The clock on your nightstand reads 3:15 a.m. The doorbell rings. If your spouse is a peace officer, and you open the door to members from his agency, you know devastating news is about to be shared.
And torment begins!
When a police officer is mowed over by a fleeing felon, leaving him lifeless in a busy intersection, his family feels the pain. When he is going through surgery, his loved one’s need anesthesia to dull the sting. When constant news of ongoing trauma arrives, the ache saturates the soul. When the body protests a desire to heal, the heart of the officer and spouse throb in unison with concern.
When the injuries are so pronounced and permanently debilitating, his identity transitions from officer to patient. As his new identity becomes an ongoing reality, the patient and his family experience a new kind of suffering; chronic emotional anguish.
The patient attends role call each day, but his uniform is a hospital gown, and his partners have titles that include surgeon, specialist, nurse, lab technician, radiologist, and the like. His new assignments include differing medical procedures, constant blood samples, and continual rehab. His family feels a throbbing pain for him … for them … for the new life that feels like a bad movie. They thrive for the simplicity … the peace … the routine of the past.
Medical terminology becomes as familiar as the penal code. The days become months, and soon the patient and his family can talk shop with their caregivers.
Fortunately for our friend, Officer Patient, and his wife, Mrs. Patient, his police family stood by to console, encourage, and support. It’s a good thing, because other elements proved to be deficient and in need of life support. But if the system needs that kind of overhaul, it does not bode well for the patient and his family whose hurt, aches, and pain increased because original injuries went undiagnosed. His charts read like a medical school textbook:
- Diffuse traumatic brain injury with cognitive and behavioral sequelae
- Spinal cord compression, with C5-6 ACDF
- Central pain syndrome
- Post concussive syndrome
- Major depressive disorder
- Diplopia – both eyes
- Retinal pigment epitheliopathy of left eye
Injuries like this make the human body do things it ought not do. Involuntary actions are frightening. Will he walk or talk again? Is this going to be a prolonged death sentence?
The physical and emotional trauma suffered by the patient and his family does not stop there. The spouse, an accomplished attorney, had to take a six-month leave of absence before eventually changing employers because her life was also hit by the automobile driven by the fleeing felon.
The eight year police veteran is now in his second year in his new assignment—recovery, with his wife tirelessly there as his backup. She had no idea, “In sickness and in health,” would require this much work … this much stress … this much helplessness, so early in life.
Officer Patient and his loving bride have a one-year-old little girl. Although she is too young to completely understand the pain around her, she intuitively knows that Officer-Patient-Daddy can no longer pick her up. The fun loving man she knew before now seems scary, with all the tubes and whatnot hooked up to his body.
Thank goodness this was not a line-of-duty death, yet it certainly feels like it, over and over again. Where is the relief the patient and his family wonder? Where is the help? The system that is adequately capable of caring for the family of one, who is killed in the line of duty, would surely be able to meet their needs. Yet they’ve discovered differently. Yes, Officer Patient is alive, but they’ve experienced a case of bureaucratic-manslaughter. While he physically suffers through surgeries and rehab, Mrs. Patient is assaulted with the phrase, “No, we can’t do that.”
While experiencing pain and suffering—physical and emotional—from the traumatic incident, Patient and his wife discovered their daughter suffered with epilepsy. Whoever said, “When it rains it pours,” was foretelling their story.
The account I am telling is that of Will and Jessica Anderson. Officer Anderson worked for the Orlando Police Department. In July of 2015, he located a vehicle fleeing the scene of a call of “shots fired,” coming from a nearby restaurant. As he caught the vehicle that was now stopped in traffic, Will exited his unit, with gun drawn. He approached the driver’s side door of the suspect vehicle, which contained three occupants.
Officer Anderson issued commands while moving to a position toward the left front quarter panel. Suddenly a person bolted from the passenger side. Officer Anderson instinctively took a few steps toward the suspect fleeing on foot, while maintaining his weapon at the driver of the getaway car. Perilously vulnerable, he was now in the path of a 3500 lb. projectile known as an automobile. As the driver accelerated, Anderson delivered three rounds through the windshield, striking the driver twice. But the rounds were not fatal and did not stop the suspect from running him over, leaving him lying in the street.
Officer Will Anderson became the patient in my story. His wife, Jessica, was not physically assaulted by the car, but make no mistake she was victimized by the driver—BIG TIME!
As the Anderson’s shared their story with me, I marveled at their courage. They provided enough details to fill a novel, and this story barely scratches the surface of their journey.
I was proud to hear chronicles of the Orlando Police Department responding to their aid—individual members that were present in their time of need. Yet saddened to hear so many ways “the system” failed them.
Will was unable to return to work. He has been medically retired. Fifteen months later he still requires rehab, as pain is something to be managed, but might never be conquered.
Will and Jessica each work on behalf of the Wounded Officers Initiative. Jessica is also channeling her “inner-attorney” to work toward legislation that will remedy many of the shortcomings they experienced during the process.
They have offered solid advice and words of counsel for the law enforcement family:
- Do not abandon the wounded. To them, the emotional toll of death repeats itself.
- The financial devastation can be crippling. Coverage for a non-fatal injury does not compare to death benefits, yet bills can accumulate much higher.
- Do not over-estimate worker’s compensation. Their experiences with the law in Florida have been unpleasant.
- You need to be your own advocate. No one knows your circumstances better. Be bold while pursuing help.
- The mental health component is huge. Reach out for help.
- Police agencies need to maintain contact with their injured. Do not leave them on an island.
- Receiving assistance from so many was like witnessing people on a mission of mercy. Do not underestimate the value to help people whose life has been shattered.
Oftentimes people ask, “Why me?” when confronted with devastating circumstances. Will and Jessica did not ask the question during our conversation, but I thought about it while writing this article. On a personal note, I do not believe the God of the universe authored the evil that occurred to them. That was a flawed person exercising free will destructively. Yet I believe God uses ordinary people for extraordinary tasks. Will and Jessica left me with the impression they are pursuing a purpose far greater than their individual lives, and I pray as they use their hurt to reach out to others who hurt as well!