A story of resilience

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Dwayne Okelberry
What is resilience? Webster’s dictionary defines resilience as “an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change”. Well, I’d like to take a moment of your time to tell you my story on resilience and how it changed my life in a way I never imagined possible. It’s one of those stories we all hear about, but think to ourselves “that could never happen to me”.

To begin, I would like to tell you a little background information and some of the events of the days leading up to fore said change. My wife Kalyn, 27 years old, and I lived a very healthy and active life. We did Insanity workouts five to six times a week and ran at least two miles three times a week. On top of the normal workouts we rode bikes, went on walks, and hiked during our time off. There were no preexisting medical issues or concerns that would cause the change, it was just a fluke.

In the days leading up to the change there was nothing out of the ordinary to let anyone know something would happen. We had just returned stateside and decided that for my son Daniel’s birthday we would celebrate with family and friends. We went to Six Flags amusement park, had a big party, and took him to a late showing of Cars 2.

The morning of July 9, 2011, started out like any other day. It was a beautiful summer morning and my wife woke up about 7:00 a.m. and headed to the shower. She returned about 30 minutes later complaining about a pinched nerve in her neck and asked if I could rub her neck to see if it would go away. As I attempted to massage her neck, excruciating pain radiated throughout her entire body. As I continued massaging her neck, she stated that there was no feelings in her legs and that they felt like jelly. Within seconds she was on the floor gasping for oxygen. I immediately called 911, who arrived within minutes. They were able to get her stabilized and breathing, but not on her own. Within 20 minutes, Kalyn went from being an active and independent individual to being completely dependent on others around her to do everything for her, to include assistance with breathing.

On that morning, Kalyn had a stroke of the spinal cord that left her paralyzed from the neck down. The scariest part for me was, with all the training I’ve received since the age of 8, including first aid, CPR and Self-Aid and Buddy Care I received through the Air Force, there was nothing I could do but hold and comfort Kalyn. This event was a game changer in the way my family carries out our daily lives. Kalyn went from being able to go or do whatever she wanted to having trained/certified people around her at all times. For me this meant major changes also.

First, I had to receive months of medical training so I could be left alone with my wife. Our family’s daily routine changed as well. Due to the lack of skilled personnel within the nursing career field that are required to attend to Kalyn’s special needs, I normally don’t have night or weekend nurses. I start my day getting myself and Daniel ready for the day. I also have to attend to Kalyn’s needs until the nurse arrives for her 12 hour shift.

After my eight hour shift at work, I get home, cook dinner, feed my wife and clean up the house. Daniel is a great help to me. He assists with the chores and does whatever he can to help care for his mom. I might relax for a few minutes and spend time with Daniel after the chores are completed. Around 9p.m., I start Kalyn’s nightly care which can take anywhere from an hour to two hours. If my wife needs anything during the night she has to wake me up to assist. If it is a good night, she might only need to wake me up two to three times, if it’s a bad night, I might get an hour or two of sleep.

This situation can be very physical and mentally straining on a person. In the six months of Kalyn’s hospitalization, I saw couples of all ages separate because they couldn’t handle the stress. Individuals were placed in assisted living facilities by families that couldn’t handle the stress. I spoke with injured personnel or family members who have considered suicide because the stress was so great.

In life, we all have to find our own ways of coping with not only the major stresses of life, but also the little stresses. Any stresses not properly handled can lead to a major problem. For me, it was never a question of whether I would stay to care for Kalyn; it was my duty and my responsibility as her husband. For Daniel and myself, we both have had to learn the flexibilities of life.

I’ve learned that when we can get out and have fun with the family, we do it, because we never know when some medical issue/concern will stop us again. This could mean anything from just going to the store to get away from the house to going to the movies, Dave and Busters, shooting, etc.

The biggest thing I’ve learned about resilience is to not worry about yesterday or tomorrow, focus on today, one day at a time. One thing this has taught me as a leader is that regardless of what you’re going through and how severe it might seem, don’t down play the importance of other people’s problems or situations. Just because their issues may not seem as urgent to you, it doesn’t mean it’s not just as severe to them.