Left Behind: When Medical Problems Hurt a PCS

(U.S. Navy/Jacob Sippel)
(U.S. Navy/Jacob Sippel)

It was November when we got news that my husband's reenlistment package had been approved. It was a complicated day because until that point, we really weren't sure if we wanted to continue with the military. We were told our next duty station would be Japan and we had just two weeks to decide if he wanted to reenlist. Japan was actually the very last place my husband wanted to be stationed.

Japan and Hawaii: we swore we'd never move to either one. But his orders were accompanied and after a lot of thought, we decided maybe it wouldn't be too bad if we could go together. So he did it. He went into work, signed his reenlistment papers and took on another three years with the Marine Corps.

At first, it was exciting. We began telling friends and family about our plans and did our research on all the fun things we wanted to do there. I had never left the East Coast and we had never done any traveling together as a couple. We thought this once in a lifestyle opportunity would be good for us as a couple.

That February, once the holiday season settled down, we started the medical clearance paperwork to get approved by overseas screening. We really didn't think it would be complicated at all. I had never been hospitalized, I had never been on any medications (I don't even take Tylenol or other meds for headaches), and I've never had any serious medical conditions.

Ever. In my entire life. So you would think this would be a relatively simple process.

It wasn't.

Let's start with dental. I knew they would point out a couple fillings I'd need and maybe even comment on the tooth I had broken three years prior that I couldn't afford to fix. It wasn't a surprise to me at all when they did comment on those couple issues.

But the number of issues the dentist wanted fixed didn't stop there.

In fact, he gave me a list of about $2k worth of dental work that he insisted had to be done ASAP. This work even included straightening my entire top row of teeth. Completely cosmetic. I had no idea how I was possibly going to be able to afford it, especially at the last minute.

I found a dentist in North Carolina and began making the necessary appointments. Everyone in the office was super helpful and supportive and just plain amazing. Thankfully our insurance covered about 90 percent of the costs and we were able to get all the work done in just two appointments. It was a long week being in and out of dental surgeries, but we went into the month of April feeling a million times better. At this point, we had to be in Okinawa by May 31st, so it felt good to know we were finally back on track.

Next we had medical to take care of. I had a doctor's appointment that week for a routine physical and the "issue" of my scoliosis got brought up almost immediately. A condition that didn't affect my everyday life in any way. I had even gone through physical therapy years prior to that so that I could learn new ways to strengthen my back. It was completely under control.

But my doctor insisted on getting an x-ray done.

He didn't like the x-rays. He signed off on it, but insisted I had to go through overseas screening as well, meaning my entire file had to be sent to Okinawa and they had to be the ones to approve my paperwork.

I couldn't have felt more defeated.

And time was running out as we were getting closer and closer to my husband's report date.

We ended up getting two separate extensions on his orders while we waited for everything to be approved and then, in mid-July, my paperwork was denied altogether. We didn't even have time to argue it. His orders were changed almost immediately to 'unaccompanied' just five weeks before we were set to leave.

We didn't have a backup plan. We didn't know where I was going to live or how we were going to make it work. We had no money saved up to put towards an apartment. We couldn't afford that. We had just over a month to figure out a plan and it couldn't have been more stressful. I was disappointed and hurt. I felt like being his wife didn't even matter. Like my entire marriage didn't even matter. Even today, I still feel that way sometimes. About a month later, we were saying our goodbyes to everyone in North Carolina. We moved all of our belongings back to our home state where I would live for the year that he was overseas.

Today, I can still feel the pain of getting that horrible news and watching him board the plane at 4 o'clock in the morning, marking the start of a 12-month separation. It feels surreal as we start to get everything packed up again and prepare for his homecoming in just a short couple of months.

The time really did go by so much quicker than I had anticipated. But it was all because I did my best to make the most out of the situation. Don't get me wrong, this has been the most challenging year of our marriage, and I cried more than I'd like to admit. But I've found ways to make it work.

Shortly after he left, I created a bucket list of items I wanted to do while he was away. In the last 9 months, I have completed my bachelor's degree (and graduated with a 4.0 GPA!). I've focused on my mental health. I've gotten back to the gym and have greatly improved my physical health. My marriage is doing better than I ever could have imagined. I finally got our dog into the training he needs for his anxiety. And I even grew my blog and turned it into my full-time business and income. I'm feeling stronger and better than ever because I chose not to spend this year apart, miserable and lying on the couch, watching Netflix.

Life is what you make of it. In all honesty, I don't want to be a military spouse. But for now, I have to be, so I'm trying to make it the best experience I can. I choose to get out and meet people and I choose to focus on myself while he's away. I choose to fill my schedule with fun activities and fill my life with positive and supportive friends and family. The important thing to remember is that you and your spouse are a team in this. If you do all that, I promise you'll be okay and I promise you will get through it.

--Keating is a military wife, freelance writer, PR and marketing enthusiast, recent graduate of SNHU and an iced latte addict.

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PCS Family and Spouse