Finally!!!!

I’ve written many times over the years about my struggles with the Department of Veterans Affairs.  Finally, one of my ongoing battles with the VA is coming to an end.  I’ve waited more than six years to get my foot fixed and it was operated on yesterday.  Better late than never I suppose.  But that was more than six years of extra pain to deal with.  Fighting with the VA about what you’ve earned and deserve can, and usually is, an exhausting undertaking. 

In 2013, I was in the belly of a plane loading bags for our trip to Ft Hood for pre-deployment training prior to heading to Afghanistan.  We were tossing bags to each other as they come up the conveyor ramp.  Toss, catch, turn, toss, turn, catch repeat.  As I went to catch one of the duffle bags, it hit my chest, slipped through my arms, and slammed my foot.  The Kevlar helmet that was packed in the top of the bag crushed my toe.  Turns out it wasn’t broken, but it was definitely not well.  It’s been swollen ever since.

After arriving at Ft Hood, “Doc” sent me to get it looked at.  X-rays showed it was not broken, but had in fact exacerbated an issue that I didn’t even know I had.  My foot had good days and bad days after the injury.  Sometimes it was bearable and sometimes it was excruciating.  And without a doubt, having to favor that foot created other issues.  Like when I injured my hip getting out of a helicopter and rocky ground. Now I was having to favor my right foot and left hip.  It was bad enough that the doctor at my little base wanted to send me to Germany for treatment then home.  I declined.  I wanted to finish what I started with my fellow Soldiers that we began the previous year.  But if I had taken the doctor’s advice, I wouldn’t have had to wait six years to get my foot fixed.  But I don’t regret my decision.

The hardest part in this battle with the VA had been getting them to acknowledge that my injury was service-connected.  Even with medical documents from the hospital at Ft Hood, the VA was denying that my injury was service-connected.  It wasn’t until 2018 that the VA sent me a letter saying (and I’m paraphrasing) “Oops, my bad, your foot is our problem.”  That’s what I’ve been telling you for years!  With the documentation I had, it really should have been an open and shut case.  But, being a reservist, sometimes we get swept under the rug.  And the Army didn’t do me any favors.  As we were out-processed at Ft Hood after coming back from Afghanistan, we were told that unless it’s a life-threatening injury we would be passed on to the VA.  I was examined before leaving Ft Hood and the doctor told me what needed to be done. He wrote it down.  It was in my records.  But the Army didn’t want to do it and the VA denied that it was their problem to fix.

Eventually I wasn’t able to get around like I used to.  Couldn’t run.  Couldn’t pass the Army physical fitness test.  I was eventually medically retired, which turned out to be a good thing.  But all the physical issues and poor self-image I developed from my physical decline only added to the downward spiral I was going through in life.  That led to a failed suicide attempt and being diagnosed with PTSD, major depression, and all the wonderful things that go along with that.  The deterioration of my body played a big role in my mental health.  The Army not fixing me and VA denying me made it feel like an insufferable weight.  I hit rock bottom.  Thankfully I failed and am still here today.

Yesterday, the doctor cut open my big toe, shaved some bone, took some bone out, sewed me back up.  Not only is my foot fixed and on its way to recovery to where I can hopefully fully function again, the VA hooked me up with a civilian doctor.  Turns out the Covid problem shut down all non-life-threatening surgeries being done by the VA when I started this process.  My VA pediatrist asked me if I would like them to see if a civilian doctor would do it.  For those of you that have dealt with military or VA doctors I don’t need to tell you how fast I jumped at that option.  I know I painted that last sentence with a wide brush, but there are more bad doctors than good ones at the VA so it’s easy to lump them all in the same group of being subpar. 

I’m off for at least the next three weeks from work.  I’ve been saving my vacation and sick leave for this.  I can’t drive until after my second follow-up appointment when the doctor will remove my stitches.  I’ll just be sitting on the couch eating snacks if you need me.  I have 150 channels or so on cable, a couple streaming sources, and more DVDs than anyone should own in 2020.  Who wants to bet I can’t find anything to watch?  LOL.  I’m getting around well on my crutches.  Last time I was on crutches they were made of wood.  I guess I’m old now.  The surgery shoe is not comfortable, but I have to leave it on until the stitches come out.  I’ll be sleeping on the couch because I don’t want to climb the stairs to the bedrooms for a few days. 

I want to thank my daughter for babysitting me yesterday, getting me to and from surgery, picking up my meds, making me lunch.  My girlfriend is also taking care of me and spoiling me.  I’ll be back to doing a few easy things around the house in a few days.  But I’m taking advantage of this downtime for the time being.  I will rest my body and let it heal.

Healing is important.  And it’s all tied together, both physical and mental.  I had to learn that a few years ago the hard way.  And I do much better now in my understanding that you must take care of both.  Each has its own time table which can be frustrating because physical and mental injuries can’t always heal at the same pace but they can have a huge impact on each other.  Take care of yourselves.  Take time to let yourself heal when needed.  And go easy on yourself when it seems overwhelming.

Thanks for stopping by today.  Good day, God Bless.

Dave

I’ll Do My Best

I finish many of my conversations by saying “I’ll do my best.” Usually when someone tells me to have a good day, sleep well, have fun, or some other well-wishing suggestion, I respond with, “I’ll do my best.” And I mean it. It is a misnomer of sorts, in that I can’t always achieve my best, but I try and that’s the point. Sometimes my best is pretty good and sometimes it falls way short. I think “my best” can be characterized as an ultraviolet light wave. It goes up and down; and depending on where I’m at in the wave cycle depends on what “my best” will be at any given time or circumstance. And, like the ultraviolet light waves, it’s invisible to the naked eye. Sometimes I don’t even know what “my best” will be until it’s time to find out.

Doing my best isn’t always easy. And sometimes I fake it, or I realize during an event that I need to not lose my cool and adjust to a situation. That happened a couple of times last month. First, I was rear-ended on the job. I stopped at a red light, the young lady behind me did not stop in time. It was very minor, barely worth mentioning, but since I was in a city truck for work, a police report had to be made. I watched in the rearview mirror as smoke rose from the road because she locked up her brakes and the tires screeched. I prepared for impact. It ended up being just enough of a jolt to shake my truck. I was momentarily enraged. I’ve written many times here that traffic and driving are a trigger for my PTSD. But by the time we pulled off the road I calmed myself and handled the situation well.

More recently, as I had laid down one night to go to bed, I heard a commotion outside in the parking lot of the condo complex I live at. After about five minutes of listening to the yelling, I decided to go outside and see what was going on. I wasn’t happy about this. When I got outside I saw a young man holding a baseball bat and two young ladies walking away from him. At that point I went from being not happy to thinking I might have to take the bat from that guy and beat him with it. And in my mind as I saw him, I had already disabled the threat. I walked straight up to the guy staring at him the whole time. Two steps away from him, he dropped the bat and put his hands up by his shoulders. He continued to yell until the cops arrived despite my suggestions that he shut up and go back to his condo. Right before the cops showed up he bent down to pick up the bat. I was very calm and clear, but firm and direct in both tone and language, when I told him what the consequences would be if he picked it back up. Fortunately, especially for him, it didn’t come to that.

In both of those instances I did my best. I had to work on it very hard in a very short amount of time. I had only a few seconds each time to realize where my mindset was going and change course. I did good for the most part. But here’s the side effects of doing my best sometimes when I’m not ready to. After the minor wreck and all the waiting and paperwork was over, I had a splitting headache the rest of the day. Forcing myself to calm down in that situation created a lot of stress and anxiety that I carried the rest of the day. I handled the event well, but the rest of my day was horrible. As far as the baseball bat incident goes, I kept my cool enough to not harm that guy even when he bent over to pick up the bat again. After the cops interviewed me about what I saw, I filled out a police report as requested, and was free to go back to bed. The problem was I couldn’t fall asleep. My adrenaline was still going until 1 a.m. I kept replaying it all in my mind, even the part about pulverizing the guy which never even happened. I only got about four hours of sleep before I had to be back at work.

I understand why I dealt with those two events the way I did and had “side effects” afterwards. That’s how I, and many others, dealt with things at war. Focus, get the job done, keep your cool, don’t go crazy, know your surroundings, know all the rules of engagement. But when an incident or attack happens we end up with loads of energy and adrenaline spikes coupled with not knowing the outcome of a situation as it’s happening or having to be prepared to fight at any given time, whether we’re needed or not. It’s stressful. Unlike the two things that happened last month where I could process the events shortly after they happened, I waited until coming home from Afghanistan to process it all. That was dangerous, but I hardly had a choice. And the side effects of waiting until I got back from war were catastrophic. Failed suicide attempt, diagnosed with PTSD, depression, anxiety, unsociable, jumpy, anger issues. The list could go on and on.

Some days are harder than others, but I’m getting there. And I’ll end here as I do many of my conversations, I’ll do my best. Thanks for stopping by. Good day, God bless.

Dave

Welcome Home

His eyebrows sagged and his countenance fell. His lips tightened as he went into a blank stare. He wiped a tear from his eye. He was somewhere else in the world right then, a different place, a different time. He had come back from that place years ago, probably before I was born. He had to come back from it again during our conversation sitting at the bar. I wondered how many times he’s had to come back from there in the last 45 years or more.

During my last trip to Ft Jackson, I stayed for a week instead of the usual weekend. When I’m there for only my army reserve weekend, I have a routine I generally follow. I get to town on Friday, check into the hotel, then go to Sonic. And why not? They’ve gotten my order right 3 out of the last 5 times now, getting better. Saturday is usually blur, and Sunday afternoon I head back to Florida. But when I’m there for a week at a time, I usually go to a couple different restaurants instead of eating drive-thru food for a whole week.

One particular night I went to a place I’ve enjoyed a few times before. It’s a sports bar with a killer burger. Not only is it good, but it might kill you, too, at half a pound of beef. Hence, a killer burger. But I’ll take my chances. The beer is cold, there’s sports on the TVs, and the people are nice. That’s where I met Chuck.

The conversation at the bar had to the with the heat that day. Then Chuck started talking to me, saying something about a “dry heat” like in Arizona or something. I told him that only works until it gets to a certain point. I told him it was a dry heat where I was in Iraq, but once the temperature got over 110 degrees, it was just hot. Dry or not, it was hot. Side note. For the record, I took a picture of the thermometer outside our Preventive Medicine office at my base in Iraq. It was at 146 degrees. But it was a dry heat. LOL.

Then Chuck told me he had been to the two worst places in the world. The first place being Detroit during the riots in 1967. The second place was Saigon, 1968. He was a Vietnam Veteran. He told me how he went from Detroit to the jungle. Then he told me that of all the men on the plane that took him to Vietnam, only 4 came home. That’s when he retreated into his mind for a minute. I imagine he was taking a moment to remember each of them. I believe he could see them in his mind, maybe as they sat next to him on the plane or maybe as they drew their last breath, I didn’t ask. Either way, he needed a minute.

When he returned to reality, we changed the subject of our conversation to sports. But in only two minutes before that, I knew his pain. I had a sense of his war stories. I could tell where he had been in some respects. His face spoke it all very clearly. Sports brought a completely different face to Chuck. His sports stories were amazing and fascinating. The sports figures that he met over the years, the autographs he told me about, the memorabilia he said he has in his sports room. It all had me in awe. And he was happy talking sports. It’s his life now, and his job.

Everyone I went with to Iraq and Afghanistan came home. I personally knew a few people that died serving, but everyone I went with both times came home. I can’t imagine what goes through Chuck’s mind when he thinks about being only one of four surviving members of the group on the plane that took him to Vietnam. The only inkling I have of what he goes through is what I saw in his face while he revisited the fallen in his memories.

I have my moments where I get triggered to memories of war. On occasion I get jumpy because of unexpected noises. Being in traffic is hard for me. I battle anxiety and depression all the time. I’m still figuring out a lot of this since coming home from my last deployment. I don’t know his stories, but I can very much relate to how Chuck reacted when taken back to 1968. I also do that from time to time. And I wonder if years from now I’ll still have my moments like that. We’ll see.

I’ll say again what I told Chuck the other night. Thank you for leading the way with your service. And Welcome home. I’m glad you’re one of the four that came back.

Thank you all for stopping by this week. Good day, God bless.

Dave

Walk It Off

I saw a meme on Facebook that said, “Telling someone with PTSD to get over it is like telling someone who is deaf to listen up.” I guess the same thing could be said that someone with a compound fracture of the leg should just walk it off. Or that someone with a stutter should speak clearly. Maybe we could tell a blind person to look closely. None of this works that easily. There is some truth to that meme. But there are also some things we can do to better ourselves.

I will never “get over” this thing called PTSD that I was diagnosed with in 2015. I will likely have to deal with the symptoms for the rest of my life. Just this week, I had a mild PTSD moment at work, for about a minute or so. And I happened to be working with the only other army veteran in my department at the time. Yeah, he gave me shit, but he was also understanding and helped me out. I have explained to most of my coworkers at my new job how sometimes I might need a minute to regroup in certain situations. In five weeks at my new job, that’s only happened the one time, for that one or two minutes. I’m nowhere near the bad place I was three years ago. I’m not as trapped in the darkness of my mind as I used to be. I feel better now than I have in years, many years. Some of it coincidence of fortunate events, some it is that I’m making decisions to be better.

Other PTSD moments->  https://storyofmylife.blog/2017/03/18/ptsd-moments/

I do, however, still have some issues. I slept on my couch three nights in a row last week because I didn’t feel like taking my sheets out of the dryer and making my bed. Funny thing is, there are two beds in the guest room, made and ready to go. I still have trouble occasionally with sleep and dreams, even with the medications from the VA. I’m also lacking motivation. Especially with my writing, as can be evidenced with the fact that I haven’t posted here in a month. Depression is an ongoing issue, although I deal with it much better now than I have in the past. I’m continuing to learn how to deal with all this. It’s a process.

It’s not easy->  https://storyofmylife.blog/2017/09/02/harder-than-it-looks/

I took a new job last month. If you follow Story of My Life, you may remember that I left working at the restaurant in the airport for a new restaurant job. After two months at that job, I made another change, to what I hope will be my last job change. Here’s the thing. This new job is something I’ve never done before. Years ago, I had the self-confidence to do almost anything. Not so much the last few years. But I decided to make a complete career change. I built up enough confidence to take a chance and go to an interview for a job I had applied for. And to be honest, at the time, I couldn’t remember for which job I applied when they called me for the interview. But I accepted the interview. I had applied for a number of jobs late last year when I knew things at the airport weren’t going to work out. I knew it was time for a change.

https://storyofmylife.blog/2017/03/04/back-to-work/

At the interview I was asked, “Have you done this kind of work before?” Um, nope. I think I said, “Not exactly. But if you’ll teach me, I’m a fast learner, I work hard, and I show up on time.” In the last year and a half, I can count on one finger how many times I was late for work (not including the time I was subpoenaed for deposition last-minute or the time the VA took an hour and half to do something that should have taken 5 minutes). I was late clocking in one time, by one minute. And for the few of you that personally know me, you know that still bothers me. But my response to his question, along with me already having a commercial drivers license, got me in the door. On a side note, I’m glad I renewed my CDL a couple years ago even though I wasn’t using it at the time.

My newfound confidence paid off. I got the job. I’ve been there five weeks now. This confidence is something I’ve been rebuilding for a while now. It’s taken a long time. It’s not that I was able to “get over” having PTSD, it’s that I worked at it. I take my medications as prescribed. I go to my appointments. I work on staying calm in stressful situations, which doesn’t always happen, but it certainly works a lot better than it did just a few years ago. And I am open with people about what’s going on in my head. Believe it or not, that helps tremendously.

So, like a deaf person can learn sign language to communicate and function in the world, I can learn to deal with and overcome my PTSD. Yes, “my PTSD,” I own that shit. It’s mine, for life. And while the symptoms will always be there, I will continue to find ways to survive and function. It’s not always easy, but it is worth it. Just don’t tell me to get over it. It doesn’t work that way.

Thanks for visiting Story of My Life this week. Good day, God bless.

Dave

I’m Back

I’m back. Finally. I’ve missed y’all. It’s been three weeks since I’ve written or posted. I think that’s the longest break for me in at least the last two years. This month has been busy and it seems to be flying by. And while I feel pretty good about life lately, I’ve lacked the motivation to sit down and write. I keep some ideas in my head, but none of it seems to make it to the computer. There’s been a lot going on. Let me catch you up.

The inconsistent weather had me sick for a week. I think Mother Nature is drunk. Where I live in Florida it’s been pretty nice overall. But the occasional drastic drop in temperatures at night followed by days that require the air conditioner to be run had caused me to get sick. Not bad, mostly sinuses, allergies, and headaches. But my power bill has looked good the last couple months, only having to run the A/C or heat a few times. Dear Mother Nature, please get back on your meds, sincerely, all of us.

That week was followed by a week on orders at my army reserve unit. For those of you that serve or have served in the “One weekend a month, two weeks a year” reserves, you may have had to do that. Most units do the “two weeks” as a unit, usually a training mission designed to enhance and broaden the skills of the soldiers. I, however, am in an instructor unit. Each instructor does a separate training mission in support of a greater mission. Since I’m in the process of a Medical Evaluation Board, I don’t have any real missions. That would have been a perfect week for writing, sitting around the hotel each night bored out of my mind. Unfortunately, after sitting in front of a computer all day at the unit, I was disinclined to do so at the hotel in the evenings. But I did get to watch the Red Sox on TV beat the Yankees 2 out of 3 games. So, that was a good week.

Now to my current week. I feel good. My kids spent the night with me this week, on a school night. They don’t usually stay with me on school nights, so that was a treat. We went swimming, had hamburgers, and watched Big Bang Theory for two hours before bed. Nothing terribly exciting, but I had a wonderful day. I had a physical this week for a new job I will start on Monday. A little more money, better hours, benefits, and weekends off. Weekends off. I’ll get to see my kids more often. That makes me smile. I had to go to the VA for lab work and they didn’t piss me off. Actually, they took me in two hours early. I showed up hoping to get it out of the way and they accommodated me. Another good thing this week. I could get used this “good week” thing.

Ups and downs this month. But for right now I’m on a high note. And not because yesterday was 420, I don’t participate. LOL. I just feel good about things right now. And that feels good. I am tempering my excitement to an extent because I’m a realist. And because I’ve been here before. I know life will continue to go up and down and some of the downs can be pretty bad. I wonder if that’s why sometimes, some of us won’t let ourselves be as happy as we should be, because we know the high peaks won’t last. We know the rollercoaster called Life that we’re riding will go up and down, turning, looping, jarring from side to side, until it makes an abrupt stop. It may be a week, a month, or even tomorrow that something comes crashing down that forces me into a battle with depression. But for now, I’m enjoying this feeling of feeling of good. And I’m going to milk it for everything I can. Because it will be gone soon enough.

Find something good today and enjoy it while you can. Thanks for stopping by this week. Good day, God bless.

Dave