Invisible wounds: Couple struggles with scars of war

WASHINGTON — Scars of war come in all shapes and sizes, and for one married couple, the problems are twofold.

After serving their country, Maj. Kevin Polosky and Maj. Christina Polasky, of D.C., returned home from war with psychological and physical wounds.

The two Army officers married in 2005. Shortly after, they were deployed to Afghanistan with the 101st Airborne Division — Kevin, as a division transportation officer; Christina, as a strategic communication officer.

Everything changed for them when Christina’s health went downhill. She went into anaphylactic shock three times in Afghanistan, the last of which was most serious.

“I went into anaphylactic shock for the third time, and actually, within seven minutes was passed out and couldn’t breathe,” says Christina, who also served in Iraq in 2003, when her sons were 2, 3 and 8 years old. “It was Kevin who found me.”

After the incident, she was medevac’d home, where she battled several years of pain and endured countless mis-diagnoses.

She had swollen joints, muscle pain and scarring on her hands and feet. She couldn’t get her heart rate above 120 beats per minute, or else she risked going into anaphylactic shock again.

It was a medical mystery.

“It took several years before they were able to diagnose what was wrong with me, and basically, I was exposed to an unknown contaminant — chemical or otherwise — and that compromised my immune system,” she says.

Her condition gave her little choice — she medically retired from the Army. It was then that she faced new demons.

“The depression came after being retired. I was a career Army officer, trying to find my identity of where I was now. Going from that to not being able to get out of bed three or four days a week was a struggle,” Christina says.

“The depression was the hardest part for us,” says her husband, Kevin, who had previously completed tours in Kosovo, Iraq and Kuwait.

Their lives were turned upside-down. Kevin became a full-time Army officer and a full-time dad. He maintained the household and took full responsibility for caring for the kids and his wife.

“It was a huge impact on me and on our children,” he says.

While adjusting to the new lifestyle, Kevin had a hard time bottling his own visions and experiences of war.

“Being at war is a traumatic event in itself, whether you got shot at or not, so I had to come to terms with that and say, ‘OK, you’re not okay.'”

But he didn’t feel he had time to worry about himself, since all of his time and energy was spent on trying to “fix” his wife.

They realized that their dreams of retiring together and living their normal lifestyle were gone forever, and that took an emotional toll on both of them.

“We were really low — I mean, we were close-to-divorce low; we probably both had suicidal-tendencies low, so there is a low,” Kevin says.

For him, suicide was a way to rest. He only thought about it; he never attempted it.

Kevin has yet to seek professional help for his unease, but says he’s open to it in the future. “I honestly think that if I really felt I needed to get counseling today, that I would probably go get it. Five years ago, I never would have,” he says. “As a man, there’s a stigma of, ‘You’re just a complete weak failure because you can’t deal with it, because you can’t put that cork on it,’ you know?”

Christina takes daily medication for her depression and goes to therapy — even though she admits she doesn’t like it.

For now, Kevin and Christina made a pact of sorts that has helped them along the road to recovery.

“She was always trying to fix me and I was always trying to fix her and we realized we have to fix ourselves,” he says. “You would think that’s a selfish thing, but it’s not.”

They also agreed to focus on becoming better parents, and for them that meant going to church and becoming more involved in their church and community.

Kevin says the Army is doing a great job trying to break down the stigma of seeking help for those struggling with war’s mental effects. But he says invisible wounds are still often misunderstood.

Christina is also very proud of the care she’s received. She says doctors never gave up on her. They continue to try to find out what caused her ailments and look for the best ways to treat her.

Through the Veterans Administration, Kevin took a course to become Christina’s official caretaker.

“I don’t know of any other time where we’ve trained spouses, specially, to care for their injured spouses,” says Christina, who calls that experience “amazing.”

Kevin hopes their experience will help others dealing with similar obstacles.

“We are hopefully motivation for people to see that there is a light at the end of this tunnel.”

If you or someone you know is suffering from PTSD or depression, there are organizations that can help, including:

Follow @WTOP and @WTOPliving on Twitter and on the WTOP Facebook page. Follow Darci Marchese on Twitter @DMarcheseWTOP

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