Andy is progressing. He is eating solid foods and sat for a short time in a large chair yesterday. The chair was quite uncomfortable and completely exhausting...but he did what was asked of him. The MRI is done and the second surgery is scheduled for Tuesday. The goal of the surgery will be to fuse the two shattered vertebrae to the nearest good ones, above and below, to secure and stabilize his spinal cord. Once that is done and healing, Andy will be allowed to start the real intense physical rehab practices. He's very anxious to get to that point.
Mom and Dad arrived yesterday safe and sound and Andy was very glad to see them. He reached out to hug Mom with both arms--that's no small feat for him. He's already been introducing Dad to everyone and telling the staff how much having his father around has helped him and is going to help him.
Yesterday the doctor told Andy that they had to get his caloric intake up to promote the healing of his injuries and get his body fully functioning before the surgery on Tuesday. The doctor told him if he didn't want to eat, the feeding tube could be reinserted. At that point Andy informed him that he would eat anything and everything they put in front of him all day and all night...he'd eat dirt to avoid that tube going back down his nose. (He had major personal issues with that tube from the get-go and that's one of the few things he has really complained about.) Eating and drinking is still slow business and he tires easily from it...but in what has come to be "Andy style", he's ready to tackle it.
Mom, I forgot to tell you that when Andy got his first bowl of Jell-o, Daniel and I were there with him. Daniel told Andy he had to swish the Jell-o around through his teeth, like we used to do as kids to aggravate you. As an explanation for everyone else, it was one of those funny brother-sister-brother moments that made all three of us laugh because we were all three raised by the same woman who h-a-t-e-d when anyone swished Jell-o.
I'm sworn to secrecy on whether or not Andy actually swished his Jell-o... :)
In other news, I'm getting my bearings again at home. I told Joal that I'm not sure how to integrate being the wife and mommy who's going on about her regular fairly-normal life with the sister who has seen and done so much out-of-the-ordinary stuff in the last five days. I feel a little like I've stepped off the constant roller coaster of information and back into that world where the phone could ring at any minute and the news could be good or it could be bad. For the life of me, I can't figure out which side I'm more suited for. I have gone straight to bed just after the boys for two nights in a row (that's totally unusual for me...I'm my Daddy's daughter when it comes to being a committed night-owl.) and I still feel like I could sleep for about three days.
One of Andy's buddies came by day-before-yesterday for a visit. "A" is a fellow soldier who is also from a small town in Texas. Apparently, they were pretty close friends and Andy was grateful to see him. A told Andy that all the rest of their guys were now safely in Italy, which was a great relief to Andy. His concern for "his men" (the group of men for whom he was "Doc", the medic) was quite obviously laced in Andy's brain these past few days. He has welcomed each new wave of visitors with gladness and some trepidation, because of course he knows that if one of his men is standing in his door, that man must also have been wounded in the fight. While Andy's glad to see them present and accounted for in the here-and-now, it's a club of sorts that he doesn't want to see any of his guys be members of.
If you want to see a photo of Andy (taken at his request and shared with his permission) you can click on the link below. If you know Andy personally, be prepared for seeing him in a whole different way. He's laying in a large hospital bed, with tubes and feeds and lines, and he's wearing a steel brace with a chest plate that prevents him from moving his head and chest, almost completely. I cropped out he equipment in hopes that the photo would be less crazy and overwhelming. Take me seriously...it's intense.
Photo of Andy.
Did I tell you yet about the box? One of my duties as "first family member on the scene" was to assess Andy's belongings and go through the backpack of stuff that came in with him. The backpack came with him from Germany and it contained some paperwork, a notepad and pen, several t-shirts, a pair of pajama pants, a small uniform-clad teddy bear with a gift card for any incidentals he needed, and a small box that looked like a necklace box. A necklace box?
My brain was not fully engaged while I was going through these things so I snapped open the box top (it was hinged) without much thought about what might be inside. I quickly realized that there was not enough oxygen in the room for what I was holding in my hands. I am well-practiced these days at feeling huge waves of uncontrolled emotion come barreling out of me in the blink of an eye--sometimes there's a reason for the fresh waves and sometimes they just randomly appear. I was standing at the foot of Andy's bed and so I worked hard to get it all under control or "squared away" as he says...before I got in his line of sight again. I held in my now-trembling hand the box that contained a purple heart. My brother's purple heart. The medal no one really wants. The bar for his uniform and the actual medal. I have to say, it's a very humbling thing and I was not prepared for what I felt.
Per United States Army regulations, the Purple Heart is awarded in the name of the President of the United States to any member of the Armed Forces of the United States who, while serving under competent authority in any capacity with one of the U.S. Armed Services after 5 April 1917, has been wounded or killed, or who has died after being wounded.
I told Andy and then I showed it to him. He scrunched up his face and squeezed his eyes closed for a moment--a look I had already come to know as Andy trying to hold back his emotional outbursts. "Random misfires" he calls them. A few tears slipped out and rolled down his scruffy face. That's something else I was not prepared for--seeing my Army Andy cry on a regular basis. or perhaps more accurately, seeing him attempt to hold back the tears and not succeed. After a moment, he asked me to hold it up closer so he could see it better. I did and he sorta nodded his head so I snapped the lid closed and set it down. I kissed him and told him how very insanely proud of him we are--not for the medal, although we do honor the tradition of all those men and women who have given of their bodies in the service of this country and now wear the purple heart insignia, but because it's an indication of the kind of man he is.
John 15:13--Greater love hath no man than this,
that a man lay down his life for his friends.
There was no ceremonial presentation, there was no saluting--no brass band, no pomp and circumstance. I snapped open a box and was freshly astonished to realize yet again how much our country and those who serve her mean to me as an American. All of them...but especially my brother.
I asked Andy if he wanted me to take it with me for safe-keeping and he said "no, I'd like to keep it here" so I left it in the backpack. And I resisted the urge to tell every person inside a fifty mile radius "Andy has a purple heart"--not to brag but just to say it out loud. This is not a medal that anyone really wants...but it's an acknowledgement of what has been given and the sacrifice--sometimes temporary and sometimes permanant--that have been made on the field of battle.
It's in moments like these that you realize you either belive in something greater than yourself or you don't. There's is no half-heartedness here. Get in or get out of the way.
Years ago (1998) when the movie, Saving Private Ryan came out, I couldn't watch it--it was too much for my heart (even then, long before Andy thought about enlisting). However, I did catch the first and last few minutes of it and Joal filled me in on the rest of the story.
I feel like now I understand more of it all.
As I walked the halls of Walter Reed and saw soldiers of all kinds--in all sorts of physical conditions, I sometimes had to fight the urge to begin shouting to my fellow Americans... "My brother and so many others have given of themselves so deeply...we owe it to them to--as Captain Miller implored the young Private Ryan--earn this."