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!