Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Quit Kicking Me!

"Will you PLEASE stop kicking me!!" I harped at the soldier standing next to me. "I'm going to report you for nurse abuse if you don't!" I sharply chided him. He simply stood there and with a look of "who me?" on his face responded, "they'd never believe you, they'd take one look at me and cart YOU off". "Yeah, you're right" I said, “but, really now, QUIT KICKING ME!” then giving up, shared a laugh with this particular man. A bilateral leg amputee, he was kicking me with his prosthetic legs and having quite a jolly time. In frustration I kicked him back, which only served to make him laugh harder and tell me "that didn't hurt a bit".

The sad part is that he does hurt. He and other veterans like him suffer daily with phantom pain, suffer daily with nerve pain and pain that takes over their lives. It becomes all consuming and never-ending, life as they knew it ceases to exist. They suffer from pain you cannot take enough medications to make go away. Marriages suffer, families are torn apart, and the mental anguish is inexplicable.

I recently sat in a meeting and listened to an OEF veteran talk about dealing with his pain. For 3 years after many, many surgeries, an amputation and ongoing physical therapy his pain persists. He often wonders if the pain will ever go away and he admits to fleeting thoughts of suicide. And he is not alone! I sit here right now and at least dozen of my former patients come to mind.

Although it is almost impossible, try and place yourself in his position. Can you even begin to imagine how living with pain every minute of every hour of every day would affect you? What kind of life you would have?

People always make comments "I wish there were something I could do". If you are truly serious in wanting to help I have this suggestion. Currently there is legislation proposed to give our OIF/OEF veterans better resources, benefits and assistance when it comes to pain and it's impact on their lives. You can learn about them by going to the American Pain Foundation's website and clicking on Military/Veterans and Pain. I urge you to go to this site and review everything on these pages. Here you will find plenty of ways to assist our wounded warriors. Only when we understand better and take the initiative to make our voices heard will change come about. They need your help and here is your way! We challenge you, don't let us down!

Monday, January 28, 2008

The Faces

Asked to see and evaluate an OEF patient in the trauma ICU, I wandered into the bay only to stop short at the sight before me. The wounded patient lay motionless with wires and tubes, dressings and splints all entangling each other. Ventilator high-pressure alarms shrieked off-cadence with the beeps of the heart monitor. Intubated on a vent, multiple IV lines and specialty dressings all around, this patient lay in drug-induced slumber.

Keeping a bedside vigil was his wife, not an uncommon site on any of the nursing units temporarily housing our wounded warriors. What caught me off guard and stopped me stock-still were the small bodies occupying the chairs that flanked her. Two beautiful young children sat beside her, alternating between coloring pictures with dry erase markers given to them by the nurses and staring silently at their father.

As I introduced myself to Sarah, I also introduced myself to the children. Victoria, who is seven, and Jacob, who is five, shook my hand gravely as I held it out to them. I learned Victoria had been eating blue candy, as evidenced by her blue tongue, lips and teeth. I learned Jacob loved the Transformers and wanted his dad to teach him how to ride an ATV, “when he gets better." I learned Sarah had arrived on Saturday, the day after her husband had been flown in, and alone at the hospital had no one to watch the children. She told me, with tears in her eyes, that they came with her every day and sat in the ICU room, coloring pictures, playing games, and watching their dad.

As we talked I looked at the children. I could see the fear and uncertainty crowding their small faces. I asked if I could bring in a DVD player so they could watch movies. Eyes filling once again with tears, Sarah thanked me, telling me over and over how much she appreciated the help. I asked her to forget it, as it was such an easy thing for me to do. It’s not hard to take a portable DVD player off the closet shelf where it is gathering dust and loan it to two children so they could forget where they are if only for a couple of hours.

That was four days ago, and this patient has been extubated. Yesterday I watched joy instead of sorrow fill this family’s faces. I watched a wife and mother hold her children up to the bed so a little boy and girl could say, “Hi Daddy!” I smiled in delight at the looks of pure happiness as their father opened his eyes and smiled at them. I choked back tears as Sarah laid her head on his chest and sobbed, “Welcome home, Baby.”

Today as I walked down the hall I heard a tiny voice call out, “Ms. Clara!” Turning, I saw Jacob and Victoria dragging their mom toward me. “Ms. Clara!” they eagerly exclaimed. “We watched the Transformers in the hotel room last night!" And so they rumbled on, anxious to tell me about their day. While listening I felt a little hand encircle mine and tug. “Ms. Clara, want to come see our daddy with us?” Victoria asked. “I’d love to come see your daddy with you." And off we went, off to exchange smiles and laughter with a soldier on the long road to recovery.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Writers Block

I've been trying to write something, anything, for the past week and a half but too many things clamor about in my head. Too many thoughts needing to be shifted and put in their proper places. Too many mental photographs appear everytime I try and write. Maybe if I list them they will release their hold on me. My fingers type frantically trying to get it all down only to later highlight the entire text and hit the delete button. The words are right there but yet I can't get them out. They don't flow in the way I want them to, they pop into my head with high def pictures and the emotions attached to those pics quickly follows.

I see things I don't want to see and feel things I don't want to feel. And yet, I continue to love my job and the people I work with and for. How do I keep from drowning under the ocean of responsibility leveled on me? Where's the happy meduim? What do I do to keep my sanity when even my most powerful means of venting, my writing, seems lost?

Wednesday, January 09, 2008


Don't we all make New Year's resolutions? I certainly do. I decided 2008 was
going to be the year I took care of Clara instead of Clara taking care of everyone else. I decided I wasn't going to give so much of myself, decided I would hold back something for me. I decided I needed to close my heart off just a little, so it wouldn't hurt so often.

It's funny how things happen, how patients and their families work themselves into my life. How they begin to share my ups and downs and celebrate my victories as much as I do theirs. Sometimes their totally off handed comments completely catch me by surprise and put a smile on my face.

Wandering down the hallway I came across one of my former patients. A man who lost both legs to an IED walked toward me with the aid of 2 prosthetics and a cane. As I drew near I could see he was in pain so looping my arm through his I asked if he needed any help. His response "nah, I'm ok but I don't mind the eye candy hanging off my arm". Completely at a loss for words I simply threw my head back and laughed. How fun to share in their moments.

Yesterday I stopped into the physical therapy gym to talk with one of the therapists. As I stood there talking with him about a race we're running I was slowly surrounded by my former patients. Some of them wanting to say hello, get a hug or hang out and
chat. At one point another of the other therapists yelled out "Hey Clara, you're likethe Pied Piper over there" and as I looked around I realized they were right. My patients had wrapped themselves around me and lightened my heart. They had stolen into that little place I decided to keep strictly for Clara.

Ah well. . . .who keeps New Year's resolutions anyway?