Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween!

Well, as much as I have tried to download some photos into my computer,it won't work.Some days there is no problem,and other days my computer is just plain ornery. Today is one of those days. I wanted to post a photo of Zach's pumpkin,of him in his Army outfit,and of my outdoor Fall decorations.
Today is a cool,overcast day,a lot of leaves are falling gently to the ground,a perfect New England Halloween type day.Actually,I think that any overcast fall day makes things feel,well,more New England-ish.I can't explain it,but those of you who live in this region may understand what I mean.
Last night,we went Trick or Treating in my old neighborhood.There are alot of old houses in this area,which is called "The Hill".Part of the fun for me is seeing the little ones in their costumes,and the decorating that people do. It was actually a pleasant night,so Zach didn't have to wear a jacket-he had long johns and a long sleeved shirt on under his uniform.He was nice and warm. Rick,bless his heart,kept up with us using his Canadian Crutches,but we did try to keep the pace down for him. He knees were really bothering him once we got home last night. However,like he says, he has only missed one Trick or Treat,which is when he was in Med hold down in Georgia,and since we probably don't have many more left,he is not going to miss another one.No matter how much it hurts.
Last year some kids in a neighboring town knocked over some headstones in the cemetery on Halloween. I think that is one of the most disgusting things anyone could do. What is the point? To prove how cool they are? To me,they only proved their ignorance. Rick and I get very upset at any cemetery vandalism. Let these people rest in peace. Every once in a while we make a trek out in the woods on our neighbors land to an old cemetery. It's in the middle of the woods,nothing around it,except for a couple of old foundations.It's a good way off the beaten path. We like to many people lived out here? It's all forested,but the trees are not large.Does that mean at one point this was all cleared so they could have a farm? It's a small cemetery, surrounded by a stone wall,with an entrance,and the cemetery itself has fallen into a sad state. Branches are down all over the place,and the headstones are either broken,or the names are barley visible,or they are sunken into the ground. I wonder if these people have been forgotten,or is it that their descendants just don't know where they are? I wrote down what names I could decipher and tried to find out some info about them,but so far no luck.
Halloween and cemeteries brought on the subject of ghosts the other day. I think there are ghosts.Why not? People's energies/spirits could get trapped for whatever reason. Rick and his brother Brian have seen them when they were younger. They would visit their grandfather up in Moscow,Me.He had an old house. At night,when they would be laying in bed in the upstairs bedroom,they would see a ghost in the doorway ,and they would throw their slippers at it. One night Rick heard a noise and he looked down the grate in the floor into the kitchen downstairs. He saw something sitting at the table. Curious,he made his way down the stairs,and when he looked into the kitchen,he saw four apparitions sitting at the table,playing cards. He said they were sort of grayish see through,and even though you could not see plainly what they looked like,you could tell if one had a moustache,etc. When they saw him standing in the doorway,they all stopped,looked his way,then continued playing cards.He said he was never scared of them,however.I had a friend who lived in house dating back to the Revolutionary War. One time,she opened the door to the basement,and down at the bottom of the stairs looking up at her,was a ghost dressed up like a Revolutionary solider.Her whole family confirmed that they had seen him. Makes one think,doesn't it?
Today I have a headache,so I have only done the dishes,started laundry,and swept. I do want to make some more lye-crisco soap,though. I made some a few weeks ago and it works great. I will have to post about that next time.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Changes In Nature and In the House

Today was a beautiful but chilly day here in NH.Our foliage is now past peak,so there are more brown leaves than brightly colored,and many trees are now bare. However,we had a beautiful foliage season.Rick and I always comment at how lucky we are to live in such a beautiful state. 'Imagine,"he said to me,"People come from all over the world to NH see the Fall foliage,and we can just look out of our window and see it everyday." Very lucky indeed. We always impress upon Zachary that he is a very lucky little boy to have such beauty around him all time. He seems to be appreciative of that,which is surprising for a boy of 11.
So now the trees are gearing up for winter,and looking spooky for Halloween. We did have some snow showers last week,and though I always like to see the first flakes of the season,October is a wee bit too early for me.
While there are changes going on outside,there are changes going on inside. We are going forward with our living room/hallway remodeling. Today we bought crown molding,fluted doorframes,door casings,paint,and drywall plaster.We are going to put down lamniate flooring in the hallway,which we put in Zach's room in the Spring,tear down the white paneling (yuck) and old drywall and replace it with new drywall. We are also replacing the doorframes and mopboards. The walls will be pained "Raffia Cream",a fancy name for beige,our molding,doors and ceiling white. Our living room had been started a few years ago( but put on hold due to money issues).New drywall was put up on the walls and ceilingand we painted the room sage. We need to skim some areas on the walls that have dings,and need to put up a new section of drywall on the ceiling. We had an ice dam last year that made water back up,and we had to poke holes in the ceiling to release the water.The crown molding is also going up,and the fluted doorframes,new door casings,mopboards,window frames,window casings,and windowsill. The walls will be the "Raffia Cream",and all the trim,crown moldings and ceiling will be white.
Rick is very motivated to get this done,excited in fact. I like seeing him like this,because he has a hard time getting motivated now sometimes. He took all the measurements today,and we went to both Home Depot and Lowe's. Rick now has a certain thought process since his brain injury,so one has to be patient.Things go slower. The impulse is to give him the answer to help speed things along,but that is not helping him. He needs to do it himself,even if it takes a while. If he is figuring out something,he will go over it a few times before he feels comfortable that he is correct. ( This is part of his Obsessive Compulsiveness that is due to the PTSD and brain injury. He will do something a few times because he is unsure of himself,and it will cause him stress,which he will alleviate by doing it over).You cannot be in a rush.I admit that today I found myself tapping my foot a couple of times,and by the time we were done, I was tired.
Today I did get my bedding washed and the house tided up after we got home. Now I must go make the bed. There is something about settling into a bed with crisp,clean sheets and blankets. It just makes a great ending to the day.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Self Sufficiency or Self Reliance?

One of my favorite blogs is Down To Earth,by Rhonda Jean. She lives in Australia and has a great view on life and how to live it. Last week she led a discussion about Self Sufficiency vs Self Reliance,and it led me to rethink my thought process.
My Dear Friend Michelle had started leading me down the path to doing more for ourselves,and emailed me blogs that she was following about homesteading and organization. I delved into it and thought, "We could do this." Alot of the blogs mentioned "Self sufficency",so I latched onto that phrase. We would strive for self suffiency! It might take a while,but we would do it bit by bit.I didn't really think about what it actually meant,but it sounded like what we were trying to do.
Then I read Rhonda's post.
Hmmm.....was it really self sufficency or self reliance we were striving for?? Self sufficiency meant living by your own means only. Raising all your own food,etc with no help from the outside. Now that sounds wonderful in theory,but in practical terms,probably not going to happen,at least for us. We don't have enough room for raising all animals we would require,cows,pigs,etc.We have space for chickens and turkeys. We could have a big garden,but not big enough to sustain us year round. So I have to supplement from somewhere.
The more I thought about it,the more I realized that what we are trying to acheive is actually more Self Reliance. We might have to go outside of our home to do what we have to do,but we could try to keep it to a minimum as much as possible.
As Oprah calls it,it was an "A HA" moment. I know we will never be "Self Sufficent." We do not have means or space. However, we can strive to be more Self Reliant. It might not come as fast as we would hope,because of Rick's ailments,but we can do what we can do,and that is what is important.
Here's to Self Reliance!!!!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Orthopedic Disappointment

Today we went to the Boston VA to see the Orthopedic Surgeon. We have been hoping that this appointment would be the one where we would find out what exactly is going on with Rick's knees.
We were wrong.
There is nothing that they can do surgically for Rick's knees. They do not require surgery. He examined Rick,and looked at his Xrays,MRI's and bone scans. He told us that he would not have chronic pain if it was a bone issue.He would only feel pain if he were standing,not sitting,and it wouldn't be so painful that it would be make him sick or keep him up at night.He suggested seeing a Neurologist ( nerves) and a Rheumatologist (joints) as well as Pain Management.He had no explaination for the amount of pain Rick is in,which of course he wouldn't,since bone surgery is his area of expertise,and if it isn't bone related,he wouldn't be able to give us any answers.
I was so upset,I started to cry in the office. I feel so bad for Rick,and there is nothing that I can do. He is in so much pain.We had been waiting so long for this appointment,and now we are back to square one. Rick is down about this news,and I am not much better.He says he no longer cares,and he will just plow thorugh the pain and deal with it,but I know that is just his frustration talking. Of course he cares. But how much can one person take?

Med Board Findings

We got back from Fort Drum last Friday night,and the week went well. On Tues Rick had Behavioral Health,and Part 1 and Part 2 of his physical. Behavioral Health is a fancy term for "we are going check to see if you really have PTSD." When we went to check in,we were told that the Dr was not in that week,but they would see when they could schedule us,and would we please have a seat? I was sputtering," If they can't do this appointment this week,I am going to be very very angry," among a few other choice phrases. Rick kept telling me to keep my voice down." Let's not get upset yet," he told me."They wouldn't have had us come here if someone wasn't going to see us." I was amazed that he could seem so calm. "Oh,I'm not, "he told me,"but I am trying very hard to hold it together."
About 20 minutes later, a soft spoken woman came over to us. "Specialist Shaw,the Dr you were suppose to see is not here this week,but we have arranged for you to see another Dr via teleconference from Walter Reed Hospital.Please follow me." We both breathed a collective sigh of relief and followed her to another part of the building.They brought us into the teleconference room,and I must admit it was pretty neat.The Dr was there on a big flat screen TV. He went over the report that the Dr had made in March,and asked us questions. I told him that Rick had a NeuroPsych evaluation in May,and did he have access to that report? He said that while he could pull up a few VA reports,he was not able to pull up that one. I told him I had it,and could we fax it to him. He said that would be great,so I went out to the reception area and gave the soft spoken lady the report for her to fax.
He read the report,then asked,"How old is the Dr that administered this test?" Right away our warning flags went up. " He is older, maybe late 60's or early 70's," I told him."That would explain it," he said. "This test is an old testing method. It really doesn't tell me much. Testing for TBI has changed two or three times." Rick and I groaned. Great. However...." Rick is scheduled for another Neuro Psych eval this week," I told him. " Well,it couldn't hurt,"he said. His initial diagnosis was Cognitive Disorder NOS.Because some of the symptoms of PTSD and TBI are the same,there is no way of telling what is what. Apparently this is a new term they use for patients with PTSD and TBI.
Next was Rick's Part 1 Physical,which consisted of blood work,a hearing test,an eye test,a chest xray,and and EKG. Then we went to Part 2,where his medical history is gone over. When we went in March, Part 2 took over 3 hours. We had to fill out all of Rick's medical history. They then go over everything with him and type up their comments. Since most of the work was done,this time they just went over what was written up in the report before,and added any changes.They want Rick to have an EMG done on his right foot-electronic impulse testing-to see if he has any nerve damage,which we are doing through the VA. Rick now walks on the outside of his right foot because of his knee pain,and it is causing blisters and calluses.He also now sort of swings his right foot out to the side in a sort of semi circle when he walks. They also made note of his knees,his sleep apnea,hypopituitaryism,and his hypothyroidism.
Wednesday was Range of Motion,which was for his knees. I hate when they test his knees, because I know how much pain he is in,and I always get tears in my eyes. I can't help it.He told Rick that each knee should bend to 140 degrees,and his only bend to 90 on one and 85 on the other. He said to Rick," Your knees are messed up." They are waiting for a report from the Orthopedic Surgeon at the Boston VA,whom we saw today to see if Rick will have surgery. I will have to post about that appointment separately.
Thursday was a really big test: the NeuroPsych evaluation. This test determines if Rick has TBI,and at what level. The test he had in May said he had TBI,but it was not a very thou rough report. It didn't say at what level it was,and it was a page and a half. The military wanted something more specific,with a longer report. We went to another town to see a civilian PhD,who the military uses. He was very nice,and conducted a medical and mental health record review,clinical interview,and NAB ( Neuropsychological Assessment Battery).He asked about several symptoms,and out of the 30,Rick had 27. He then gave him testing in the following areas:Attention,Language,Memory,Spatial,and Executive Functioning. The tests took 5 hours. Rick thought it had only been 30-60 minutes. He also thought that he was going quickly on the tests,when in actuality he was going rather slowly.
When Rick was done, the Dr said he could give us a preliminary diagnosis based on the test scoring and his impressions. Here is what the test results showed. 100 is considered average.
Attention: 49 Severely impaired
Language:73 Mildly to moderately impaired
Memory:68 Moderately impaired
Spatial:75 Mildly to moderately impaired
Executive Functions: 83 Mildly impaired
The bottom line is his brain injury is considered moderate.
We were surprised. Moderate? Not mild? We had been told he had a mild injury because he didn't lose consciousness when the explosion happened. We told the Dr this,and he said, "Who told you that? Excuse my language,but that is bullshit." The blast affected his brain globally.Rick was depressed after this appointment,but we were glad that finally,we have a proper diagnosis.
Once the military has all the information,they will finalize the NARSUM ( Narrative Summary),send it to us,then send it to Walter Reed Hospital,where it will be reviewed by doctors who will determine if Rick can be retired,or temporarily retired ( if they think some of his problems might be able to get better). We should know after the holidays.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Hi Ho,Hi Ho,Back to Fort Drum We Go

Well,Rick and I leave tomorrow for our last (hopefully)trip to Fort Drum,NY. We have our itinerary,and Rick begins his doctor appointments on Tuesday.It will be a long week,as he basically has only one appointment a day. It would be great if they could do more than one,and get everything done in just two or three days instead of four,but,as with everything in the military,it's "hurry up and wait."
Rick is very nervous,because he doesn't want to have to go through all this another time. I think he is more afraid of his reaction if this is not the last time we have to do this. Rick is great about holding back his anger (and that is due in part to his medication),but if he lets it go,it will not be pretty.People have told us,"What are you having a problem with? You get paid every month by the National Guard,and you will wind up making less than you do now." That is true,however,that is not the point. No one who has been wounded while serving his country should have to wait four years to complete a medical board review. No one. You never know when they will call and say,"By the way,you are going to Fort Drum next week." Usually you do not get much advance notice. What if you have planned to go somewhere? Fly across the country? Do something special with your family? You are at the mercy of the board,and it's when they have a slot to put you in. Whatever is going on in your life is not their problem. Take for instance Rick's knee appointment. This is the appt we have been waiting for for a year. First we had to reschedule because the doctor was going to be on vacation,then we had to reschedule because the med board was going to be the week of our rescheduled appt. As much as we want the med board completed,if they could have waited another week so we could at least find out what they are going to do with Rick's knees,it wouldn't have hurt our feelings any. We are also a bit confused regarding the med board and his knees. First we were told that they wouldn't do the board until Rick knew what was going on with his knees,and if it was surgery,he would have to be fully healed to his ability before they would send him to Fort Drum. Then,two weeks later,we were told that they wanted him at the med board in October-regardless of what was going on with his knees.
It has been an ongoing source of frustration for four years now,and it does not help someone with PTSD. Everytime there is a glitch,it compounds the symptoms.When Fort Drum calls the day after Rick has an appt,and they inquire if he went because the dr's notes aren't up yet,it makes him very angry. He keeps telling them,"I do everything I need to do on my end. My appt was just yesterday,if the notes aren't up,then they haven't been written yet." Or when they tell him to tell his doctors that they need to write more in their notes,that also ticks him off. "I am not going to tell my doctors how to do their job. You want more info,then please feel free to ask them."
One thing we are very happy about is now the military can access VA records electronically. When we went in March, we had to bring copies of all his records. I had to carry them around,and they weighed around 8-10 lbs and were many inches thick.Now we don't have to worry about that. My back and shoulders are very grateful!

Monday, October 5, 2009

A Soggy But Fun Weekend

This last week,not only were my allergies bothering me, but I came down with a cold as well. How can I tell the difference? I don't get stuffy with allergies,but my eyes get really dry and itchy. With a cold I get stuffy,and I don't feel well overall. The cold started about a week ago,and I was not going to let it interfere with my apple picking plans with My Dear Friend Michelle. We went Tuesday to Butternut Farm,where the public can pick their own fruit,pumpkins,etc. I got a bag of MacIntosh ( Rick's Fave) and a bag of Honey Crisp ( my Fave). After we were done, Michelle wanted a bite to eat,so we went down to the little restaurant where we meet for our muffin dates. I wanted a cup of tea,so I knew I wasn't feeling well.( I like tea, but am more of a coffee kind of gal.) After we had tea and a muffin, I was suppose to go grocery shopping ( as Tuesdays are grocery days) but I really wasn't feeling well,my stomach was off and on unsettled,and my head was feeling weird. So I called the Boys and asked them if they would mind getting the groceries this week. No problem! I drove home,made up the list,and Rick and Brian went to the store. Now, normally I would have the list already made,but since I wasn't feeling 100 %, I was just going to grab the normal things we usually get. Since I do the shopping,they didn't have a clue what to get,so I had to write it down.
By Friday, I was feeling better,which was good, because Friday night was the beginning of our district Boy Scout Fall Camporee. We had been keeping an eye on the weather forecast all week,and it had been the same-rain. It's pretty well known that any Abnaki District event conjures up rain at some point,so it wasn't surprising.Being involved in Cub Scouts for 5 years,and now in Boy Scouts,one tends to get used to rain. However, one still hopes that the front will move through faster,or will move more to the south. No such luck.
We were fortunate though that we were all set up in camp and settled in our tents before it started raining in the wee hours of Saturday morning ( about 2:00 AM). And did it rain! It rained most of the day Saturday,with some short breaks. The boys,however,had great attitudes and worked well together at all their stations-archery,.22 target shooting,paintball wrist rockets,first aid,troop jeopardy,orienteering,and water rocket targets. Rick and I followed the boys from station to station,though we were a bit behind them because Rick cannot walk as fast as they can. He kept telling me to go on ahead,but I stayed with him. He was in a lot of pain,but determined to do what he could. The other adults were helping run the paintball wrist rocket station.
Like I said, the boys worked very well together,and we did not hear them complain about the weather once. In these type of situations,attitude is everything. If you let the rain get you down,then you will be miserable,and your attitude will affect those around you. Chris,the Senior Patrol Leader,gave the boys a little pep talk before the days events started,and said as much. This was his last district event,as he is working on his Eagle Scout rank,and will be leaving us very soon. He wanted this to be a good weekend for everybody,for the boys to have good spirit,work together,and have fun. It was a good speech,and everyone took it to heart. The boys sang,cheered each other on at the various stations,and had good attitudes. It paid off. The troop won Most Creative for their Mud Cake in the dessert contest,second place in Troop Jeopardy,first place in First Aid,and won Honor Patrol. Honor Patrol is a special award for the patrol that best exemplifies the patrol method-working together,scout spirit,etc. It doesn't matter how many events you place at,the whole purpose of the patrol method is teamwork. Chris was especially pleased,since he had been wanting the troop to win this for a long time,and this was his last chance with the troop to do so. We are so proud of all of them.
We got home late morning on Sunday,unpacked all our gear,took showers,and by 2:00 PM,Rick and I were both sound asleep in our recliners. I slept for three hours,but Rick was very hard to wake up. We had to wake him at 6:00 PM for his morphine,then again at 8:00 PM for his night time meds. He also ate supper,then fell back asleep. Poor guy,he was exhausted but had a great time getting to know the adults and seeing the boys working do what they do.
Tonight is our Court of Honor,and Zach is excited because he will be receiving his first Merit Badge that he earned at Summer Camp-Fingerprinting. It is a basic badge that all first year campers earn. He could've have earned his Swimming badge as well,but it took him a few days to pass his BSA Swimmers Test,and that put him behind. You really have to pass it the first day so you can complete the rest of the of the requirements during the week. That's OK,though! He had a great time at camp. It has inspired and motivated him to work hard,and that is very heartening. Like he says,next year he will kick butt!!! :)

Thursday, October 1, 2009

An End in Sight?

In my last post,I talked about Rick's knee appt being changed and our disappointment. Well, guess what?
It's been changed again!!!
Rick called Fort Drum,NY (where the med board is) to let them know that the appointment for his knees had been changed. When he told them what date it was,they informed him that he would have to reschedule it. He has to go to back Fort Drum that week.
Let me give a bit of history here. Rick has been to the med board three times. For those who are not aware of what the med board is,the med board is a process that those in the military go through when there is question regarding their fitness for duty. It can be a physical or mental problem. Because we live in NH,we go to Fort Drum,NY. Whatever is in question ( sight,mental problems,range of motion,etc) is examined by doctors. They then make their assessment, and write up what is called a NARSUM ( Narrative Summary),which the solider reads,and if they agree with the diagnosis,the NARSUM is sent to Walter Reed Hospital to go before the rating board. Doctors there read the NARSUM,and decide what percentage of disability to give to the solider. The rating is based on how the injury affects how well they can do their job in the military.
When Rick first got back in 2005,he was sent to the med board while he was in Fort Gordon. At that point, he had not been diagnosed with TBI,but chronic PTSD. While his paperwork was in the process of being sent,he received orders cutting him from active duty and sending him back home. The process stopped.
Then, in 2007,he went to the med board again,this time to Fort Drum. It was there that he was told he was testing positive for TBI. On the last day of his appts,he was told that his paperwork was not in order,so they said he would have to come back.
I am Rick's advocate,because of his memory problems,so when we got the word that he was going back to the med board in March of this year,I went with him. We were assured that this would be his last med board,and that what had happened to him in the past was not acceptable.
We went through all the tests that was required-psych,range of motion ( for his back and legs),optometry and hearing. When we went for the TBI testing,the Dr (who was not military) told us that since in his VA records he had tested positive for TBI,there really wasn't any need to have the testing again. That sounded fine to us. We went home and waited.
Then Fort Drum notified us that they wanted more details regarding the TBI,and we needed to schedule a Neuro Psych eval through the VA. Now,in 2007,Rick had attempted to have this test done,but because his PTSD was not under control ( the proper medication and dose were not discovered yet) he could not complete the test. His attention span was too poor. However, on the basic test,he did screen positive for TBI. Well, alrighty then. I scheduled the test. He completed the three hour test in May. We then waited for the Drs notes and diagnosis to be sent to Fort Drum.
In the meantime,the Dr that examined him for Behavioral Health (Ie-psych) at Fort Drum was being rotated ( shipped) out to another unit. By the time the paperwork reached Fort Drum,he was gone,so this part of the NARSUM was left incomplete.That meant we would have to go back to Fort Drum.
Now, since March, there has been more problems with Rick's health. Not only has the TBI affected his memory,but it has affected him physically. After the Neuro Psych eval,Rick had an appt with a Neuro TBI Dr,who checks for any physical problems related to the TBI. He sent Rick for Sleep Apnea testing,since Rick now snores loud enough to rattle the windows (which he never did before he went to Iraq)and for an appointment with the endocrinologist to check his pituitary gland function. A red flag went up because Rick's thyroid barely works,and his primary Dr put him on meds for it ( again, no issues before Iraq). Rick's strength level is also low,as well as his stamina. ( another red flag,no issues before Iraq).
Now the TBI is responsible for his cognitive problems,memory loss,pituitary gland problems (poor functioning thyroid,low testosterone,and borderline cortisol levels),and sleep apnea. We just got the results of this test yesterday. He stops breathing 9 times an hour,and his oxygen levels go down to 88%. We were told if they were that level all the time,he would be on oxygen.
So now,and rightly so,the folks at Fort Drum want to do an update on all these things,because they were not known in March. His knees are also worse,and we have been told that his double vision will not go away.
So he will have to see Behavioral Health, possibly TBI,range of motion for his knees,optomology,and audiology. We go the week of October 12.
The following week we see the knee referral Dr at the Boston VA.