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?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Farewell to the Fixator

The removal of the pelvic external fixator was successful. Yay!!! Seth's surgery this morning was his quickest yet (about an hour), and he didn't require any extra pain medication throughout the day. He slept until about 4:00 p.m. and woke up hungry for wings, hungry enough to eat 14!

Let the rehab begin . . . Honestly, something I haven't mentioned is that his occupational and physical therapists started working with him in the SICU, if you can imagine that. The people who work with the wounded warriors are as amazing as the wounded warriors.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Ex the Ex

Tomorrow, Tuesday Sept 13, is a big day. Seth is scheduled for surgery to revise or remove the external fixator on his pelvis--the goal is removal. The surgeons will remove the screws and then--here's the icky part--stress his pelvis to see if it opens. If it's solid, he's good. If it moves, they put the screws back in. If the ex-fix comes off, he can begin therapy on his right leg. Here's hoping all the protein drinks he's been dutifully drinking have paid off--not to mention the many, many prayers on his behalf.

Here's a shout-out to Harper, Seth's cousin's baby, who is also having a critical surgery tomorrow. We are hoping  and praying for miracles on her behalf as well.

Sunday, September 11, 2011


I have no profound words to share on this the 10-year anniversary of 9-11, but I can share some events of Seth's day, which are profound testament to goodness.

We were well served today. The Marine Mothers of Bethesda and the Rotary Club sponsored lunch for all the wounded warriors and their families--it was quite a lunch, and there was enough to feed the staff, too!

In addition to lunch, they brought two massage therapists who offered chair massages to caregivers. Seth's grandpa and I were very grateful for the gentle touch--kind of a professional hug.

Which is more goofy looking?
After lunch, some college-aged kids asked if they could visit with Seth. He invited them in, and they presented him with an iPad. Talk about a morale booster. A few minutes later, the founder of iPads for Soldiers came in and told us about their organization  He informed us that the young people who presented the iPad to Seth had also raised money for the project.

Later, one of many chaplains here came by with the president of the National Bible Association with a military Bible for Seth. I wish I could say it made the same impression as the iPad, but we were grateful for their visit, kind words and convictions.

Last, the LDS missionaries came by and had a devotional with us, which I appreciated since I haven't been to church in over two months.

So, that was our 9-11. We were the recipients of the kindnesses of many, many people--some we've met; most we never will. This gives me great hope and great peace that good will prevail over evil--and that those who lost their lives on that day and since that day did not die in vain.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Miracles in the MATC

Every weekday, Seth visits the Military Athletic Training Center (MATC) for physical and occupational therapy.We see miracles every visit--guys with every imaginable combination of amputations walking, running, lifting weights, etc. On Wednesday, we saw Bryan try out his new legs. Most guys start with short legs to help learn balance. Not Bryan. He got the 6-foot legs right off the bat.

We also got to see our "boots on the ground"--Tom and El who used to bring cookies, hugs and friendship every Tuesday and Thursday at the old Walter Reed Medical Center. The new WRNMMC is a little stringent in vetting volunteers, so Tom and El haven't been able to visit the wards, but they found that they can show up in the MATC without a problem. Tom lost both legs in 1952 in the Korean War. El was his physical therapist--and the rest is history.

Another small miracle happened today after Seth's appointment in the MATC. The wound care nurse Leslie came to dress his wounds. As we visited with her, she told us that her brother is a double amputee who was injured two years ago today. He had internal injuries very similar to Seth's. She told Seth how they all resolved--in one way or another--and that he now skis almost full time for the para-Olympic cross-country team. I think it did Seth good to hear about the similarities in their injuries; I know it did me good.

It is still a fight. We learned yesterday that some issues that we thought would be resolved in a few weeks will probably take months. Seth is again receiving huge doses of antibiotics to fight off nasty infections that are common in Afghanistan vets and hospital patients in general.

Grandma and Grandpa Newman arrived today; aunt Linda leaves tomorrow. We are so grateful for familiar faces!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Slim Jims and Sergeant Majors

Seth's skin grafts have all taken, so they are no longer bandaged. When Bryan Dilberian saw him at PT, he said, "Pack, I hate to say it, but your leg looks like a Slim Jim." We couldn't argue; it's true.

Yesterday was a quiet Labor Day made significant by a visit from Command Sergeant Major Cook who is on leave from Afghanistan. His Cavalry division works side by side with the 10th Mountain Division 1/32 Infantry of which Seth was a part. He came to greet the injured soldiers from both divisions.

He wanted to let Seth and me know how proud we should all be of him. Seth acted bravely, putting mission before self and putting himself in the path of the enemy. CSM Cook recounted the successes of both divisions and statistics about these two divisions taking much of the brunt of the fighting. Their main goal is to prevent the Taliban from having access to and control of a main road through Afghanistan. Whoever controls the road controls the economy of the country. According to Sergeant Major, Seth's and his units have done well pushing the enemy back and keeping the road secure.

Sergeant Major was nervous to visit the soldiers and wondered how their families would react to him. Well, this mom, for one, was very grateful to hear a rough and tumble Army guy praise my son and his bravery. The Sergeant Major also said IEDs are a chicken*** way to fight and that so-called "suicide vests" should instead be called "murder vests." He gave us insight and information that we won't get elsewhere, and it heartened me.

Many people since we've been here have called Seth brave, and, at least once, he questioned whether this is true. I told him that just putting on a uniform is brave; it identifies him as a target and makes him accountable for his every action. This enemy doesn't haven't the guts to wear a uniform and has been known to hide behind women and children. Seth went out on patrol knowing full well he may find an IED or come across the enemy face to face. I don't know what is not brave about that.

And now when he drags his metal-encased leg out of bed into the wheelchair to go to PT when he knows it will hurt and push him to his limit, he is being brave all over again.

Random Revelation
Vanity does not die in the face of tragedy. Five people (including the sergeant major) have thought I was Seth's girlfriend or wife. I can't say how Seth felt about that, but it made me feel pretty darn good.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Too Soon September

A long week before a long weekend. Seth did five days straight of PT--a first. Yesterday he graduated to a manual wheelchair. Seems funny to upgrade to a manual, but it means he's got the use of both arms and hand, and is strong enough to push himself around. It's also a way to get some much needed exercise.

Here he is with his aunt Linda (my oldest sister) who came on Tuesday.

Seth received his walking stick--and I still didn't get the guys' names. In fact, they came while I was out of the room, and these photos were sent to me by Seth's nurse Lt. Robinson from her cell phone (hence the graininess . . .) Thanks to Marian Lansing who carved this beautiful walking stick.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Mail Call and New Address

We finally made it to the post office here after two phone calls from Seth's squad leader that he had mail waiting. There were several cards and a small package--all sent somewhere between July 8 and July 22. Not sure what happened there. And the food in the package was spoiled--we were so sad!

So here is our new and improved address that we hope you will make use of!
PFC Seth Pack
Warrior Transition Batallion
Box #30077
8901 Wisconsin Avenue
Bethesda MD 20889-5600