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Picking Up the Pieces

Iraq Vets: Radio Transcript

How Family and Faith Are Healing Veterans Home From War.

Cynthia: I mean I didn’t get home at all. For 10 months. I lived in a hotel room. When Rory became outpatient, we roomed together in this hotel room. The Mologne House at Walter Reed.  And I mean that’s just like cruel and unusual punishment for a 20-year old kid and for the mother, because the dynamic is that this is a 22-year old guy who is living with his mom.

Barry: That wouldn’t have been easy under the best of circumstances. But when Rory woke up after his injury, he was, in his mom’s words—'a real handful.' One of the main symptoms of Traumatic Brain Injury, or TBI, is an altered personality. Like many people with TBI, Rory became impulsive, lacked short-term memory, couldn’t deal with crowds, couldn’t handle many of the details of daily life…

Lucky for him, his mother has a master's degree in adult education, with a strong background in psychology and in working with special-needs populations. Because she thought the hospital wasn’t doing enough, she took charge of Rory's care.

Cynthia: A frontal lobe injury requires a structured day. They have to function within structure. They have to relearn social filters. They have to practice. You can teach the brain to stay in bed, self-medicate, abuse drugs and alcohol; or, for up to three years, the brain will rewire, and it can relearn normal daily activities and responses, and again, the cognitive part, Rory came back so strong.

Barry: But his emotional recovery was tougher. They reached a juncture where Cynthia feared for Rory’s life.

Cynthia: At the point where Rory was outpatient and became suicidal and said, 'I’m gonna kill myself. I don’t want to live this way. I can’t stand the hospital. I can’t stand the military. I will not deal with it. If I could get my hand on a gun... If I could do this. If I could do that. I’m gonna kill myself.' So Mom has to do 24-hour suicide watch. Mom’s not sleeping. Mom’s not starting to do too well.

Stan: And this is where I finish my comment that his mother seemed to find this balance of providing him the care he needed but also recognizing and pushing him to become independent.

Barry: Stan Lefever, Cynthia’s husband, is not Rory’s biological father. But he has taken a key supporting role in Rory’s healing. He works as a manager for Boeing; after taking six weeks off to get the recovery under way, he needed to go back to work. He asked his supervisor for some flexibility in his schedule—and began working four, 10-hour days each week. Every other weekend, he’d fly across the country, from Seattle to D.C., on a red-eye to spend four days with his wife and stepson. It was a stressful period in the couple’s relationship.

Cynthia: I can see how marriages fail because you don’t—the closeness is just gone. And our intimacy was interrupted for a very long time. Which is not really healthy, because it was almost like we became almost strangers that just were dealing with the everyday practical– And I took my frustrations out on Stan.

Stan: It was sort of like she was the primary caregiver to Rory and I was the caregiver to the caregiver.

Cynthia: Right.

Stan: And so we ended up in this role, and you were amazing. She was like a mother bear taking care of her cub, and nothing was gonna come between that. And so I don’t know how she coped, but she did it just because of her love for her son and her dedication. And then I tried to be there to support her.

Barry: Meanwhile, Rory’s progress was slow, but steady. When his sister invited him to her wedding not long after the injury, some of the other members of the family weren’t sure they were ready to deal with his physical and psychological impairments. But his sister insisted he come to celebrate with her.

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