Wednesday, September 26, 2012

war and the consequences of

When Brian was getting ready to retire from the USAF after 22 years, one of the biggest things to address was his disability claim with the Department of Veteran Affairs (the VA). While he has no obvious disabilities - he hasn't lost a limb, been burned/disfigured or received a Purple Heart - he nonetheless has some issues stemming from 22 years of service as an Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician (bomb tech). Overpressure from blasts and detonations. Working on the flight line. Fire fights. Dismounted patrols wearing 80 lb armored vests. Full body bomb suits. Concussions. No one can walk away from that completely unchanged.

The most obvious consequence of all that is his hearing loss. His left ear is worse than his right, so I make sure to position myself on his right whenever we're out. Background noise is a particular problem, so if we're somewhere loud, a light touch is needed to get his attention before speaking closely to his right ear. When watching TV or at a movie, he often asks, 'did they just say....?' and what he hears is usually funnier than what was actually said. Once he gets his hearing aids, this won't be an issue at all. It also means I won't be able to say things under my breath without him noticing anymore, either.

As a result from the concussions, he's been diagnosed with Traumatic Brain Injury. At a recent visit to the VA Center in DC, Brian had to make a list of the IED blasts, fire fights, range detonations and other events that led to the TBI. It's not like that stuff was new information to me, we'd talked about a lot of that stuff when we were dating (I needed to know what I was getting into!), and I've read the narratives of his three Bronze Stars. I knew what he'd done. But the list? Two pages. Seeing it all in one place was shocking. It weighed heavily on me for days after.

And as far as this type of thing goes, he's pretty lucky. He doesn't have anger management problems, his personality or attitude haven't been adversely altered, he's not a danger to himself or others. The main symptoms from the TBI are short-term memory loss, decreased attention span and insomnia. He can remember things he did, read, or saw - with perfect clarity - 20 years ago, but can't remember what we had for dinner last night or a conversation we had last week. We joke about it a lot, but it's totally true: if it's not out where he can see it, he doesn't remember we have it. So I put his vitamins/pills on the counter each night before bed, we have a white board with dinners for the week, mail/paperwork he needs to address are left on his laptop. We also make very good use of the camera on our phones, and Google Drive/Calendar have been absolute lifesavers. We have lists for everything, and all appointments, big or small, go on the calendar. Period.

It can be very easy for me to feel like a horrible nagging wife when I have to bring the same thing up again and again. I know it's not his fault. I know that. He's not intentionally ignoring me or choosing not to do something, he simply can't remember. His brain doesn't have the ability to hold on to that information. So what's the cure? I don't know. For now, I'll keep doing what I'm doing, tell myself to be patient, and remind myself that we have it better than a lot of other military couples.

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