Sunday, July 31, 2011

Thanks, Charlie

Today I thought of a friend who, when she was undergoing fertility treatments, looked in wonder at pregnant women. She knew intimately all that had to be in place for a successful fertilization to take place and decided it is amazing that anyone gets pregnant at all.

As Seth's "plumbing" slowly comes back "online," I have had similar thoughts. We all go about our daily lives without having to give much thought to our digestion, etc. etc., and yet it really is a delicate balance that, once thrown off, is difficult to bring back in line.

Highlights today were a visit from cousins who came bearing all sorts of healthful treats and, in just a bit of a contrast, a visit from some Hooters girls (not sure of the proper group term--a gaggle? herd? flock? Ah, a parliament is the group term for owls--maybe that works here). Who knew? Funny, Mom didn't get a photo to put on the blog . . .

Also, today, Charlie Trentleman had another moving column . I will make only one additional suggestion: please give blood. I don't have an exact number, but I can safely say Seth has received over 40 units.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

S-E-T-H, Gooooooo, Seth!

The Dilberian Cheerleader

This video really needs no further commentary--except to say, if someone knows how I can re-orient it, please let me know. (It was filmed on my Olympus digital camera, so pretty low-tech).

Bryan and Seth were surprised today by a visit from their fellow platoon member Garrick Zornes. Garrick was in Seth's squad, so he was on patrol with Seth when the IED went off. He told the guys some details they didn't know, and it was pretty rough for them to hear. Garrick is on leave and came up from North Carolina specifically to see Bryan and Seth. Thanks, Garrick.

The only other thing of note is that Seth received two units of blood today because his hematocrit and hemoglobin levels were so low. We hope this will give him a bit more energy. When you see how much drainage is going into the wound VACs and consider Seth has had eight surgeries since we've been here, it's not surprising he needed blood.

Random Event:
  • Unbeknownst to each other, Jerrica and I cut our hair.


I knew Friday was going to be a better day when I entered Seth's room, and he greeted me with a smile and said, "I slept really well, Mom."

 And so it was a good day. Seth received goodies and cozy blankets from friends and, the highlight, Jerrica arrived.
 Seth got up in the chair again today. This time I stayed in the room while they moved him. It was quite the production, requiring four nurses. But the chair and the therapy went well today, and Seth came back tired but not in pain.
When I commented to Ethan about what a production moving Seth is, he replied, "But not as big a production as The Music Man." True. (Seth received the DVD of the Mathew Broderick version of The Music Man from some visitors yesterday and, well, let's just say he wasn't as excited as I was.)

And finally, as part of our documenting Seth's progress, a close-up of the pins in Seth's hand (and his comfy blanket).

What a difference a day makes.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Vicious Circles

Not a good day--and Seth didn't even have surgery.

Seth has a large, open wound on his backside; therefore, it is difficult for him to be comfortable sitting up. But he has to sit up so he won't get pneumonia, and he has to sit up to eat. His doctor's orders now are asking that he get up in to the cardiac chair twice a day. This entails a painful move from the bed and back, and, of course, sitting up. Today when he got back from his "trip," not only did the nurses have to move him, they had to move him twice because they discovered his sheets had soaked through from his wound. They decided this would be a good time to bathe him, another very arduous ordeal of sitting up.

By the time I could come in the room, he was besides himself with pain and exhaustion. The pain came under control quickly, but I could not convince him to nap because he was worried about not being able to sleep tonight. He didn't sleep well last night, which contributed to the difficulty of the day.

Seth is also under what we might think as enviable orders to eat as much as he possibly can. However, this is a heavy burden because he has no appetite and sitting up to eat is so painful. Almost every doctor who has come in in the last two or three days has nagged him to eat more, which then causes him stress and anxiety, which then makes it difficult to sleep. A vicious circle indeed.

As Seth was recovering from this ordeal, we were notified that the new Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, was coming to visit patients. Seth had no interest, but I decided I should take the opportunity even though I was in no state to meet anybody. Secretary Panetta was gracious, as most people who are in these kinds of positions are. I told him I wanted to ask two things of him: first, that the troops get ballistic underwear and second, that he make sure these guys don't suffer in vain. Ethan and I were photographed and one of his entourage took our names. He gave me a coin to give to Seth.

The bright spots of the day were the physical therapist's work on Seth's foot helped it to start looking like a foot instead of a blown up rubber glove, having Ethan here, and hearing from Charlie Trentleman that his call for donations to operationward57 had brought in $3700. Wow.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


This evening, Seth's brother Ethan arrived. As we walked past the nurses' station, one said, "Are you Seth's brother? You look like twins!" Ethan gets to do the night shift for the next week. Thanks, Eth!

Today's surgery was almost six hours long. I don't know yet if they were able to get all the skin grafts done today, but the news I have so far is good:

  • the urologists said he is healing so well that they were able to take out some stitches
  • his stomach wound is closed
  • he is down to two wound vacs
  • the wrap around his right foot was removed so we can begin physical therapy
  • he came out of surgery so smoothly, it was amazing

Also today, the ceremony inaugurating the closing of Walter Reed and the move to Bethesda took place. There was lots of pomp and circumstance and, to top off the event, the Doobie Brothers in concert. Our nurses had never heard of them, if you can imagine such a thing. I didn't get to go, unfortunately.

After the anxiety of waiting through another surgery, the feeling I am left with is gratitude. I am grateful for countless things right now but mostly for Seth's remarkable healing.

I am also thankful for Charlie's continued advocacy on behalf of our soldiers. Here's today's column: Trentleman's Column  Seth has already been a beneficiary of the groups he mentions.

Random Recommendations:
  • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
  • My Grandfather's Blessing by Rachel Naomi Remen (thank you to the friend who gave this to me before I left. I am so enthralled with it, I have been tempted to just retype several chapters as my blog posts)


For whatever reason, our mail service has been spotty. I'm hoping that this revised address may solve the problem:
PFC Seth Pack
c/o Walter Reed Medical Center
6900 Georgia Ave NW
Washington DC 20307-5000
ATTN: DON--WD 57    

(Seth went in to surgery this morning at 7:40. It is now 11:40. I will never say waiting is hell again, but it is still no fun.)

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

And the Truth . . .

Shall Make Me Cry All Over Again.

Today Seth felt up to reading the blog. After a few minutes, he turned to me and said, "You know you got this part of the story wrong now, don't you?" I asked him to explain because I obviously didn't know. He said that Private Waters was killed in another blast--the one that injured his friend Bryan Dilberian. Seth said, "I was the one with the metal detector, and I was the one who stepped on the detonator."

I'm not sure how these details change anything, but it made me cry all over again. Perhaps it was hearing them from Seth's mouth; perhaps it was now visualizing what was true rather than what was assumed. Whatever it  was, it was hard--and Seth asked me if I wanted to hold his hand. Yes, yes, I did.

People talk about things like this as an emotional roller coaster. I'm sure that will be true at some point, but right now it seems more like an emotional Scrambler--the ride at Lagoon where you hold on as tight as you can but still get thrown against the outside of the car on the outside of each rotation. Your only hope is that someone bigger than you is sitting on the outside of the car.

Seth out and about
The good news of the day is that Seth got out of his room for something other than surgery. The PTs came and put him in a cardiac chair and took us to the athletic training center where we saw some very amazing people doing some very amazing things.

Tomorrow is another surgery. Besides the usual cleaning and closing of wounds, they will begin the skin grafts. If all goes perfectly, they may be able to get all the grafting done in this one surgery. That is my current prayer because this is a very painful process.

Monday, July 25, 2011

External Fixators

This the external fixator on Seth's right leg between his knee and his foot. He has another fixator--with only two bars--on his pelvis. The external fixators allow the surgeons to make adjustments to the setting of the bones and are much more secure than simple casting. Because of the pelvic fixator, Seth is able to move; without it, not so much.

I am thinking about the external fixators metaphorically at the moment--thinking how Seth--and I--can't heal on our own, how we need external fixators of friends, family, nurses, doctors, and on and on to provide the stability and course for our healing.

Today we had a visit from a friend from Ogden. She brought goodies for Seth, as advised by her 3-year-old son (an Elmo smoothie, for example) and some goodies including a hand massage me, but what I appreciated most was her time. She simply sat with us for several hours while the hospital routine waxed and waned around us. She has probably never been compared to an external fixator before, but today, to me, that's exactly what she was.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Boys, Blankets and Walking Sticks . . .

Blanket #1
When we first got here, I wrote about the beautiful quilt that was waiting for us. I showed it to Seth early on but he didn't remember it, so I showed it to him again. He said, "I can see why it makes you cry. It's beautiful. In fact, I'm not sure why I'm not crying because it really touches me."
I wish you could see the actual quilting, which consists of flags, stars and eagles. 
Thank you to Lesli and Joy of the Tidewater Quilters Guild in Virginia Beach, Virginia.

Blanket #2
When we got to Ward 57, we learned that there is a non-profit organization dedicated to serving the guys in this ward. Their reps brought us T-shirts and this magnificent blanket.

The Gift of a Walking Stick
Yesterday, two men came by with a hand-carved walking stick. Unfortunately, I have forgotten their names and their organization, but they have 28 carvers around the country who take the information about the soldier and create a personalized walking stick for him. I wish I had thought to get a close-up of the one they brought to show us.

Seth and Chang Lee, July 23, 2011

and Boys Finally, many of you have been wanting to see Seth. Yesterday, another highlight was a visit from Chang Lee, a member of Seth's platoon, who was injured while Seth was on leave. Chang was shot in the arm. It caused considerable damage to his bicep, and there is nerve damage.

Other updates: Seth got a shave today and surgery for tomorrow has been postponed until Wednesday. Even though we know postponement doesn't mean any fewer surgeries, it is still welcome to have more than one day between surgeries.

Random Realization:
  •  It occurred to me that for many, hospitals are depressing places, and they may avoid visiting because of this. For us,Walter Reed has become our home. We find comfort here because we're not alone; we find hope in the lives of others around us who have been or are going through what we are going through--or more. We are grateful to all those who put aside their fears and become part of the hope and healing process.

Friday, July 22, 2011

And Then There Were Three . . .

The good news:

  • surgery went well--only three hours long today
  • one wound VAC was removed
  • Seth ate a chicken finger (so far, he's only eaten yogurt, soup and hot cereal)
The bad news:
  • Seth didn't like the chicken finger
  • A cherry Icee didn't taste as good after surgery as Seth imagined it would before surgery
He says he might be up for a photograph tomorrow

Random Observation:
  • most of Seth's surgeons look like they're 12

Thursday, July 21, 2011

I Love Technology . . .

or in praise of the humble wound VAC (vacuum assisted closure).

One of Seth's four VACs

A wound VAC is an amazing device. Seth has one attached to each wound (except his hand): one on each leg, one on his belly and one on his sacrum. The suction of the VAC is simultaneously sucking out the drainage from the wound and closing the wound. These little beasts hum along without complaint and must go with Seth wherever he goes. If it were not for the wound VACS, Seth would be subjected to countless painful dressing changes--each change entailing exposure to infection. Because of the size and number of Seth's wounds, this process would be excruciating not only for him but for his nurses as well. Therefore, I am very thankful for their dutiful humming presence.  (For a detailed description of the wound VAC's function, you can check out  Wound VACs)

Tomorrow Seth is first on the schedule for surgery. Nothing big this time--mostly just wound cleaning and checking to see if anything needs revision. Next Wednesday, he begins skin grafts to cover his right leg wounds. The PT described the process in detail, which made me cry all over again. To subject his body to such a painful process when it has already endured so much was more than I could bear today.

But every day also holds good news: today Seth's feeding tube was removed. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A Typical Day

Seth's surgery has been postponed until Friday--really quite amazing after the intensity of last week and the early predictions of the surgeons. He is eating now--not quite enough calories yet for the feeding tube to be removed, but he's getting there.

Today was very busy. Here are some highlights:

  • visit from the trauma team
  • visit from the infectious disease team
  • visit from the Battle Buddy blood follow-up team*
  • visit from the chaplain
  • visit from the psychologist
  • visit from the hand surgeon
  • work with the physical therapist
  • work with the occupational therapist
  • arrival of his custom temporary wheelchair
  • arrival of his new bed and transfer to the new bed
  • arrival of a trapeze for above his bed
  • placement of a PICC line (peripherally inserted central catheter) in his right arm
  • removal of his hand bandages; replaced with a plastic splint
It takes a village to rebuild a soldier.

Today Seth was pondering his options when he is fully recovered. When I told him he had the choice to remain in the Army, he said, "What can I do in the Army with only one leg?" I told him, "You will have two legs. One will just be different than the other."

*When Seth was injured, he received so much blood that he may not even have his own blood type currently running through his veins. He received several more transfusions between Kandahar and Walter Reed. He also received what is called Battle-Buddy blood, which is used when the regular blood supply is exhausted. Soldiers on site are asked to donate. This blood is screened, but not to FDA standards. Therefore, this team is assigned to follow up with all soldiers who receive it to make sure that there are no infectious diseases, etc. According to the woman we talked to, over 2000 soldiers since 2001 have received BBB, have been tested and tracked, and no one has had a problem--but they continue their vigilance. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

2nd Shift

Bob left Saturday; my sister Margaret arrived today to stay for a week. Brett continues to spend the night with Seth. Seth and I feel grateful for all this support.

The good news is no surgery tomorrow. It is good for two reasons: it gives Seth a surgery breather, and it means he is doing well enough that they can bump him for other cases. The bad news is there are lots of other casualties coming in.

Seth's bed faces a mirror, and today he said, "You're right--I do look like a concentration camp victim." I assured him he is a very handsome concentration camp victim.

Charlie Trentleman wrote a great column today, so I'll close with that. I will only add that I think along with death and casualty statistics, newspapers should print the number of limbs lost. It would be staggering.

Charlie's Column

Monday, July 18, 2011

I've Been Down So Gosh Darn Low . . .

that this feels like up to me.

I posted this lyric from a Doors' song on my FB page a while back because I thought it was funny. I didn't realize that it would describe my feelings exactly at some point.

Seth was scheduled for surgery at 8:30 this morning but didn't go in until 1:45 p.m. I told him it was good news that he is no longer a priority case. The waiting was painful--he started fantasizing about Big Gulps, wedding punch, lime rickeys and smoothies. The surgery lasted five hours.

People have expressed surprise and asked, "Another surgery?" Let me explain. Each surgery, Seth has up to five teams working on him: the vascular, orthopedic, hand, general surgery, and urology teams. Because of the extensiveness of his wounds, he will be in surgery MWF for the next few weeks. Each time, each team continues to repair things, revise the external fixators on his leg and pelvis, and clean and close the wounds. Today they put pins in his hand as well.

The day ended on a high note: Seth ate a chocolate milkshake with banana slices--his first real food!

Random Fact:

  • Ogden made it into USAToday's crossword puzzle today.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Finally, a Day of Rest

Seth has not slept for any extended period of time since he got here—and probably since the injury. Today he slept deeply and soundly for several hours at a time. Now, if we can just get him to be able to eat. Another surgery is scheduled for tomorrow.

This process is not unlike having a new baby, but instead of having a perfect new little body to nurture and care for, we have a broken body. A baby must be fed, bathed, held and talked to, and parents can usually do these things themselves. Seth requires all of this, but it requires teams of experts and specialists in a dozen fields. We again cheered at his first smile and laughed at his first words; we rejoice when we finally are able to make him comfortable and watch over him when he’s asleep. Our purpose is, once again, to make him independent of us.

Random Inspirational Story:
My shuttle driver tonight is from Liberia. He, his mom and seven siblings escaped a brutal civil war there 20 years ago and made it to the US ten years ago. As a young teen, he had to care for his siblings while his mother arranged to bring the rest of them over. Now they all have attended or are attending college. Once a year, they get together to remind themselves to make the most of the opportunities available to them in this “great nation.” I told him he looks as if he’s doing well; he replied, “I’m trying. It’s difficult, but I want to make a positive outcome from my struggles.” Don’t we all. It is my greatest prayer for Seth and our family.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Van Gogh

It's the weekend and Seth has no surgery until Monday, so there is, thankfully, very little to report.

The good news:
  • Seth was able to sleep without bad dreams today (nighttime is a different story)
  • His swelling is gone
The bad news:
  • Now he looks like this

My good news:
  •  my appetite is back
 My bad news: 
  • my appetite is back

We continue to feel buoyed up by the prayers, thoughts, calls, e-mails and packages being sent our way.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Movin' On Up

Today Seth moved from the 4th floor SICU to the 5th floor Orthopedic Ward. It is a beautiful place, with least three separate gardens. It feels like we are in a different world--well, for me, since Seth won't be out and about to see the gardens for a while.

His surgery today was a record--only three hours! The surgeons continue to clean and close wounds, and they were very happy to report that one wound was healing "surprisingly well" and would not require tissue from another place on Seth's body. Any time I hear a surgeon use the word "surprisingly," I hear prayers being answered.

Our lives changed two weeks ago today. When I started this blog, Seth was far away. Now he is close and aware, so I worried what he would think about it since he is generally a private person. When I told him about it yesterday, he said, "Cool." Now that we are together, I will try to keep it more about him than about me.

Random Reflections:

  • Please and thank you truly are magic words.
  • Writer Anne Lamott says the two best prayers are "Help me, help me, help me," and "Thank you, thank you, thank you." She's right.

Peace Like a River

Thursday was a better day. Another visit from Brian was the highlight. Seth was very jealous of Brian's "wheels."
Seth and Brian Dilberian saying "Cheers" with their anesthetic buttons.

Seth also got to meet Tom and Eleanor--they brought more cookies and hugs.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Hope is a Thing with Feathers

After 10 hours of surgery on Wednesday, all the surgeons' reports have been positive. A layman's rundown:

  • left leg amputation covered and closed
  • right leg fixator adjusted and more wound closing done
  • Integra laid on the right leg where future skin grafts will be placed
  • left hand reset to help preserve mobility
  • the pelvis stabilized by putting a screw in the sacroiliac
  • a bar and external fixator placed on the pelvis so Seth can move safely now
  • the source of his nausea discovered and dealt with
The documentation of Seth's surgeries will fill two phone books or more by the time we are done. I can't begin to include all the details we are presented with and which the surgeons graciously and kindly explain. 

On Tuesday, we were able to talk Seth into using the PCA (patient controlled analgesic) or "the button." Yesterday morning, I was encouraging him to push the button, and he said, "What is this called again?"  
I said, "A PCA."
"And what does that stand for?" 
I said, "Patient-controlled analgesic." 
He responded, "That's right--NOT mom-controlled."

Random factoid:
  • In Finland, fines for driving infractions are based on one's income. Brilliant.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Boots on the Ground

Tuesday was a long and difficult day. In trying to transition Seth out of the Surgical ICU, the doctors changed his anesthetic. This caused his scary hallucinations to increase and his appetite to be replaced with nausea. He was in a lot of pain, and it was very difficult to get him comfortable. He couldn't tolerate juice any more, which was a great disappointment to him.

By afternoon, they changed the anesthesia, which helped the hallucinations but not the nausea. He was still seeing things but was coherent and calm enough to ask if what he was seeing was real. I told him to trust me, the nurses and the doctors--and he is trying. It is difficult because there are so many nurses and doctors--Seth has often referred to the place as a "freakin' zoo."

The highlight of the day was a visit from his buddy Brian Dilberian who was in Seth's platoon and was injured the same day as Seth. Brian lost both legs and an arm. I met his mom on Monday, and she said Brian had been asking about Seth ever since he came out of sedation. When Brian came by, Seth was feeling good enough to visit. They made us leave the room, so they could swap stories and details that  they don't want moms to hear. Thanks, Brian.

A highlight for me was a visit from Tom and Eleanor Porter (I hope I remembered that). Tom is a double amputee from the Korean War, and he and his wife visit the amputees at Walter Reed every Tuesday and Thursday. Tom is tall and handsome, and it is not easily apparent that he is walking on two prostheses. They brought cookies from the ladies in their congregation and offered to put Seth and me on the prayer roll of their  Lutheran congregation. Seth was not up to meeting them at the time, but I told them I looked forward to seeing them on Thursday. They are the "boots on the ground" answer to prayers.

Today, Wednesday, Seth is surgery again most of the day. The surgery today is perhaps more serious than any of the previous surgeries--they are going to try to screw his pelvis to his spine, which involves, of course, negotiating all kinds of nerves. If all goes well with that aspect, he will wear the external fixator they put in for six months.The surgeons will also be doing all the other usual things: wash out the wounds, try to close wounds, stretch skin and muscle to cover wounds, cut away any infected or diseased tissue, revise the external fixator on his leg and the list goes on.

The surgeons give us very detailed reports of what they will be doing, and Seth now understands it all. He was very anxious last night. To help him take his mind off things, I read him all the letters I brought from home--except for a few that he thought he ought to read himself when he is able. Thank you for those.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Just Livin' the Life . . .

It is Monday morning, and Seth is in the OR. They have 10 hours slotted for him, but hope that it will only take eight hours. Brett spent the night with him again, and said Seth was able to sleep on and off.

Seth was starting to be "Seth" more and more yesterday. We worked all day to get him to understand he is in Washington D.C. at Walter Reed. Early in the day when I was prompting him to say "Walter Reed Medical Center," he said, "It's going to take me a month to be able to say that!" When his nurse went off shift at 7:00 p.m., he asked Seth one more time where he was, and Seth replied, barely audible, "Walter Reed." We all cheered.

I asked Seth if he remembered telling me that he was thinking about becoming an English teacher--he nodded, so I told him I had brought a copy of The Grapes of Wrath since any self-respecting English teacher needs to have read that, and he said, "Thanks, I love you."

The highlight of the day was late in the afternoon. He mumbled, "What do I have to do to get some juice?" I was able to round up another juice box, and after his first couple sips, he closed his eyes, smiled and said, "Me and my juice box--just livin' the life . . ."

Please know that we read and appreciate all your e-mails and calls. We have spotty cell phone coverage in the hospital and no wireless capability except for one computer in the waiting room, which won't allow us to access Facebook, so that is why we are limited in our ability to respond. When he's ready, I will begin reading all your notes to Seth. Yesterday I brought the pack of letters from home to read to him, but he wasn't ready. I look forward to when he is. Please also know that your prayers are being felt, and small miracles are happening every day.

Random, Random Reflection:

  • I would rather see children watch five hours a day of 1960s and '70s TV than five minutes of Cartoon Network.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Day of Rest: Sunday, July 10, 2011

The good news:

  • Seth was finally removed from the ventilator late Saturday evening and brought out of sedation
  • after his six-hour surgery, the surgeon was amazed to find that Seth's rectum etc. is completely intact--which bodes well for removing the colostomy when he is otherwise healed--and is miraculous
The rest of the story: 
Seth had a difficult time coming out of sedation. He was disoriented which made him agitated and upset. He reminded us that he is in the Army with some of his language. We had just listened to the surgeon's detailed report of all Seth's injuries, so I was already emotionally drained and feeling physically sick. Brett, Seth's dad, arrived in the evening, so he stayed up all night with Seth while we went back to the hotel for some rest.  I was very grateful.

This morning, he was doing much better--still disoriented but not agitated. He is difficult to understand, which is frustrating for both of us. He now says "please," "thank you" and "I love you" and tries to joke--with only the occasional slip into Army vernacular. I feel best when I can so something for him--whether it is suction his mouth, feed him ice chips or put a sponge to his lips to suck on. He was very jealous of my orange juice bottle (even though it only had water in it), so we talked the nurse into bringing us an apple juice. He took three sips and then asked, "Mom, do you think I'm overhydrating?"

The nurse gave him a morphine pump, so he could control his own medication with the push of a button. He wouldn't push the button because he thought it would blow something up. The nurse kindly put him back on the IV. He is sleeping now for the first time since coming out of sedation.

I saw young man in the cafeteria today who had lost his right leg. I thanked him for his service and told him about Seth. He told me Seth would be OK and agreed to visit Seth in coming days. I was heartened and dismayed--he has been at Walter Reed for a year.

Random reflections:
  • I hate TVs in waiting rooms
  • It is difficult to know how to hold on to hope and prepare for the worst at the same time.
  • Last night, even with Ambien, sleep did not come until these words came to my mind: "Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee."
  • Other people are how the Lord works to sustain us.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

No Words

We got to Walter Reed at about 1 a.m. EDT and were able to see Seth. Nothing, nothing in the world can prepare a mom to see her son's broken body--bandaged, stapled and hooked up to innumerable IVs and a ventilator.

The kind but candid doctor laid it out for us.

  • he will have his wounds washed out every other day
  • he will have dozens of surgeries
  • his right leg has extensive soft tissue damage and a complicated fracture, meaning it's not a given yet that he'll keep it
  • he will require many skin grafts
  • there is a bacteria in Afghani soil that he is being give antibiotics for
  • his colostomy may very well be permanent because of the extensive damage to his lower torso
  • hid pelvic fracture will require lots of pain management
What he has going for him:
  • his upper respiratory and cardiovascular system are fine
  • there is no apparent head injury
  • he has blood flow to his right foot and to his damaged left hand
  • he has his hands and all his fingers
  • he is extremely strong
  • he is an American soldier--the doctor's words, not mine
Right now, it is the kindnesses of friends and strangers that are sustaining us. In Seth's room, there is a beautiful quilt, sown for him by someone we do not know. I have not yet opened the envelope that is addressed to "An American Warrior"--I am waiting until I can share it with Seth, but I held on to that envelope and Bob for dear life as we listened to the litany of Seth's physical liabilities and assets.

Please don't be afraid to call. We will have hours and hours of waiting. If you have the means and the wherewithal, please consider visiting. Seth has a long, long road ahead of him (also the doctor's words) and the more people we have around us, the stronger we'll be.

You may write or send packages to 
Walter Reed Medical Center
attn: Seth Pack
6900 Georgia Avenue NW
Washington D.C. 20307

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Almost in the Air

Our only update today was this morning. Seth had just come out of the ER for another washing of his wounds. He is still sedated, intubated and stable. They still hope to get him on a flight tomorrow--one week after the accident (is an intentionally set IED an accident?).

Thanks to a kind friend who has access to the Air-Evac folks, we learned just now that Seth is on the manifest to leave Germany tomorrow at 5:15 a.m. MDT and will arrive at Andersen AFB at 2:15 p.m. MDT. We are so happy for that news--and to our friend for digging around for us.
C-17--possibly what Seth is flying on

Random Reflections:
  • I have often thought of writing a blog, but, as any good English teacher knows, one must identify her purpose and her audience before embarking on any writing project; I have never been able to pin either down. Now that I have a specific purpose and an "identified" audience, I still find it difficult to know what to include and what not to include. Is this my blog? Seth's? Do I share my personal struggles, realizations and miracles, or Seth's--which, right now, are impossible to know. Is my purpose to simply inform, document or perhaps inspire?
  • In addition to Seth's healing, I pray that he knows how many people love and care about him and that those who are serving Bob and me are doing it only because they cannot serve Seth personally.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

No News is Good News . . .

but it's hell waiting around for a phone call.

We got updated this morning at 7:00 and then not again until this evening at 9:45 p.m. There are no changes; he is stable, but they did not take him off the ventilator as they had hoped. I hope tomorrow we will know when he will be flying out.

Random reflection: a friend and I talked today about how we must not say "only one leg" to Seth. He did not go through the 16 hours of thinking he had lost two, so it will be losing a leg for him, and he will have to grieve and mourn its loss.

Your phone calls and visits means so much. Thank you for the cards and letters to take to Seth. They will mean so much to him.
Seth's platoon on patrol in the grape fields of Arghandab Valley

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

No More Secondhand News

This morning we received confirmation that Seth is in Germany--hooray! Additionally, I got to speak directly to Seth's doctor. I was concerned about our latest update wherein we were informed that Seth had a colostomy--my only experience with colostomies is that they are permanent. The doctor said that colostomies are a common part of treatment for wounds as extensive as Seth's and that the colon will be "reconnected" once Seth has sufficient healing. I also learned that the brace or rod in his right leg are actually external fixators that will be removed when he gets to Walter Reed. The doctor hopes to have Seth off the ventilator tomorrow; on Thursday they will wash his wounds again, and Friday they hope to send him on to Walter Reed Hospital in Washington D.C. and that is where we will get to be with him.

We received a newsletter from Seth's battalion with the following information about the soldier who was killed on the same day but in a different explosion than Seth's.
PFC James A. Waters, 21, of Cloverdale, Ind., died July 1 at Kandahar province, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when insurgents attacked his unit using an improvised explosive device. He was assigned to 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, Fort Drum, NY.
As I have mourned for myself, I have thought of the Waters family and know that they would trade me places in an instant ,and I grieve for their loss.

 Many people have asked what they could do. Well, here is something--especially for friends of Seth. I would love to take a stack of cards and letters to him when we go. If you could write a note to him, there is time to mail it to me or drop it by our house. Address it to
Seth Pack
1550 27th St
Ogden UT 84403

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Fourth of July

This is a very different 4th of July for us. To honor it, I have posted this video of Seth at his basic training graduation where he was the outstanding graduate and, because of that, led two companies in the Soldier's Creed.

Our update came at 9:30 this morning--Seth is still in Afghanistan, and he had just come out of OR for another washing of his wounds and a rod or brace was put on or in his right leg and pelvis. (It is not always clear what is happening because our liaisons are not medical people and some know how to interpret a medical report and some don't.) We are waiting, waiting to hear if he was stable enough to go out on the midnight flight to Germany. I will make a second post today if we hear.

Some random reflections:
  • It's OK for people who barely know me or who have just met me to give me hugs. I have appreciated and needed every hug I have received.
  • I wish I could respond to all your comments and e-mails, but just because I can't does not mean they are not appreciated. I read and appreciate every one. We also appreciate every phone call we receive and every person who shows up on our doorstep. Waiting and feeling helpless is much easier with people around.
  • Last week in my yoga class, our teacher told us to look at our feet and say thank you to them for all they do for us every day. I did, and I have been grateful that for at least that week, I did not take my feet for granted--and I never will again. I ran a 10K this morning and every step of the way, I thanked the Lord for my feet, my legs, my healthy body that functions as it should, and I wished with all my heart I could switch places with Seth.
*7:00 p.m. update: He is in the air to Germany!*

Sunday, July 3, 2011


This morning we received our update at 10:20. Seth was taken off the flight to Germany and sent back to the OR to be re-intubated (sp) because he was having trouble breathing on his own. Not what we wanted to hear. So we will have more days of simply waiting until we can get on that airplane to join him.

Some other updates. On Friday, we were led to believe that Seth was the only soldier injured in the explosion; however, we learned later that one other soldier was killed. It is difficult and troubling to feel so much grief for that family and so much relief that Seth is alive all at the same time.

People have asked me why we got wrong information to begin with. While I do not know, I will speculate. I know that the when something like this happens, the Army has to get the information to the families as soon as possible before they put the unit on a communications shut-down. This is for security reasons but also so the family doesn't learn about their soldier via another soldier's Facebook post, for example. My guess is that the med-evac or triage doctors apprised the situation early on to pass on to Fort Drum, and they probably want to give a worst-case scenario rather than a best-case to prevent having to pass on bad news, rather than good news, later on.

People have also asked if I know what happened. I can only speculate on that as well. I know that it was a buried IED and that Seth and his squad were on foot patrol. Often on these patrols the lead guy has a metal detector. Seth would most likely be right behind him because he is the machine-gunner for the squad. My guess is that the first guy took the brunt of the explosion with Seth close behind him.

I know that today there are hundreds of people fasting and praying for Seth. Thank you all.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Day 2

This morning the liaison called about 8:00 to tell us that Seth had just come out of his second surgery and was stable and getting reading to fly to Germany in the morning (Saturday night for us since they are approximately 11 hours ahead of us). The doctors did an angiogram to see if there were any blood clots--and there were not. They redressed the hand, put a loose dressing over the amputation and washed the wound from his buttock to the amputation, which they will leave open. They had no more news about when we would get to see him or where, but I am guessing we will leave Monday or Tuesday.

It was a quiet day; I didn't want to leave the house in case I missed a phone call. We were happy to share the good news with the many friends who stopped by and called. I felt so happy and hopeful--such a contrast to yesterday.

It's been a long day. I really just want to be on an airplane.

In the evening, Jerrica came over so we could write thank-you notes. I needed something to do, so this was a good, useful thing to do. Then we got a big shock and surprise--the phone rang and it was Seth! He was all drugged up and sounded funny, I'm sure because he had been entubated. He asked me if I knew what happened and I didn't want to tell him in case he hadn't been told everything, so I asked him to tell me. He said, "I don't want you to freak out." I told him I wouldn't and he said, "My pelvis is broken, my right leg is broken and I lost my left foot." Of course, this brought back the tears that I thought I had run out of. He said, "I'm going to be OK. It's going to be OK." The nurse was there, listening and prompting him when necessary. He told me we would probably see him at Walter Reed and then said, "I don't even know where that is." It was so wonderful to hear him and so terrible at the same time. I didn't like talking to him all drugged up. I wondered if he would remember what they had told him or that he had talked to me. I didn't want him to act like he was OK just for me. I told him I wish he could see and know about all the people who care about him, are praying for him and who love him and because they can't serve him, they are serving us.

Our fridge is full of food, and we have been touched by everyone who has appeared at the front door or called to show their love to us.

It Begins: July 2, 2011

Yesterday at 7 a.m., the phone rang. Jarom saw the caller ID said "Fort Drum Army" and brought the phone to me. When I saw the caller ID, I thought, "This can't be good" and, indeed, it wasn't. Lt. Jindrich of Fort Drum told me that Seth had been in an accident with a buried IED while on foot patrol. He said that Seth had lost one leg at the knee and the other below the knee. He said other people would be calling me with updates and gave me his number. Sobbing, I got dressed and went out to the kitchen to tell Jarom. I was surprised when Jarom responded with relief, even gladness--until I realized that for the previous five minutes or so, he had thought Seth was dead. This relief at learning he was alive allowed him to be cheerful the rest of the day.

I received another phone call from my case worker who said someone from her office would call me every eight hours with updates, but I could call them any time I needed to. She offered to read me the entire report of Seth's injuries, but I wasn't ready to hear it, so I declined. She confirmed that I already knew the worst of it. A few minutes later, I received another phone call from the Army Travel dept asking if I had a current passport and other such questions in case they needed to send us to Germany to meet Seth.

I put Bob to work calling my family and soon my parents and my sister Margaret were there. Margaret called the requisite ward leaders and a few other people I asked her to inform. Bob worked on canceling my trip to Guatemala--I was supposed to leave July 10--and seeing if WSU and the airlines would refund my money. WSU was very generous; the airline was able to give me a credit but not a refund.

We sat around the table and talked and cried and talked and cried some more. My brother, Taylor, came as did other friends--some with food others with just hugs, but all came to "mourn with those who mourn." Several men from the neighborhood and ward showed up and started hauling away the dirt leftover from Bob's resodding lawn project.

Finally at around 4:00 p.m. we got another call from our liaison. I asked her to read me the full medical report, but it was written in technical medical terms, so she couldn't read and I couldn't understand all of it. She did say "a traumatic amputation below the left knee" but only mentioned something about the tibia and a puncture in the knee in the right leg. I thought, "Well, I'll find out the extent of his injuries soon enough," but then I thought, "No, I need to know as much as I can so I can begin to get my head around this," so I called the liaison back and asked if she could e-mail me the report. She couldn't, so I asked if I could have her read it aloud to a doctor. She said she could, so I called our neighbor Greg Gochnour, but he was out of town. His wife came by and when we told her what we needed, she was able to get a hold of my doctor Steve Scharmann. He came by about 10:30 p.m. and we called the liaison. When Steve got off the phone, he said that the tibia of Seth's right leg was fractured, he had a puncture in the right knee but the vasculature was all OK. I said, "So he's got his right leg?" "Yes."  It felt like Christmas.

We also found out that his left hand has damage to the soft tissue and one finger is fractured. His pelvis is fractured and was pinned on both sides. His personals are OK. It was all good news, but it was 11:00 p.m. so we couldn't call everyone we knew would want to know, so we called just family--and some neighbors whose lights we could see were still on. Ethan and my new daughter-in-law Jerrica sent me to bed while they cleaned up the kitchen and made popcorn for Jarom and his date who were watching a movie.Can I just say I love having a daughter-in-law?

I did not mention all the people who came by, who brought food, who came and just sat with us because it would make this entry even longer than it already is, but there were many and to them we are so grateful.