I went to Walter Reed for my first appointment the other day. Parking was a nightmare, especially since I was driving my dad's pick-up truck. It took me a solid fifteen minutes just to wind my way up through the parking garage to a parking spot I could fit in. In the end, I still ended up backing into a fire extinguisher box. :/
Walter Reed seems ginormous. Like a small city wrapped in government colored walls. Having learned the ins and outs of the hospital, I now know it's not actually that huge. When I finally found my "walk in, no appt needed for labwork" window, I took my number and sat down with a sigh. There are some things I'd forgotten since my last visit to BAMC in San Antonio.
People watching in a military hospital. It's no joke.
In the five minute wait at the lab, I saw no less than five men without legs. One rolled up and sat right next to me. He was not an American and I couldn't even decipher what language he was speaking. Another rolled in and grabbed a number, looking angry. As I glanced away, looking for something to distract me lest I burst into tears, I caught the Today show playing on a big flat screen. Mediocrity! Just what I needed.
Watching Kathie Lee and her sidekick discuss puppies with the enthusiasm of eight year olds kinda ticked me off, actually. I mean, I know journalism is dead. I get that the Today show isn't actually intended to be a news broadcast(is it? Please tell me it's not.). I understand that there have to be entertainment segments amidst this two-three hour show. HOWEVER, as they moved from one lame story to the next, all I could think was, "How quickly we forget." As a nation, as individuals. This country is at war. People are still dying. People are still having their legs blown off. Peoples lives are still being destroyed or altered every single day. And the "news" is talking about puppies and Tom Cruise?!
My number was called and I was able to shake the anger of my inner dialogue. Only to be sent on a scavenger hunt through the hospital. I had to register with TriCare, even though I'd been told the day before that I was all set. I wound my way through the halls, seeing more and more and more guys in wheelchairs, guys with poles for legs, guys with pretty impressive prosthetics. I saw so many emotional stages along the way. Guys nonchalant, guys who wouldn't make eye contact. Guys who seemed content, guys who seemed incredibly angry.
From TriCare I was sent to patient admin. For a while, I was able to envelope myself in my personal aggravation. As I finished my scavenger hunt and began my trek back to the lab, I was stopped again by yet another guy with steel legs. He was at the corner of the food court, sipping his coffee. He'd filled his cup too full. The people that chatted with him in passing seemed as awkward as I felt. As I passed him with a smile, biting my cheek to keep from crying again, his wife and I made eye contact. She was waiting around the corner with his wheelchair, their little girl sitting in it. What do you say?
She looked miserable, despite her attempt at a smile. Even the girl, who was not much older than Titus, looked downtrodden in a way little kids shouldn't.
I finally landed back at the lab, only to be turned away again. I got on the phone and tried to straighten everything out before leaving. I chatted with my doctor's office while people watching as buses filed in picking up and dropping off.
I saw another family with another story I'll never know. A Marine, with a little baby and prosthetics that were unusually short for his large body. He was having a tough time walking, he looked like he was in pain, he looked very angry, but he was doing it. He was walking on his own. I can only imagine what his life has become.
The last guy I saw before I was finally able to go get my labs drawn was no more than a kid. He didn't have a wife with him or children of his own. He was still in a wheelchair being pushed by an older man, I assume to be his father.
I talked with my friend about it. A fellow military wife. She said she sees these guys as a huge inspiration. And I do, too. I really do. I mean, geez, look what they've overcome to get where they are. I need to focus on that inspiration, but it just baffles me that as a country, we have this "out of sight, out of mind" thing going on when it comes to something so HUGE. So many lives. So many stories.
I am mad at myself for getting wrapped up in my own world and forgetting. Of all people, we in the military should remember. We should know what to say. 'Thank you' really doesn't seem like enough. Not compared to what they've given. So instead we do nothing? It all seems so lame. How can 'thank you' truly be conveyed?
Do you have any ideas?