Dear Andy's Family,
I returned from visiting Andy and Daniel in Florida earlier this week where they clarified for me the difference between "Snow Boarding" and "Snow Birding." It seems to do the first, you run toward the snow and to do the second, you run from the snow. I actually had an unexpected encounter with two dear friends, Bill and Carol Shearer, who were doing the Snow Bird thing for the next few months in Tampa. When Daniel and I went to church on Sunday morning, there they were. The last time we saw each other was almost two years ago in east Texas. It was a really nice surprise to find friends in a place that you didn't expect them to be. That happens to us a lot lately.
This was a somewhat different kind of visit than those preceding. This time, Daniel didn't leave out as I was coming in, so, the boys were all together. I'm not sure how my sons felt about that, but for "Pop" it was great. I got such a "kick" out of watching those two boys interact. For years they have had their own thing going, and it seems that it is even now just going right on.
When Daniel and Andy were growing up, most of the time they shared the same bedroom, and almost all of the time, all of the other issues of life. Now, it seems, in those years they just really worked out the "getting along" thing. Well, it is still working. In a time when so many ideals have gone by the way side, it is so personally refreshing to me to see brothers actually being brotherly.
Daniel is amazing. He has quickly figured out and fitted into his new, though somewhat temporary, role to his brother. He knows just when to get in Andy's face and just when to give him space. He is Andy's right arm, his administrative advocate, his confidant, his trusted psychologist, his greatest admirer, and always his older brother ( If not his big brother. The weight advantage actually shifted several years ago. Strangely enough, that is also about the time the physical confrontations stopped. Go figure.)
Dan is fearless in the taking-care-of-Andy task. He tackles anything and everything from unfamiliar cities to hospital bureaucracy to helping Andy get going in the morning (he is better and faster at it than most of the nurses) to the biggest deal of all, braving 5:00PM Tampa traffic to "bring back" the "take out" for half of the SCI unit at the hospital.
It usually goes down like this. About 4:00PM, after the last physical therapy session of the day, Andy starts attracting people. Typically they will sit outside in the patio area for a few minutes and talk. The conversations range from profound to mind-numbing (I promise you that there is way more mind-numbing stuff than profound stuff.) but eventually they get around to the "prime question:" Where are we going to eat tonight?
At that point these titanic intellects all become focused as one mind to answer this all important question. It usually takes about four seconds. They just consider two things: What did we eat last night? (because we sure don't want to eat that again) and What do we have gift cards for? (Thank you all for those precious gift cards)
When those defining questions are answered, the mighty Daniel swings into action. A quick check of Google Maps to find the chosen place and he is off to retrieve the bounty. In a flash, he is back to distribute these favorite rations of the day that compose what has to be the worst diet of any soldiers in the US Army. I have to say, It's good, It's really good. But this stuff will kill you if you are over 50. However, if your under 30, it seems you can flourish on it, at least while you're in the hospital.
Dan seems never to tire of trying to accommodate these food tyrants, sometimes stopping at two or three places to get all the orders filled. And this is at the end of a day that always starts at around 6:00 AM after ending the night before well after 11:00PM.
Andy is getting to be Mr. Independent these days, and he is very careful to consider Daniel and take as much weight off of him as possible. He has told Daniel that he can make it in the morning. I also offered to take over a few mornings. Dan's answer, " Naw Dad. It's not necessary." When I pressed him a bit to let me do it, he opened up a little more. He said, "Dad, it's OK. Andy could actually get going without me. I know that. He's getting pretty good at taking care of himself, and he has great nurses. But, he hurts in the morning in his hands and arms especially. And I can save him some of that pain. So, I just like to do it. We got a system."
I knew better than to press it any further. I've been watching that "system" work for a long time now. And I have to say, I am extremely proud of their - system.
The really big thing that happened on this visit was Andy's first outing without a professional therapist. He got a pass to leave the hospital and on Saturday evening about six, he rolled out to the pickup (the seat of which is about 8 or 10 inches above the level of his wheel chair seat) made the "transfer" into the vehicle (after warning me, "Dad, stay back! I can do this.") and bopped off to The Texas Road House for his first steak as a "free man."
As we drove Andy, was mostly quiet and obviously jittery. You didn't have to be a rocket scientist to know what was going on inside him. But, here he was, pushing on into a very frightening unknown. But he did it, and it went well.
The place was absolutely packed, the music (country of course) was so loud that you could not hear yourself think. But he was undaunted. ( I was absolutely frazzled.) He wheeled himself through the crowd, positioned himself gracefully at a table that required some finesse and eventually went to work on a great steak.
After a while we were done. Then back through the crowd, back in the truck, and back to the hospital, but with a lot more confidence. I think courage is sometimes just being bigger than your comfort zone. Andy lives there.
I also found out that Andy is getting a second Purple Heart. It seems that on the same day that he was wounded in the neck, he was hit on the left side of his face with some spraying shrapnel from a disintegrating bullet that hit the tripod of a weapon that he was near. I guess in his silly mind this was classified a "unworthy of mention."
He said that he never really thought about it. He said the fragments surprised him, knocked him back a little and cause his eye to close involuntarily. He explained that they also knocked his best friend, Mac, who was firing the weapon to the ground. Andy, said the sergeant that was in the tower with them "went nuts," yelling, "Burnett, are you OK?" Andy said the sarge was all over him, trying to check him and see if he was all right, while he was trying to get his eye to open again and get to Mac to see if he was all right.
Finally, in frustration, Andy yelled, "Sarge, you do your job and let me do mine." So the sarge jumped on the weapon ( guess he figured, "This kids must be OK.") and Andy, always the medic, then went nuts checking on Mac (McCain) who, as it turned out, was also OK. Thus, is the saga of the second Purple Heart. So, somebody wrote it up because it he was actually wounded. And the people who do such things are planning a second presentation ceremony now.
We had a long discussion about Purple Heart Medals one afternoon with Andy's room mate who is a staff sergeant in the Marine Corps. He has four Purple Hearts. We all decided that if you get one purple heart that is OK. Not really your fault. But if you two or more they ought to Court Martial you for destruction of government property. We laughed. It is what Dad's do to keep from crying. But later, back in my room, the Lord inspired me with a poem concerning the sacrifice that those Purple Hearts represent.
I'll just close with that poem, and another inadequate expression of our gratitude for your love and support for Andy and his family in these days.
Thank you for being our circle of security.
A SOLDIER'S HEART
(A tribute to all who have fallen in freedom's service.)
I saw a soldier's heart today.
I wondered at its strength.
It seemed afraid of nothing mortal,
Fearless, breadth and length.
It spoke to me of war and pain,
The toll of Freedoms Gate.
It spoke to me of sacrifice,
And a noble warrior's fate.
It spoke to me of hearth and home
Revered above all else,
And the courage to defend it
Without regard for self.
It spoke to me of fallen love,
And a hero's greatest struggles.
And it spoke to me in a language red,
For this great heart was purple.
With deep respect and appreciation for their difficult service
--- Larry Burnett