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.