Life doesn’t care if you are in the middle of a deployment. Life doesn’t ask you, “Hey, you think you can handle another HUGE stressor?” No, life just throws stuff at you and never thinks of asking permission.
I already knew that fact, but nothing could have prepared me for the call I received from my mother-in-law, Jeanine, on Friday, July 12th: “Nick just had a serious heart attack,” she told me frantically. “He was running at the YMCA and collapsed and passed out. He’s on the way to the hospital right now. I need you to call the boys in Afghanistan, I can’t call right now.”
I was then faced with the hardest phone call of my life. It is the type of call that you hope you NEVER have to make to a loved one deployed to a war zone. At that point, I didn’t know if Nick was going to survive. I was sitting in my air-conditioned car, in the parking lot of a wedding reception venue I had just toured, and it was about 2:00 PM. I signed onto Skype via my iPhone and saw that Mark was online. I tried calling him but he didn’t pick up. Thankfully I had Skype credit, so I called his Roshan phone number. My hands were shaking and my stomach was tight, but I knew I had to keep it together for him.
“Hello?” I heard Mark’s groggy voice on the other end.
“Hey, it’s me, Malori. Did I wake you up?” I didn’t want to launch directly into the bad news.
“Yeah, it’s pretty late here, I was sleeping. What’s up?” I dreaded this moment, but I had to drop the bombshell.
“Um yeah.” I struggled to keep my voice steady. “Your mom just called me, and your dad had a bad heart attack. He collapsed while running at the YMCA and he’s been taken to the hospital.”
“Oh….oh wow.” A few moments of silence. It was awful. We had a short conversation, and said he would notify Matt.
Halfway across the world, Mark and Matt began dealing with the family crisis. After talking with Mark, Matt headed over to his TOC (Tactical Operations Center) in the hopes of obtaining more information. He figured that his dad was at one of the two hospitals in their hometown of Kenosha, Wisconsin, and called St. Catherine’s first. He was able to talk with an ICU nurse, who confirmed that their father, Nick, was there and had indeed suffered a massive heart attack and was not breathing on his own.
When there is a family emergency at home during a deployment (meaning, serious illness or death of a dependent or parent), the hospital notifies the Red Cross, who then notifies the deployed soldier’s chain of command. Emergency leave is coordinated, and the typical length of leave is 14 days. This is what happened for Mark and Matt, because their dad’s prognosis was poor. Turn-around for their departure was quick, and within a day they were on their way to the United States.
Since Mark and I were legally married at the courthouse before he deployed and his family is considered mine now, I was able to take FMLA (Family Medical Leave of Absence) and vacation time on short notice. American Airlines is absolutely AMAZING and was very accommodating with flights, and I was able to take advantage of their military rate as well. I met up with Mark and Matt at the Milwaukee airport on Monday morning, July 15th….and while I wished it was under better circumstances, I will never forget that temporary homecoming hug with Mark.
It has been a VERY long and stressful week and a half, but their dad has been recuperating quite well. He had triple bypass surgery on Monday, July 22nd, so his heart is healthier than it was before. The twins and I have been hard at work this entire time, launching a fundraising campaign to avert a financial crisis, as the medical bills are mounting. (https://www.facebook.com/HelpForNickAndJeanine)
As stressful as this entire situation has been, I feel that it has also drawn Mark and me closer together and strengthened our relationship. We just have a few more days together, and then the deployment will resume once again. But we have much to be thankful for.
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