By Tania Meireles, WTC Stratcom
AW2 Family, Janis and Norris Galatas, at home in Mississippi.
AW2 Spouse Janis Galatas wrote a book, A Soldier’s Courage, about her husband Norris and the struggles they have gone through. I was able to catch up with her recently to ask her how the process of writing about her feelings and challenges has helped her and her husband and how she hopes others will use writing as an outlet during difficult times.
How did you start writing?
I must have inherited the writer’s flair from my mom. Mom wrote a moving poem about her brave hero brother who died in WWII on the “Indy Maru.” She also wrote a little book for her nieces and nephews connecting them with their Family history. My Mom and I are also great writers of letters.
How did writing down your experiences after your husband’s injury make you feel?
At first it was just documentation, but later on, as the wait got longer, staff moved to other jobs, or surgeons moved on to other hospitals, it became very cathartic. I was writing it all down as it happened to us at Walter Reed, and my pals in Georgia and California were posting it on their websites over the Internet. From April 2005 through the horrible aftermath of surgery #17 in August of 2006, it all went global. We went through some bad times at Walter Reed. But things eventually did get better. I realized I would have exploded on somebody if I hadn’t had the “blog” to vent and to have the support of “prayer warriors”—people from all over the world…literally—praying for us. Without my buddies on the Internet, I would have been totally alone at Walter Reed with no support group. Blogging is therapeutic. It was all in the book and people tell me they had no clue how badly our wounded were getting treated.
When did you decide to write a book and why?
While Norris lay in a coma at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC, I remembered advice from a friend of Norris’s who had to fight with the Army and the VA for every percentage of his disability benefit. He said to put down everything, so I was documenting Norris’s care, his medications, and his procedures. When Norris awakened nine days later, he was disoriented, deep into a drug haze, and he couldn’t even tell the doctors what hospital he was in. So, I began a daily journal to keep up with his surgeries, procedures, and adventures in the hospital so he could read them later on. After he became mobile his adventures grew. During the first 90 days I stayed with him, it was mostly documentation, but after four years of making Walter Reed his home, the book was born. He met so many wonderful supporters and we have become firm friends with so many all over the globe. I wanted to let all the Families know where to go for help and where to get stuff for their Soldiers without having to spend their own money. People need to know this. It is also a healing experience for our veterans who have read it.
How has writing the book helped you and your Family?
Everyone is happy to read it and loves it, but with sales so slow, writing, and publishing the book was more a labor of love than anything else. I am still in the hole financially and it has been rough on us. I’m just glad families have benefitted from all the information I put in. People who were not close to us and didn’t know how severe Norris’s injuries were, after reading the book are all shocked at just how wonderful he looks but how almost dead he was. Especially the medics who worked on him that day, they thought he was a “goner.”
What are your hopes for your book?
Of course I would love to make a little money for my two passions—horses and Soldiers. I have rescued horses and adopted Soldiers. But if I never make a dime in royalties, I just wish military families could know it is out there. There is just so much information about how the Army can better work for you or even things you can do from the civilian side to benefit your wounded warrior. There are some things that are going to happen and one must learn how to cope with stuff and not let it ruin a marriage and destroy the kids. PTSD and TBI are difficult to diagnose and so many go untreated until they have lost everything. My book tells how our wounded can learn to “work the system” and lets families know how to recognize PTSD and even how to deal with TBI. Norris was at WRAMC for one and a half years before his “mild” TBI showed up, and it took until just last Christmas for me to realize he was suffering from PTSD and withdrawing from public places and events. We are working through it and we are going to be fine, but it is not easy to watch someone you love go through the emotional withdrawal as well as suffer the physical pain.
How do you suggest AW2 Soldiers, Veterans, and Families start writing as an outlet for what they are going through?
Just grab a notebook and start keeping a daily journal. Write down every appointment, every flashback, and every hurdle. As you write, go ahead and keep track of who does what and to whom you have to report. Go ahead and vent and get it all out of your system. Later on, should you publish, you can edit. One of the things my Soldiers said they missed was being able to talk with other Soldiers. Go to meet with other troops in homes, camp houses, VA facilities and even clubs if necessary…but get together with other troops. Talk about it. Same for spouses and kids…meet with other families and kids. Find out how they coped.