Allison Vetzel


Allison’s Journey

Allison Vetzel:  My name is Allison Vetzel and I’ve been Chris Vetzel’s caregiver since February, two thousand and nine. 

Chris Vetzel:  When I was injured, I was driving the lead humvee in a convoy in Iraq and we drove over an IED. 

Allison Vetzel:  And it blew his truck up and he was knocked unconscious after his truck was sent fifteen meters you know, in the air. Landed upside down.

Chris Vetzel:  I don’t remember the blast. I just remember waking up inside of the vehicle. My right leg was broken and they put a bandage over where it was bleeding, And from there it was determined that I was going to have to be going back to the States, that I was going to have to take time off to heal. The leg injury was the only concern that anybody had at the time. It was the only thing stopping me from doing my job.

Allison Vetzel:  We met four months after his injury and he had been diagnosed with TBI but had just gone through the initial screening process. Nothing else.

Chris Vetzel:  I really had a hard time pinpointing if I had any kind of depression or anxiety, or that I wasn’t remembering things. I had no idea cause’ I was drinking heavily.

Allison Vetzel:  He would repeat his stories a lot and he would often say the same things or ask the same questions just literally within minutes or seconds of asking it a time before. And I just kind of like was like okay, you know, or do you think we’re not paying attention? Or we’re not listening? But I just didn’t realize that he just didn’t remember.

Chris Vetzel:  That’s all I thought it was, was that I was just trying to have a good time I didn’t feel like I was trying to cover up any problems or issues I was having cause’ I just honestly didn’t know.

Allison Vetzel:  And it wasn’t until they were actually like med-boarding him out of the Army that anything actually happened for his TBI. 

Chris Vetzel:  When my traumatic brain injury was actually diagnosed was by the VA. They told me I had moderate traumatic brain injury. I think up until that point, I was trying to just deny it. I mean because I felt for the most part I felt fine. I was just having some problems here and there that seemed insignificant to me. I was reading the information that they had given me saying well you might experience this or this. And I’m looking at the list going well I experience all of these things. The effects of TBI that I noticed in myself were sensitivity to light that was stronger then it had been before.

Allison Vetzel:  Bright lights for a long period of time affect him. He actually has special glasses that he’s been given through the VA. 

Chris Vetzel:  Like after spending a few hours out in the sun, I’ll start to develop a headache that will turn into a migraine if I don’t go take it easy.

Allison Vetzel:  Loud noises. Like, we live fairly close to Fort Carson. So, we do hear like artillery and stuff like that going off when they’re doing the training exercises in the field.

Chris Vetzel:  The problem I have is when a mortar round lands and it just catches me off guard. Like I didn’t hear a launch. That scares me a lot. It just makes me like start to have anxiety and start looking around and start looking for other threats sometimes. And I do that a lot without even thinking about it.

Allison Vetzel:  His short-term memory is definitely affected by his TBI. 

Chris Vetzel:  Like with my wife asking me to do something.

Allison Vetzel:  I can ask him if he would go to help me, like grab a diaper for me.

Chris Vetzel:  I’ll tell her okay, I’ll get that done. Then I’ll walk out of the room and then be wondering what I was supposed to be doing and have to come back and ask her.

Allison Vetzel:  He’ll start telling a story and just be like I forgot. You know what I mean? Or trail off and lose his train of thought real quick because he just can’t hold it.

Chris Vetzel:  The hardest thing is just the frustration, being frustrated with yourself for not being able to just remember and do the regular, basic things you used to be able to do without a second thought.

Allison Vetzel:  In the beginning of our relationship it was actually more difficult because I didn’t, I thought like we were having issues. But we weren’t really having issues. I just wasn’t fully understanding. Because I would, sometimes I would take on the problems that were like his frustration and think that he was mad at me. And he wasn’t mad at me for anything.

Chris Vetzel:  The biggest problem I have is just with mood swings. I can go from being really happy and upbeat and have one tiny little incident happen that could be insignificant and then that make me overly angry and aggressive at the drop of a hat. And then I can go from being upset and angry to just being sad and depressed. 
Allison Vetzel:  I would internalize it and think that it was my fault and I’d be like oh my gosh what did I do? And I’d feel like I would get so upset and so worried.

Chris Vetzel:  So, it’s kind of a roller coaster some days. And it’s hard to deal with so I just try to keep a positive attitude no matter how my mood is. Like whether I’m angry, I try to at least be positively angry I suppose.

Allison Vetzel:  I’ve noticed an effect with the physical and emotional intimacy. When he was on medications, there was problems with us intimately. But it was affected by the medication and I had to realize okay it’s not that he’s not attracted to me, it’s not that he doesn’t want to be with me. It’s the medicine that makes him want to go to sleep. It’s the medicine that makes him not able to.

Chris Vetzel:  That’s why I think it’s important to keep open lines of communication. Say what you mean all the time.

Allison Vetzel:  Both parties have to be able to talk and verbalize you know, hey I’d really to but I can’t. You know? And that way both parties can express like I’m really sorry, like please don’t be hurt. Because both parties can be like offended in a situation like that, easily. As a caregiver you can play a really huge role by being supportive and asking the therapist what can I do to be helpful without hindering them?

Chris Vetzel:  When I have to go to appointments, I always have her come with me to all my appointments and sit in there because she’s the one that’ll ask the questions.

Allison Vetzel:  When I’m called on to speak up for Chris’s situation like it can, it can be hard because some people are like no we need to hear this from him. And I’m like okay well do you have four weeks? Like, this isn’t something that he can just break down to you really quick. Do you want me to just give you the quick detailed, like the short readers digest version so he can you know continue on?

Chris Vetzel:  Cause’ I’ll have these doctors telling me information and I’m just taking it in like normal. But with the TBI, I might be taking it in but it’s gone as soon as I turn around.

Allison Vetzel:  It’s not that the doctors didn’t want to talk to me or they don’t want to give me information, they just, they couldn’t. And I had to understand that I have to go through the right channels and the right processes of getting information released to me as well and making sure that I have him sign the right ones.

Chris Vetzel:  I may not know how to ask for help but I know how to tell my wife how I’m feeling. And she can use that information to help me and find the you know, medications that I would need. Or what have you.

Allison Vetzel:  And be respectful to all the doctors and nurses because you don’t know who’s going to be helping you. Don’t yell at people for them not understanding either. Like, it’s been a long road but it’s been worth every step of the way. But it’s been a long road. The resources that have, like truly came into helping us were our Wounded Warrior representative for the Wounded Warrior Program, the AW2 program. We had a representative from the Ombudsman Program. Chris’s nurse case manager with WTU, she was really great.

Chris Vetzel:  When we were going through financial issues just due to our situation we were unable to pay rent on our apartment on three or four occasions. And through the AW2 program, our representative that we saw, she got us support from other organizations like Home Front Cares. They would actually pay our rent for us. Like, and it was such a blessing. And like just the things that she found were amazing. 

Allison Vetzel:  When it came to his med-board she was able to come in and help with that. When we had questions when it came to should we be talking to this person for this kind of therapy? Like, like even just like advice.

Chris Vetzel:  She found us an application for an organization called Strike Outs for Troops for wounded soldiers that have received the Purple Heart in combat. I sent in my paperwork and they sent me a check for a thousand dollars just for getting a Purple Heart.

Allison Vetzel:  We could ask her anything. Hey, we got a question about you know, if we’re trying to get him enrolled in school, who can we talk to? And she’ll be like these are the people you want to talk to. Here’s their phone numbers. I’m going to let them know you’re coming. Please go ahead and do this. Like, you know, and she’d just give us guidance along the process and making sure that he did get all his VA stuff done. That he was applying for disability. That he was getting everything taken care of. 

Chris Vetzel:  They were such a huge help in such a short amount of time. I was really impressed and I’m glad that there are people out there that like work that hard and you know, do care about soldiers enough to try to help them find resources they might not know about and you know, have access too. When I came home the most important thing for me to have was a support system was to have my family.

Allison Vetzel:  We have two little girls. Madison, she turned three in March. And then Cayden is one, she’ll be, she’s almost one and a half now.

Chris Vetzel:  My children are definitely one of the biggest parts of my recovery.

Allison Vetzel:  Truly our family has been like I think a big help for him. Like that’s what keeps him going a lot. And that’s what makes him want to get better. So he can be a better parent you know, cause’ that’s, he’ll tell you that that’s his number one love in his life is his kids. 

Chris Vetzel:  As far as all the therapy I’ve gotten and all the doctors I’ve seen, the most helpful source of my recovery has been my wife and kids.

Allison Vetzel:  We’re trying to deal with everything on our own and it just, it made it really hard because our families didn’t quite understand. His family didn’t really want to admit that there’s any kind of issue. 

Chris Vetzel:  After I found out I had a traumatic brain injury, my parents, it just more or less seemed like they wanted to just brush over it and not worry.

Allison Vetzel:  Their insensitivity comes from them really not understanding. And a lot of people can be insensitive about it and I was insensitive to my own husbands needs before I really got the education on it.

Chris Vetzel:  It’s really hard with a brain injury I think because it’s not obvious. Like you can’t look at somebody and tell oh that person has a brain injury like you can with a veteran that has you know, both of his legs blown off. Like obviously you know there’s a difference there. I think that’s really hard. And it does feel like when you have a brain injury that half the people you talk to just they, you feel like they’re thinking that you’re just making it up cause’ they can’t see it is almost what it feels like. It’s, there’s a lot of obstacles in that area. 

Allison Vetzel:  To help us get through all this, all the tough times like truly, I had to go and get therapy. Like, I initially started seeing a LCSW and she’s a trauma therapist and that helped a lot because she was able to be like hey, hey, hey, slow down. This isn’t your fault. Why are you freaking out about this? And I’d be like but, but, and she’d be like shh, no buts. Before I had the information from my therapist like I would do a lot of things for him. I would take care of everything and would put all the work onto myself and take on too much to the point where I’m like ah, like, and I want to pull my hair out. Because there was just so much stress and already having children and then also having to take care of him as well. All of the sudden I go from being like a full-time parent to a full-time parent and caretaker and it’s just like, it’s a lot of work and it’s kind of scary but if you slow down and like realize that at the end of the day it’s still your loved one. They’re still there, they’re still there in their heart and in their head they’re going through something difficult. And with the right support they can start to get better. And like they can start to really like truly function more normally. She really like helped give me the right tools and showed me what I had to do to like stop taking on these problems. Like, this is not something you can control. This is one of those things you just have to let go. I had to learn a lot from therapy. My friends and my family have truly been some of the greatest support I could have ever had. The things that my family and my friends did the most was. was letting, just like, just listening. Like I don’t know, like lending a helping hand by listening. It’s the easiest way and sometimes just being able to like, just to be able to bitch and be like this sucks. And just to get that frustration and the weight off my chest and be like okay, I feel better now. Okay like tank you, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to just like verbally throw up on you with all this crap. And like there’s been days where I’ll call my mom and be like mom I’m going to pull my hair out, I can’t do it anymore. And she’s just like it’s okay, you know. Like, take a deep breath you know. Take a second, meditate, go pray, just take a second and know that you’re going to be okay. Just being able to like, being able to be at peace with it, it’s a hard process. I’ve cried a lot. I’ve been sad. Like you can let it eat you alive or you can realize that like you can let it eat you alive or you can keep pushing on to make things better for yourself because nobodies going to make your own life better. I’m the only one who’s in charge of my own actions and I have to take responsibility for my families happiness. And my own happiness, so. I had to learn how to organize things. I was, I thought I was organized, I really thought I was organized. I was so wrong. I was so far off. I had so much to do.

Chris Vetzel:  She keeps track of all my appointments and everything we have to do. And like when the bills are due so you know, we know when to pay them. We have an appointment this day, that’s the most helpful thing is my wife and her calendars.

Allison Vetzel:  I live and die for my calendar. I have like a paper, yes paper, that you can write on. And doesn’t have to worry about getting deleted or you know, like oh no my kid dropped it in the toilet, it doesn’t work anymore. Like, it’s there. Doesn’t you know, I live and die by my schedule.

Chris Vetzel:  Allison helps me by keeping everything in the house really organized and making sure everything’s is in its place. 

Allison Vetzel:  Organization helps me get through the day now. Like, I organize our clothes so it makes it easier. Like my closet’s organized. You can find all his shorts in one pile, right next to all his jeans. So if I put everything together and organize it for him, it makes it easier when I put stuff away. And when it comes to him finding it.

Chris Vetzel:  I’m able to find it easier. That’s the biggest help I think to me. 

Allison Vetzel:  We have our kids do stuff just to help out. They practice picking up their own toys and like they have actually bins that they have to put all their toys back in their bins, all their books back on their shelf, all their stuffed animals go in their little stuffed animal hut. His TBI affects him but it affects all of us as a family. And so if we can’t function together to help him cope with his TBI, we’re going to all be at each other’s throats.

Chris Vetzel:  When I was on a variety of different medications, my wife bought those pillboxes that are labeled Monday through Sunday.

Allison Vetzel:  He was up on, up to sixteen different medications at a time. We had different like, it was like a weekly pill thing and we had to break them out into his daily pills. And he had like a morning one and a night one. I put his pills right next to the coffee pot in the morning and he’s get up and take his vitamins and start the coffeepot. I would prep the coffee at night so he didn’t have to worry about I can’t remember how much coffee to put in cause’ he always forgets. Like, never changes, always forgets. It’s one of those things. Developing routines is like really, really lifesaving. And if you shift away from that routine then you see everybody kind of notices like a wave of stress kind of runs through the family. But with our, with the routines and stuff, it really, really helps out like a lot. I’m only twenty-three years old and a lot of people are a little shocked at how we take this all on day by day because it’s forced me to grow up in different ways I could never have imagined. I was forced to rethink my motives and what my goals in my life were. The things that were important to me, I really had to prioritize my life and realize that my family would always be first and foremost. 

Chris Vetzel:  When you have an injury like a TBI, it’s just you’re bound to fail if you don’t have people that are there to support you a hundred percent. No matter what, no matter how bad it gets.

Allison Vetzel:  When I took the vows of for better or for worse I knew that it could be anything and I knew that that meant I was going to stand by through all of it because at the end of the day that still, the love of my life, that was still my soul mate and I would do anything for him. We could go back to when we were first having the hardest time trying to figure out you know, everything and go through it all again just so we could be here today. Things that made me fall in love with him, the things I admire truly most about him like, he’s very, very kind and very loving. Like, he comes off as like a very rugged man but like he’s very gentle and very loving and very funny. He still has mood swings and stuff. We’re like when he wakes up in the morning, he’s going to be grouchy until you know like, probably like five or ten minutes before he like, he’s okay to be awake but he’s mad and doesn’t want to talk to anybody.

IChris Vetzel:  I’ve never been a morning person but I don’t know if me waking up crabby has anything to do with my injury or if it’s just, just me. On a normal day we all wake up and drink some coffee and we’ll feed our kids breakfast. And once we get up and around, we’ll clean up the house. My wife does most of it, I just, I help out where I can. Then normally if we don’t have anything going on we’ll go outside and play and work in the yard.

Allison Vetzel:  We have a garden in our yard and so we do a lot of activities. I’ll go outside and we’ll pull weeds or we’ll just like plant flowers, whatever’s going on like seasonally. Whatever we can do. Like we spend a lot of time playing with the kids.

Chris Vetzel:  Having the children and you know, knowing they look up to me, like that makes me feel really good and I love them. I am feeling pretty optimistic about my future. Now it doesn’t seem like it’s going to be so short lived as it did you know, before I started getting treatment. Like now it actually seems like I have goals and I have things to look forward to. 

Allison Vetzel:  Right now, he’s actually, we’re getting him started to go back to school. Hopefully he’ll be starting in September this year. And we’ve got him getting set up with a disability program there and through the veterans program there so he can get the correct help so he can have the highest rate of success in school.

Chris Vetzel:  I don’t know how my brain injury is going to affect my ability to learn in a school environment. Since the last time I was in school was in high school. After I finish my education, which I want to study botany, I plan to use that information to grow herbs and vegetables and other plants to make more natural homeopathic remedies for people so they don’t have to take so many pharmaceutical drugs. Like I find a lot more relief using more natural remedies and just trying to eat better and stay fit. 

Allison Vetzel:  It looks like we’re probably move in the middle of nowhere.

Chris Vetzel:  Just have a house on some property where I can’t see my neighbors. And I just want to have some land that I can farm on and just spend the rest of my life spending time with my kids. 

Allison Vetzel:  I’m proudest of my husband for being the loving man he is and giving everything to our family everyday despite his injuries.

Chris Vetzel:  Well, the emotional support that Allison provides is she’s always here for me. And I always have somebody to talk to and we love each other very much. We do just, we stay really open. 

Allison Vetzel:  I would do these things for him regardless of whether he was injured or not. That’s the love of my life, that’s the father of my children, that’s my soul mate. I would go to the ends of the earth for that man and he would do the same for me and I just believe that being his care provider is just an opportunity for me to show him how much I love him and I appreciate his sacrifice and the things that he did do and the things that he went through during his service. You know, and all I can do is show him everyday through my actions how much I love him and how much I care about him because he is my world. He is you know, that my family is my world. Having my husband and my children, that’s why I get up every morning. 

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