Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Fourteen on the Fourth

Worth watching:  Wounded Warriors at 9/11 Memorial

Although Bryan Dilberian and Adam Keyes are the only warriors in this group that Seth and I know personally, we watched many of these guys recuperate from a distance. I remember a couple of double amputees wheeling themselves around on carts on their bellies--because their amputations were high and because of their wounds, they were not able to even sit in a wheelchair. It is wonderful to see them just sitting up. Adam had been inpatient over a year when Seth arrived in Ward 57. I am so grateful to see how far they have come.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Jon Stewart Taunts Disabled People

Sunday, June 24 was a wonderful day. Seth participated in the Achilles Foundation 10th Annual Hope and Possibility Race in New York City. Thanks to frequent flyer miles and hotel points accrued from our trips and stays in D.C. this past year, I was able to go to New York to join him. I got there Thursday afternoon, he got there Friday afternoon, and we finally together on race day.

Seth at the starting line
He rode a bus up from D.C. with several other wounded warriors on Friday and they attended a Yankees came that evening. On Saturday, his group went on a harbor boat tour, rode in a speed boat, visited the 9/11 Memorial and probably one more thing that I can't remember now. I was busy seeing the city with my friend Sally Evans.

On Sunday morning, we met Seth at the starting line with his sponsors Sue and Adrian who made up Team Seth. Sue came from Michigan where her husband works for GM, the sponsor of the wounded warrior Freedom Team. Adrian's brother was injured in Iraq in 2006 and is now married to one of the organizers of the event, so she has been an Achilles volunteer for several years.
Team Seth

I wasn't sure if I would be able to walk with Seth, but I was and I did--along with Sally. Seth joked about us being his stalkers, and I told him the curse of his life was that his stalkers were all women over 40.

at the finish line
We all walked the entire five miles (OK, Sally and I took one shortcut, but only so we could get ahead to take pictures) and had a difficult time keeping up with Seth--he had a very fast pace. A friend from high school who lives in New York came to cheer us on with three of her kids, and that meant a lot. As we walked, we saw people who were blind, people in wheelchairs--powered and pushed, people with cerebral palsy, people with Down's syndrome and, of course, people with various numbers and types of prosthetic limbs. Some people ran, others walked, some rode bikes or handbikes, others propelled wheelchairs. All participants had volunteers to accompany them every step of the way. It was all very inspiring.
Team Seth
with stalker Sally Evans

We walked the perimeter road of Central Park, which was surprisingly hilly. It was a beautiful day--in the 80s, a respite from the previous days' temperatures in the high 90s.

Also in attendance was comedian Jon Stewart. He joined the Freedom Team and walked with some of the wounded warriors. Before the race, the race emcee called him to the stand to say a few words. Mr. Stewart told how he had walked the race the previous year and it had inspired him to train for it this year, so, he said, "I'm going to kick all of your a****!"

As Seth and I stood waiting for the race to start (the standing and waiting was more difficult for him than the walking), he said, "I can just see the headline in tomorrow's newspaper: 'Jon Stewart Taunts Disabled People.'" I didn't see it in the New York Times and consider it a definite oversight, so I thought it had better be used as a headline somewhere, so I used it here.

Jon Stewart with the Freedom Team
At the end of the race, Mr. Stewart hung around with the guys, so I asked Seth if he wanted his picture taken with him, knowing he wouldn't. I said, "What if he wants his picture taken with you?" That would be all right, but, Seth said, "He wouldn't because I'm only a single, below-knee amputee." We noted that, yes, the more severely injured often do get more attention than others. Seth reflected, "The ones I really feel sorry for are the guys with TBI (traumatic brain injury)" because that is not visible. I told him that I bet many of them are probably relieved not to have the attention, but certainly others notice and wonder.

It was time to go much too soon. Seth headed off on his bus to a lunch and then back to Bethesda, and Sally and I headed back to our hotel and then home. It was a quick trip but so worth it. Thanks to the Achilles Foundation for such a wonderful event.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Oh, Say Can You See . . .

. . . Seth on the big screen?

Thanks to Barbara Talbot, I learned that she and her husband, Bob, took Seth and Chang to a Washington Nationals game Saturday, May 19. Bob and Barbara are volunteers with the Yellow Ribbon Fund. I have not met Barbara, but I met Bob. He hangs out in the lobby at building 62 to meet wounded warriors, find out their needs and interests, and then find a way to mentor them and/or provide access to the things they are interested in--such as tickets to Nationals' games.

Barbara sent me these photos via her iPhone. My reaction was odd--I sat at the computer and cried. It's been so nice to be home, but so difficult to be away from Seth and from first-hand knowledge of what is happening with his therapy and rehab. But I think I was mostly grateful to see him having a good time and to know that there are people like Bob and Barbara in the world.

I must also express my sincere appreciation to the Yellow Ribbon Fund. It is an absolutely amazing non-profit set up for the wounded warriors and their families. They provide airfare and lodging for family members of wounded warriors, getaways for NMAs, parties and other entertainment, and the list goes on and on. Perhaps the most amazing thing about the Yellow Ribbon Fund is the people. They work one on one and face to face with warriors and families. They know us on a personal basis. I cannot say enough about this non-profit and its volunteers.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Fluff and Mumbo Jumbo

Charlie Trentelman let me have his column space for one last article about Seth and me. Here it is.

Mother's Day Article

Since this link is not necessarily permanent, I am posting the content of my essay:

Author Elizabeth Stone said, “Making the decision to have a child - it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body. ” My son and heart were blown up by an IED in Afghanistan July 1, 2011, and I spent the last 10 months by his side as he recovered. Charlie and others have said that I deserve the Mother of the Year award for thisI don’t agreeI did what any mother would do, what many mothers have done, are still doing and will continue to do. When I left Walter Reed in April, I left other moms and wives who had already been there a year, some two, with no end in sight. Their dedication is amazing and, for some, came at great expense. 

Though I don’t have any way of knowing, I imagine that for every mom who was thrilled that her child joined the military, there was a mom who was not. I was one of the latter. I thought that joining the military was for “other people’s kids.” Seth had a scholarship to Utah State—what business did he have joining the military? What an arrogant view. For whose children did I think it was their business? 

In Geraldine Brooks’ book March, Margaret March must go to Washington D.C. to tend to her husband, wounded in the Civil War. Her thoughts echo some of my earlier thoughts: “It was folly to let him go. Unfair of him to ask it of me. And yet one is not permitted to say such a thing; it is just one more in the long list of things that woman must not say. A sacrifice such as his is called noble by the world. But the world will not help me put back together what the war has broken apart . . . I am not alone in this. I only let him do to me what men have ever done to women: march off to empty glory and hollow acclaim and leave us behind to pick up the pieces. The . . . ruined bodies of the boys we bore . . .” 

Most of the time I am not bitter like Mrs. March. Thankfully, the world is helping us put back together what the war has broken. I think volunteering to fight for a cause that you believe in is noble. While I grieve for our wounded children, there are worse fates than this. While I long for peace, it is not enough to be anti-war; we must be wise enough to determine what is worth fighting for and what is not. My greatest hope now is that Seth and his comrades sacrifices will not be in vain, that the powers that be will ensure that some good comes from the terrible losses endured. And, because it is Mother’s Day, I will hope that the mothers of Afghanistan and their daughters have better lives because of the sacrifices of our children. 

And that is my point. These soldiers are our children—not other people’s kids. 

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

What Happens Next

Seth and I came home to Utah on April 16. Seth got to hang out with friends and family, go camping, hit a bucket of balls, and eat at Soul and Bones and Bombay Grill. He took care of our dying dog Rio while Bob and I took a little vacation. Both Seth and Rio were still alive when we returned.

Seth returned on his own to Bethesda on Sunday, April 29.

So what's next? Now that his NMA is gone, Seth should be moved out of building 62 and into the single soldier barracks. We're hoping that he "flies under the radar" for a while and gets to stay in bldg 62 a little longer.

A prosthetic leg for running
He still has a lot of rehab to do. One next step is getting his running leg. To do so requires a bone density scan, which he has done but for which we don't know the results. It will also require his therapist's OK. Our friend Tom has a new "hybrid" leg that can be used to run but also can take a shoe. This seems like a great innovation. We'll see what Seth decides to get.

People ask us how much longer he will be there. We don't know. He still has probably a good six months of physical therapy and rehabilitation, but he also has to go through the Medical Evaluation Board process, which we hear can take a year. This process will determine his disability rating; his disability rating determines what his benefits will be for the rest of his life, so it's taken very seriously. It also requires working through military bureaucracy and, where Seth is, there are quite of few people going through the process, so it just takes time.

On the bright side, there are many opportunities available to wounded warriors there that would not be available elsewhere. Warriors, if they choose, can intern at any government agency, go to college online or on the hospital campus, participate in numerous sports camps and activities including training for the Paralympics, and take part in almost innumerable adventures provided by non-profits and individuals.

I will post updates once in a while, but that will require information from Seth and, when it comes down to it, he's a pretty private guy. Any attention he has received is because his mom wanted it for him, not because he wanted it.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Emancipation Day

Seth and new PT Kyla
If you're wondering why your federal income taxes aren't due until Tuesday, the 17th, it's because today is D.C. Emancipation Day--a holiday to celebrate slave emancipation that began in 1862 and was celebrated until 1901 and was revived in 2002.

It seems a fitting name for the day for Seth and I are leaving the D.C. area--me for good and Seth for two weeks of convalescent leave.

It is with mixed feelings that I leave. It is beautiful here right now--in the 60s and 70s with azaleas in bloom everywhere. It would be easier to leave, I'm sure, in January or July.

We have had a busy week of appointments and activities. Seth hopes to get his running leg when he returns, so he had to have a bone density scan. He continues with daily PT and other niggling appointments like getting his immunizations up to date. On Friday night, I attended my last Friday night dinner; this one was held at the American Enterprise Institute, and it was lovely. It was on the 12th and top floor of their office building downtown, so the view was as impressive as the food and the company. That night, Seth and Chang went to hear Tim Fite at the U Street Music Hall, so we all got to do something we enjoyed before we headed out.

On Saturday, I did my last D.C. thing--attended the Cherry Blossom Parade downtown with friends. It was a perfect day to sit outside and watch bands, balloons, baton twirlers, and overly botoxed celebrities (yes, I'm talking about you, Marie Osmond).

The rest of the day was spent cleaning and packing. In the evening we went to dinner with my cousins whom it has been a delight to get to know better since being here. Sunday we ended with dinner at the Evans', and it warm enough to eat outside. As we visited around the table, 7-year-old Zoe observed that we all have something broken--her elbow, which she had hurt earlier in the week; Chang's arm; Seth's leg; Sylvia's eyes (I had two black eyes once from a car accident); Billy's head because of frequent migraines; and Sally's back. I was moved by her early realization that we all have "stuff."

Fluff and Mumbo Jumbo
In a post not too long ago, I mentioned some things I saw that moved me to tears--in a good way. There are also plenty of things that just make me want to throw up (sorry, I couldn't think of another way to say it). On Tuesday and Fridays, the wounded are brought from Andrew AFB to WRNMMC in a big ambulance, specially equipped to that each warrior has a full team of ICU nurses and doctors and so that they do not feel one bump or jolt on the ride over. I have not seen it very often, but when I do I want to barf. I don't want anyone else to go through what we have and are going through. I want it to stop.

Going to the MATC is usually an inspiring experience as I see guys overcoming great odds to walk again, but once in a while, I just don't want to see any more. A couple of times a week, we see a new guy come in for his first PT in the MATC. We know he's new because he's in a power chair, he still has wound VACs attached and is followed by an IV tower and usually one or two parents looking shell-shocked. Sometimes the shell-shocked look turns hopeful as they see what the guys around them are accomplishing.

Last week I took some unopened medical supplies back up to the inpatient ward. I did not expect returning there to make me sick to my stomach--but it did. It gave me new appreciation for all those who visit the inpatients on the ward and all those who come back to the ward to visit newcomers.

On Leaving
Things I will not miss
  • the traffic
  • the wind
  • the cost of groceries
  • having to show my ID at the gate
Things I will miss
  • the Metro
  • the azaleas
  • free meals at the cafeteria
  • all the great restaurants
  • free museums
  • not having to get in my car to go to the gym, post office, Red Box, McDonald's and the convenience store
  • the washer and dryer off the kitchen
  • Turkey Hill brand Double Dunk ice cream
  • the trail system (it is AMAZING!!!)
  • many, many people
  • Seth
With a few exceptions, I have refrained from naming people who have served us in the blog. I have reserved naming names for the non-profits. I did this because I figured people weren't serving us to get their name posted on the blog and because I would probably forget someone. But I want to thank you all--and you know who you are: those who wrote letters and cards, sent packages, called, brought a meal or goodies, visited from far or near, brought games, gave hugs, lent a guitar, taught a spiritual lesson, gave a blessing, picked us up at the airport, e-mailed, texted, walked dogs, rescued dogs, donated to non-profits that serve wounded warriors, wrote about us and raised awareness, ate at Bombay Grill, and more. Thank you.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Shredding the Tomato

Instructor Anne Goldberg and Seth
Seth returned late Sunday night from his five-day adventure. He was so worn out that he didn't really talk to me until Tuesday. Even then, I had to piece together the trip from overheard conversations and what others told me. Even though the snow was crappy because it was in the 60s every day and his socket hurt him, the consensus was that he had a great time and impressed everyone with his mad snowboarding skills. He said he wasn't quite ready for black diamond runs, but he conquered the blue runs. One of the WRNMMC staff who is also a snowboarder said he smoked her. This must be true because he brought home a certificate indicating he won the "Shredding the Tomato" award. For the uninitiated like me, this is a reference to Shaun White, snowboarding gold medalist, who is known as the Flying Tomato and for his capacity to slice up the slopes. (If Seth had his shoulder-length hair of yesteryear, he would look just like Shaun White.)

Seth shreds it up

I asked Seth to tell me something funny about the trip. He said, "Well, there were eight of us guys, and there were only four legs among us." On the bright side, they had 15 arms out of a possible 16.