Friday, December 23, 2011

Charlie's Article

Charlies' article in the Standard-Examiner.

I thought Charlie did a great job and so did the photographer. (I only have one correction: I am a university instructor, not professor. It's an important distinction because it takes a lot of work--and a PhD--to be a professor.)

Monday, December 19, 2011

A Hero's Welcome

We're home, and we are so grateful for the warm welcome we received! We were met at the airport by dozens of family and no fewer than five TV/newspaper reporters and cameras. Our house and yard are awesome with flags, banners and yellow ribbons. Thank you, everyone!

Check out the news stories:


ABC 4 (5:00 p.m.)

NBC 2 News

Deseret News

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Saved by the Brits

(and by the fact we're coming home tomorrow).

Yesterday was an emotionally exhausting day for reasons that are both complicated and personal. In a nutshell, we were reminded of some of the complexities of Seth's condition. The nerve damage from his sacral fracture may or may not resolve itself on its own. A couple of doctors are now speculating that one of the screws holding his pelvis to his spine may be interfering with nerve function, and they are going to do more testing to see if removing the screw would be, first, possible and, second, the solution to the problem. The obvious downside of all this is it would require another very serious surgery and all that that entails.
By the time we got home from the hospital, we were worn out, but we had signed up for a dinner at the residence of the British Ambassador, so we dragged ourselves out the door and got on the bus. After a miserable bus ride (D.C. traffic is even miserable as a passenger), we finally made it to the embassy compound. Of course, the residence is spectacularly beautiful, enhanced by lovely Christmas decorations, and our spirits began to rise for the first time that day.

Seth was feeling a little rebellious, so he wore his panda T-shirt, seen here. Later, as he was won over by the spirit of the evening, he kept his coat closed--it seemed more dressy that way.

The dining room
We thoroughly enjoyed the people we met and visited with. The dinner was scrumptious (except the brandied cherries in the dessert).

Queen Elizabeth watched over the proceedings

Ambassador Sheinwald

Paul Wolfowitz

Ambassador Sheinwald and former U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz both gave stirring tributes to both American and British troops. Ambassodor Sheinwald has hosted the wounded warriors every year for the three years of his term. Mr. Wolfowitz has been attending and supporting the dinners for the past eight years. He recently joined the board of the Aleethia Foundation, which sponsors these events.

Although the bus ride home was trying, the evening was lovely, and we were glad we had pulled it together to attend.

The Real News
We will be home tomorrow, Sunday, December 18. Hooray!!! We will be in Utah until January 9th.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The 12 Days . . .

of starvation for Seth and sleeping on an ironing board for me are over. Seth was discharged from the hospital today, and we're home at the apartment and exhausted. I'm not sure why, but twelve days sitting around a hospital sure took it out of us.

We've been trying to think of any bright sides to this experience; we didn't come up with much, but maybe this helped his right leg do some good healing. He got to finish his cool Lego car, and we got to experience the generosity of many people who provided meals to the families and patients in the ward and brought generous gifts and goodies. We also got another reminder of everything we take for granted. Tonight we had Campbell's soup for dinner. Seth commented on how good it was and how good the milk felt going down his throat. Then we both looked at each other, wondering the same thing: how long will this appreciation last?

Random coincedence: we went to Seth's prosthetist last week to get a new socket and found out he is stuck in a Colorado hospital after emergency surgery for, wait for it, a bowel obstruction. Maybe they're contagious!

Tomorrow was supposed to be the day we came home; now we will spend it getting paperwork etc. done so we can come home as soon as possible.

Random Rant and Reminiscence (TMI warning)
Seth's attending surgeon through this ordeal was a woman in her 50s. She was very sweet and took great care to explain things in detail and in language that was clear to us lay-folk. She was so sweet that she, frankly, annoyed Seth. I, however, appreciated her personal touch and attention. I told Seth this was perhaps because the surgeon who took my appendix out when I was 12 years old was an arrogant SOB who didn't deign to speak to me, let alone explain what was happening and why. What was happening included a pelvic exam, a frightening, and often upsetting, exam the first time for any female but even more so for a 12-year-old who had no idea what the doctor was doing and why. If a surgeon is going to err, let it be to the soft side. I'm grateful that the medical culture has and is changing from my childhood--that is, if our experience here is any indicator.

Christmas at Walter Reed-Bethesda
Walter Reed National Military Medical Center
Even though our first 12 days of Christmas were no fun, we got to experience a great outpouring from many, many groups and individuals. I cannot even begin to list those who have provided parties, gifts, meals and treats to the wounded warriors and their families. The children of wounded warriors are going to have a wonderful Christmas this year.

In the lobby of bldg 10 are these two beautiful gingerbread creations. I think they speak for themselves. (They made me very nostalgic for the old ZCMI Christmas windows . . .)

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Happiness is . . .

getting the NG tube pulled! If all goes well, we'll be out of the hospital on Monday and home soon!

We hope you're all watching the Army-Navy game today!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

It's Been One Week . . .

since Seth has had anything to eat or drink. We've been trying to think of an appropriate way to celebrate the anniversary, but nothing comes to mind that doesn't involve, um, food.

So here's dinner
Last night, the doctors did a poor job of inserting a PICC line, so they are redoing their job this afternoon. The PICC line is to facilitate Seth receiving total parenteral nutrition (TPN) and also, if they get it right this time, will make it so he doesn't have to keep his IV in and get poked to get his blood drawn every night.

No good news today. The output from the NG tube is down (good), but there is no output from the ostomy (bad). We are now looking at spending the upcoming weekend here. Worst case scenario is that we do all this waiting and have to have surgery anyway.

But Seth hasn't lost his sense of humor. When we were discussing the dismaying lack of ostomy output, Seth suggested that I crush up some Baby Ruths and put them in the ostomy bag. At least one doctor got a big kick out of that idea. (I wish I could make Seth laugh as much as he makes me laugh, but oh, well. Some people got it and some don't.)

Thank the Lord for Legos
This time in the hospital has been excruciatingly boring (since we don't have to eat three times a day, that's a lot of time on our hands). Because of the tube, Seth isn't mobile, but, unlike last time in the hospital, he doesn't need to sleep all the time and he's not on heavy doses of pain medication. Our occupational therapist came to the rescue on Tuesday with an amazing Lego kit--the kind that requires a lot of time and patience to complete. We were both grateful--one can only watch so much of Parolees and Pitbulls.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Groundhog Day

Seth and I feel like we are in our own version of Groundhog Day. Today begins day five of the NG tube, day five of no eating or drinking, and day five of things really being routine and boring. Seth is confined to the hospital bed, and he doesn't move or talk much because of  the tube.

The doctors told us this morning that while the X-ray and stomach palpitations look good, the output from the NG tube is still abnormally high and output from the bowel is abnormally low, indicating that the bowels are "still angry" and, possibly, that the obstruction has not cleared.

We've read books, watched movies, watched TV. It may happen that I actually convince him to play a game of cards with me. If we had internet access in the room, it would be helpful--but we don't, so it isn't.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Dad Gum It

Well, I should know better than to ever record that things are "routine and almost boring." Seth spent Thursday night in extreme pain and vomiting. I thought he just had the stomach flu, so I just made sure he stayed hydrated. On Friday morning, the pain had not subsided, so his squad leader told us to take him to the Warrior clinic. The nurse practitioner who saw him there was obviously annoyed that I had not taken him to the emergency room during the night because "that was delaying treatment." So we headed to the emergency room where we spent the next 10 hours. Seth had a CT scan, urinalysis and blood tests, and finally the doctors discovered that he has a bowel obstruction.

This means that they had to put NG (naso-gastric) tube down his throat to suck out the contents of his stomach and upper intestine--or everything on the "up side" of the obstruction. Having a bowel obstruction is very painful, so keeping his pain under control was difficult. In the evening, he was finally re-admitted to the hospital, Ward 4 Center, just three doors down from his old room.

As an inpatient, he was able to be hooked up to the PCA (patient-controlled analgesic) again. The down side is the pain medication presents a bit of a Catch-22: the obstruction is excruciatingly painful so he needs the relief, but the narcotics slow down the bowel, thus slowing down removal of the obstruction.

The doctor said the obstruction could be caused by scar tissue from Seth's many abdominal surgeries. The CT scan did not show the cause, only the distended part of the bowel. We all hope he will not require surgery, but in the meantime, he has to sit with a nasty tube down his throat, and he cannot eat or drink--only ice chips. We were feeling like we could handle this until we found out the earliest they will remove the tube is Monday (today is Saturday). They may begin intravenous feeding today or tomorrow.

Seth knows it's temporary, but it's a long, miserable temporary nonetheless.

(On the small bright side, we picked a good weekend to be inpatient because there are many groups doing Christmas service. He received a beautiful Army blanket, and I received lunch and a Blue Star Mother's pin.)

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Another Anniversary

Five months ago today, our lives changed forever. And now, after five months often filled with terror and stress, our days have become rather routine and sometimes downright boring. Seth goes to OT in the mornings and PT in the afternoons with a few other appointments scattered here and there. He is now in Battle Company of the Warrior Transition Brigade and has formation every day at 1600. He is still fighting fatigue, but he seems to be getting a little bit more energy day to day. He is gradually weaning himself from some medications and fine-tuning his use of others.

My job gets easier. Seth has no more wounds to dress, so I don't need to change the sheets every day. I still care for the pins on his external fixator two or three times a day (we've gone through over 1200 pieces of gauze and 400 Q-tips). He rarely needs help getting up hills in his wheelchair any more.

We look forward to Reubens and tacos on Thursdays in the cafeteria, eating out once or twice a week, and visits, cards, packages and phone calls. A good day for me is any day we leave the apartment; a good day for Seth is any day he feels up to leaving the apartment. We are both looking forward to coming home in two weeks.

In our five months together, we have learned a lot, such as:

  • it's difficult for a 46-year-old woman and a 20-year-old boy to agree on a movie or TV show to watch
  • a 20-year-old boy is less verbal than a 46-year-old woman
  • as mom, I still can embarrass my son (see previous bullet)
  • it is a hassle to go anywhere at any time of any day in the D.C. metro area
  • dogs can make any day better (ever seen a service cat? Didn't think so)
  • 4:30 is far too early for it to be dark

A Farewell from Afar
Almost five months ago, I made my first visit to the MATC. I was amazed and inspired by a young man I saw there working out vigorously on his own. He was a double-amputee, both above the knee, and he only had his thumb on one hand and his forefinger on the other. He lifted himself into and out of his wheelchair and could do virtually anything, all on his own. Since then, I have watched him from afar. He always worked out alone but had a ready smile for anyone who talked with him. I learned from Seth's therapist that his name is Aaron, and he has done everything from kayaking to hunting to downhill skiing.

Yesterday, I happened to be sitting nearby when Aaron finished his work-out and came to say good-bye to some of the physical therapists. From the conversation, I learned that it was Aaron's last day and that he was heading home after two years at Walter Reed. I never spoke to Aaron; I don't know his last name. I don't know what happened to him, where he lives or if he has family, a girlfriend or a wife. All I know is that his dedication and his smile inspired me every time I saw him. I think I was the only one who cried when he walked out of the MATC--and he had no idea. Someone has said that most of success is simply showing up. I would add that we never know when, by simply showing up, we might lift and inspire someone else.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

At the Mall

This evening we decided to go to the Montgomery Mall for dinner and maybe some shopping. The mall reminded me very much of the old Ogden Mall--just much, much bigger and very, very busy. (It brought back good memories and made me sad that the Ogden Mall is gone--but that is an entry for another blog.) After we ate, Seth wasn't up for shopping so we headed to the car. As we exited the mall, he said, "People care about the wrong things."

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Other 1 Percent

Time magazine recently featured a fascinating article on the increasing disconnect and distance between the military (and therefore, the wars we are fighting) and the rest of the U.S. population. I'm including the link, but you may have to be a subscriber to read the whole thing: The Other 1%

If it doesn't work, the article is in the November 21, 2011 issue of Time.

The author Mark Thompson has also written on the topic in his blog, which is wholly accessible: An Army Apart

Friday, November 25, 2011

Steppin' Up

This is not hugely significant, but I just love this video of Seth and his substitute physical therapist Kyla doing step-ups together. Kyla's jazz hands just made it all the better.

Annals of Amputee Odds and Ends

  • Seth passed another amputee coming out of a clinic as we were entering the other day. The amputee looked at Seth and said, "Ooh, gross! That guy's missing a leg!"
  • Seth's grandpa Pack is an amputee and, we learned not long ago, so was Seth's great-great uncle. This caused us to speculate if his condition is genetic. Seth remarked, "When I have my first child, if it has two legs, I'm going to have some questions for my wife."
  • When I was home, Bob and I went out with good friends Jim and Cindee. Jim's dad, now in his 70s, became an amputee in his teens. When Jim was a child, he wondered when his leg would fall off or if someone would come to take it off.
  • Other friends told us of waterskiing with a friend who is an amputee. When he wiped out, his prosthesis went flying--much to the horror of unsuspecting folks on the beach and much to the amusement of our friends and their companions.

Giving Thanks

We had a wonderful Thanksgiving day at my cousin Rick's home with his wife, Anne, my uncle Parley, Chang, Thung and Bob. Thank you, Rick and Anne, for your hospitality. It was a beautiful fall day. We could not have asked for a better one.

I fully intended to come home and write an entry listing all the things I am thankful for, but as I pondered my list, it was so long, I became overwhelmed at the thought of trying to get it all down. When I said good night to Seth, I asked him if there was anything he would like to post. He said, "Yeah, I've been thinking about it all day, and the list just goes on and on and on."

So in a classic cop-out, we will say there are too many things we are thankful for to begin listing them, but perhaps I will say, all but a few come from the hands of good people--known and unknown to us. Thank you all.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Cool Beans

Instead of physical therapy, today Seth visited the gait lab for two hours of assessment and testing. The purpose of the testing is to give physical therapists and prosthetists more information to do their jobs better and help amputees see what they can do differently to improve their gait. This becomes even more important when they begin to do more complex activities such as skiing, running, etc.

The researchers put markers over Seth in key points so that dozens of cameras would pick up the markers as he walked. Then the cameras feed that information into a computer which creates a digital image of Seth for analysis. (In this photo, notice his tummy scar. Hard to believe it was once three- to four-inches wide! I also realized his belly button is now off-center.)
The computer-generated Seth

The day held more bright spots: Seth hit 140 pounds (w/the help of the prosthesis and TSF), it was Ethan's 25th birthday, the Freedom Alliance presented us a check for a generous amount of money to help with expenses incurred while Seth is recovering, and Bob arrived to spend Thanksgiving with us! We have much to be thankful for!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

One Day

So I miss one day of PT and what happens? In addition to pulling Greg around the track and doing three sets on the leg press with all the springs on, Seth did 14 flights of stairs! And, if that wasn't enough, he jumped--got both feet off the ground. (This might not sound like a big deal, but consider jumping without toes and calf muscles in one leg.) I'm so sorry I missed it, but I am so glad he felt up to all of that.
Pulling Greg around the track (OK, so this was last week . . .)

He also got his fourth socket for his prosthesis. He was very excited because he said, "It fits like a glove."

He didn't forget about me, either. He brought me hot soup and a smoothie all the way from the cafeteria in the hospital. What a guy!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Role Reversal

So in our strange world, Seth has gone to the hospital this morning because he is not sick, and I am staying home because I am sick. I got sick on Saturday and spent most of the day in bed. Seth knew it was serious when I didn't bug him to get out and do something, and especially when I didn't go to the Italian Embassy for the third annual Wounded Warriors tribute concert that evening.

He got himself up and ready, made me tomato soup and toast, and cleaned up the kitchen. He offered to bring me water, broth, ginger ale; in short, he was a very good nurse.

The highlight of the weekend was a visit to Sally and Bill's Sunday evening for dinner, some recreational therapy with their puppy Ginny and just overall good times and goofiness.

Zoe and Seth have fun with aluminum foil.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A Poopy Day

Our much-anticipated visit to orthopedics on Tuesday was discouraging. We were hoping that they would tell us the Taylor-spatial frame was ready to come off, but it was not to be. They saw nothing wrong and said that healing is progressing as they hope, but it just has not progressed far enough. If we have a miracle, he'll get it off before Christmas, but it is more likely that he'll get if off after Christmas. Seth was really hoping to be able to wear normal long pants when we come home at Christmas.

Seth also met with the urologist and a physical therapist who specializes in urological issues. No bad news, but no good news either. They will begin some therapy in January to help bring things back online.

For some reason, his tailbone pain is increasing rather than decreasing. One doctor hypothesized this was nerves regenerating, but the ortho doctors disagreed. However, they didn't provide another explanation. Seth's X-ray showed his pelvis has thrown down some extra bone--heterotopic ossification or, as it is referred to here, HO--but that didn't appear to be in the area where the pain is originating.

HO is defined as excees bone growth in soft tissues that frequently occurs in the residula limbs of combat amputees. It's almost like the body is trying to regrow the missing bone. Depending on how the HO grows, it can cause a great deal of pain or cause a previously fitting prosthesis to no longer fit comfortably. So far, Seth has not had to deal with this in his leg, for which we are very grateful, but it's too soon to say whether he won't develop HO issues. (More information on HO here).
The best news of the week is that Seth got his new custom wheelchair. It is sleeker, smaller, faster and lighter, so now I can hardly keep up with him!

Free Food Fiasco
Over the weekend, many restaurants had deals for Veterans Day. We were particularly excited about Golden Corral's offer, mostly because of the chocolate fountains they have been advertising recently. The offer was good on Monday evening from 5 to 9 p.m. So we headed out with Chang and Thung. It was a 20-mile drive to the nearest GC, but again, we figured chocolate fountains were worth it. When we arrived, there was a line, five people across, completely encircling the building. Even we have our limits when it comes to free food, so we headed across the street to Kobe Japanese Steakhouse where we had a delicious dinner around the hibachi grill--and I caught the shrimp.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Things and Stuff

Yesterday Seth experienced what a couple of amputees have told him about--when you fall, you put out the leg that's not there to catch yourself. We were going to the NEX Shoppette on base, and Seth decided to do some "off-roading" down a hill. His wheelchair caught on a root, sent him tumbling and, sure enough, he put out the leg that isn't there to catch himself. Thankfully, he is no worse for wear, but he said it is a weird sensation.

Seth reminded me of a cute story from our visit with President Obama. A black family--mom, dad and 4- or 5-year-old son--stood next to us as we waited to shake the President's hand. When President Obama approached the family, the mom said about her son, "Oh, you've got to shake his hand. He goes around the house all the time saying, 'I'm Pres. Obama! I'm the President! I'm going to be the next Barack Obama!'" The little boy got all embarrassed and turned to his mom and shouted, "I do not! I do not do that!" President Obama told the boy it was OK either way--and the rest of us had a good chuckle.

Seth's beautiful butt is getting even more beautiful--the last wound has finally closed over and healed.

Stories Untold Until Now
There are a couple of stories I just haven't been able to find a way to write about, but I thought it was time to try.

When Seth was in Kandahar, my sister called the LDS Church offices to  see if there was someone in Kandahar who could give Seth a blessing. Their Military Relations office got in touch with the branch president there. Branch President White and Brother Pearson went to the hospital several times on Saturday and again on Sunday to find Seth and give him a blessing. At first they were not allowed near him because he was just out of surgery. On a later visit, they were able to place their hands on his head and give him a blessing.  Seth remembers nothing about that week while he was sedated--except for receiving this blessing.

In the ICU, just a few days into all of this, a nurse came in and with some urgency in his voice said, "Does anybody here have power of attorney?" I said, "Yes, why?" He said, "The vascular surgeons need to talk to you." What could the vascular surgeons want so urgently but permission to amputate Seth's right leg? It was the closest I came to fainting through this whole ordeal. The nurse disappeared, and I didn't hear another thing about it. Later, when I asked what that had been about, I learned that the doctors just wanted permission to do an angiogram. There was a lot of concern about Seth's right leg from the vascular team that first week, but after that, we never saw them again.

When Seth was first coming out of sedation, he had lots of really horrible and scary hallucinations. At one point, he begged me to get him "out of here" because he thought the doctors were trying to kill him. I was impressed by how quickly he learned to trust us--he would say, "I'm seeing such and such. Is that real?" or "I thought this happened? Did it?" and we told him what was real and what wasn't. During a quiet moment, he said to me, "Is that Jesus?" I asked him where and he pointed to the corner of the room. I said, "I sure hope so." Later, when I asked him if he remembered this, he said, "No, but I'm glad I had one good hallucination among all the other garbage I was seeing."

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Veterans Day Surprises

Last night when Seth and I returned from dinner and errands, our building was swarming with black SUVs, police cars and Secret Service men. When we asked the people at the front desk what was going on, we learned that Vice President and Jill Biden were on the premises. Turns out they had brought a White House chef to cook dinner for the guys who are here without their families. What a great thing to do.

Today Seth got to miss appointments to go on a tour of the White House. We got on the buses around 10 a.m. and, after picking up some inpatients, we rode with a police escort to the White House. Pretty slick.

At the White House, we had a pretty typical tour, except that we got to see the President's dog Bo. The White House was also closed to other visitors, so our tour was fairly intimate.

At the end of the tour, we gathered for a group photograph. We were not allowed to bring our own cameras, so we were happy to at least have this opportunity for a memento. After the photos, we were told to remain in our places because a "bigwig" might be visiting. The photographer said, "When the person comes, he will stand there for a photograph."

So, about ten minutes later, "the person" arrived--President Obama joined us in the group photo and then shook everyone's hands and greeted us each individually. He was warm and gracious, and, I have to confess, I got a little teary. He is taller and thinner than I expected, and he has gotten so gray. Seth and I felt very honored to get to meet him. It was a special lead up to Veterans Day tomorrow.

Our only disappointment was that the President didn't give the guys coins, but we did get a box of special White House M&Ms.

We had the police escort on the way home as well. As the mom next to me said, "I could get used to this."

When we receive the photo, I will post it. Until then, you'll just have to take my word that we met the President.

Happy Veterans Day

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

A Capitol Time

 Seth's week with Ethan was a good one. The highlight was a private tour of the U.S. Capitol given by a friend of the Wounded Warriors whom we only know as Bert. They got to meet several members of the House of Representatives, including our own Representative Rob Bishop.

They were shown the private office of the Sergeant at Arms, in addition to several other places normally off limits to the public. Of the 60 photos they took, here are the best.
In the Press Room--once again, Seth speaks truth to power.

Other highlights of Ethan's visit:
  • lunch at Buffalo Wild Wings--two gentleman invited Seth and Ethan to their table, bought their lunch and shared the afternoon watching football.
  • grilled peanut butter sandwiches
  • uninterrupted watching of The Wire
  • Seth turned 20!
Thanks, Ethan!

My Time Home
The highlights of my time at home are too many to mention, but I want to thank those who made my welcome home so much fun. I was greeted by a lovely decorated house and 20+ friends who waited to surprise me. And thanks to Bob for arranging it all. It was just so nice to be in my house with my husband, my other son, and my dogs.

So When Does This Ever Happen?
My flight back to D.C. was scheduled for 8:30 Tuesday morning, with a two-hour layover in Atlanta arriving in D.C. at 6:00 p.m. We planned to get up a 6:00. At 5:30 a.m., the phone rang. It was Delta saying my flight was changed to 9:45 a.m. Another hour of sleep! Upon arrival at the gate, I was told I had been moved to a non-stop flight at 10:00, arriving in D.C. at 4:00 p.m. In addition to a non-stop flight and an earlier arrival, my new seat was by the window. Could it get better than this? Yes, no one sat next to me. And, to top it all off, my lunch was free because it was missing a slice of cheese!

On my flight in, I had a beautiful view of the area, which is just gorgeous this time of year. The first landmark I recognized was the hospital. I could even see our apartment window. Behind the hospital, the LDS temple glistened. I wondered if I could see the old Walter Reed and, sure enough, there it was. The three buildings made an intriguing triangle.

And I think Seth was glad to see me two hours earlier than expected.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Gettin' Spelled

Ethan arrived today. Hooray! He is going to be Seth's NMA while I come home to Utah for a very short breather.

After we went to a nice dinner in Bethesda, Ethan learned the fine points of pin care, wound care, ostomy and catheter care, medication monitoring and laundry. Oh, and the finer points of using Seth's iPad.

I have also charged him with taking some photos while he's here for the blog. Maybe he'll even write the blog.

Utah, here I come!

There's Something About Marys
Since we have been here we seem to have met an inordinate number of Marys:
Bryan's mom: Mary Jane
Tom's mom: Mary Ann
Tom's mother-in-law: Mary Ann
Ian's wife: Mary Beth
Michael's mom: Mary
Our tablemate at dinner last week: Mary Veronica
Someone who I can't remember's sister: Mary Elizabeth
Justin's mother-in-law: Maria Louisa (that's Mary in Spanish . . .)
Bob's new colleague: Mary Beth (OK, so we didn't meet her out here--but still!)

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Veterans' Legacy

We made it to the Friday night dinner at the National Press Club with the Wounded Warrior foundation. Chang and Thung accompanied us. Seth felt confident enough to leave his wheelchair at home. We rode with the group on the bus into town--it was a beautiful drive into D.C. We passed more colonial mansions than I can count and several embassies as well. It was nice to be able to relax and see the city.

Seth speaks truth to power
The dinner was a lovely affair, sponsored by the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW). It was also attended by a Colonel from the Canadian Army and his entourage. They came bearing gifts: a mug, a coaster of Canadian marble, maple leaf maple cookies and a new DVD about the War of 1812, the last time the U.S. and the Canadians were enemies. Seth also won a very nice door prize, which I won't reveal because we are not above re-gifting.

Jim Mayer, also known as the Milkshake Man, in his acknowledgment of the sponsors, new and special guests and other announcements, pointed out that most of the programs for the wounded warriors were created and are supported by Vietnam veterans who don't want any generation of vets to be forgotten. He encouraged this generation of vets to pass on the good work these Vietnam vets have begun. We have been very aware of the service provided to us by veterans--Vietnam and others, and we are very grateful that they have been able to turn their often horrific experiences into something good, powerful and lasting.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Takin' It to the Streets

Seth is still battling fatigue and pain. As he walks more, his right leg hurts more. The pain in his tailbone was decreasing, but has become pretty constant again. When we asked his doctor about that, she said that the nerves are regenerating and waking up and, therefore, it's going to hurt more before it hurts less. I really wish I had a copy of his pelvis X-ray to post--the two five-inch screws that are holding his pelvis to his spine are quite impressive--or, should I say, spectacular.

Seth with Thung and Chang
Because of pain and fatigue, he doesn't always make his appointments and such was the case on Tuesday. So when we went into Bethesda that evening for dinner, he wore his leg to do some make-up PT. Bethesda, like Silver Spring, has sidewalks of paving brick, so it has plenty of places to be tripped up, but he handled it like a pro.

After dinner, we went to the grocery store to purchase our Halloween pumpkins and ended up doing some other shopping, so Seth got more of a workout than we planned. Not a bad thing.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Odds and Ends

 . . . which are neither very odd nor anywhere near the end.

Timing is Everything
Every Friday night, the Aleethia Foundation sponsors a dinner for both inpatient and outpatient Wounded Warriors and their families. I have wanted to go ever since we first learned about them back at the old Walter Reed. Bob was here this week, so we thought it would be a good time to attend our first dinner. The last dinner was held at the Washington Golf and Country Club, so we our anticipation was high. However, our first Friday night dinner was held at Dave and Buster's, which is, as Seth put it, a Chuck E. Cheese for grown-ups. Not that we aren't grateful; we are. Bob was disappointed to learn that next week's dinner will be held at none other than the National Press Club.

Doing D.C.
We made it to downtown D.C. again this weekend--this time by car. It is a toss-up between fighting D.C. traffic and dealing with elevator outages on the Metro. We drove by the Jefferson, Lincoln and Washington monuments, and visited the National Gallery of Art.

This Week's Video Highlight

Bob and Seth put out the push-ups. I think they got to 35.

Random Funnies
Today at the cafeteria, I saw a dessert labeled "Black Florist Cake."

In true military fashion, elevators here are not elevators but vertical tranports.

We aren't allowed to have dogs; otherwise, we might understand the need for this sign above our toilets:

Friday, October 21, 2011


Yesterday was Seth's appointment with orthopedics to see about removing his Taylor-spatial frame. The news wasn't bad, but it was disappointing. He is healing well. Everything looks good. The fibula is completely healed (unfortunately, it only bears about 5 percent of one's weight). But it looks like it will be another three to four weeks before the leg is ready for the frame to be removed.

So, instead of removing it, they made some changes to it so that the leg will receive more of the benefits of being able to bear weight--since, interestingly, bearing weight helps heal bones.

The doctors also sent him home with a bone stimulator, an electronic device that he attaches to his leg for three hours at a time.

At one point in the discussion, the doctor commented, "Your pelvic injury was spectacular! I know it doesn't feel like it, but this injury pales in comparison." He reminded us that Seth's pelvis was not only an "open book fracture" where the pelvis opens up, but that it was also split up and down, separated from itself and the spine by inches. It was helpful to be reminded how far he has come.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Confessions of an NMA

Last Sunday started well. I was able to go to sacrament meeting at 8:30--an uplifting break. I returned to discover that I had left Seth's night catheter uncapped--so it had drained all over the floor.

Later I drove to some friends' to borrow their carpet cleaner. After a delightful meal and visit with them, I headed home--and took the exit on the right instead of the left to the George Washington Memorial Parkway. This mistake was intensified by the fact that it was dark, I couldn't find my glasses, and apparently "Parkway" here means "no exits until the next state." I called my friends and was able to make my way home, but not until I had driven all the way into D.C. (Being lost here is much different than being lost in Utah. The roads are very narrow, windy and surrounded by tall trees that cover signs and hide all landmarks--and dark is really dark.)

Safe at home, I began washing sheets and cleaning the carpet. Seth and I heard a funny banging in the washer, noted it and then did nothing about it--until Seth looked for his brand new cell phone, bought the day before. It was in his shorts that I had just thrown in washer.

(For inquiring minds, I did find my glasses the next day--in the car, between the driver's side seat and the door.)

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Settling In

Tuesday was a bad day for the hospital. The Warrior Clinic, where our first appointment was that day, was flooded and so they had to move into the emergency room. This is the second flood in the building since we've been here.

That evening, we ran some errands in Rockville and upon our return to the base, we were turned away at the gate with no word of explanation. Ambulances and firetrucks headed out the gates while news vans parked on the sidewalks outside. We conjured up some more errands and called Seth's nurse case manager to see if he knew anything about the situation. He didn't but said he would find out. We wondered if we would have to get a hotel for the evening. Thankfully, the case manager called back shortly to say it was OK to return. We later learned that a construction worker at the hospital found some radioactive material in a dumpster. Eleven people were evaluated; one person was decontaminated.

So in spite of floods and radioactive waste, we are settling into the routine pretty well. The in-processing continues, but we are down to needing only seven or eight more signatures.

Things of note this week by the numbers:
  • Seth got socket number three.
  • One of his two butt wounds is completely healed.
  • He is walking on one cane (though he's still only walking at PT).


Fond Farewell
Yesterday as Seth and I were headed to the hospital, we met up with the mom of another soldier who came into Ward 57 around the same time Seth did. She and I always exchanged updates on our boys and other pleasantries but had never had a real in-depth conversation. However, whenever I saw her, she always had a smile and something hopeful and positive to say. When she told me she was leaving in the morning (her son's wife and daughter are here with him), we hugged and then sobbed into each other's shoulder. At that moment, it became very apparent how important hopeful words and smiles can be.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

and another . . .

We have seen Tyler Southern, featured in the following article and video, almost every time we've been in the MATC (Military Athletic Training Center). The first time we saw him, he was running around the track. Every time we've seen him, he is smiling. There is nothing exaggerated about his cheerful nature in this video.

Tyler Southern

We learned today that President Obama visited the hospital yesterday--probably because it was a holiday, so the hospital was essentially closed. I don't know if those he visited were chosen beforehand or if he only visited the inpatients (or both), but we missed him. Seth was relieved; I was very disappointed.

President Obama's Visit

On a more mundane note, Seth went to pick up his new socket this afternoon, and it is already too big--or Seth's leg has already become too small. Because of complications associated with the merger of the Army and Navy medical facilities, there was no plaster available to re-cast him, much to the prosthetist's dismay. If there's plaster, he'll be re-cast tomorrow.

Random Weird Development
Seth has two bald spots on the back of his head from being flat on his back for those first few weeks. The hair is finally starting to grow back in--and it is black.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Another Story

The following story appeared in Sunday's Washington Post. While we don't know this soldier personally, we have seen him around and thought his story was worth sharing.

Dan's Story

There are several aspects of this story that are worth discussion, but the angle about the disconnect between the military/the war and the rest of our society is interesting. I have always liked the fact that we now have a volunteer military; however, as noted in the article, I didn't realize that this is part of the reason for the disconnect. In other times and wars where we had a draft, almost everyone knew someone; almost everyone had a friend or family member serving and therefore, everyone had a stake in the war. I wonder how things might be different if this were the case now.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Madness on the Metro

Friday was another beautiful day here in Bethesda and D.C., so we decided to go to the National Zoo with our friends Chang Lee and his fiance Thung Xiong. (Chang was in Seth's platoon; he has considerable damage to his left arm after being shot at point-blank range.) Because parking is so expensive, we opted for the Metro. After our successful experience on the Metro last week, we had no worries about negotiating it again.

When we arrived at our stop, Seth approached the ticket gate for handicapped folks, and a worker waved him away from entering because the elevator at that stop is broken. Really? We debated our options--get back on the train, go to the next stop and walk back to the zoo--or attempt the escalator. Seth opted for the escalator. These are no ordinary escalators--they are three to four stories long/high. We had not brought Seth's leg because it isn't comfortable to wear all the time and it's cumbersome to carry. So he stood on his right leg and held on to the moving railing. Chang was supporting him while I held the wheelchair when I realized that Chang only has one good arm. I gave the chair to Thung and went to hold on to Seth.

Getting off the escalator was terrifying. Seth had nothing but the moving handrail to grab onto, and he can't hop on his leg. Somehow we managed it. We got Seth back in his chair--just to discover another escalator in front of us. This one was very short, so Seth just stayed in his chair, and the three of us held him from behind. If the second elevator had been as long as the first, we never would have made it. If Chang and Thung had not been there, we never would have made it.

I truly wish I had been able to video all of this so I could post it and hope it embarrassed the Metro management enough to get their act together and fix their elevators. So we did not need to go to the zoo to see a mother grizzly . . .

We did make it to the zoo. It was a perfect day and we had a lovely time. Otters, pandas and the reptile house were probably the highlights.

On the way home, we walked to the next Metro stop to avoid the escalator issue. Grrrrr . . .

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Outpatient Ordeal

While we're thrilled that Seth is now an outpatient, outprocessing really is an ordeal. We have to obtain no fewer than 27 signatures to complete the outprocessing paperwork. Now Seth has to join formation and attend briefings once a week--in uniform if possible. Every day he has occupational and physical therapy appointments and then one to three others.

This morning Seth's first appointment was with the ortho docs. They X-rayed his pelvis and said it is done--it is all healed just as they hoped. They also X-rayed his right leg to determine whether it's ready to have the Taylor spatial frame removed. The news was mixed there. It looks very good--on track for the frame to be removed as early as possible (the time for breaks such as Seth's is anywhere from three to six months), but as early as possible still means they will do a CAT scan two to three weeks from now and then, if it is deemed ready, removal will take place over the course of a month. So, in short, he's still got quite a bit of time to be lugging this thing around.

After ortho, he had an appointment with Physical Medicine and Rehab (PMR) where he was fitted for his custom wheelchair. He had to make more decisions than I had to when I bought my car. Who knew? The new chair, in addition to being built to fit his body, will be sleeker, lighter and faster than his current chair.

After lunch, he met with the prosthetist to be cast for a new socket. This will happen several more times over the next few months as his leg continues to shrink and change shape.

Then he had his regular physical therapy appointment. We got back to the apartment at 1600 hrs (I'm starting to get this military time thing), and we were both exhausted.

Walking is not what it's cracked up to be. He's only been walking 15 to 30 minutes a day, and these last three evenings, his right leg has swelled up considerably (looking strangely like a sequoia), and the pin sites have become very painful. We're told this is normal, which is comforting, but his leg still hurts and this is discouraging. He was told early on that his amputated leg could very well be his good leg for a while--and that is turning out to be the case.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Dreaming in Prosthetics

One of Seth's friends told us yesterday that he had a dream about being back in Afghanistan. He was wearing his prosthetic and trying to get through the muddy grape fields. The physical therapist said he's heard that dreaming about being in the prosthetic means you're well on the way to acceptance. Seth said, "I haven't even dreamed of myself without my leg yet. What does that mean?" Time will tell, I suppose.

October 1 marked the three-month anniversary of Seth's injury. We honored it in a profound way: we negotiated the Metro (thanks to Brett who knew his way around), made our way into D.C. and visited the Smithsonian Museum of American History.

The Metro was an experience. Finding the elevators was a trick; they are the smallest and slowest elevators I have ever seen and, according to other guys here, at many stations, they don't even work. Thankfully, they all worked where we were. The station was not busy on our way out, but on the way back, the trains were packed, and nobody made any concessions for a guy in a wheelchair. I guess we'd better get used to that.

At the museum, we visited the Price of Freedom: Americans at War exhibit--appropriately, I suppose. When we went through the Civil War part, there was a display of prosthetics of the day. Seth wished he had his leg with him, and then, he said, he would have just sat there as part of the exhibit, showing the modern-day advancements.

Other "advancements" of the week: He had his first shower. This would have happened much sooner, but his hospital room shower did not have hot water. Thankfully, the apartment does. Also, on our outing, Seth wore his only pair of pants, specially sewn by Sew Much Comfort to accommodate the Taylor-spatial frame on his right leg. (We affectionately call them "Hammer pants").

Finally, Seth's dad returned home today after faithfully doing the night shift for the last month and a half.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Ode to NMAs

As of Thursday, Seth was officially an outpatient. That means I am officially his non-medical assistant or NMA. While I don't think I ever took his nurses, LPNs, CNAs or housekeepers for granted, I am appreciating them even more. Even though Seth is getting very independent, he still requires care--everything from monitoring his medications to dressing wounds to making sure he can go up or down a hill in his wheelchair. People with wounds also require clean sheets--every day. So a big shout out to all the people who have been taking care of Seth so well for so long.

NMAs are mostly mothers and wives, but many girlfriends, sisters, brothers, fathers and friends fulfill the role as well. I am moved by their faithfulness to a job they never asked for. Many of these women are not only caring for their wounded warrior but for babies and young children--some pushing strollers and wheelchairs; some are pregnant (remember Seth's friend Griffin whose wife delivered their first baby two months after Griff's injury?). I've seen NMAs of all ages--from the 18-year-old sister/girlfriend/wife to the 60+-year-old  mom.

As I get to know some of them (it's difficult because our schedules rarely allow for more than a "hello" in passing), I am realizing how blessed--and simple--my life is. One mom had to fly home to be with her father before he didn't recognize her any more and before he moved to a nursing home; another had to go home to kick an errant ex out of her home. Others are leaving their other children at home--missing their child's first day of kindergarten or first high school prom, not to mention their spouse.  Others have given up jobs to be here; others have lost jobs (the FMLA does not apply to all employers). NMAs are given a per diem, so what could be a real financial burden for many is eased. I am so blessed that WSU has been so generous in supporting my being here. We are also blessed to have had the support of our family, so we don't have to worry about things at home, and we're grateful for those family members who have made it out here to be with us.

Being an NMA is difficult physically (I have already mentioned some of the difficulties negotiating a wheelchair) but  probably more so emotionally. The wounded warrior is a grown man who has often commanded others and carried out difficult missions who now is, at least for a time, completely dependent on someone else. These are guys who are used to taking charge and now are the charges of someone else. It is rough to negotiate this whole process, and I marvel at what I see around me.

Belated Thanks
Last month, the Foothill, Taylor Canyon and Malan's Peak wards of the LDS church gathered for Seth and Soldiers night. They put together 40 care packages for Seth's platoon who remains in Afghanistan, 80 school kits for children in Afghanistan (through Operation Education) and several quilts for the George E. Wahlen Veteran Nursing Home. Seth has recently received several thank-yous for the care packages from his platoon members through Facebook. We say thank you as well.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

No Pain, No Gain

Seth has walked four days now. I am amazed at the progress in that short of time. I am also amazed at how quickly a body can deteriorate and how much work it is to build it back up again. Because of the movement, his right leg is hurting quite a bit--most likely because of the nine pins in it. The muscles are moving around the pins, which they haven't had to do before, and it can't feel good. All nine pins are not visible here, but you get the idea. (The 70 some odd staples used to attach his skin graft are also visible.)

One gnarly acupuncture dude

Speaking of pain, Seth has been given many options for dealing with it, including acupuncture.

Tomorrow (Thursday, Sept 29) is the target date for going outpatient. A whole new adventure awaits us. Seth is looking forward to it--except for giving up his comfy hospital bed.

We don't know Seth's lowest weight since arriving on July 8, but the first time he was weighed, he was all of 110 pounds. As of this week, he is up to 125. (His weight before the injuries was 140-145 pounds.) All that forcing himself to eat is paying off.

Since pictures and videos say more than words, here's one more. Seth walking with no hands:

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Bumps and Humps

There were other milestones this week, though difficult to compare with walking on the new prosthetic. On Thursday, Seth got his PICC line out--the "permanent" intravenous lines that allowed him to get his blood taken, and receive antibiotics in hefty doses and anesthesia without having to get poked every time. The next step will be to stop his daily injection of Lovenox, a blood thinner.

Saturday we made another foray into the big world. We went to a movie and dinner in Silver Spring. It felt like going home to me since that's where I lived for almost two months. It was fun to show Seth my old "stomping grounds."

The world from a wheelchair is a whole new place. Every bump and hump in the road or sidewalk takes on new meaning--especially for Seth whose sacral and butt wounds are still a source of pain. Silver Spring has trendily done its sidewalks in paving stones--aesthetically pleasing but hard on Seth. I discovered that the wheelchair is very heavy, and it was a trick for me to lift it into the back of the car. It is also tricky to finagle parking (we don't have a handicapped placard yet). I will never begrudge a handicapped parking spot again as long as I live. But we figured it out and got to the theater just in time.

We went to the movie Contagion, something we don't recommend after spending almost three months in a hospital. (Just this week, a room two doors down from Seth's was completely tented out into the hall to contain some kind of infection.) We also don't recommend seeing this movie in an Imax theater. But we were still able to enjoy our dinner at a Thai restaurant without trouble afterward.

Finally, thanks to Charlie, you get to hear from Seth instead of me: Charlie's most recent column.  I will add my thanks to Seth's. Every card, every package, every phone call--whether we get to answer it or not, means so much.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Gentlemen, We Can Rebuild Him;

 we have the technology.

The big day arrived. Seth got his first prosthetic and took his first steps.

Look, ma! No hands!
Getting it the right length

Seth took naturally to walking--what a funny thing to say, right? It's a process to reteach the brain to know where the foot is in space, but it can be done. The remaining leg feels the vibrations move up the prosthetic and the brain learns to interpret them.

When Seth was done walking, Greg took the prosthetic to the leg room [there's a joke in there somewhere, but I'll be darned if I can find it] where it will be kept for a week or so for use only at PT. Seth will have to complete certain tests before he can be sent off with his leg on his own.

The excitement of the day was tempered by tedium--I mean, I was ready to walk right out of there and come home, but it takes several months for the leg to shrink to a somewhat stable size, so this prosthetic and its socket are temporary. Seth will go through several sockets and legs before he's ready to leave. It also takes several months to master different skills of using a prosthetic--skills from walking on deep shag carpet to running, from climbing stairs to hiking mountains. There are also different legs for different activities. According to Greg, most guys leave with five or six legs (or pairs of legs, as the case may be).

Greg marveled once again at how quickly Seth is up and walking, indicating he has many guys who don't walk for four to six months. We marveled as well, remembering the surgeons' bleak assessment that first week in the ICU.

A bit of bad news came from the urology folks. The soft tissue damage in Seth's insides was extensive, and the bladder and its accompanying parts will take months to heal and for nerves to regenerate and reawaken. But the urologists also reminded us that there is no reason why things won't heal and function again.

I am grateful for the prayers of those who love us and the perspiration of the experts we work with every day.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

One Small Step . . .

Monday was a big day. Seth was cleared to put weight on his right leg, so he got to sort of walk for the first time. Here he is with his physical therapist Greg. I love this photo because it looks like Greg is up in Seth's face, when all he is doing is providing some extra support.

getting his liner

The prothetist gave him his liner--a silicone cover for his left leg--to replace his shrinker. It is what molds and prepares his leg for a socket for the prosthesis.

getting cast
Today he was cast for his prosthesis and should have it on Thursday. (I will refrain from mentioning that if we were at the old Walter Reed, he would have had it this afternoon or tomorrow . . .)  It seems when the changes come, they come quickly. He also got a wicked-looking pair of shoes. For some reason, this was an especially exciting development for me.

I love it when Seth's physical therapist uses the word "Remarkable," and he's used it a lot lately. It is remarkable that Seth got his pelvic ex-fix off at 10 or 11 week rather than 12 to 20. It is remarkable that he was cleared to put weight on his leg two weeks earlier than anticipated, and it is remarkable that, so far, he has not felt pain in his shin or pelvis.

Seth's spirits continue to ebb and flow, but the trend is definitely forward and upward.

More Seth Humor
A few weeks ago, one of the nurses referred to Seth's leg as a chicken leg. When he balked, she said she meant it as a compliment. Seth responded, "Before my injury, my legs were like sequoias."
Yesterday when the prosthetist asked Greg what size liner to get for Seth, Greg replied, "Something between a chicken leg and a sequoia . . . ."

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Wild Weekend

Well, it's all relative, isn't it? Our wild weekend meant we spent Saturday night at our apartment--the place we'll move into when Seth becomes an outpatient. Our outpatient apartment is in Building 62 (the military is so creative with its building titles . . .), which is a new facility built exclusively for wounded warriors. It is new, beautiful and bigger than it should be--meaning, I wish we didn't need to house so many of these guys.

Seth missed his hospital bed, but he did OK getting himself in and out of bed and around the place in his wheelchair. We took an exploratory walk across the installation and saw several white-tailed deer. We watched the BYU-Utah game (using "game" generously). Today we mostly lounged around and headed back to the hospital this evening. Seth couldn't wait to get back to his comfy bed; I dreaded returning.

Seth's plethora of prescriptions
The most intimidating thing about our foray into our future outpatient life was all the medications, including his blood thinner, which is given by injection. Three syringes were in our bag of prescriptions--no one showed us how to give an injection and neither of us was about to try, so he missed today's injection.

eating our first meal in our new place

We both had quite a bit of anxiety about being on our own, but it went well and made me look forward to next weekend. There is a chance Seth will be fully outpatient by then.

the view from our window

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Swing of the Pendulum

Seth in Bill and Sally's "Blue Moon"
I'm not going to lie. Yesterday was a terrible, rotten, no-good day--until it wasn't. Let's just say that a bunch of emotionally stressed and fragile people, by late afternoon, pulled their wits about them and went out for dinner at a fancy restaurant--Seth's first trip in a car and off the hospital grounds.

Seth, Brett, Grandpa and Grandma Newman

We went to Morton's Steakhouse in the Bethesda Hyatt Regency Hotel, which was as upscale a restaurant as I've ever been in. I joked with Seth about the irony that he'd been a bit self-conscious about venturing forth with all his "oddities" (namely, the Taylor spatial frame, the still-beef jerky looking skin graft and the fact he has no clothes to wear other than gym shorts and T-shirts), and here he brought us to a restaurant where we would probably feel self-conscious without any additional oddities!

We were joined by Grandma and Grandpa Newman, their last evening before they head home, and, not pictured, my cousin Rick and his wife, Anne (heretofore known as the bringers of fresh peaches).

I guess all's well that ends well?