Wednesday, February 17, 2010
JAMES - A SOLDIER
I had first met James on Christmas Eve, December 24th, 2008. He appeared fun-loving, humorous, courteous, handsome, and heavily tattooed. He was in The Barracks processing out for eighteen days of Christmas leave. He was excited to be flying to North Carolina to see his eighteen month old son that he hadn’t seen in fourteen months.
James had been a firefighter in New York and was in the 'second tower' when the plane hit on 911. After that he was deployed to Iraq three times and was in twenty three IED (improvised explosive devices) explosions. Injured multiple times, James now faces acute PTSD/TBI and accompanying anger issues.
He also struggles with short term memory loss and lack of cognitive reasoning. He can’t remember how to tie his shoe laces, and jokes his little baby boy will have to help him.
Kelsie, my golden retriever/lab and a Penny's From Heaven Foundation Soldier's Angel Support Dog, goes to him like they are long lost friends. She nuzzles his neck and works her way up to his ear with her nose. He tells me how his first wife couldn’t handle his PTSD, and how now he is engaged. He and his fiancé have been best friends for many, many years, and have taken it one step further. She is there for him during his severe attacks in the middle of the night and won’t go back to bed until James can sleep. “With her I have complete trust. I feel safe.”
James tells me how his fiance's dogs offer him such comfort when he is having an attack. “They don’t judge me or ask me how they can help. They are simply there.” He says he is tired of people asking how they can help. They can’t. But when his dogs are around it is better. He can relax. His heart rate lowers and the panic lessens. I understood.
On this night before Christmas, I watched as James went to the 'help' counter in The Barracks to try and get some assistance regarding getting a RX refilled for his trip. It is a long unnecessarily tedious ordeal. His anger issues start to surface, and then good sense took over as he laughs and says, “I was in 911! I have been deployed three times to a war zone! I have lived through 23 IED explosions only God knows how, and I've been seriously injured three times, and now I can’t get a simple prescription refilled.” I liked him immediately.
I gave him some toys to take to his baby boy. He thanked me and asked if I would be able to come back and visit him after Christmas. We had talked about maintaining a sense of humor, and how vital it is for survival! He seemed to appreciate what I had to say. I didn’t judge him or ask how I could help. Like Kelsie I was simply there…to listen.
Two weeks later he phoned me from the airport in San Antonio telling me he was home and asking if I could bring Kelsie to come visit him. The next day we saw James for the second time. We met in The Barracks' day room and soon he curled up on the sofa with Kelsie and they slept!
James is extraordinary. He is a true American hero. Perhaps not written up in the newspapers but one of a multitude that have returned from serving our country and sacrificing a great deal. His life will never be the same. I know mine won’t either after meeting him.
So for now, I will phone James occasionally and remind him when we met and about Kelsie. We will sit and talk about life and war and panic attacks. And I will show him how to tie his shoe laces.
"It is not about finding the right words; it's about finding the time."