My name is Kristen. I am a wife, mother, daughter, sister, business woman, person.
This is my husband Scott. One year ago today we lost him. He died from a self-inflicted gun shot wound to the chest. If not for some very good friends and the amazing trauma team at Elliott Hospital in Manchester, NH we would not have him today.
Scott is an Army Veteran who has suffered with debilitating PTSD for over half his life now. He suffers from extreme depression, anxiety, night sweats and horrible nightmares. He feels like a monster at times when uncontrollable anger overwhelms him, among many other physical and psychological symptoms.
On the morning of November 11, 2015 we had one of those perfect little family moments. Our one and three year old wanted to put on a show for us. They call it the Nutcracker show. They dance around and giggle and everything is how it should be for a one and three year old. We smiled and laughed and there were lots of kisses, hugs, and giggles. It really was perfect.
That perfect moment made my husband, the father of our little girls, think that they deserved more of those moments and that the only way they could get them was if he wasn’t around.
Around 7ish PM he came downstairs and said he was going for a short drive. He said he would be home for the girls bedtime. I had a feeling in the pit of my stomach and didn’t want him to go but I had also learned that sometimes he just needed to drive; so I ignored myself and let him go. That was the last time I saw him before he died.
The next thing I knew there were police officers knocking at our door looking for him. They had been contacted by a friend Scott had made on Facebook, Michael Santiago. Since Scott had deactivated his Facebook account before he left Mike didn’t know how to get ahold of me. Scott had said some things to him that set off his radar, so he started calling police stations around our area until he found the right one. They asked if I knew where he might be, that he had said something to a friend and they were concerned for him. I could only think of one place he might be which was two towns over. The police contacted the other station and they began looking for him where I thought he might be. I called everyone I could think of to see if he had contacted them; his best friend, his family, people he talked to on Facebook and Instagram. No one knew where he was or had talked to him. He had sent his mom a text that said I love you. That was all. I called him over and over and the phone either rang and rang or went straight to voicemail. I did my best to keep a strong face on for the girls but it was hard. They knew something was wrong. They could see it and feel it. I put on cartoons for them when they should have been going to bed. I tried to make it fun and told them everything was alright. I kept calling the cops but they kept saying they hadn’t found him yet which I couldn’t understand because I told them where to go. I didn’t know what was taking so long. But then again my minutes were going by like hours.
Around 8:34 PM, just under an hour after the police first arrived at our door, I got a phone call from Scott. He asked if the cops were looking for him. I said yes and asked where he was. He asked if the girls were still awake. I said yes and asked where he was. He said I’m just relaxing. I told him I would come pick him up. He told me to put the girls to bed. I said no, tell me where you are and I will pick you up; it will all be ok just tell me where you are. He said to put the girls to bed. Then he hung up…I sat there for what seemed like forever but was probably about 10 seconds. Part of me understood that was the last time I would hear his voice. I called him back and it went straight to voicemail. I left a message. I told him it was ok. No matter what it was ok. It was ok to not be ok. It was ok to come home. I said no matter what I love him and the girls love him and that we were not better off without him. That we were ALWAYS better off with him. I said please come home I love you.
I received a phone call about 10 minutes later. The sergeant on the other end of the phone told me they had found him and that he had shot himself.
I felt everything start to fade away as I collapsed to the ground. I asked if he was alive and was told yes.
Everything became a very clear blur after that. I made calls to get someone to the house to watch the girls. A friend of mine refused to let me drive myself to the hospital so she came to the house while we waited. As I was trying to get our youngest to sleep I got a phone call from the VA Emergency hotline. At the time I had no idea how they got my number but learned that Scott’s Army buddy, Luis Conception, had also been tipped off by things Scott had said to him before he left the house and was making phone calls to get ahold of me as well along with the VA. I vaguely remember talking to the man on the other end of the phone. He gave me numbers and options and information about what we could do next and what resources we had and that there were support lines for me as a spouse as well. None of it made sense until a few days later.
Between the time I got someone to the house to watch the girls and got to the hospital my husband, my Scott, had died and brought back to life. I have yet to forgive myself for not being there and I don’t believe I ever will. I know that I was where he would want me, with our girls and where I needed to be, but I needed to be in two places that night in my eyes. All I could do was pray and wonder how I was going to tell two little girls that Daddy was never coming home.
While I waited for the trauma surgeon to come and talk to me questions were being asked and swirling all around me. What were his wishes. Have you seen him yet. What happened. Where did it happen. Was it in the car and if so who cleans it up. Can you come home yet. Can we see him tomorrow. When will you see him. I vaguely remember answering some. Some I don’t even think I heard. It was an agonizing couple of hours.
I was told they were getting him set up in the ICU and cleaning him up. I couldn’t stop thinking what was taking them so long, is he still alive, if I had done or said some things differently would this have happened at all. Why did I let him leave? Why didn’t I just ask him to stay home? When the surgeon finally came in everything stopped. I am pretty sure I held my breath as he described what had happened and what was happening now.
He started with your husband shot himself in the chest. He has lost a lot of blood and we are unsure yet whether or not we will need to take him into surgery. He is still unconscious, stable for now but still losing a lot of blood. He said he shattered 4 ribs and there was a large hole in his lung. He said the bullet was still lodged in his muscle and they were unsure if they were going to take it out yet or if it would cause more complications. He asked if there was any reason he may have done this and when I told him he was being treated for military related PTSD he said that unfortunately this was very common. He said they were cleaning him up and I could see him soon. I remember the conversation pretty clearly though it is also very foggy. While I waited some more, I kept thinking of our little girls. How was I supposed to explain this to them? What do I tell them? What was taking the doctors so long to let me in? What weren’t they telling me? Was he dead? Why can’t I go in yet? My mind was racing yet it seemed as if I was stuck in molasses.
When they finally came to get me I felt numb and super charged at the same time. What was I going to see? The doctor hadn’t sugar coated anything for me but I still had no idea what I would be looking at when I reached his room. I looked around at everything when I walked into the ICU. I could see them looking at me as I walked by; they knew who I was and who I was here to see. I could see it in their eyes, they didn’t know if he would make it through the night. They had no solid answers for me and didn’t want me to ask for any.
I turned into his room and saw my husband hooked up to tubes, IVs, and a breathing machine. They told me he was breathing on his own but not very well so the machine was helping him. The chest tube was draining the blood from his chest cavity and if it didn’t slow down within the hour they would have to take him into surgery. I put my hand into his swollen one and rubbed my thumb over his wedding ring. His hands still had blood on them and around his finger nails. His arms and hands and face were all swollen. His chest was struggling to rise and fall. They asked about allergies, told me what the monitors were doing and about the sounds they were making. They told me what medication they had him on. I retained as much of this information as I could while I just held his hand, staring down at him and praying. They told me I could talk to him and he would hear me. So I leaned down and I told him I was there. I said it’s ok I’m here. I said I love you baby. I love you so much. I said please fight. You need to fight. You need to fight for yourself and for our girls. I said don’t worry about me; Riley Kaelin and Hannah Grace, you fight for them. I just kept repeating their names to him. The nurses kept working around me and when I asked if they needed me to move they said no so I just kept holding on. After the time had passed and the doctor was certain he would not need to perform surgery right then they told me he was in good hands and I could go home to the girls until later. I knew they were right and that I had to go back to the girls until I could get more help in a couple hours but letting go of him was hard. I couldn’t seem to let go of his hand, but I knew he would want me to go to our girls. So I prayed again asking God, my grandparents, his grandparents, his father to help him. To give him strength and help him come back to us. Then I leaned in again and repeated our girls names once more. I said you fight for them. Don’t give up. He actually nodded! So I squeezed his hand and said you need to get better so I can beat your ass in Battlefront. After that I got a grimmacey face as if he was telling me Yeah right like that will ever happen; right then I knew that somewhere he was still in there. Somewhere the stubborn, smart alec of a man I married was still in there. So I told him I loved him and he had our girls he needed to fight for. I told him to let the doctors and nurses help him. I said now is not the time to be stubborn, you let these people help you. He nodded again and I reluctantly let go of his hand.
I didn’t sleep when I got home and called the hospital many times to see if there were any changes. It was a very long few hours and a very long few days as he woke up, became more conscious, tried to write, point out letters, any way to communicate. They ended up taking out the bullet, which he still carries around as a reminder. Hs lung collapsed again and he ended up in the hospital again over Christmas and had to have another chest tube put in until they figured out where the leak was coming from. He was alone in the hospital as I went back and forth between home and the hospital depending on babysitters and school. He was getting more depressed while being alone. I felt torn and guilty as I felt I needed to be in both places at once. I knew I had to take care of our girls but I had just gotten my husband back and was afraid to lose him again. When he first woke up he wrote I love you which was the first time he had told me that in months. I didn’t want to lose that again which I know was and is selfish of me to think about.
But then something happened. Scott’s friend Luis put a call out on a Facebook group. He said a fellow veteran was feeling down and out and if anyone could send him a shout out or stop by if they were in the area that might help up his spirits. Suddenly he was flooded with messages sent to the hospital from Veterans and active military members and their families. Vets were showing up in his room and calling him. People neither of us have met took time out of their day and life to show up and say hi to someone they had never met and knew nothing of; just that he was a fellow Vet and he was in the hospital and wasn’t doing so great. One drove over 2 hours and brought him magazines among other little things to cheer him up. They sat in his room for hours just talking. They sent him text messages and messages through Facebook. I had known the Veteran community was a tight one but this was nothing like I had ever seen. Never had I seen people come from all over to help someone like this. One of our brave military members from overseas asked his mother to stop by and send his prayers to him which she did. It was incredible and I will forever be grateful and humbled by that. I look back on that night and the following nights of the last year and know that I have never fully processed it all. I have been on auto pilot for longer than I even know and I know that every day is a struggle, for me, for Scott, for our girls even if they don’t know it, and for the millions of others like us.
Depression and anxiety can happen to anyone. PTSD can happen to anyone. But it’s running rampant through our Veterans, killing them faster than anyone can keep up. And it can be a silent killer because not all who are affected by it will seek help or can get help. Twenty-two (22) Veterans a day will kill themselves due to this devil in their heads, That’s 8,030 a year. Isn’t it time we finally kill this thing? So no one else needs to lose a husband, wife, mother, father, sister, brother, son or daughter.