My husband was very seriously injured on October 3, 2005 in Northern Iraq. A grenade fell through the gunner’s hatch of his Stryker vehicle and exploded.
We spent over six months in Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Joe underwent over forty surgeries in attempt to salvage his right leg and right arm. In his new book, Back in the Fight, Joe talks about how he fought to return to the line and serve with his fellow Rangers in Afghanistan five times with a prosthetic leg.
Those were tough times. As part of that journey, we also had to learn these lessons about how true love really works:
1. Love Is PatientComing home from the hospital was difficult because we both realized that while our world stopped on October 3 and Joe literally fought for his life and limbs, the rest of the world kept turning.
We were faced with the challenges of our new life – one that was filled with pain and fear – times were hard. Joe has always been an extremely active person. At this point in this rehab, being active was not an option. This stagnant lifestyle did not suit Joe and his attitude was a direct reflection of that.
It is true that you are hardest on the ones you love the most – of this, I can attest. My wounded soldier was not the man I married. He was a tired, uncomfortable, moody shell of “my” Joe.
All along – I knew that he would come around. He is not the type of person to give in to difficult times. Patience was the virtue that kept us together. I loved Joe enough to take his difficult and critical comments with a grain of salt. I let my patience guide me to accept him as he was and to help him to find the man he used to be.
2. Love Is KindOur time at Walter Reed taught me compassion. I wanted to ease Joe’s pain – I wanted to help him in any way that I could. This feeling has encompassed my life. I want to extend this compassion to others and help them through their tough situations. Joe was very lucky on that day in October – he only lost a leg. There are so many other soldiers and families of soldiers who have lost so much more than a leg – some have lost multiple limbs, some have lost their eyesight. Some have lost their lives. I want to ease the pain – help – in any way that I can and my wounded soldier helped me to tap in to that inner desire I have to offer my assistance and words of encouragement.
3. Love Can LaughJoe’s amputation was very scary for me. His surgery was six years ago and I remember it like it was yesterday. Seeing his leg for the first time was tough. I nearly fainted on the spot. Joe was also seeing his leg for the first time and he must have noticed how pale I went because he immediately made a joke and the entire room full of people started dying laughing. Laughter helps us to navigate difficult situations.
4. Love Allows For StruggleJoe and I have a great balance. We push each other to be better people, parents and athletes. There were times when Joe didn’t feel well and simple tasks were extremely difficult for him. It was important to not do everything for him. As a wife, I felt the need to cater to him and help him in any way that possible.
During his rehab, it was important for him to do things on his own. His median nerve and brachial artery were severed in the grenade blast. As his nerves were regenerating, it was hard not to open every water bottle and watch him struggle to shave but it was vital to navigate through these tasks on his own in order to move forward with his recovery.
5. Love Grows PerspectiveMy love for Joe has grown as my eyes have been opened to perspective. I know to take things in stride and to try my hardest not the “sweat the small stuff.” My perspective on life has changed as a direct result of the situations that we have been dealt and I have a greater appreciation for the survivor and true character of my husband.
6. Love Is HumbleBe humble in relationships. Everyone is fighting some sort of battle – some are harder then others but you never know what a person is going through until you truly live in their shoes.
7. Love Is 110% Commitment All The TimeJoe and I made a commitment on July 22, 2004. In our vows, we committed to be faithful and to love one another in sickness and in health. Joe’s “sickness” was scary, difficult, sad and downright complicated. Our marriage was not fun. Through all of the trials in our relationship, I knew deep down that Joe would come around and be my fun, active, Ranger and husband …… eventually. I kept my commitment to him and he did the same for me. Our struggles have made us closer in our friendship and stronger in our marriage.
8. Love requires toughnessLove requires toughness – mental toughness. In order for our love to endure all things, I needed this quality. Mental toughness is important when you have an injured soldier because you need to be strong for him. Joe needed me as his supporter, his advocate. He did not need a crying basketcase.
I had to shake off my worries and go to work for him in any way that I could. While in the hospital, I spent my days filling out paperwork, making arrangements for appointments and various other things. Since we have been home from the hospital, Joe has returned to combat five times with a prosthetic leg. I have to be mentally tough to survive these deployments. I have received “that dreaded phone call” – I know what it is like to navigate a traumatic injury. I have to stay strong and support Joe because it is his love for his job, his fellow Rangers, that has helped him to recover as well as he has.
9. Love Is GratefulMy wounded soldier has taught me to be grateful. Grateful for the gifts that we have in our lives - we have each other, our health and among many, many other things – we have our two amazing little boys, Wyatt and Cody. On October 3 – Joe could have lost a lot more than a leg. I am forever grateful that his life was saved. We are also grateful for all of the love and support that has been shown to us over the years.
10. Love can help you overcome tough times.When I am having a bad day, Joe can turn it around with a few words. He can make me laugh right when I need it. On the flip side, Joe knows that I am his biggest supporter, cheerleader and fan. We are a team. Together we can accomplish anything.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Kim Kapacziewski is the wife of SFC Joe Kapacziewski, the only amputee in Army Ranger history to return to combat eventually serving ten tours in the Middle East. Joe describes Kim best when he writes, "The girl was long-haul material. She had the "right stuff." Kim was Ranger quality." Read more of their story here.