By Michael E. Ruane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 22, 2011; 8:30 PM
Already Tuesday morning, Angelina Gasca's delicate hands had scraped the ice off the windshield of her husband's car and hoisted his wheelchair into the vehicle, so he wouldn't have to stand on his artificial legs all day.
She had fed and dressed their two boys, buckled them into her car with the "Marine Wife" license-plate frame, scraped the ice off her own windshield and driven off to day care.
Now, with her banged-up nail polish and wedding and engagement rings removed, her pale hands rested like tired athletes on a white towel as nail technician Svetlana Nemykina massaged her fingers with cuticle oil.
"My mind is just blank," Gasca said.
This was precisely the idea.
Gasca, 23, of El Paso, was one of nine women caring for injured soldiers and Marines from the Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the National Naval Medical Center, who got a chance Tuesday to get some tender care for themselves.
The group - mainly wives and one mother - was treated to free facials, manicures and pedicures, courtesy of the Bethesda-based Yellow Ribbon Fund, which supports families of injured service members.
It seemed like such a simple thing: an hour or so by themselves, while their hands or feet were massaged and their faces bathed in warm steam and fragrant oils. But for that hour, at the Roxsan Day Spa in the White Flint Mall, some of the stress of upended lives, injured loved ones and often monotonous days was left behind.
"We do a lot of times get overlooked," said Ashley Bowers, 24, from Yorktown, Va., who is living with her Marine husband, Christopher, 26, in Silver Spring.
He was injured in 2008 when he jumped off his armored vehicle in Iraq and landed on his foot at a bad angle, dislocating his left ankle and fracturing the heel. The injury never healed properly, and last April his lower leg had to be amputated.
People "see your husband, he's missing a foot, [and they'll say,] 'Thank you for your service,' '' Ashley Bowers said in an interview last week.
"I've kind of been there from day one, too," she said. "I haven't had to personally deal with the amputation . . . haven't had to deal with the pain. But you go through a different kind of pain . . . You go through emotional. You go through mental. It's very exhausting."
"It's been a rough three years," Bowers said. "I'm not going to lie . . . I feel like I lost myself in him.
"So it definitely is nice to get pampered. It definitely makes my husband jealous," she joked.
It is often the wives who stand by the bedside of seriously wounded husbands, haul around the wheelchairs, the artificial limbs and the strollers. Many are in their 20s, parents of young children and traveling from distant parts of the country.
"They're so used to giving," said Marie Wood, a spokeswoman for the fund. "They're under extreme stress helping their husbands . . . And they are a vital part of the recuperation."
It was the fund's first spa day in several years, Wood said, and is part of a larger program of stress-relieving activities, including yoga and massage, to support caregivers.
Gasca's husband, Daniel, 24, also a Marine, lost both legs below the knees after his Humvee was blown up by a roadside bomb in Iraq in 2008.
He has been recovering at Walter Reed for a year and half and is now proficient on his artificial legs; the family is preparing to go home to Texas, his wife said.
Their children are Mathew, 4, and Eli, 8 months, who was born during his father's recuperation.
The spa visit "puts your mind at ease," Angelina Gasca said. "You're not thinking about what you have to do in an hour, about helping your husband. It just relaxes you."
"It's always so chaotic at home," she said. "You never have time for yourself. You're always worried about your kids or your husband, or what they need. "
Still, she said, "my husband has been through so much, and he's the one who needs the attention."
Tuesday, after dressing the children in matching outfits of jeans and blue-and-white checked shirts and taking them to day care, Gasca and Bowers headed to the spa in Gasca's car. Bowers got a facial.
Gasca, who is known as Angel, had her nails done. Then she got a facial, too.
In a dimly lit room, with soothing music playing, she reclined on a table under a white blanket as skin technician Mahin Alinaghi massaged her face and shoulders under the eerie green glow of the steamer.
Gasca, whose eyes were covered with a soft cotton cloth, looked completely relaxed.
"Am I pressing too hard?" Alinaghi asked.
Gasca replied: "No."