Mary Dojcak


Mary’s Journey

Rick Rood:  In o five I was injured on a, we were doing convoy and we got caught in a daisy chain and the vehicle in front of us got hit. And it was like domino effect and they just didn’t, destroyed the three vehicles. And we all got medevaced and then was when they said that I had concussions and I had moderate head injuries. But that it was something that I could, it was not severe enough to keep me out of action. And I could just work around it and they put me back on duty. And stayed in country, I didn’t come home. I did back to back deployments over there. And the next deployment was a different unit. We got hit three or four times. It just seemed like every other, every other night we were getting IED attacks. And I learned later that all I had to be was within the vicinity of IED’s and with the head injuries that I had that it would, it was causing damage. They said that I had probably seventeen or eighteen within a six-month period of direct IED attacks. And probably twenty or thirty indirect IED explosions. 

Mary Dojcak:  My name is Mary Dojcak. I have been Rick Rood’s caregiver for over a year and a half now. I first met Rick nineteen years ago. He was stationed at Fort Lewis here in Washington. I had to take my son to Madigan Hospital there on base. My car broke down. Rick out of the goodness of his heart picked me up and took me to the base, took me to the base hospital. Stayed with me until my son’s appointment was done and afterwards took me back to my car and from there we’ve just had a lifelong relationship. Where we’ve kind of hit and miss each other throughout the years but we’ve been friends for nineteen years. Rick and I were chatting on the Internet and we started chatting I’d say about February is when he found me. February, March is when he found me. His accident happened in April so I lost contact with him for a little bit and next thing, about a month, month and a half later he contacted me through the Internet again and said I’m home. Well it became a big surprise to me because he wasn’t suppose to be home until October. So when I said you’re home? Home where? He said I’m back on Fort Carson. And I said well I’m only ten minutes from you where you at? 

Rick Rood:  When I first got medevaced home it was not a easy transition. 

Mary Dojcak:  It just, it was a big mess to begin with. And he needed some help on getting it all cleared up and getting things clear in his head and situated. 

Rick Rood:  Without Mary I probably would still be trying to make some of my first appointments because she has been the mediator basically for everything. 

Mary Dojcak:  I don’t so much say is I stepped into it, I just kind of got pulled into it. I just started helping him. There was no question about doing it or not. I just started helping him. The doctors have given me indications of anywhere from, his severity of being anywhere from mild to moderate to severe.

Rick Rood:  When I first got medevaced home I was up to fifteen or sixteen medications. They were giving me medications for everything and absolutely none of them were working. I was supposed to take them when I thought I had a headache. Well I didn’t not have a headache so I was taking them all the time. I walked around and I’d fall most of the time. I walked around feeling stoned. I couldn’t wake up. I didn’t have no energy. 

Mary Dojcak:  I noticed just about immediately that he needed help.

Rick Rood:  And the frustration was just so high that I just didn’t want to do anything.

Mary Dojcak:  Personality changes that I’ve noticed in Rick are things like he gets short tempered. Things frustrate him quite a bit. 

Rick Rood:  I live with a headache twenty-four seven. I live with a mild migraine all the time. And as the day goes along it gets worse and worse.

Mary Dojcak:  Most noticeable kinds of difference that I noticed in Rick was in his speech. His stutter, he had a stutter, stammer to begin with but when he first got home it was like every other word that he said was coming out as a stutter or stammer. 

Rick Rood:  If I get to talking about something that I’m not for sure I will stutter about it. Or I will stumble or whatever. I had that before I started with the injuries. I was, I don’t talk real well to start with because I was, I was shy to start with.

Mary Dojcak:  There was a lot of challenges with short-term and long-term memory.

Rick Rood:  I have real problems with the short-term. I write everything down. If I don’t write it down, I don’t remember it.

Mary Dojcak:  I can tell him one thing in the morning and usually by afternoon it was gone. And I’d go to remind him of it. He’d look at me saying I don’t remember you telling me that. As for long term I’d remind him of things that happened nineteen, fifteen, ten years ago. And he’d just look at me with blank space going I don’t remember doing that.

Rick Rood:  Well, it’s been explained to me that it’s all up there it’s just like having a big puzzle and you throw it on the floor. You have to put the pieces back together. They’re all there; they’re just not all in the same area.

Mary Dojcak:  I became an advocate for Rick with the healthcare team almost immediately. He would forget to ask questions. And when he’d forget to ask the questions I’d step in and I ask the questions. Okay well what about this and this and this? Now, or the doctors would say why are you here?

Rick Rood:  What do you mean why am I here today? I’m here because they said I had to come and see you. I have no clue why I’m here.

Mary Dojcak:  And he’d sit there and tell them well I’m not real sure. And I’d be like this is why he’s here, this doctor referred or this doctor said that he needs to have this examined for this. My personal knowledge of Rick prior to the accident and assisting with the doctors gave them something of a guideline to go by. They could look at him and they could ask him so what were things like before? His typical answer was I don’t know, I don’t remember. Whereas I can step in and say this is what he was like before. This is what things were like for him before. This is how he spoke before. This is how his memory was before.

Rick Rood:  I was an infantryman to start with and I never had to really be a people person. So my vocabulary is not the, the best. I say what I think. And sometimes that’s maybe not the best way to speak.

Mary Dojcak:  I help him with quite a few of those issues. I’ll pull him aside and whisper in his ear this is what they’re talking about. Or this is what they mean. Or this is the topic that we’re talking about right now. 

Rick Rood:  I may say something that may offend someone and that, I may not realize that. Or I may not care.

Mary Dojcak:  And sometimes in those conversations when he does respond it’s maybe an inappropriate answer. And I’ll pull aside again and say no this is not the place or time. 

Rick Rood:  I’ve been through three social classes since I’ve been back too. My people skills have gotten better. 

Mary Dojcak:  I take him out, get him to know people. Introduce him to friends, family, things like that. Get him to social activities. 

Rick Rood:  I’ve done occupational therapy. I’ve done physical therapy.

Mary Dojcak:  Cog therapy. That I work with him on the sense of his speech, his memory. 

Rick Rood:  She basically, she keeps to make sure that I do everything. Otherwise I would probably never leave the house.

Mary Dojcak:  As a caregiver I became a part of his team in many ways. First off being the one that cares the most. Second off being the one that pretty much does a lot of the stuff for him. In a sense of that making his appointments, making sure he goes to his appointments, asking the questions at his appointments, checking on medications. Things that I wasn’t quite ready to do but I had to do and needed to do for him to make sure that he was taken care of properly. Care giving to me means doing what has to be done, what needs to be done, what’s asked of me. Sometimes what’s not asked of me. Sometimes I just do it on my own. It means being a lifelong friend, lifelong commitment, and lifelong journey. For me as a caregiver it’s extremely important to be able to give him guidance plus at the same time being able to take care of my own needs. If you don’t have that, I don’t want to call it control, but that sense of balance, it throws a wrench into everything that you do. Because not only do you have to keep their schedule set, you have to keep your own schedule set. This experience has taught me quite a bit about flexibility and to be open to change. Change is ongoing. You don’t have a choice in the matter. Care giving has taught me to be a lot more patient. A lot more understanding. A lot more aggressive but at the same time a lot more passive and listening. I’ve especially learned how to listen a lot. Most important characteristics for a caregiver to have are laughter. A lot of laughter. Sense of stability in their own mind. And ability to relieve your stress without taking it out upon the person that you’re caring for. Just take it day-by-day, hour-by-hour. It’s not going to be the same. And every week is another journey. Our relationship renewed from where it was a long time ago. We are now at the point we’re engaged to be engaged. We do live in separate households currently. Like I said, currently. Pretty much we still take care of each other as though we’re under one roof though. I actually had to explain to both my daughter and my son Rick’s injury. I sat them down and told them this is what he has. He has TBI. Of course the question arose what is it? What does it take? What happens? The normal questions that you would get from your children. And I answered them as completely and as honestly as I could. I also gave them websites that they could go to. Anything and everything that I could find I share with them. So that way they have the same understanding that I have. They are his cheerleaders. They stand beside him. They will help him and help me in every way possible to help him. They fill his day with laughter. Laughter plays a big role in our, big, big role in my care giving for him. Without laughter we pretty much don’t have much of anything. The TBI has affected our intimacy to create it to be more. More ongoing. More loving. More intimate. More sharing and more caring for each other. There are times that I do forget to worry and care about myself but he keeps me on track for that. Not only do I care for him but he cares for me also. To be honest with you, I don’t even remember what normalcy was before this. To me this is all normal now. I don’t remember how things were before. 

Rick Rood:  Well she basically helps me around here with, keeping the day-to-day life. 

Mary Dojcak:  How do I stay organized? I stay organized by, by the grace of god actually. Organization is a big skill that has to be mastered real fast. If you don’t, you’re just basically lost. 

Rick Rood:  Between me and Mary, we keep my appointments all on schedule.

Mary Dojcak:  I’m old school, I use the day planner. Okay. He uses a PDA. 

Rick Rood:  I was given a PDA through a organization here in town fairly early and I put all my appointments in it. 

Mary Dojcak:  The way we work on that together is at least every other day at the minimum, every other day, we will both sit down. He will look at his PDA and say okay I’ve got this appointment on this day at this time, what have you got? I look at my day planner and say I’ve got this and this and this.

Rick Rood:  I’ve got a paper that has all my meds on it.

Mary Dojcak:  Medications are fun. Managing those can be a nightmare.

Rick Rood:  Mary does help me. She keeps on me to make sure that they’re all up to date.

Mary Dojcak:  He is on seven medications at this point in time. Luckily at this point in time they’re all; they can all be taken at one certain set time. They’re not spread out through the day.

Rick Rood:  She’ll text me that it’s meds time. I’ll go in and take my meds and refill the cap.

Mary Dojcak:  One of the first modifications that we had to do to make living more comfortable for him was to put lower wattage in a lot of the light bulbs that were around the house.

Rick Rood:  The light sensitivity has got worse because my eyesight has got worse. They’re prescription dark glasses but I have to wear them twenty-four seven. I have light ones for daytime, or I have dark ones for daytime and light ones for nighttime. But they’re always dark.

Mary Dojcak:  As a caregiver, helping him with his financial issues is a give and take. It’s more of an understanding, helping him understand his financial issues. He gets a bill in, there’s charges on there he doesn’t understand or he doesn’t believe should be there. I’ll look this bill and I’ll tell him okay this is for this, this is for that, this you don’t need to worry about, and this is included. Once I split it up and point it out to him in a better more general manner and explain to him which piece is what, he gets it. I don’t take over his finances in a sense that I don’t write his checks for him. He has to do that on his own cause he has to have his own independence also. But I do assist him in understanding what it is that he’s paying for.

Rick Rood:  I drove when I first got back eventually. I didn’t drive for the first thirty days because of the fact that I didn’t have a vehicle and I was injured. And they weren’t for sure of the injuries. And when they did finally, it was a rental car that I took and I did have a little bit of an incident with a not paying attention type thing. 

Mary Dojcak:  One of my biggest concerns with Rick was the driving. 

Rick Rood:  I thought I could drive. I had a little bit of a problem with a Colorado State patrolman. 

Mary Dojcak:  When you’re in country you drive down the middle of the road, your leery of every garbage bag, of every container that’s on the side of the road for fear of IED’s. 

Rick Rood:  I got on the freeway; I got in the middle of the road because there was garbage on both sides of the road. Policeman got behind me, he flipped his lights on. 

Mary Dojcak:  Back in America, we don’t have to worry about that. You don’t drive down the middle of the road.

Rick Rood:  I stopped and got gas. He asked me if I had a driver’s license. I told him I did. He asked me if I had insurance. I did. I showed him that. You know, my thought was this guys kind of an idiot. Why wouldn’t I have these things? He asked me if I saw his lights. Well sure I saw his lights. Did I hear his siren? Well sure I heard his siren. Well why was I driving in the middle of the road? Because there’s garbage beside the road. I’ve just come from Iraq. There’s bombs in the garbage. He’s like well did you not know to pull over? Well, it never dawned on me. I had just come from Iraq. I had lights on the top of my truck. I had a siren. I ran patrols. He’s well you need to pull over because he’s a officer of the law. And he also informed me that the speed limit is not ninety miles an hour on the speed, on the freeway. And there was a car that come up beside me. Well me in the middle of the road I did not let the car pass. Well that is right because I’m the lead of the convoy. Nobody passes me. But he laughed about it. And that was not the only ticket I got. But I didn’t drive in the middle of the road after that.

Mary Dojcak:  The biggest thing that he had to learn from that would be that they’re not IED’s in there. There’s no worry, there’s no fear. I had to teach him to drive in a sense of being a normal driver again.

Rick Rood:  I just finished a college course out at the Academy. I went through farrier, I went to school to learn to be a farrier. 

Mary Dojcak:  The single best thing that’s probably going to happen with Rick will be I’ll be at his graduation. It’s an accomplishment for both of us. One that he’s been able to accomplish on his own. And two that I can stand beside him while he did it. 

Rick Rood:  I’m fixing to start school next week for diesel mechanics. I’ve been a diesel mechanic for years but I’m going back to school to see if I can jog my memory on how to be a diesel mechanic. 

Mary Dojcak:  If he goes back in diesel mechanics I see him having problems with trying to remember things but yet at the same time once he gets the knack for it, he’s got it. He doesn’t question, there’s no problem with what he’s doing.

Rick Rood:  The hope is that I won’t actually have to be a diesel mechanic, that I can more with the knowledge that I do have because I do have quite a little bit of knowledge, that I can be an instructor. And I don’t have to actually get dirty anymore. 

Mary Dojcak:  I will be able to help him with his studies quite a bit in a sense that we’re both going to be going to school. So, while I’m studying he’ll be sitting there with me.

Rick Rood:  And it’s not like I’m starting from scratch. I know what I want to do and I know, I’ve already basically set my course for that. I know I’m going to retire, be meded out and I’m going to go back to being a mechanic or teaching mechanics. It will be a challenge everyday. And it’s going to be a challenge which I realize that. And, but, it’s not anything that I can’t do. 

Mary Dojcak:  I don’t think Rick is facing as many challenges as he did before in the sense that he’s learned to overcome them, he’s learned to deal with them.

Rick Rood:  No, I couldn’t have gotten through; I would not have been as far along as I am without Mary’s help. I would have still been probably wandering aimlessly around our battalion. Still trying to figure out where I was going to go next.

Mary Dojcak:  The single best thing that’s come out of this so far is the idea that we’re going to have a horse ranch together. And that it is not going to be just an idea but it is going to happen.

Rick Rood:  I grew up in the country. So I’m, I’m going to go where to have a horse ranch. I’m going to live out in the country where I come from.

Mary Dojcak:  For me, for better or for worse means through thick and thin. There is no question. It’s not a need to, it’s a has to. And together we will do it side by side.

Rick Rood:  Yes, Mary is a true friend. And she has helped me more than she will ever know. 

Mary Dojcak:  I am Rick’s caregiver out of love. Pure and simple. Out of love. And a whole lot of it.