The Veteran’s Bubble
Us Veterans and Military Personal can sometimes live in our own little bubble. We are indoctrinated to honor and be loyal to our brothers and sisters no matter what, even above ourselves and families. Sometimes we can even come across as self entitled. We think and act like no others. Even after our service is done. Our indoctrinated behaviors (some would say brainwashed) and thinking continues. These are skills required in order to survive. Outside of the military, they can be a social barrier.
The last year has been a very rough one for me and my family. I have spent a lot of time just about comatose in my own bed or in a hospital somewhere. The only thing so far that the various doctors and specialists can agree on is that something is wrong. Just what that is, is currently up for debate.
This has taken a huge toll me and my family. My mental health has been severely affected, even my own religious faith has been shaken. As we know, this has a trickle down affect to our families and friends. Nothing has seemed to work as I slipped further and further into my depression. Operating on auto-pilot and disconnected from my family and friends. Fighting with Veteran’s Affairs for benefits did not help. This falling mostly upon my most wonderful wife and best friend to pursue.
The last month has been the hardest, with over 20 seizures under my belt and me hitting rock bottom with my depression. I have spent the last week in a hospital bed with electrodes attached to my head. It is here that I had what some would call “A Breakthrough” or even a spiritual awakening.
Bursting of the Bubble
For about the past few months my depression has been at it’s worst since I returned from Afghanistan in 2010 with my future in doubt. Or even when I was medically released from service in 2013. It is also when I realized that my faith was terribly shaken if not shattered.
After almost 6 years of talk and behavioral therapy, and constant assault, my walls crumbled. I was able to open up more to my wife and best friend about my feelings and struggles. Thus began my slow journey back to reality and life.
Here at University Health Center in London, Ontario. Once again having to spend my time waiting for a seizure while tethered to a computer. I met a most wonderful person. Instantly, we clicked, it is almost as if it was destiny’s or God’s plan (depending on your beliefs) that we meet.
Her story is moving as it is personal, so I won’t relate it. The weirdest thing, she’s not Military or a Veteran. She is a regular citizen combating a difficult illness using only civilian resources and benefits. This is what popped my bubble, actually it exploded it. Like a lot of Veterans I know, I have great difficulty relating and making friends with non-military type people. In fact I can count on one hand how many are friends in the truest sense. She is now counted among them. Those who know me, know the true meaning of this.
Needless to say, my eyes are now wide open to how truly fortunate we are. Even when we are fighting for benefits, or are given them in piecemeal. At least they are there.
We have all heard it said that just a single person can change the world, for good or ill. We are cited great changers in society such as Gandhi, Malcolm X, Saint Teresa of Calcutta (Mother Teresa). Others have not been so good, Hitler, Mussolini, various Roman Emperors, the Taliban, Al Queda, ISIS/ISIL, Mao, the Khmer Rouge regimen to name a few.
However, one person can not only change the world. They can change someone’s world. All it takes is a simple phrase “Hello my Name is….”. Sometimes all that is needed to make a positive difference is someones life is simply introducing yourself and being friendly. Perhaps sharing a similar story.
On Tuesday of this week someone was admitted to the ward. An obvious regular. She seemed to know all the medical and administrative staff. She was bubbly and energetic. To be honest my first impression, being the quite insular person that I am, was “Great, Just what I needed, someone who won’t shut up”. I could have not been more wrong.
Within a few seconds, she was bouncing over to me, sticks out her hand and says “Hi, I’m Emily!”. I look up from my hospital bed and see someone looking down at me with a big smile, and a pair of soft, friendly eyes. For some reason, there is already a connection there. Sticking out my hand, I answer her back, and give my first name.
Unknown to me at the time, my tiny little bubble was just destroyed. The shock waves not yet felt. For the next few hours we talk back and forth across the ward. We talk about epilepsy and seizures, we both tell some stories. As we feel out our new friendship and play the get to know each other game.
A few short hours later, she is talking with one of the nurses she remembers, playing catch up. We are only a few feet apart, across from one another. I cannot help but overhear the conversation. What I hear is a story that destroys my notions of reality.
The shock wave from the destruction my little bubble hits me like a ten tonne truck. Here is not just a young women, but a human being. A living person who has been put through the ringer. Life has certainly not been easy for her. I hear her talk about things that would destroy just about everyone. But although there is sadness and pain in her voice. There is also a passion for life and a joy that reverberates across the ward.
Here is a fellow Canadian, who has had the medical system put up hurtle after hurtle. Who has now had to resort to begging the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care. She needs home care desperately. Yet, there is nothing. No services are available to support Epileptics. They do not have the insurance or the funds to cover the expenses.
She would like to get surgery for the newest in seizure control Unfortunately it is not available here in Canada. They would have to travel from Southern Ontario to New York State. She is looking at costs of close to $200, 000 USD. Her seizures cause her to stop breathing, and she has difficulty coming back around and breathing again.
Knock, Knock it’s Reality!!
Realizing that she needs more support in order to be safe. She tried to access home care from the Local Health Integrated Network (LHIN). She was denied. Upon further investigation she found out that there are no support services available. From anywhere. She would like to get a certified service dog, but the process is long.
Here I am, another Canadian citizen, only a few feet away. Staying in the same hospital, both of us battling the same disorder. I have 70 hours of Nursing Care at home plus an additional 12 hours of Personal Support Worker hours.
Veterans Affairs Canada, is all but pushing me to go and get in-patient treatment for my PTSD at a Department of Veteran’s Affairs Hospital in the United States. There are little to no option in Canada. Zero here in Ontario. My seizures are not under control so the Mental Health Facilities like Homewood and Bellevue will not take me.
Here is another citizen of the same country, who desperately needs similar services. Yet she is left out in the cold. This reality rocks my world. Needing to speak about this experience, I message my wife back home. I know there is nothing we can do but I am moved nonetheless.
We are always touting that we have a world class health care system. That our citizens are not required to pay for services. The state will provide, it’s law after all. Except that is not the truth. Many people in our country will and do suffer due to a lack of support services.
The Truth of it
Hearing her story moves me and so does hearing the joy of life that is still in her voice and mannerisms. She has been through hell and has managed to come out the other side. As her conversation closes I am moved to say something and express my feelings. However, being the insular chicken that I am, I cannot form the words. I turn to the written word instead.
Composing a message I form my thoughts. When her conversation is over, I take a deep breath. There is a lump in my throat, I am about to do something that the old me would not have hesitated to do. The new me however is a different person. I am cold, calculating, insular. I do not express myself very well to myself let alone another person I hardly know.
Still recovering from my journey here and going through withdrawals from my medication I am not able to leave my bed. From my side of the ward, I take a deep breath and open my mouth. I express to her how I wish I could help her. How it is unjust that she has to struggle and yet here I sit with everything she needs. If I could write a check and cover the costs I would. I am moved by a need to help. A feeling I have not had for a very long time.
She is as moved by my words as I was saying them. I feel a great relief wash over me. In tears she comes over and hugs me. She has not had someone say and offer such kindness, simply out of kindness. Our bond is now cemented. Whatever has brought us together, there is a larger picture here.
That night as I said the Our Father and the Hail Mary, I prayed for her health and for her to have the strength to carry on through her trials. My faith is still not restored but I am making an effort.
New, New me? or Old me back?
Over the next few days we are each others support. We talk about our struggles and trials. Slowly I start to feel better in my heart. We both feel a connection, not sure what it is. Neither of us really socialize with any of the other patients. We are in our own little world.
After only a few days my faith in humanity and even myself is restored. Through prayers and meditation and as my depression lifts my faith is restored as well. I have made a new friend, which is always something to celebrate. We each help each other to work through some of our trials.
Even my wife notices a difference in my demeanor and she’s 6 hours away. The positive effect this has had will reverberate down to even my children. I am left now wondering who I have become. Is this the Old Me returning after a long period of darkness or is this the new, new me? The jury is still out. Either way I will not complain and neither will my family. We are forever grateful and certainly better off from having crossed paths.
Even though I have since been discharged, we stay in constant contact and are committed to continue to do so. I feel as though I am more aware of my fellow Canadians now. My drive to help others has returned. I will forever be a better person, husband, father and citizen. All though we left with more medical questions then I showed up with. Having made a new and wonderful friend such as this has made it worth while.