officer asked me twice. My friends were quiet as the questioning commenced.

It angers me that this profiling still exists.
Sadly, there is bad in every culture, sub-culture and occupation.

We need to come together as Americans and turn this crap around.


Ten years ago I got a call while at work from Red Cross that changed the life of my family forever.

Todd was deployed to Afghanistan as a Calvary Scout with the US Army in Ghazni. Several times the mission got called off, because air support was being tied up looking for one of the biggest d-bags in history.  I am not even saying the selfish bastard’s name, as he doesn’t deserve the font.

Despite that, the mission went on, my husband was so badly injured they didn’t think he would make it and he lost two friends in that blast. Todd almost died on me two weeks later after he was back to San Antonio.

Ten years ago was the last time I got a good night sleep. Ten years ago was the last time our son had a father that could run and play with him.  Todd never ever got sick, never had to go to doctors.

Ten years later even that has changed. Doctors and therapists continue to make up a big part of his life today. Kind of ironic there we were today, at the doctor’s office both wearing masks to avoid him catching anything worse from the great unwashed around us. We looked like a set of masked Bonnie and Clyde together.

Ten years later and I still watch him suffer in excruciating pain. Ten years later the war is continuing in Afghanistan. Men and women who weren’t old enough to be born when the Berlin Wall crumbled are going to be facing catastrophic injuries like Todd.

Those that know Todd, never hear him whine or complain about his pain or his vast health issues. He stands to greet anyone that walks up to him at a restaurant. He is a gentleman. No brain injury can take that away.

Ten years later, thanks to Equine Therapy, Todd shows smiles that reach his eyes. He finds acceptance in the big gentle presence of the horses. He thankfully has received help through the Wounded Warrior Project’s Independence Program, which helps moderate to severe Traumatic Brain Injured Veterans. It provides recreational therapy and helps veterans learn a new art or skill.

He has been able to participate in photography classes and learn to develop film in a dark room. He will be having a show of his work December 2nd

Ten years later and I am still so very thankful to God that he is here.

Number 9

Yesterday 9 years have passed since my husband was almost taken away from me twice and a bomb literally blew apart life as we all knew it.  I didn’t know quite how I was going to write about this as no one wants to read something depressing.

I don’t want to focus on the loss, but life as we go forward.

I am not going to lie. As a caregiver, I have posted some really raw posts in the past. I did not want to mince words as I know other caregivers that come after me need to see something they can relate to as they start the journey of healing with their veterans.

Ambiguous loss is ambiguous loss after all.  Some days will come up and make you feel things you have thought you have safely crammed into the vault of your mind, never to come back up. It is ok to sit there and feel, but don’t camp out there for too long.

Establishing your new identity after you leave your career is tough. I had a lot of struggles with this for a lot of reasons, I will elaborate more on that in a different post.

Instead of telling people I am my husband’s caregiver, I tell them I am his trophy wife as it’s funnier and its less depressing than trying to explain to civilians that don’t understand TBI or complex war injuries why exactly you are his caregiver.

One of the most important things I learned early is to look daily at each positive thing you can see. Our brains focus on pain as the brain’s primary role is to make us survive. When you continually look at the negative that is all you will see. I kept a journal on progress I saw with each doctor visit and on tough days, I would look at it and would see progress, even if on a small scale.

Let go of trying to run everything. You can’t control disease, you can’t make missing legs, brain cells or blood chemistry be magically fixed. You can’t make your veteran try the latest and greatest therapy, surgical procedure or pain management notion if he doesn’t want to do it. I insist on him keeping his autonomy. I am his spouse, not his mother.

What you can do is fix you. Learn how to be a healthier caregiver. Get counseling ASAP, get your health screened and monitor your moods. Caring for people with invisible wounds of war can be very emotionally draining at times.

Charge your batteries and plan something to nourish your soul. I just did inventory on myself and noticed I haven’t taken a dance class in a few years so I need to research and find one that works with my schedule. I also haven’t written in a while.

Laugh as much as you can. Thank your lucky stars that you have your true love. My husband told me to leave him for a younger, healthier man while he was inpatient at Brooke Army Medical Center. I told him after 15 years of marriage (in 2009), I had him perfectly trained and I was never walking away.

Reconcile your life goals. What you thought would happen while you were a cheese eating high school kid is not going to be what reality serves you, ever!

No one dreams about leaving all of their hopes and dreams and professions behind to care for their spouses or family members.

Caregiving does not have to be your end all, be all.

Life may not be what I envisioned when I was starving and putting myself through college to be a Journalist, however I am still making an impact.

Learn new stuff. Do not stagnate. My husband, even with a moderate brain injury with the help of the WWP’s Independence Program has learned dark room film development and takes black and white pictures. He is really good. Check out his stuff, https://www.instagram.com/toddplybon/

I have learned that physically and mentally I can do whatever I put my mind to. I am unstoppable. I have fought the VA for almost 9 years for one thing or another. Connor MacGregor has nothing on this scrappy Irish gal. I have lost 120lbs and got healthy so our son wouldn’t ever have to caregive for both his his father and I.

Date each other. When someone goes through a brain injury or even suffers from PTSD and other mood disorders and they are still able to communicate and engage with you, you need to engage each other as partners.

Take off the caregiver hat a bit and learn how to effectively communicate with each other as this really changes.

Laugh. Laugh and laugh more. The darker the memes, the more we laugh. Watch comedy shows. Pull your veteran away from the news and put on something dumb and cheesy like Weekend at Bernie’s. Put on the stupidest, silliest show and don’t relent. Focus on fun.

Plan fun. That is right. Besides the 15 medical appointments you plot in two weeks, plan a fun day. I love dressing up randomly when I take Todd to the doctor as he wonders if we don’t have something else planned that isn’t in the calendar. I tell him it’s for him since he makes the most handsome arm candy. The handsome smile that results in him showing his dimples makes it worth it every time.

Todd lost his friends the day we both lost life as we know it. The best way you can honor the loss of your friends is to life the best and happiest life you can in their honor.



Five Year Evals

November of 2017 was a challenging month. We had our bank account hacked by a thief and after that experience, I was particularly paranoid about anything financially-oriented at that time.

Todd is pretty sharp, but often he is fatigued and he always wants to help whomever he speaks with. We received a call from a third party doctor’s office telling us the VA wanted to evaluate him for his TBI ratings and PTSD ratings. I thought,” Hmm that is strange as he is 100% disabled. Why would they want him to go through all of that again?” I reached out to our Caregiver Service Coordinator and she wasn’t aware of why it was required.

I reached out to a few knowledgeable people in the care giving community and they didn’t understand why, either. I called the company back, asking if it was necessary, as the last neuro-psychology evaluation was 6 hours of pure torture for my husband. She said,”No, it isn’t mandatory.”  I said,”We politely decline at this time as we are content with his 100% rating.”

Fast forward to February, 2018. We received a nasty gram from the VA telling us that due to not complying with getting Todd re-evaluated, he was at risk for losing his percentages due to each specific condition. This would eliminate his paycheck. We had to buy a new to us home two years ago due to our old home getting flooded underneath of it and our insurance refused to help.

I contacted them and got him into each appointment they requested him to go to. I sent copies of all of his treatment records from his medical team, (yes team of 8 doctors he is currently having to deal with.) I found out that we could use a Veteran Service Organization (VSO) and have them file for permanent and total disability.

To say it is stressful having the fate of your paycheck in the hands of bureaucracy is the understatement of the year. My hair is naturally full of gray now, I joke that soon it is going to fall out.

I could see the VA questioning someone who never goes to the doctor to make sure they aren’t being paid for benefits they don’t truly need. However, when you have days upon days of treatment records for the past 9 years from a medical team of doctors, why waste tax payer money and why take any sort of self esteem that a veteran managed to be rebuilt over 9 years of post injury healing and hurt it?

I was confused in thinking because Todd was PDRL (permanently disabled by the ARMY), that the “permanent” status was transferred to the VA. I should have known better, but I didn’t go to college to learn about the VBA and how it considers or doesn’t consider at all, the condition of the veteran.

Since I initially posted a bit of my frustrations of this on FaceBook, I found out that the VA considers certain conditions like TBI and mood disorders “soft diagnoses,” meaning they might improve over time and that every five years they will put the veteran through an evaluation to see if things have improved .

I have yet to see damaged brain matter grow back or severe PTSD be magically cured.





If you have made it this far, you are wondering what in the heck this subject heading is about. Sure, I made it obscure, but after the past half of a year of watching my husband and seeing what is going on with his health, I had to comment.

After six years of living with a limb salvage patient suffering with pancytopenia and a hot mess combo of more.., I have noticed a pattern of good days and bad. Like most people dealing with chronic pain, they can present better to friends and family for a few days and then after that, their resources are gone and boom! Mic drop.  Nothing left, just bed or couch-bound.

Six years of using a cane on his dominant arm to compensate for his bad leg when it collapses when he walks has taken a toll. It’s so sore it keeps him awake and uncomfortable past the pain relief he uses for his back and limb salvage in his leg.  The twisting way he has to walk when he doesn’t wear the uncomfortable brace lurches his hip in a way they aren’t meant to twist. Degeneration is happening.

He has tried cortisone in his shoulder joint and it was as if he got shot up with water. I have had them in the past for my own health issues and they provided help, but for some reason my shoulder has been resistant to any sort of change too.

On a positive note, I had RF Ablation on both of my hips over 5 months ago and the deep bone pain is gone. I wish I could get my husband to try it as I hardly have to use any sort of Tylenol or anything to help with the aches! To me, it is as if I had received a gift from God.

The past few years have made me very aware of my health and how much I need to take care of myself for the rest of my family. If you were suffering from anything, wouldn’t you get it taken care of or try to get yourself in as best of a way of feeling better as you could? Why would you want to make your family suffer in watching you endure constant suffering?? There are other things that can be done to help chronic pain such as RF Ablation. It has helped me so much. I see reports all of the time about HBOT (Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy) and how much it helps physical and mental issues. Also, there is a new shot that goes in the Ganglion nerve in the neck that helps reduce the symptoms of PTSD right away.

When do you stop researching as a caregiver and when do you push and how do you know the difference? I recognize it as poking a literal bear. Make a recommendation and then gingerly tap dance back to my corner.

So what do you do?? Any of you veteran caregivers of veterans have any advice?

My man got blown up in Afghanistan and all I got is this crummy case of secondary PTSD and severe insomnia. Give me your free stuff.

My spouse got blown up in Afghanistan and all

I got is this crummy case of secondary PTSD and severe insomnia.

Forget the T-shirt! Give me your free stuff.

Let me bleed your non-profit dry. America owes us.

Six years ago we were newbies to the whole wounded veteran community. There were barely any resources out there on the Internet and as soon as Facebook really got going, it seems there was a new resource page added weekly. Somehow, I kept being automatically added to these groups. As soon as I would look at one, it was only a matter of a day or two before someone logged in with the question,”My husband got blown up in the war so is there an agency out there that will pay for our move?”  “We need a slab poured for our RV. Can so and so help with that?” Since when is an RV an emergency, a necessity, or something that requires others to assist you with?

Really? You didn’t foresee a move coming up in your family’s financial future? So why wouldn’t you start budgeting and saving money from the time you found out that you needed to leave your area? I get that emergencies/family issues happen. However, here are some of the others I have seen. “I need new tires on my SUV. Is there an org that can help with that?” “My veteran has PTSD, he needs a new chair that provides massage. Is there an org out there who can hook us up with that?” Or even better yet, “We need a new bed. Can someone buy us a Sleep Number bed?” I have heard women say that “America owes us. He sacrificed his life and got hurt, he deserves..xyz.” The sacrifice our military makes for our nation is not anything I would disagree with. However, at what point does personal accountability start and laziness end?

So if a massage chair fixes PTSD, what does a platinum-covered Japanese-manufactured and Tiffany’s logo-branded marital aid do for secondary PTSD and the rest of the issues caregivers suffer from? I want one of those!

What happened to personal accountability? We have a lot of medical bills that Tricare/Medicare don’t cover. We pay them ourselves, in addition to all of the other bills grown ups face in life such as new tires, house repairs and utility issues, car issues.. etc. You name it. Just paid $1700 worth of car insurance for six months. Yes, bills are horrible, but they are a part of daily life whether you are a veteran, a caregiver, a Leprechaun, or a Mummer. Bills exist and sadly, we all have to pay bills.

When you own a home, there is always something that needs to be repaired. Cars always need maintenance. If you can’t afford your car payments and your home payments and you are driving a fancy SUV and living in a fancy big home, you might need to switch to a Hyundai and move somewhere more affordable. Live within your means, people!  If money is tight and you only have one child, do you really think you can afford two more?

Non-profits are not there to supplement your income. Some are there to help you in a crisis, such as a short-term issue like the time of which you don’t get paid when you convert from active military to VA disability payments. It takes a good month and a half for that to switch over. When you know you are getting retired, start squirreling money away to help cover that gap. Be proactive, not reactive. Credit cards are not real income. If you use credit and you can’t pay it off, you are living under false financial pretenses. .

I don’t see many caregivers just wanting support and answers about health/medical/benefit questions, but more on material requests. What happened to helping each other out and giving advice and helping someone navigate through the bureaucracy we all have to tangle with? Many are in need of respite and retreats to have a bit of recharge time to themselves. Why not share the information when you hear of things?  What can you give me for free has become the mantra of many. Not what have I learned that I can share, but “gimme gimme gimme.”

My family and I were very fortunate in the kind things that some groups have done for us in the past, however we did not seek out those things.  Having a combat wounded veteran does not entitle you to spend all of his benefits and then look around for more which comes from either donors or tax payers. Entitlement is the plague of our nation.

grabbing hand

Alive Day

So, how does one celebrate an Alive Date? Especially when the warrior refuses?

In our situation, my husband Todd was wounded on 10/16/2009 in Afghanistan. He almost did not make it to Landshtul, let alone back to US soil. It was our fifteen year wedding anniversary when I received the phone call from Red Cross that he had been injured. It was10/15/2009 in Texas when I received the call while I was at work. I could not believe it.

During the blast that almost killed him, he lost two of his good friends. It has been four years, but once the end of September hits, the intensity and frequency of his nightmares increase, his mood gets more tense, and he takes on a more rigid mentality with our son and I. There are memorial fund raisers every year in October that honor one of his friends in Texas. However, Todd will never forget his friends as they died the day he lost his life as the way it used to be. He will never work as a Chemist again, a daily reminder as he fights to retain cognitive function due to the moderate Traumatic Brain Injury that renders him with frequent debilitating headaches that leave him panting and remove his voluntary muscle function. Out of the many changes that have been made to his body and mind, the mental changes are the ones that almost are worse. He wants more than anything to be able to do what he spent years of his life pursuing. The physical pain that rocks his limb salvage in his right femur and hip as well as the injury to his back keep him from being comfortable. His blood chemistry is always wrong. He never has enough white blood cells and out of what he has, there are too many of one type and not enough of another.  Sleep is never enough or without nightmares.

He is never without physical pain. Despite of these changes, there are many reasons to celebrate him being alive.

Even though he does not celebrate the fact he was spared, when he had so many catastrophic injuries at once and lost more blood at once than people typically ever survive from, he is still holding my hand. He has some long term memories. Some of them have disappeared, but he sometimes surprises me and will bring something up from earlier parts of our life together. 

Analytically, he can handle the complex math like Calculus and Physics – stuff I was never able to take in high school or college. I am so thankful for him because I could never help our teenaged son with homework in those subjects. It has been Todd. Even if it takes him longer than he harshly judges himself to recall a formula or a theory, he can still do it. He can still put music on my iPod and surprise me with a romantic song. He can hold me in his arms and make me feel safe. He loves me more than anything and can express it verbally. I have friends who have husbands who are unable to vocally communicate or hold them. Once he really surprised me by slow dancing with me at his sister’s wedding. I never expected him to put himself out there like that. I knew what a physical and emotional sacrifice it was for him to do that in front of all of those strangers and family.

 I feel like I have won the lottery. I thank God every day for sparing his life as our son and I benefit from him being in it daily. Our son and I celebrate it together. We call it the,”Yay, Todd was brought back to us day.” We hug him and tell him how grateful we are to have him in our lives. We tell him how we are thinking of his friends that have died and their families.

Remembering that day is bittersweet for him. Battling survivor’s guilt continually keeps him in a constant state of regret of what he could have done differently to save his friends. There was nothing that could have been done. Honoring him and reminding him of the good things he contributes to in our lives is something we do to help reinforce the goodness of him being alive.  We have been discussing renewing our wedding vows and perhaps celebrating them on an entirely different month and date. The anniversary just hasn’t been properly focused on like it should for the past four years. To me, it needs to be treasured, celebrated, and is something to be proud of. This year makes the NINETEENTH one! How many civilian couples make it to nineteen years without any of the added stressors of deployments or catastrophic injury? You better believe I am proud and so is he. This year is going to be one of the best ones ever. Image

Home Depot Foundation renovation project

Back in October, I was at a Wounded Warrior Project event for wives of wounded service members in Utah. They were an amazing bunch of wives. I was in my bedroom one night sleepily checking Facebook as I am part of a few closed pages that serve as resources for other caregivers of wounded veterans and wanted to make sure there wasn’t anyone in my own Austin area group needing critical help.

I saw the post from Heroesnightout.org mentioning a Home Depot Foundation project and that you had to log into the ap on Facebook and vote for them. So, like I do for most of their posts as they are an amazing non-profit that is local to me, I forwarded it on publicly and said,”Please vote for Heroes Night Out.” This voting had been going on for a few weeks, and Heroes Night Out was in a close tie off with Amvets. About an hour or two later, I get a call from the Co-founder, Wes Pierce who tells me that if HNO gets picked as the winner, they are nominating Todd and I to get the prize so we can get our home up to code.

I couldn’t believe it. I said, well, all we need is a riding mower for Todd and a shed to store it in as Todd tries to mow with a push mower and he just can’t do it and like most men, he won’t let me do it, nor will he let our fully capable son do it.

The very last night I was in Utah, it was the end of the contest. I could see that Amvets (also a great organization), was leading. I published a thank you concession post to Facebook and thanked all of the people near and far who voted for us to win. It was astonishing at all of the support from people we did not know. It put tears in my eyes to see how much people support their veterans.

I get another call from Wes, telling me that second place winners get $5k and I thought, “Sweet!!! There is the riding mower and the shed!” I was thrilled. At breakfast, one of my new friends, Taryn Esco (also a fun-loving sass like myself) said,”Tara, I think you won.” I did not believe her as she was smiling in a way that looked like she was kidding. It turns out she was right! The voting was so close and furious that the ap crashed and the Home Depot Foundation awarded the prize to both Amvets Ohio and Heroes Night Out! It was incredible as I did not expect that at all.

I called my husband and was so excited I’m sure I spoke in a tone only dogs could hear and in his typical stoic, calm way (sounds like Eeyore due to his brain injury) he said,”Yes, I know we won. Mrs. Gray told me at band practice early this morning.” I was ready to jump through the ceiling at the thought of $25K worth of home improvements! He was going to take a nap. Isn’t that funny!

Heroes Night Out held a big meeting and press conference with staff from the Home Depot Foundation’s office. They met us and shook our hands and it was incredible. They had so many people there ready to help and pick up a hammer. This was in November and our project was scheduled to begin in January, but we did not get rolling until February because the people putting this together are good and were still working other projects around ours. Let me tell you, we have a beautiful, modern kitchen in which I can have a toaster and a coffee maker on at the same time without blowing a fuse! I also have a nice beautiful central AC and heating system thanks to the awesome guys at Allgood Heating and Air.

It took about three months for the project to be completed. During that time, Heroes Night Out parked their RV in front of our home so Todd had somewhere to go and put his legs up when he was getting fatigued from helping with the projects. It also gave me a temporary kitchen to cook from while ours was being remodeled. It was a huge help.

This was a lengthy project as gutting of our home was needed. The roof where it connected to our wall studs had to be reinforced. There were things not so right that the expert eyes of Bill Bratrud caught. Our home is old, had suffered water and mold and did not have any existing central air conditioning. It had yucky paneling on most of the walls that was moldy. This seriously wrecked havoc on our allergies and asthma for my son and I. Allgood had to do the plumbing and a group of terrific electricians who volunteered from Dell Computer’s Facilities group took care of updating the electrical so we could handle the needs of a beautiful AC unit.

I met Michael Reichert, Manager of Home Depot Pflugerville, Jonathon Sprinkle with Integrity Constructive Solutions, LLC, the Contractor who created the plans for the entire remodel, Bill Bratrud, of Home Depot, who became our main project manager and Faeydra Shworm, of Home Depot, Pflugerville (she is the master behind kitchen planning). http://austincustomremodeling.com/

Jonathon called me and said can we come over and show you the plans? I said sure! The drawing he showed me was amazing. It was our old kitchen that had the clothes washing machine next to its 1950’s Imperial gas stove that was very temperamental. It even showed recessed lighting, dry-walled ceilings, walls, and brand new beautiful cupboards. It looked like the kitchen of a grown-up as everything matched. The people who put our initial kitchen together used whatever scrap cupboards they have so it was a hodgepodge of yuck. We had a roof leak years back while Todd was deployed and I couldn’t repair the asbestos ceiling tiles and they had turned colors and molded during the years. All of that is gone! Jonathon even installed granite counter tops, which was beyond my expectations.

I have beautiful new, reliable and well-insulated appliances. It is amazing how well my new GE Oven works! It is gas, but has the convection in it. It is amazing not having to take hours to bake something as this is new and works like a dream!

More than 2 people can be in my kitchen now, vs before where there was no floor space, certainly no counter space for more than one person to work in there at a time. Now my son can do his chores while I prepare meals. Yay! We even have brand new, energy-efficient windows. No more using a can or a ruler to hold the open windows open like we did with our old windows! These are beautiful. Todd can walk in with his cane and have room to stand in front of the fridge or in front of the counter to grab something to eat and not have any problems.

The Home Depot team put a new shed together in two days! It is really nice and they painted it and put a ramp on it so Todd could drive his riding mower into the shed after he mows the lawn. It was really amazing how fast they put that together.

Home Depot provided most of the volunteer labor and most products needed for all of the projects. Todd, Liam and I are eternally grateful to all of you who contributed to the renovation of our home. It is such an improvement to our daily quality of life. To all of the people who helped with the new shed and the home labor, we can not thank you enough. Our remodel is beautiful and we are amazed that this newly redesigned home is ours.

If you are a veteran in need of repairs to your home, contact your local veterans service organization as they have to contact the Home Depot Foundation on your behalf.

Wow, so you are forgetful just like me now.

He was a genius, one of those people that can understand the intricacies of Physics, the mathematical/science tango of Chemistry and yet grasp the beauty of a sonnet.  Four years ago, he was almost killed by an IED in Afghanistan. He flew 45 feet from the Humvee he was gunning from, and landed on his back with all of his gear, his Kevlar, and the roof of the Humvee on his chest and femur.

If anyone understands what the brain is like in the skull, its like an egg. There is the Dura, which covers the brain and in between the skull and the gray matter it exists to act like a shock absorber. The flight and impact of all that weight on my husband’s brain caused bleeding in between the Dura and the gray matter. We are lucky, there was nothing damaging the skull itself, the brain did not get lacerated, and the bleed has dissipated.

Picture the classic CPS coroner’s report for Shaken Baby Syndrome- basically a baby is shaken so hard either the brain injures itself against the other side of the skull or the brain stem is snapped during the abuse. Either way, its fatal usually for a baby.

Our service members are coming home with a very similar type of injury, My husband did.

When people see my husband, they can tell he has been through the mill. He walks with a severe limp from having his right leg salvaged from the blast. He has a bad back now from the blast and for the way his body lurches against his joints when he walks. It is not the walk of someone with a bad brain injury and that I am thankful for.

When I saw him in the hospital and he was able to speak and recall things from the past, I remember thinking whew.. thank God. He was on a serious amount of pain medications as his femur required many many surgeries for him to keep it.

Sure, we knew from the initial inpatient exams he had from the Traumatic Brain Injury team that he did have some delays in his working memory and processing (your short term memory that recalls phone numbers, quick instructions, etc.) We had many doctors say,”Welcome to my world. You now have to use sticky notes and make reminders for yourself.”

Is it really the same world when you lose IQ points due to the damage? No, not at all. You can be well spoken and still suffer a serious brain injury. There are many ways TBIs can impact the way you think, remember, feel, react to external stress, and your energy level.  My husband thankfully was a highly intelligent man before the blast. He did lose 25 IQ points. He still is analytically intelligent, and can grasp the science and math he did before. It takes him longer to figure it out, but his smarts are there.

For the average person, losing 25 IQ points would make you almost on the Down’s Syndrome scale or low retardation level of intelligence. It would be very substantial for you. The Army and the VA do not really acknowledge this. We had one Speech Therapist, Cora Madetzke, at the Temple, Texas VA acknowledge the loss to Todd. Her empathy and sympathy meant the world to us. She put some things together to help Todd work on his processing skills, his attention, and focus as his brain damage also caused some hearing loss.

I strongly recommend that you give your injured veteran or family member a good year and a good year off of a good portion of pain medicines as then you will really see what sort of residual damage and issues they will have. Some research claims that if you don’t work with the brain within the first year of the injury, it won’t help. I don’t believe that at all as it has been four years, and I do see gradual improvements in my husband.

What are the impacts of his Moderate Traumatic Brain Injury? Well, for starters the energy level has decreased a lot. He can not multitask at all. Some of the symptoms of PTSD and TBI overlap and magnify. If you want to get him mad, start talking to him while he is listening to his program on his laptop or trying to read a book. He can not read a line of a page and remember it two minutes later. He used to have a near-photographic memory and it really frustrates him to be in the middle of a story and he starts cursing because he forgot a name of a buddy, or a name of a scientific process, etc.

One of the worst things he suffers from the brain injury besides the inability to remember the things he wants to at will, are the headaches he suffers from. He gets them out of nowhere and they hit him square behind the eye. They hit him almost like a migraine in terms of the dehibilitation, but they don’t last for more than 45 minutes at the most. However, once he gets one he gets around 15-20 more that day.

Thank goodness for his neurologist we took him to at the Headache Clinic at Scott and White as they recommended an Alphastim for him. If you aren’t familiar with that and you suffer from headaches, TBI, and PTSD, you need to get one. Check out the link at alpha-stim.org. It is really incredible when you read the trials. It has helped Todd significantly. He used to get headaches at least 6 times a week. On a good week, it is down to 4 times a week. When he gets the headaches, he can’t open his eyes or control his voluntary muscle function. If he was drinking water before it hits, he chokes on it. Smells make him nauseated easily, even when not having the headaches. Perfumes he used to like really bother him now. 

When we drive to the VA in Temple from Taylor, most of the time he is so tired because he doesn’t sleep well still and the brain injury can cause fatigue. As soon as the car motor turns on, he is asleep in his chair. I see his feet moving, his right hand moving as if he is driving or being a TC in his sleep.

I have found some good brain resources along the way. If you are a veteran with a combat-related TBI, go to avbi.org as they will provide you with one free year of Lumosity, which is a great website for helping your brain. Non-TBI people can benefit from it as well.  AVBI also does provide you with neat cards and dogtags which you can write down your medical information so if you are in an accident you can list your TBI condition as well as the meds you take.

When you see someone you know has a brain injury, do NOT complete their sentences for them. Unless they ask you to help them search for a word. It is rude to do that without being asked by the patient. Do not act like you have the same problem, because you do NOT.

People in the community do not see my husband’s brain injury right away. He hides it pretty well. However, I had to impart some etiquette as I have seen people say some pretty damn insensitive things to him.

March was Brain Injury month, so please educate yourself on what you can do to help your family member adjust to their new life with changes to their brain. It is not easy, but time, acceptance of how their mind and processes have changed will make it so they can accept new ways of doing things to trigger their memories. Just remember to breathe and not get mad when you are asked the same thing over again or watch the same movie again. 🙂