Spouse caregivers: Adapting to a new role
September 27, 2012
JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON -- An Army wife and mother of two had to learn to adapt to a new role -- caregiver -- after her husband was severely injured in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.
Army Staff Sgt. Dan Burgess was injured when he stepped on a roadside bomb during a routine clearing mission Nov. 20, 2011.
Burgess lost his right leg below the knee and the skin was completely ripped off his left leg.
He also suffered a traumatic brain injury, broken fingers and several other fractures.
Back home in Cleveland, Ohio, his wife Genette was caring for their two little girls, 9-year-old Kaylee and 10-year-old Gracie, when she received a phone call notifying her that her husband had been injured.
A week later, Genette was reunited with her husband at San Antonio Military Medical Center at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston.
The doctors were trying to get Dan stateside as fast as possible but his oxygen levels were too low, she explained.
"They didn't fly me to Germany because they thought that our flights would cross."
"We requested he come here because of the facilities we had heard about," she said.
Dan spent two months in the hospital.
"The first month, until my children came down, I was at the hospital with him every day from the time I woke up until the time I went to bed," Genette said. "He would fall asleep in the bed and I would fall asleep in the chair.
"Even though the nurses were there, I would still care for him. I would help give him a bath, help him get dressed and help him shave," she explained. "I would alert the nurses if there was something that just didn't look right."
Once Dan got out of the hospital, Genette assumed responsibility for his daily care, but more importantly, she provided him encouragement during his recovery.
"He needed the encouragement to keep going on," she explained.
"One of hardest things for me was dealing with everyone else's emotions," she said.
"When you have to inform so many other people about everything, and they're trying to deal with it, it's not like you get to deal with it yourself. You're trying to do everything else around you."
Genette said her mornings were a struggle, trying to get the girls ready for school and Dan ready as well.
"The girls had to adjust to a new school and they had to adjust to me taking care of their dad and not just them," she said.
"I had to dress and massage his wounds and give him his medication, and also be there to take care of my children."
"Prayer does help," Genette said. "But, the thing that got us through the most was being here and making friends with people who are going through the same things."
Genette's advice to other caregivers is -- "you're not alone, there is somebody out there going through the exact same thing you are.
"Find someone to talk to. The Warrior and Family Support Center is a great place to interact with people. You will make some great friends during the process."
Dan is still undergoing rehabilitation at San Antonio Military Medical Center.
"We still have a long way to go," Genette said. "But, our plans are for Dan to stay in the Army. So our future takes us wherever the Army sends us."
(This is the first in a series of articles about spouses who have had to adapt to the role of a caregiver for their wounded spouse.)