SAN ANTONIO — On Monday afternoon, U.S. Army Lt. Miguel Verduzco Jr. entered LaGuardia Airport in New York City with his father.
He was eager to be home. Verduzco had served in the Army for eight years, and his left ankle had lost much of its cartilage as a result. Initially doctors wanted to fuse his ankle, but Hospital for Special Surgery in New York instead rebuilt it.
Verduzco's ankle now had an exterior brace with pins going though his bones. But he was recovering.
Doctors gave him enough painkillers for the flight home, while the rest of his prescription was waiting for him at that Brook Army Medical Center in San Antonio.
The flight was supposed to leave around 6:45 p.m. It didn't.
Shortly after arriving at 4 p.m., Verduzco received a text saying the flight was delayed and would leave just after 10 p.m. After being wheeled to the gate, he started asking Southwest Airlines staff what was going on and what gate they will leave from.
It wasn't until that point that they told him the flight was canceled.
"I just couldn't believe it. There was no way," Verduzco said. "I would believe there would be a delay... but you're telling me it was canceled completely? Until three or four days later?"
He had scheduled the flights all the way back on Dec. 17. He landed in New York on the 21st to undergo an 11-hour surgery on the 23rd, and spent Christmas recovering.
The next available flight was on Dec. 29, but that wasn't going to work. Verduzco's pain medication had already been electronically sent to Fort Sam Houston. He had pins in his ankle and the insertion points needed to be cleaned every day to prevent infection.
They had nowhere to stay in New York, and couldn't get additional medication.
His father wasn't going to wait. So he prepared his car to take Verduzco back himself, a journey of about 2,000 miles. They didn't believe there was any other option.
"He was like, 'I can tell you are in pain and we are stranded here, so let's just find a way to start moving,'" Verduzco said. "It was a situation where the only option was to start moving south."
They paid for a rental car, and left the airport at 10:30 p.m., headed for Texas. Verduzco said the trip would take them 36 hours. It would have taken longer, but his father, Miguel Verduzco Sr., had worked as a truck driver and was no stranger to long trips.
Verduzco Sr. stopped at a hotel midway and slept just 6 hours before getting back on the road.
Verduzco Jr. said the trip was still miserable. He had only one six-hour dose of pain medication for a 36-hour drive. He took it in the middle of the trip when his pain started to become unbearable. Meanwhile, he spent most of the truck in the back seat, trying to keep his leg elevated.
"It was painful. It was miserable," Verduzco said. "I was something you don't want to do again. And you wonder how you did it."
He said they got through it and listened to music to try and keep his mind distracted.
The duo arrived back in San Antonio around noon on Wednesday, and Verduzco was admitted to BAMC shortly after. His wounds were not infected and he is now recovering well. Verduzco said he's incredibly grateful for his father.
"I'm very thankful. Shocked that he did it," he said. "It's a wonderful feeling that you have someone you can trust that much and can do wonderful things for you."
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