Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Fourteen on the Fourth

Worth watching:  Wounded Warriors at 9/11 Memorial

Although Bryan Dilberian and Adam Keyes are the only warriors in this group that Seth and I know personally, we watched many of these guys recuperate from a distance. I remember a couple of double amputees wheeling themselves around on carts on their bellies--because their amputations were high and because of their wounds, they were not able to even sit in a wheelchair. It is wonderful to see them just sitting up. Adam had been inpatient over a year when Seth arrived in Ward 57. I am so grateful to see how far they have come.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Jon Stewart Taunts Disabled People

Sunday, June 24 was a wonderful day. Seth participated in the Achilles Foundation 10th Annual Hope and Possibility Race in New York City. Thanks to frequent flyer miles and hotel points accrued from our trips and stays in D.C. this past year, I was able to go to New York to join him. I got there Thursday afternoon, he got there Friday afternoon, and we finally together on race day.

Seth at the starting line
He rode a bus up from D.C. with several other wounded warriors on Friday and they attended a Yankees came that evening. On Saturday, his group went on a harbor boat tour, rode in a speed boat, visited the 9/11 Memorial and probably one more thing that I can't remember now. I was busy seeing the city with my friend Sally Evans.

On Sunday morning, we met Seth at the starting line with his sponsors Sue and Adrian who made up Team Seth. Sue came from Michigan where her husband works for GM, the sponsor of the wounded warrior Freedom Team. Adrian's brother was injured in Iraq in 2006 and is now married to one of the organizers of the event, so she has been an Achilles volunteer for several years.
Team Seth

I wasn't sure if I would be able to walk with Seth, but I was and I did--along with Sally. Seth joked about us being his stalkers, and I told him the curse of his life was that his stalkers were all women over 40.

at the finish line
We all walked the entire five miles (OK, Sally and I took one shortcut, but only so we could get ahead to take pictures) and had a difficult time keeping up with Seth--he had a very fast pace. A friend from high school who lives in New York came to cheer us on with three of her kids, and that meant a lot. As we walked, we saw people who were blind, people in wheelchairs--powered and pushed, people with cerebral palsy, people with Down's syndrome and, of course, people with various numbers and types of prosthetic limbs. Some people ran, others walked, some rode bikes or handbikes, others propelled wheelchairs. All participants had volunteers to accompany them every step of the way. It was all very inspiring.
Team Seth
with stalker Sally Evans

We walked the perimeter road of Central Park, which was surprisingly hilly. It was a beautiful day--in the 80s, a respite from the previous days' temperatures in the high 90s.

Also in attendance was comedian Jon Stewart. He joined the Freedom Team and walked with some of the wounded warriors. Before the race, the race emcee called him to the stand to say a few words. Mr. Stewart told how he had walked the race the previous year and it had inspired him to train for it this year, so, he said, "I'm going to kick all of your a****!"

As Seth and I stood waiting for the race to start (the standing and waiting was more difficult for him than the walking), he said, "I can just see the headline in tomorrow's newspaper: 'Jon Stewart Taunts Disabled People.'" I didn't see it in the New York Times and consider it a definite oversight, so I thought it had better be used as a headline somewhere, so I used it here.

Jon Stewart with the Freedom Team
At the end of the race, Mr. Stewart hung around with the guys, so I asked Seth if he wanted his picture taken with him, knowing he wouldn't. I said, "What if he wants his picture taken with you?" That would be all right, but, Seth said, "He wouldn't because I'm only a single, below-knee amputee." We noted that, yes, the more severely injured often do get more attention than others. Seth reflected, "The ones I really feel sorry for are the guys with TBI (traumatic brain injury)" because that is not visible. I told him that I bet many of them are probably relieved not to have the attention, but certainly others notice and wonder.

It was time to go much too soon. Seth headed off on his bus to a lunch and then back to Bethesda, and Sally and I headed back to our hotel and then home. It was a quick trip but so worth it. Thanks to the Achilles Foundation for such a wonderful event.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Oh, Say Can You See . . .

. . . Seth on the big screen?

Thanks to Barbara Talbot, I learned that she and her husband, Bob, took Seth and Chang to a Washington Nationals game Saturday, May 19. Bob and Barbara are volunteers with the Yellow Ribbon Fund. I have not met Barbara, but I met Bob. He hangs out in the lobby at building 62 to meet wounded warriors, find out their needs and interests, and then find a way to mentor them and/or provide access to the things they are interested in--such as tickets to Nationals' games.

Barbara sent me these photos via her iPhone. My reaction was odd--I sat at the computer and cried. It's been so nice to be home, but so difficult to be away from Seth and from first-hand knowledge of what is happening with his therapy and rehab. But I think I was mostly grateful to see him having a good time and to know that there are people like Bob and Barbara in the world.

I must also express my sincere appreciation to the Yellow Ribbon Fund. It is an absolutely amazing non-profit set up for the wounded warriors and their families. They provide airfare and lodging for family members of wounded warriors, getaways for NMAs, parties and other entertainment, and the list goes on and on. Perhaps the most amazing thing about the Yellow Ribbon Fund is the people. They work one on one and face to face with warriors and families. They know us on a personal basis. I cannot say enough about this non-profit and its volunteers.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Fluff and Mumbo Jumbo

Charlie Trentelman let me have his column space for one last article about Seth and me. Here it is.

Mother's Day Article

Since this link is not necessarily permanent, I am posting the content of my essay:

Author Elizabeth Stone said, “Making the decision to have a child - it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body. ” My son and heart were blown up by an IED in Afghanistan July 1, 2011, and I spent the last 10 months by his side as he recovered. Charlie and others have said that I deserve the Mother of the Year award for thisI don’t agreeI did what any mother would do, what many mothers have done, are still doing and will continue to do. When I left Walter Reed in April, I left other moms and wives who had already been there a year, some two, with no end in sight. Their dedication is amazing and, for some, came at great expense. 

Though I don’t have any way of knowing, I imagine that for every mom who was thrilled that her child joined the military, there was a mom who was not. I was one of the latter. I thought that joining the military was for “other people’s kids.” Seth had a scholarship to Utah State—what business did he have joining the military? What an arrogant view. For whose children did I think it was their business? 

In Geraldine Brooks’ book March, Margaret March must go to Washington D.C. to tend to her husband, wounded in the Civil War. Her thoughts echo some of my earlier thoughts: “It was folly to let him go. Unfair of him to ask it of me. And yet one is not permitted to say such a thing; it is just one more in the long list of things that woman must not say. A sacrifice such as his is called noble by the world. But the world will not help me put back together what the war has broken apart . . . I am not alone in this. I only let him do to me what men have ever done to women: march off to empty glory and hollow acclaim and leave us behind to pick up the pieces. The . . . ruined bodies of the boys we bore . . .” 

Most of the time I am not bitter like Mrs. March. Thankfully, the world is helping us put back together what the war has broken. I think volunteering to fight for a cause that you believe in is noble. While I grieve for our wounded children, there are worse fates than this. While I long for peace, it is not enough to be anti-war; we must be wise enough to determine what is worth fighting for and what is not. My greatest hope now is that Seth and his comrades sacrifices will not be in vain, that the powers that be will ensure that some good comes from the terrible losses endured. And, because it is Mother’s Day, I will hope that the mothers of Afghanistan and their daughters have better lives because of the sacrifices of our children. 

And that is my point. These soldiers are our children—not other people’s kids. 

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

What Happens Next

Seth and I came home to Utah on April 16. Seth got to hang out with friends and family, go camping, hit a bucket of balls, and eat at Soul and Bones and Bombay Grill. He took care of our dying dog Rio while Bob and I took a little vacation. Both Seth and Rio were still alive when we returned.

Seth returned on his own to Bethesda on Sunday, April 29.

So what's next? Now that his NMA is gone, Seth should be moved out of building 62 and into the single soldier barracks. We're hoping that he "flies under the radar" for a while and gets to stay in bldg 62 a little longer.

A prosthetic leg for running
He still has a lot of rehab to do. One next step is getting his running leg. To do so requires a bone density scan, which he has done but for which we don't know the results. It will also require his therapist's OK. Our friend Tom has a new "hybrid" leg that can be used to run but also can take a shoe. This seems like a great innovation. We'll see what Seth decides to get.

People ask us how much longer he will be there. We don't know. He still has probably a good six months of physical therapy and rehabilitation, but he also has to go through the Medical Evaluation Board process, which we hear can take a year. This process will determine his disability rating; his disability rating determines what his benefits will be for the rest of his life, so it's taken very seriously. It also requires working through military bureaucracy and, where Seth is, there are quite of few people going through the process, so it just takes time.

On the bright side, there are many opportunities available to wounded warriors there that would not be available elsewhere. Warriors, if they choose, can intern at any government agency, go to college online or on the hospital campus, participate in numerous sports camps and activities including training for the Paralympics, and take part in almost innumerable adventures provided by non-profits and individuals.

I will post updates once in a while, but that will require information from Seth and, when it comes down to it, he's a pretty private guy. Any attention he has received is because his mom wanted it for him, not because he wanted it.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Emancipation Day

Seth and new PT Kyla
If you're wondering why your federal income taxes aren't due until Tuesday, the 17th, it's because today is D.C. Emancipation Day--a holiday to celebrate slave emancipation that began in 1862 and was celebrated until 1901 and was revived in 2002.

It seems a fitting name for the day for Seth and I are leaving the D.C. area--me for good and Seth for two weeks of convalescent leave.

It is with mixed feelings that I leave. It is beautiful here right now--in the 60s and 70s with azaleas in bloom everywhere. It would be easier to leave, I'm sure, in January or July.

We have had a busy week of appointments and activities. Seth hopes to get his running leg when he returns, so he had to have a bone density scan. He continues with daily PT and other niggling appointments like getting his immunizations up to date. On Friday night, I attended my last Friday night dinner; this one was held at the American Enterprise Institute, and it was lovely. It was on the 12th and top floor of their office building downtown, so the view was as impressive as the food and the company. That night, Seth and Chang went to hear Tim Fite at the U Street Music Hall, so we all got to do something we enjoyed before we headed out.

On Saturday, I did my last D.C. thing--attended the Cherry Blossom Parade downtown with friends. It was a perfect day to sit outside and watch bands, balloons, baton twirlers, and overly botoxed celebrities (yes, I'm talking about you, Marie Osmond).

The rest of the day was spent cleaning and packing. In the evening we went to dinner with my cousins whom it has been a delight to get to know better since being here. Sunday we ended with dinner at the Evans', and it warm enough to eat outside. As we visited around the table, 7-year-old Zoe observed that we all have something broken--her elbow, which she had hurt earlier in the week; Chang's arm; Seth's leg; Sylvia's eyes (I had two black eyes once from a car accident); Billy's head because of frequent migraines; and Sally's back. I was moved by her early realization that we all have "stuff."

Fluff and Mumbo Jumbo
In a post not too long ago, I mentioned some things I saw that moved me to tears--in a good way. There are also plenty of things that just make me want to throw up (sorry, I couldn't think of another way to say it). On Tuesday and Fridays, the wounded are brought from Andrew AFB to WRNMMC in a big ambulance, specially equipped to that each warrior has a full team of ICU nurses and doctors and so that they do not feel one bump or jolt on the ride over. I have not seen it very often, but when I do I want to barf. I don't want anyone else to go through what we have and are going through. I want it to stop.

Going to the MATC is usually an inspiring experience as I see guys overcoming great odds to walk again, but once in a while, I just don't want to see any more. A couple of times a week, we see a new guy come in for his first PT in the MATC. We know he's new because he's in a power chair, he still has wound VACs attached and is followed by an IV tower and usually one or two parents looking shell-shocked. Sometimes the shell-shocked look turns hopeful as they see what the guys around them are accomplishing.

Last week I took some unopened medical supplies back up to the inpatient ward. I did not expect returning there to make me sick to my stomach--but it did. It gave me new appreciation for all those who visit the inpatients on the ward and all those who come back to the ward to visit newcomers.

On Leaving
Things I will not miss
  • the traffic
  • the wind
  • the cost of groceries
  • having to show my ID at the gate
Things I will miss
  • the Metro
  • the azaleas
  • free meals at the cafeteria
  • all the great restaurants
  • free museums
  • not having to get in my car to go to the gym, post office, Red Box, McDonald's and the convenience store
  • the washer and dryer off the kitchen
  • Turkey Hill brand Double Dunk ice cream
  • the trail system (it is AMAZING!!!)
  • many, many people
  • Seth
With a few exceptions, I have refrained from naming people who have served us in the blog. I have reserved naming names for the non-profits. I did this because I figured people weren't serving us to get their name posted on the blog and because I would probably forget someone. But I want to thank you all--and you know who you are: those who wrote letters and cards, sent packages, called, brought a meal or goodies, visited from far or near, brought games, gave hugs, lent a guitar, taught a spiritual lesson, gave a blessing, picked us up at the airport, e-mailed, texted, walked dogs, rescued dogs, donated to non-profits that serve wounded warriors, wrote about us and raised awareness, ate at Bombay Grill, and more. Thank you.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Shredding the Tomato

Instructor Anne Goldberg and Seth
Seth returned late Sunday night from his five-day adventure. He was so worn out that he didn't really talk to me until Tuesday. Even then, I had to piece together the trip from overheard conversations and what others told me. Even though the snow was crappy because it was in the 60s every day and his socket hurt him, the consensus was that he had a great time and impressed everyone with his mad snowboarding skills. He said he wasn't quite ready for black diamond runs, but he conquered the blue runs. One of the WRNMMC staff who is also a snowboarder said he smoked her. This must be true because he brought home a certificate indicating he won the "Shredding the Tomato" award. For the uninitiated like me, this is a reference to Shaun White, snowboarding gold medalist, who is known as the Flying Tomato and for his capacity to slice up the slopes. (If Seth had his shoulder-length hair of yesteryear, he would look just like Shaun White.)

Seth shreds it up

I asked Seth to tell me something funny about the trip. He said, "Well, there were eight of us guys, and there were only four legs among us." On the bright side, they had 15 arms out of a possible 16.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Good Comings and Goings

A big week for us. The best thing was a visit from Ethan and Jerrica, Seth's brother and sister-in-law. (We did not get a Christmas letter out this year for obvious reasons, but if we had, the big event in our lives was Ethan and Jerrica's wedding on June 22). They arrived on Friday afternoon, just in time to see the cherry blossoms on the Tidal Basin at their peak. It was truly the best possible day to see them because it had rained every day previously, but that day, the weather was warm and the sky was blue. Back in Bethesda, we overheard a pedestrian refer to us and our Kia Rio as an "f-ing clown car" and so it was dubbed.

On Saturday, we drove in the clown car to Baltimore to the National Aquarium, which we enjoyed immensely, but it was a lot of walking for Seth. But he was glad he walked since we could tell the aquarium could not be easily enjoyed in a wheelchair. The kids are fans of the TV series The Wire, so we drove around Baltimore to see if we could find any Wire sights. In our traveling, we saw Johns Hopkins Hospital. I have complained about the size and labyrinthian quality of WRNMMC, but it is dwarfed by Johns Hopkins, which is positively immense.

Seth did not join us for our Sunday visit to the National Cathedral, but he and the Evans all enjoyed the fudge we purchased there.

Monday night, the kids went to a concert in downtown D.C.--The Joy Formidable. We dropped them off, reluctantly as it was a dicey area of town, and they, thankfully, made it home on the very last train of the night. The concert was definitely the highlight of Ethan and Jerrica's visit for Seth.

We said our final farewell to Greg on Tuesday, and he did a final round of PT with Seth, preparing him for his trip the next day. Also in preparation, Seth got his first carbon-fiber socket. For the first several months, amputees here wear plastic sockets that are more quickly and cheaply replaced while their limbs are changing shape and size. When their limbs have stabilized, then they are fitted with a carbon-fiber socket, which is lighter and more durable, and, it is hoped, will fit for several months rather than weeks.

Todd, our prosthestist, took Seth's plastic socket and put it on an extra leg he had so that Seth would have a leg to wear in the shower since he is not taking his wheelchair on his upcoming trips to Colorado and home. I was excited about this--giving up the wheelchair is a great thing, but it didn't occur to me that with an extra leg, if you're not wearing it, you're carrying it. We have been told that Seth will leave here with several legs i.e. a running leg, a rock-climbing leg, a swimming leg, etc. This sounded great until I had this realization about carrying extra legs. A leg is a lot to haul around, and for double and above-knee amputees, the load is considerable. It is truly thrilling what can be done for amputees these days, but I am constantly reminded of how, not matter how great our technology and know-how is, it can never be as good as the real thing. Even Seth's right leg, as damaged as it is, it still is better than the best prosthesis.

So Wednesday was the big day. Seth left at 0500 with eight other wounded warriors for a five-day trip to Aspen, Colorado, sponsored by Challenge Aspen, where he plans to snowboard. It was just like sending him off to kindergarten the first day--we both knew it was the next step, but neither of us was particularly excited about taking it. As we waited in the lobby, I noticed that there was only one other single below-knee amputee; the rest were double and triple amputees. I'm sure these guys would prefer to be known by their names (Josh, Will, Murphy, Robby, Tyler) than their injuries, but I think it's important to emphasize the injuries these guys have to show what challenges they face every day.

NMA News
Since Seth is now so independent (and now away in Colorado), I have been expanding my horizons a bit and attending some of the activities put on specifically for NMAs/caregivers such as lunches, dinner and movie nights, and horseback riding. Most of the women I have met are wives of wounded warriors. Many have children; many have had children while being caregivers. Some have full-time jobs because they have been here for more than a year. I have also met other moms, some who have been here over two years and some who have been here a year and have no end date in sight. I am amazed at the humor and endurance of these women and the mostly unspoken rule to take care of each other.

One example of an amazing mom is Julie Keys, who I met back in Ward 57 in July. She had already been here a year at that time. Here is an awesome update about her and her son Adam.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Comings and Goings

 The biggest news of the past week or so is Seth physical therapist Greg's announcement that he has given his two weeks' notice and will be gone as of March 30. We are so sad. I will never forget Greg and Joe, the occupational therapist, visiting Seth in the ICU. I thought, "Physical therapy starting in the ICU? Are they crazy?" Then I was just impressed at the forward-moving and positive thinking this represented. So Greg has been with us since day one, and Seth has seen him almost every day since that day in the ICU. Because he has spent the most time with Seth, he has coordinated some of Seth's care in ways probably not expected of a PT but in ways that have been very beneficial to Seth. Greg always has a smile on his face and a challenge for Seth to  undertake. Greg and his wife are expecting their second child and are moving to be closer to family and where a normal house with a yard does not cost $900K. We will miss him so much.

These photos are of Seth's recent testing at the Gait Lab. His ability to do any of this is a tribute to his physical therapist. He is setting benchmarks of performance and then in a few weeks, he will be tested again to see how he has improved. The researchers and therapists will also provide feedback to him and his new physical therapist on what he and they can do to maximize his efficiency in walking and achieve the most natural gait.

I have decided that perhaps the most difficult aspect of military life, besides facing the enemy and getting blown up, is the coming and going. We are also losing Capt Beckman, who has been Seth's counselor since Ward 57 at the old Walter Reed. Coincidentally, Capt Beckman is being sent to Fort Drum, Seth's original assignment. It is frustrating to lose someone with whom Seth has developed a rapport and relationship. These are not "givens" in any situation. The cliche is that nothing is constant but change, and it's a cliche because it's true.

Seth has pretty much ditched his wheelchair. He walks everywhere now. I enjoy walking beside him instead of running behind or pushing him in the wheelchair. He attends many appointments and other duties without me now, and I'm beginning to feel superfluous--which is a good thing.

The Folks Go Out
Last week the location of the Friday night dinner was the New Zealand Embassy. Seth decided not to go at the last minute—because sometimes you feel like being social and sometimes you don’t, so I invited a fellow NMA Debbie whose son Matt was injured in April, so their one-year mark is fast approaching. It turned out to be a good thing for both of us as there is really nothing more therapeutic than talking to another NMA and mom of an injured soldier. Bob came, too, and he visited with his friend Hugh, whom he met at a Kangoo class (Kangoo is another story entirely, as is Hugh, for that matter).

The evening was a lovely affair, beginning with embassy staff performing the Haka, the traditional Maori greeting. 

 This was followed by dinner of traditional New Zealand fare: lamb, chicken with kiwi and mango chutney, couscous, sweet potatoes and, my favorite, pavlova, a meringue tart filled with whipped cream and fresh fruit. Amazing. Our hosts were lovely and gracious, as such people always are. The ambassador Michael Moore greeted Debbie and me individually and presented us each with his personal coin to give to our boys. Ambassador Moore, we learned from former deputy secretary of defense Paul Wolfowitz, was formerly the prime minister of New Zealand as well as the former director-general of the World Trade Organization, but when Bob asked him what he did prior to his assignment as ambassador, he modestly replied, "I was in politics." I hope someday to learn to be so gracious. Thanks again to the New Zealand Embassy staff and Aleethia who sponsors these lovely evenings.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Boasting about "Boots"

I have already paid tribute to Tom and El Porter who were and are the "boots on the ground," serving amputees and their families. Now the Washington Post has paid tribute to Eleanor as part of the 50th Anniversary of the Korean War, so here it is.

Tribute to Eleanor Porter and women veterans of the Korean War

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Perspectives on the Pentagon

Once a month, the powers that be at the Pentagon host a day for a group of wounded warriors and their families. Seth and I were supposed to go in December but then Seth got the bowel obstruction. We were supposed to go in January but then we somehow got left off the list. We finally got to go last Friday, March 9.

While I had been looking forward to it since December, Seth did not have the same enthusiasm. I'm not sure if it's because it meant a long walk for him or if touring an office building did not seem that compelling. Probably a bit of both. According to our guide, by the end of our tour, we had walked three and a half miles. I'm not convinced it was that far, but even if it wasn't, it was still the farthest Seth has walked on his prosthesis.

Our two buses got a police escort, which is really quite fun and entertaining, especially when we're on 495. That's a lot of traffic to hold up. At the Pentagon, each warrior got his/her own escort. When we were all where and with whom we should be, our guide led us around a corner where we were met by the applause and cheers of approximately 2000 Pentagon employees including generals, admirals and the like, while a small band played patriotic music. Many people came forward to thank the warriors, shake their hands or pat them on the back. Of course, I got a little teary. I think Seth was glad when it was over.

From there we had the typical tour that any tourist would get and learned fun facts such as the Pentagon Subway is the busiest Subway in the nation, selling approximately 6500 sandwiches a day.

 We took a break from the tour to have lunch in a dining room that normally requires men to wear jackets and ties. After eating, several representatives from different military organizations as well as generals and admirals came through to talk to the warriors and present them with military honor coins. Seth also got his picture taken with Miss D.C.

The highlight of the tour for me was our last stop: the memorial to the victims of the 9/11 attacks. The memorial included a book with a photo and biography of each victim. It was very moving to read about their lives, families, hopes and dreams. It was also a reminder of the devastation to real people and real lives, not just faces on TV. I'm thankful for such a beautiful tribute to them all.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

March and a Major

Eight months down; a lifetime to go.

Seth and Major Overmeyer
On Saturday, we were surprised by a visit from Major Thomas Overmeyer, Seth's former company commander. The day Seth was injured was also the day Captain Overmeyer was promoted to major and transferred from D-Company. He said it was the best and worst day of his deployment.

Major Overmeyer caught us up on some of what happened after Seth left. After the day of Seth and Dilberian's injuries and the death of Private Waters, the company stopped foot patrols. This, of course, gave the Taliban more opportunity to plant more IEDs. However, because IEDs are non-discriminating weapons, they ended up harming the locals--maiming and killing Afghan men, women and children. This had the unintended consequence of turning the locals against the Taliban and to the Americans. The locals provided intelligence and help to our guys, and we returned the favor with employment and other aid. Seth's unit left the area having secured an important road and having built a school, police station and clinic. These also helped win locals to our side. Major Overmeyer said that intelligence coming back to them said that the Pakistanis who support the Taliban are losing motivation. After seeing the clinic, school and police station, they report that they can't compete with the Americans for the hearts of the locals.

It fascinates me to hear these firsthand accounts of what is happening over there because we don't hear about it anywhere else that I'm aware of. Major Overmeyer clearly took pride in what he and his unit had  accomplished, much of it, according to him, on their own volition. I wish I could have transcribed the conversation because I am leaving out so much detail, but it made me proud of our guys. It gave me hope that maybe what I see the wounded warriors go through every day is not in vain.

Seth's unit is coming home this week, so Seth will be reuniting with them in May sometime.

A Shout Out
I need to say thanks to Lena, the receptionist at the Soldier Family Assistance Center (SFAC) here at WRNMMC. The SFAC takes care of soldier families, and I am in there two or three times a week. Lena has been at the front desk since our first days at the old Walter Reed and has always been a bright spot in the day. She always had a smile on her face, called me by name and knew what was going on with all kinds of things. Last week someone else was at the desk so I asked if Lena was on vacation. The woman told me that Lena has a new job at Fort Belvoir. I was crushed.  I would have liked to say goodbye. I know Lena sometimes reads the blog, so, if you're reading this, Lena, thank you!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Poignant Presidents Day

Seth in front of the Grumman F6F Hellcat
We spent Presidents Day with our cousin Rick at the Udvar-Hazy Center of the National Air and Space Museum in Virginia. It is an amazing place with hundreds of restored planes from the first Wright Brothers plane to the Enterprise Space Shuttle. While all the planes we saw were amazing for different reasons, my favorite plane was the Grumman F6F Hellcat because it is what my dad flew on and off aircraft carriers in WWII as part of the Navy Air Force. Although my dad never saw combat, he was still engaged in a risky endeavor. According to one source, the U.S. lost 20,633 planes in non-combat circumstances. 14,903 pilots were killed in training accidents within the continental U.S. I couldn't find the statistic for all non-combat pilot fatalities, but a total of 80,655 pilots and air crew were killed. It meant a lot to me to have this picture of Seth in front of his grandpa's plane.

That evening, we ate dinner at Kilroy's, a restaurant in Springfield, VA. It is as much a museum as a restaurant with hundreds of posters and other paraphernalia from WWII. Thankfully, they had more than Spam on the menu.

More good food awaited us. On the 23rd, Boeing Corp. hosted the 10th Mountain Division wounded warriors and families at Pogo de Chao (which means Rodizio Grill in Utahn). We ate until we were almost sick and enjoyed a very warm day here in D.C.

Seth in jeans with Jade
On Saturday evening, we had the distinct honor and pleasure of tending Jade, the daughter of friends Brandy and Tom whom we met back in Ward 57. Jade turned two a few days after arriving here in July, so she has spent almost a quarter of her life here as her dad recuperates.

Seth is now the proud owner of real clothes--jeans without velcro or snaps. We have joked about the Better Butt Foundation--he wishes it could provide him a better butt since most of his was blown off and his jeans just don't fit the same way.

On the way to PT
We were looking at his leg sans ex-fix, and Seth commented on how it really is ugly with the skin graft and scars and all. Yes, it probably is, but it will be a long time, I think, before I don't think it's the most beautiful thing I've ever seen.

Speaking of beautiful things, we see so many every day that there's just no easy way to share, but I'm going to try just a few:

  • a wife hugging her husband for the first time when he's standing (hugs aren't the same from bed or a wheelchair)
  • a mom beaming as her son walks on his legs for the first time
  • a double amputee dad wheeling through the Warrior Cafe with his two sons, one on each knee
  • a double amputee getting his running legs and getting so excited he wants to run out the door and out of the hospital
I also see things every day that make me want to weep, but I'll save those for another entry.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

And He Took Up His [Prosthesis] and Walked . . .

Seth and OT Kaitlyn showing off their matching boots
The highlight this week was getting the ortho surgeon's approval to walk without the boot. The surgeon was a bit reluctant to give it. He wants Seth to be very careful because there have been instances of guys re-breaking their legs. In fact, Dr. Gordon said, "100 percent of my re-breaks amputated--their choice, not mine." This was a tad alarming, so I asked, "100 percent of how many?" To which he responded, "Three." Thank goodness for a very minimal understanding of statistics.

From the "things you would never think about" file, before Seth could walk with the boot, he had to have his prosthesis lengthened, so his legs would be the same length. When he was told he could walk without the boot, he had to have the prosthesis shortened again. Thankfully, we have a great prosthetist available to us five days a week.

Other highlights from the last two weeks:
  • Seth is now off his pain medication. He is only taking ibuprofen twice a day. When I see or hear about the struggles of other wounded warriors to manage their pain and/or to get off the narcotics, I am even more impressed at where Seth is with this.
  • Seth has been walking to almost all his appointments. Considering the size of the hospital and its campus, that's saying something. We've had to make more time to get places because a wheelchair is much faster than walking. I never thought there would be times we wished we had brought the wheelchair so we could make better time!
  • Seth is now training service dogs two mornings a week. They are currently training four dogs--three golden retrievers and a new black Labrador puppy.
  • Seth went shopping yesterday for real clothes--no more velcro pants!

Not a highlight, but a thing of note: Seth's physical therapist Greg is an endurance runner. He has done 100-mile races (including one in Utah!). On his Facebook this week, he posted, "Today I ran 40 miles--one mile for each limb that has been lost this year." This is pretty sobering considering it's only February.

NMA Notes
On Monday, February 13, the Red Cross sponsored a night out for the caregivers of wounded warriors.  Twenty-five wives and mothers of wounded warriors were treated to dinner at Le Pain Quotidien, a lovely restaurant and bakery, and then to haircuts at a salon next door. The restaurant features a community table, so half of the group sat around it and ate while the other half went to the salon. The food was divine (I am still dreaming of the chocolate mousse cake), and the conversation very therapeutic. The woman ranged in age from 20 to 60-something. For many, this was the first time they had left their charge at home alone. For some, it was the first time they had left their double-amputee husbands home with their children--and we're talking babies and toddlers here. We shared our troubles and our triumphs, our sacrifices and our rewards. I felt very humbled by the strength of these women and grateful. While I would never wish this trial on anyone, it is good to know I am not alone.

After we ate, we went to the salon for our haircuts. It was a very trendy salon, so I felt very old and very white, but my haircut was fabulous, and we all rode the bus home more beautiful and buoyant than before.

I am grateful to the Tiffany Circle of the Red Cross for organizing and hosting such a lovely evening.

Also this week, OperationTroopAid presented 75 wounded warrior families with kitchen sets from The Pampered Chef. We were lucky enough to get one and, let me just say, they did not skimp. I would estimate each set to be worth approximately $500. Because we have been here awhile already, we discovered didn't need much of what was there, so we will pass ours along to another wounded warrior family.

Birthday Surprise
It was my birthday this week, and perhaps the biggest surprise was Trentelman's column that was published that very day. He was surprised as well since he didn't know it was my birthday. It was very sweet. I will add that the regret at letting go is not just about being needed; it's about doing something meaningful. I think empty nest syndrome and/or the difficulty in letting kids go is not as much about loneliness or being needed as it is about knowing that nothing you do will ever be as meaningful as raising children.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

On Pins and Staples

Seth had his temporary cast removed on Thursday and was given a boot to wear. Our excitement about having the cast gone was tempered a bit when the surgeon warned that they see lots of re-breaks after as long as six weeks. He told us to be careful and not do anything crazy. He also said that most of the re-breaks occur in physical therapy--as if we needed another reason to avoid physical therapy!

I posted the pre-surgery photos last week, so here are the post-surgery photos.

Look, Ma, no pins!
No more scar and bald spot--just 14 staples.

Another highlight this week was attending a training class for service dogs. We got to work with three beautiful golden retrievers that will eventually go to other wounded warriors. The dogs and the trainers are amazing. The only downside was that it made Seth want his own dog even more! If Seth chooses, he can do a dog training internship. If he does the internship, he may get the chance to bring a dog home at night, something worth considering since we have pondered how to smuggle a dog into the apartment ever since we got here.

Wednesday, February 1, marked seven months since Seth was injured. I think I will try to think of it as Seth Survived Day or Seth is Alive Day, rather than the most awful day of our lives. We didn't acknowledge it. It remains to be seen what we will do when July 1 rolls around. I hope it will be a good day for all of us.

Mom's Thoughts
Without pin care to do, I am almost out of a job. There aren't many things that Seth can't do on his own now, and it means I have to reassess my role. One would think I would feel relief--and, of course, I do--but there is also a sense of let-down. We all like to be needed.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

A Three-fer

For Friday's surgery, we got a "three-fer". The doctors removed

  • the external fixator on Seth's right leg
  • one of the screws in his sacrum
  • the scar on the top of his head
Here are the before photos:

He went into surgery Friday afternoon, and it took about two hours. It was supposed to be outpatient surgery, but because his pain was pretty severe and because he needed to sleep upright to stay off his head, we opted for one night back in the inpatient ward.

We were disappointed when his right leg came out in a cast. We were hoping for a fiberglass walking boot. But the cast only has to be on a week, so we'll get over our disappointment.

We came back to the apartment Saturday afternoon--after Seth had pancakes, cereal, yogurt, fruit, Sprite and a chocolate milkshake for breakfast. (After our last inpatient stay where he didn't get to eat anything, he figured he'd better make the most of his one "free" meal!)

His scar removal was, interestingly, the most painful part of the three procedures. He now has a four-inch incision with 14 staples. But it will heal to a narrow line which his hair will cover easily. For the record, it was  my vanity and that of our nurse case manager that prompted this surgery, not Seth's. We will never know if his scar was from an injury or a pressure sore.

Grins and Giggles
So when we met with the plastic surgeon on Wednesday, when the doctor came in (she turned out to be a resident), she asked Seth was he was there for. He responded, "I'm here for a boob job." She didn't even crack a smile, but I was laughing hard. To our delight, he got to use his joke again when the "real" doctor came in. He at least gave Seth a smile.

There were three types of breast implants sitting on the table in the room. We asked the doctor if any of them would work in Seth's tush. The doctor asked if Seth wanted them for cosmetic purposes. We said, No, Seth's lost much of his butt fat, so sitting can become painful. The doctor said butt implants are just like sitting on something hard, so it wouldn't help Seth' problem. Oh, well. It was worth asking.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

This is the Moment . . .

we've waited for.
(Well, at least one of them).

We spent four hours in the orthopedic clinic today, but it was worth the wait to learn that Seth's leg is healed sufficiently to have the Taylor-spatial frame removed, and the surgery is scheduled for this coming Friday, January 28. Hallelujah! In addition, the surgeons will remove one of the screws from his sacrum in the hope that this will help Seth's nerve function. Apparently removing the screw has less risk than I feared because it will be done outpatient. Amazing! The surgeon did warn that the washer to the screw might not follow the screw out, but the surgeons will leave it in as the surgery to retrieve the washer would be risky. I had no idea surgical screws had surgical washers.

I asked the doctor if we could have a copy of the X-ray. He said, "I can't give you one, but if you go to Radiology, you can get all your X-rays on a CD or a DVD. In your case, maybe a DVD set."

Since the Taylor-spatial frame will soon be history and along with it, cleaning the pins two or three times a day, I feel compelled to tell of a small NMA victory. When Seth went inpatient in December, on his first night, one of his nurses, in an engaging Caribbean accent, exclaimed, "Look at this ex-fix! It is beautiful! It is so clean!" She called in another nurse, and they proceeded to ooh and aah over it. It's the little things . . .

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Milestone Mile

Seth didn't want me to post this video. I asked him several times if I could post it. Finally he said, "The video not's bad; it's the stupid narration." So with that disclaimer, I have his permission to post the video.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Back at It

We've been back at WRNMMC for over a week now. Some days are busy with appointments; other days are not and we have a lot of down time. It is cold here, gets dark by 5:00 p.m., and, until today, we did not have a car, so we haven't gotten out much.

This Week's Highlights:

  • dinner with former Ogdenite friends of friends on Sunday evening. It was so nice to get out, eat good food and visit with delightful people.
  • Bob arrived yesterday, so there's backup!
  • We got a rental car today, courtesy of the Yellow Ribbon Fund, so there's freedom!
  • On Tuesday, our ortho doctor caught us in the hall to tell us he had reviewed Seth's leg X-ray taken last week. He said, "It looks healed. It looks like you've laid down a lot of bone," which means removal of the Taylor-spatial frame may be imminent. I said, "Hallelujah." Seth has a CT scan this coming Monday and then an official appointment with the ortho doctor on Tuesday morning when we will get the official word on whether the leg is ready to have the frame removed. We can't wait!

Another interesting development: it's possible that when Seth gets the frame removed from his right leg, he will also get one of the screws that is holding his pelvis to his spine removed. The doctors hope this will improve crucial nerve function.

We are losing Seth's nurse case manager Lt Colonel Crum. He is in the reserves, so this is the end of his "mobilization." While Colonel Crum prefers working the hospital wards over the desk job he's had here, he will miss working with the guys here. We will miss him as well.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

WSU Article

Our friend Rebecca Hernandez wrote about her experiences visiting Seth at the old Walter Reed hospital in the most recent Weber State University alumni magazine. Link to her article. (I need to correct four things: Seth was injured and I received the phone call on July 1, 2011; it was his left hand that was injured--not his right; and he got down to 110 pounds; and Seth has nine pins, not six, in his right leg.)

There's No Place Like Home for the Holidays

Our three weeks at home went by far too quickly. We each spent time with family, friends and our dogs. We were a bit dismayed to see that Rio, who was Seth and my dog, had become Bob's dog. Fickle creature.

Welcome Home
Seth was quite surprised to see the TV cameras and reporters waiting for him at the airport, and he handled them with grace. We were so moved to see the way our house was decorated for the occasion. The spotlights were genius. Many people told us they were brought to tears upon driving by our house. Thanks to those who made our home such a lovely tribute to Seth and great welcome for us.

Christmas and Country Songs
Miles with the grandnieces and nephews just this fall
Our Christmas was at once wonderful and woeful. We were, of course, so happy to all be together at home and, especially, to have Seth with us. Sadly, our dog Miles had been ill for several weeks. I told Bob to keep him alive until we got home, which he did. When Seth and I got home, Miles rallied for a few days and then declined rapidly. Our kind vet David Hyde came by on Christmas day. Miles was asleep in his bed and didn’t even wake up when Dave gave him the injection. It was a sad, sad moment, but I’m grateful for the gentleness of it and that we could all be there for Miles and for each other. When I told a friend our sad Christmas story, she said, “Your life is beginning to sound like a country song.”

Jerrica, Ethan, Seth and Jarom
Thanks, Raquel and Story
After saying goodbye to Miles, our Christmas day was pretty much like any other--unwrapping presents, enjoying each others' company and hamming it up for the camera.

Other Highlights
Decorating cookies for Seth's platoon
We enjoyed going out to dinner with family and friends, visits from friends, family parties and get-togethers, and doing normal Christmas things, like making and eating Christmas treats.

It was in the 50s for much of our time in Utah. It finally snowed two days before we left, but the snow was mostly gone by the time we left. We arrived in D.C. on January 9 to a heavy snowstorm, but the snow was gone by the next day. We are deeply grateful to Kirsten, another BYU roommate, and her son for driving three hours from PA to pick us up at the airport and spend the evening with us.

Back to the Grind
Seth has been busy with appointments, and it feels like we never left.