By Senior Master Sgt. Angela Stout, fs
/ Published December 22, 2014
INCIRLIK AIR BASE, Turkey -- There are those who feel the word resiliency has become just another word or program in the Air Force. I, on the other hand, truly believe resiliency is a way of life. I know from personal experience that if applied, resiliency will help you overcome adversity and be victorious on the other side.
The four resiliency pillars of being mentally, physically, socially and spiritually fit have been practiced and applied by many throughout history; and were key ingredients to many great leader's successes over the course of time. I do not claim to be a great leader and prefer not to give you a history lesson; but I'll give you a glimpse into how resiliency has played a major role in my own life and the life of my children.
Almost ten years ago, my six year old daughter fell ill to a very serious strep infection. After three visits to the doctor in the course of five days, I found myself carrying her into the emergency room as she was dying in my arms. After a quick exam of my daughter's condition, the doctor immediately made the decision to medically evacuate her to another medical facility and unfortunately, I was not able to fly with her.
At the time, I was a technical sergeant, a single mother of three, of which the other two were eight years and five months old, and I lived in Kittery, Maine. My daughter was flown to New England Medical Center in Boston, Massachusetts and I could not bring my other two children me. I had to stay back and ensure they had someone to care for them before I drove the long two hour drive to Boston from Kittery.
Thank God I had my family care plan in order and was ready. One might say it was perfectly executed and allowed me to devote the time I needed to my sick child. It really is critical in those moments of crisis that we are ready physically, mentally, socially, spiritually and have a contingency plan to carry us through. I didn't know it but I was putting into practice what we now promote in the Air Force as the four pillars of resiliency.
The pillars are what got us through two and a half months of hospitalization, two resuscitations, a forced comma for almost three weeks, one lung surgery, two chest tubes, stomach tubes, dialysis, thirteen machines plugged in at one time, multiple MRIs, CT scans, blood work, learning to walk again, and near the end a grand mal seizure resulting in an emergency craniotomy to remove the blood from her brain due to bleeding caused by the infection. Needless to say, as a parent, watching my six year old daughter lie in a hospital bed helplessly while she fought for her life, while my other two children were being cared for by someone else was almost unbearable.
We were fortunate in that her father flew in and we both were able to be there with her physically and mentally every step of the way. We remained strong through the whole ordeal by relying on our faith, trusting our God, and staying engaged with the doctors and nurses who kept close watch on our beautiful little girl. The nurses at New England Medical shared with me that coming into my daughter's room in the pediatric intensive care unit was very peaceful and they felt a sense of hope. After many procedures, prodding, poking, testing and intensive rehabilitation, she was released to go on to live a happy and normal childhood.
Fast forward ten years later, my daughters and I fall asleep in our living room watching Christmas movies and enjoying family time only to be woken by the sound of my now 16 year old daughter convulsing in the middle of another grand mal seizure. It goes without saying, but fear and adrenalin immediately kicked in. I had to ensure she didn't hurt herself or have a blocked airway during the seizure as well as calm my ten year old down so she could go get help. The episode subsided and we were again in an ambulance on our way to the hospital.
Two weeks later, with four days in the care of a Turkish hospital and a trip to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. to see a pediatric neurologist, we were able to confirm my daughter has a small spot on her brain from the emergency craniotomy ten years ago, and the spot is now causing other health problems. We learned that she will have the possibility of seizures for the rest of her life. However, with proper medical guidance and care she will yet again go on to live a happy healthy life.
I share this with you not to say "look what I've been through" or "look what she has been through."
Though it is important to note something throughout this whole ordeal; resiliency. There was no time in the moments of crisis to stop and think "now how do I approach this and am I ready to get through this or do I have the strength to survive it and the support that I need?"
The time to prepare ourselves for life events is not in the moment of crisis but before it comes. We must continually strive to build up our physical strength to endure, our mental wellbeing to cope rationally with reality, build a network of support by being socially interactive, and strengthen our core spiritually to be able to stand the test of time.
Resiliency is not a new concept but something that has been practiced for eons. We have just given names to the principles so we can better understand their power in our lives. We must build upon our skills and also teach our families and others to do the same so they too can be victorious through adversity.
All three of my daughters are resilient, strong, independent young ladies who will thrive in life because they already have these skills and are building upon their pillars.
Our story is one of many in a sea of trials and tribulations that all human beings go through. Many of our Airmen, from our brand new baby Airman all the way to the top, are hurting and experiencing the challenges of life. My challenge to you is that not only should you continue to build upon resiliency in your own lives but the lives of our Airman. We must teach them to not only cope with adversity but to thrive through it and be victorious on the other end. This comes with being ready. This comes with being engaged and truly caring for the wellbeing of ourselves and those around us. This comes with being physically ready to take on the challenges of life, mentally prepared to stay focused, socially ready to reach out for help when we need it, and spiritually ready deep in our core.
There are many studies that prove the principles of resiliency work and my hope for all our Airmen is to be resilient, fit, focused and ready for whatever may come their way.