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NEWS | Nov. 22, 2017

Resiliency: Be there for others and let others be there for you

By Lt. Col. Cindy Graessle 11th Medical Group

JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. -- It was a Tuesday evening. I was viewing on-line music videos with my youngest son, when I got the call. It was the call no parent ever wants to receive. I was notified that my oldest son had collapsed while playing volleyball on his college campus and was being transported to the emergency department near school.

Of course, my heart sank. I was unsure what to think. Being a physician, I tried to rationalize the situation. “It’s only dehydration,” I told myself. At that moment though, a thousand emotions were bursting from within and I didn’t know what to feel or do. I felt helpless.  

When we got to the hospital, my son was in the intensive care unit. I learned that his heart had stopped suddenly while playing volleyball. In a panicked frenzy, his friends called 911 and started CPR. Luckily, a police officer was on patrol nearby. He had an automatic external defibrillator, which he applied to my son, shocking his heart back into a life-sustaining cardiac rhythm.

The emergency response crew then arrived and was able to take over, while transporting him. Upon arrival to the hospital, the physicians, nurses, and technicians performed their life-saving maneuvers with pristine accuracy, saving my son’s life. 

Throughout the next day, we were visited by several friends, family, and co-workers. As anyone can imagine, it was difficult to maintain my composure, as a physician, but also a mother. I had attempted to rationalize the events in my mind to keep somewhat in control of my emotions. That is, until my squadron commander, who was also my mentor, arrived.

At that point, I completely succumbed to my emotions. My commander was a man of faith, and had always been the calming entity for our entire military treatment facility and wing community. He gave me encouraging words and prayed with me. But most importantly, he taught me that I had to find my faith, and let go of my pitiful attempt at control, for I truly had none.

Looking back at this difficult time, I can now see that I had been placed on “the other side”. I had always been the responding emergency room doctor, establishing control of the situation, and pro-actively helping others when they needed my assistance.

With my son critically ill lying on a bed in the ICU, I was now helpless, facing many needs - I needed support, faith, comfort, and prayers. I needed a lot of help from others. I had to learn how to open up, ask for help, and then, allow them to help me. This was a new challenge for me, as my pride and ego had always prevented me from asking for help in the past. 

My mentor taught me many lessons, but none as paramount as those I learned while my son recovered in the ICU.  Humility was part of that lesson. As much as I wanted to be in control and respond to the situation, I could not, for I needed to learn how to use family, friends, and co-workers around me for support.

Also, my mentor made me realize that it was OK to be dependent on others during this time of duress, thus letting go of my pride. Surrendering my ego as a military member was a tough challenge, but was absolutely necessary to begin the emotional healing process as my son healed physically.

This personal story is shared with the hope that the pillars of resiliency, social, physical, mental, and spiritual, will truly be recognized and embraced. We need these constructs in our daily lives. Even more so, we need to embrace these pillars during extreme times of hardship, as was exemplified by my mentor.

In addition to conceding control, I allowed my social network to help me, to provide psychological support and a physical outlet to burn off frustration. I learned to live the pillars of resiliency.

My son ultimately recovered from his event. And as part of my recovery, I learned to let go of things I cannot control. Though it is a struggle every day to resist the urge to be in control of everything, the pillars continue to be enormously helpful.  Utilize them as constructs as part of a daily routine and exercise them regularly as though they are muscles.  As a result, they will become stronger during the most challenging times, when they are needed most.