Tag: VA

” Fermata”


One moment you are in the midst of a beautifully lit late-winter day, doing what you usually do on your day off, running errands, getting groceries, enjoying a cafecito on the ride home on the back roads to the house, without a care or worry in the world. The next moment you are pushing your car to its mechanical limits getting your husband to the emergency ward of the VA, because he refuses to call 911 and have EMS come get him. Maybe because he was still conscious, could breathe and walk (but not deeply – the breathing part and for long periods of time – the walking part) or maybe because he is just a stubborn guy and to admit he needed an ambulance meant his life was threatened (which it was). To this day, I cannot tell you what logic (debatable) he used, all I know is I was able to get him to the VA without him losing consciousness. He wouldn’t let me drop him off at the entrance, while I parked, or get him one of the fifty wheelchairs that sat outside the mechanical doors, so he would not have to walk in what was becoming obviously an effort to do.

It wasn’t a heart attack, as he first thought. It was a blood clot in his lung. A pulmonary embolism. We knew first hand how serious this was. We had lost our friend two years before to a clot that traveled to her heart. When the young doctor told us what we were dealing with, we shared a look, thinking of Karen. We talked quietly as they made arrangements to transport him across the street to ICU at Duke Medical Center. I finally sat down after four hours of standing by his bedside and what he told me next really made me want to strangle him myself.

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We had parted ways that morning, me to get my nails done and run errands, he to the golf course. I remember him saying he was tired when he got up from bed and started to get ready. I remember thinking he had been up late, after a night at judo practice, so it was reasonable he was tired. I knew he had been up late the last couple of nights, dealing with the onset of insomnia that comes with this time of year. I was not overly concerned. He tells me he was fine the first five holes. He had a birdie putt on the sixth hole and was walking back to his cart when one of the guys he was playing with him asked him if he was alright. He replied he was, but when he tried to get into the cart, he knew he was not. He grabbed onto the railing so he would not fall and tried to sit down, but actually slid down into the cart. He prayed for help to get through what was happening, telling God he was prepared to go if it be His will, but if it was not yet his time, to help him get through it. His golf buddies are Veterans. They call my husband “Guny”. So when my husband heard one ask “Guny, you want us to call 911?” He told them no. They wouldn’t get there in time. They were ten minutes out-of-town in the country on a golf course, he figured, they would get their too late to save him from a heart attack. Remember I mentioned logic in the beginning of this post, because what happens next certainly stretches the definition.

He continues to ride in the cart, but does not play. He gets out of the cart once or twice and realizes he cannot breathe well, so he gets back in the cart. He continues to watch his partners finish their games. Now, this particular golf course passes by the clubhouse and his car on the 9th hole and he tells me, as he is laying in front of me in the emergency room with oxygen to help his breathing. He remembers thinking for a moment, he should just call it a day and come home so I can take him to the VA, but because he was still “fine”, he squelched that thought and continued on the next NINE HOLES. At the end of the game, does he then decide to get in his car and drive home, which in itself, was risky, given he might lose consciousness and hurt himself or others? My Marine decides to give a few lessons to the young golfer who had joined them to play. Granted, from the cart, but still…Three hours after his first incident on the course and five hours since he started playing, he drives himself home. He tells me he never panicked that morning or later that day, with all that had happened until he pulled up in the driveway and realized I was not home. He called me as I was driving out of Raleigh and was on the back roads, oblivious to what he had been through.

I couldn’t be mad at him. Anyone who knows us, knows I love my husband madly. Knows the sun rises and sets with this man. Besides, how would that look, wife going off on husband in emergency room while he lay incapacitated by a blood clot? Seriously, though, I was thinking if he ever does this to me again, I will kill him myself. Not that it would matter, my being frustrated with how he handled himself, how he may have done his body more harm than good. I looked at him with all the ambivalence of emotions and just said “I don’t know what to say”, which was a lie. I had plenty to say and plenty of emotion to go with it, but I was silent. He knew it too, because his next words put out all the fire inside my heart over what he had put himself through, what could have or might have happened, all the uncertainty of what would happen from this point on. He said simply “Just say “thank you””.

Humbled, I did. I thanked God for getting him through his day without harm to anyone and further harm to himself. I thanked God for the doctors of the VA and Duke Medical Center and their staff who took such good care of my Marine. I thanked God for our family and friends who checked in with us, supported us, offered to do whatever they could to help. I thanked God for the faith that sustains us in dark and uncertain times. I thanked God for the blessing of our marriage and our life together that we both knew could have ended that beautiful sun-filled winter day.

I walked across the street from Duke after I had seen him get settled in ICU. I remember thinking how we arrived seven to eight hours before, anxious, facing the unknown, but surprisingly never panicking, never losing composure. It seemed as if in another time in our life, not just hours before. I drove up to our home and took a picture because, for some reason in the process of the moments of getting him from the house to the car and to the VA, he had remembered, or out of habit, left the porch light on. As if he had known all along he would be coming home.

Evansridge - 16 Feb 13 0200
Evansridge – 16 Feb 13 0200

Veteran’s Day

The first Veteran in my life is my dad,  David C. Torres, Retired Chief Petty Officer, United Stated Navy.  He was the fifth son out of my grandmother’s eight sons.  He joined the Navy at 17.  He served during the Korean War and also at the beginning of the conflict in Vietnam on the Bonn Homme Richard, CV-31.  He worked on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier, getting jets on and off the deck of the carrier to run bombing missions over Vietnam.  He later was stationed at Cubic Point Naval Air Base, Republic of the Philippines,  at the airfield where body bags came in from Vietnam headed home.  He retired at NAS Miramar, the home of “Top Gun” fame.  Now Miramar is Marine Corps Air Base Miramar, but, don’t tell him that.  For all my life as a dependant, before and after he retired, NAS Miramar was all Navy.

All of his brothers served in the armed forces.  In the case of one brother, my Tio Frank Torres, served in two branches.  Army and then the Marine Corps.  My mom had four brothers, all who served.  It was a recent conversation at Christmas last year when my mom told me her eldest brother, my Tio Dan had suffered from “shell shock” when he returned from his duty.  The local train going by my grandma’s house, used to catch him off guard and send him to the floor in his first days back. Her youngest brother, my Tio Arturo, was wounded in Vietnam.  His intestines and stomach were mostly plastic by the time the doctors were done with him.   His injuries proved so severe, he went from morphine to, I was told, street pharmaceuticals, to deal with the pain.  It took him years, but he finally got his health on tract, was driving truck early one morning two years ago and was killed.

My husband is the son of a sharecropper.  He joined Job Corps and went to Idaho, and from Job Corps joined the Marine Corps.  He was a country boy who had just been out of the state of North Carolina for the first time and was going to a foreign country to shoot, and be shot at.  He was wounded by shrapnel in his face in a close encounter with another young country boy from Vietnam.  Killed or be killed.  He was awarded a Purple Heart for his wound and was sent back in country as soon as he could walk around on his own, to finish out his tour.

If you ask family and friends, there is someone who knows someone who served. There is someone who has a story they carry in them.  Someone that might have carried it so long, that his almost senior aged daughter did not know her father served in World War II until he came back from a dedication ceremony in D.C.  I asked my husband, why do some veterans, come home, put their military locker in storage, or in the barn, or in the attic and never tell their spouse, or their kids about their time in service.  The younger veterans don’t want to relive it, he speculates, the older ones are from a generation where you did not complain.  It was easier to act like it didn’t happen, than deal with the questions when people find out it did.

I know there are other stories out there in my family.  I have a cousin I wrote to when he served in Vietnam.  He died not long after he returned, and because no speaks of it, I wondered if it had to do with his time in service.  No one speaks of it.  I have refrained from asking my Tia, because the loss of a son, I understand as I have a son of my own.  But, I often wondered if the demons from Vietnam followed my cousin home.

My daughter, Megan, joined the Navy in 2004, just out of high school.  If you could have seen the look on her grandfather’s face, when he found her new I.D. card in his birthday card, that year.   It is one of those stories we still tell at the dinner table when we talk about the legacy of her following in her grandfather’s footsteps.  No, she is not working catapult on a aircraft carrier as her grandfather did, she is Aircrew on H-53’s and from time to time, flies on to aircraft carriers.  She is the latest in our family to serve.

If you go the VA Hospital in Durham, to the convalescent floor, you will find everyday people from World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm I and II, that served this country.  You might even find a Purple Heart recipient or Bronze Star recipient, or you may just find every day folk, too sick to be at home, trying to live out their days as best they can.  Ordinary people, who served this country when the times called for extraordinary people to serve.  We owe them, the veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the veterans of peace time, so much more than just a day of remembrance, a flying of the Stars and Stripes, a day off work and school, and “Pre-Holiday Sale” at the local mall.  We owe them our time, our respect, our consideration, and our dedication, that their service is not just acknowledged, but respected and honored.