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.