By Patty Horan
“The Call” is the first part of an ongoing series based on some of Patty Horan’s experiences as a military spouse.
It was a beautiful Saturday morning in the Pacific Northwest. I had been out late with friends the night before and was trying my best to sleep in. At the time my husband, Pat had been serving as a Stryker Brigade platoon leader in Iraq for a little over a year. That morning the phone rang and rang without mercy. I almost fell out of bed trying to answer it. It was my mother on the other end. She was in a complete panic. She frantically explained that my husband’s family back in DC had been trying to reach me for hours. Then, without hesitation, she blurted out,
“There had been a serious accident and Pat has been shot in the head.”
The reunion that wasn’t
I sat straight up in bed and all I could think was no, no, not Pat, not this. He was supposed to come home safe and sound in less than two months. I had actually fantasized about our reunion. We’d all be in the gym at Fort Lewis eagerly awaiting our loved ones after the long deployment. I envisioned the overwhelming relief I would feel once I could just hold him in my arms. But today would change everything.
My mother rattled off a phone number. Evidently, I was the only one who could get an update on my husband’s condition. This magic number put me directly in-touch with the neurosurgeon in Balad, Dr. York gave me the facts in a very calm voice; Pat was stable, the surgical team had removed the bullet fragments, and at the end of the briefing he alleged that the bullet had not penetrated his skull. I thought,’ a graze! What a relief!’ How bad could that be? Little did I know this was no graze.
Moving quickly, making sense of it all
Complete ignorance and a bit of denial helped me get through the next two days. The doctor informed me that Pat should be on a plane within 12 hours to Landstuhl, Germany. He assured me if all went well he’d land at Andrews Air Force Base and promptly be transported and admitted to National Naval Medical Center Sunday night.
I was assigned a Casualty Assistance Officer out of Washington, DC. He would arrange my travel, lodging and per diem, as well as the travel of my mother-in-law out of Florida and my brother-in-law out of Georgia. In the initial phase of the injury, service members are allowed three family members, whom reside over 50 miles outside of the medical treatment facility to travel to their bedside to assist with recovery.
My next call was to Pat’s sister Megan, a career army wife who was holding down the fort in Virginia. Pat is from a very large Irish family and as luck would have it most of them were in the nation’s capital for 4th of July celebration.
After delivering the update to Megan, it became apparent that I was the last to be notified. Later I found a message from Casualty Affairs left at 4am. They weren’t able to reach me so I guess they continued down the alert roster to Pat’s mother and father. Before I was even awake most of his family knew. Even more surprising was that the notification came 14 hours after the injury. I suppose they were waiting for his condition to stabilize.
A long three days
Over the next 36 hours many of my friends from the unit stopped by and offered support. Two of which stayed with me until I flew out Sunday night. There was a military medical transit hotline, which was updated hourly to enable family members to track their loved one’s travel to the states. I’d call every few hours, relaying the information to Pat’s family. Later that afternoon the operator confirmed that Pat had been aerovaced to Germany.
The rest of the day, after numerous calls, there was nothing new to report. We were just left to wonder, did Pat survive the flight? Would he have to stay in Germany? When would we be able to see him? At one point there was thought I might have to fly to Germany to be with him. Stupidly, I had let my passport expire. This could have created major problems. It was mentioned that I would have to fly to the state department and wait there for days to be issued an emergency passport.
Early Sunday morning the Casualty Assistance Officer called, he said Pat was on his way to DC, arrival time was set for midnight. He was finally able to place me on orders and arrange my travel. I was to take the red eye out of Seattle later that evening. My friend Andrea helped me pack my bags and close up our townhouse. Pat’s brothers, Richard and Steve were there to meet him. Richard called right before I was about to fly out and gave me a full report. I remember he said, Pat is really banged up but he is home and it felt so good to hold his hand.
Patty Horan has been an Army wife for 11 years. Her husband, Capt. Pat Horan, is currently assigned to the Warrior Transition Unit at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. For the past three years Patty has been her husband’s caregiver. Patty has also served on a caregiver focus group and was interviewed for the forthcoming Department of Defense TBI caregiver manual.
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This content was originally featured on the MOAA website.