Before I start the rest of my posts, I want you to know why I blog and also, why I named the blog, Rainbows and Butterflies. The adventure started January 28th, 2010.
“Jessica, are you sitting down?” asked my boyfriend’s mother over the phone early one Thursday morning.“Yes,” I said quietly, gripping the kitchen counter. I hear her take a breath before saying, “Jessica, Zach was injured in Afghanistan this morning…” It was the morning of January 28, 2010, the beginning of my workday and the moment when my yearlong journey to discovering love began.
As I sat at my cubicle, the hours seemed to pass so quickly as the details of Zach’s injury slowly trickled in. I learned that he was returning to base from a mission when his Stryker hit an Improvised Explosive Device, a roadside bomb. Shortly after, Zach was MEDEVAC’d from the scene. Doctors discovered that he had sustained numerous injuries—shattered heels, a broken tibia and fibula, a compression fracture in his spine and a mild concussion. Zach would be heading back to the States immediately to rehabilitate atWalter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC.
Sent from a Dr in Afghanistan
It took two weeks for Zach to make it back to the United States. DC was stuck in the middle of two major snowstorms—dubbed ‘Snowmageddon,’ by meteorologists—that wreaked havoc on the incoming flights, so no one knew when Zach’s flight would arrive. One morning, after some of the snow had melted and before the next snowstorm was supposed to hit, I awoke with a gut feeling that if there was any day he would be set to arrive—today would be it. I got in my car and drove to Walter Reed just as snow was beginning to fall.
As I walked into the hospital lobby, I was immediately directed to the Admit Office. “Excuse me, but I’m looking for 1Lt. Zachary Osborne. Do you know when he is scheduled to arrive?” I asked the woman at the desk.“Zachary Osborne? That name sounds so familiar… Ah, yeah! I just put him into the system. He will be arriving upstairs in 20 minutes.” Immediately, I ran to the entrance and waited anxiously for the ambulance that held my boyfriend.
As his stretcher rolled in, Snowmaggedon began anew. I spent the next few hours waiting in his room as the doctors examined him and started to devise his medical plan. As I waited, the hospital staff gave me scrubs and told me that everyone would have to stay the night because of deteriorating road conditions. For the next three nights, I slept on the hospital floor as Zach underwent surgery after surgery in an attempt to save his legs.
Zach was in-patient at Walter Reed for the next three months. I continued to work at my full-time job only to fight through DC traffic each evening to spend time with him at the hospital. Our dates now consisted of pushing Zach in his wheelchair around the facility, wheeling him down to the cafeteria to eat dinner together, and going to church services that were located in the hospital chapel. ”Going to a movie” consisted of requesting the XBOX from the nursing station and our Valentine’s Day celebration was getting a rose from a Red Cross volunteer and eating take-out from a local restaurant.
After three months and over 20 surgeries, Zach was finally well enough to be transferred to the Mologne House, an on-campus housing facility for soldiers and their families. At that point, Zach was still in a wheelchair, but we were finally allowed off of hospital grounds and able to go on day trips around Washington.
We were even given permission to visit our hometown of Roanoke, Virginia so that Zach could give a high school commencement address to our alma mater.During that period he stood up for the first time in over five months! So excited about his progress, I emailed the picture of him standing to all of my family and friends who had been praying for us. Coming home from Roanoke, Zach and I felt that we were getting back on track to being a normal couple and believed that our love and relationship were invincible, especially after everything we had been through. That was when things quickly took a turn for the worst.
A short two weeks after returning, doctors found an infection in Zach’s right foot. An infection so strong that there was a possibility of him losing his leg. He was ordered to return to the hospital, where he had antibiotics and fluids flushed through him every four hours for the next six weeks. I started to get angry, tired and frustrated. We had just spent 5 months in this hospital and were doing everything the doctor prescribed. There had been progress and real hope. We had finally gone on actual dates, explored monuments, and made plans for Zach to start walking. Now we were back to square one.
Reading letters and cards from elementary school students showing their support
Our life now consisted of reading dates, watching the sunset from our hospital room, seeing Fourth of July fireworks from the top of the parking garage and constantly wondering what our outcome would be as a couple. I started to wonder if it would ever get better. What if my husband couldn’t go on hiking trips with our kids? What if he had to sit by as our family enjoyed the beach because he was in a wheelchair? What if our toddler was playing in our front yard and started to run out into the street; could Zach stop him? I started to question everything.
I think it is easier to love someone through the ups and downs of a hardship when there is daily progress made and you can see the light at the end of the tunnel. It is when the ‘ups’ become rarities, the ‘downs’ become far too regular, and the uncertainties become suffocating that you come to understand what love truly is. To me it started to mean fighting through the hard times even when the future was unclear.
After six weeks of antibiotic treatments in the hospital, Zach’s infection was gone and he was given permission to move off of hospital grounds. The day after he moved into his apartment in Arlington, VA, Zach and I flew to Hawaii for some much needed R&R. It was on those tropical beaches that we found hope and realized the strength in our love.
Zach wasn’t allowed to go on the beach because he couldn’t get his feet or bandages wet. Yes, our activities were limited, but that didn’t matter. What mattered is that we were given the chance to be away from doctors, the hospital and all of the stress and uncertainty that lies in medical issues. We were finally able to focus on each other, rather than his injuries and the events of the past year. We were given the chance to eat out, drive up and down the coast, and, most importantly, talk. Talk about who we are, what we want, and our goals and dreams. At the end of our vacation, we finally saw each other not as two individuals trying to overcome hardship, but as teammates in this fight together.
We came back from Hawaii with our eyes wide open and a much stronger relationship. We needed that time to get reacquainted and fall in love once again. As we landed in DC, we felt ready to handle any new battle, hand in hand, with our eyes set on the goal—to get Zach better and move on.
Soon thereafter and exactly one year from the blast, Zach ended up losing his leg. It took a year of indecision at Walter Reed to get to this point, but it proved to be a huge step forward in his recovery. He was out of the hospital in two weeks and ready to walk a few weeks later. It was uplifting to see tangible progress and the look of relief and pure joy as Zach started to live independently again.
Zach's Alive Day. Alive Day is celebrated by wounded soldiers every year. Its the day that you were supposed to die, but didn't.
Then, on February 16th, we got engaged! One month later, Zach and I walked side by side into our engagement party, holding hands for the first time in over a year.
If this year has taught me anything, it is that love is not one destination, feeling or event, but a commitment. And in this commitment, life isn’t always rainbows and butterflies, but hard work. So far, it’s been a journey filled with uncertainty, hope and hard-won success. But through all of love’s adventures and challenges, when I think back on what I’ve learned, how I’ve grown, and what our love has accomplished, I can’t help but look at the man I married and think it was all worth it. There will be future hardships in our lives, but this experience makes me confident that we can handle anything. No one ever said that love is easy, but it sure is worth the struggle.
So why blog? I’m writing this blog to remember how precious life is and our first year of marriage. In these posts, I hope to capture our adventures, fun recipes as we try out first meals together, and other knick-knacks along the way. I hope you join us.