In getting ready for my tour in Iraq as a 21-year-old in early 2004, I attempted to prepare my mind to come to terms with potential paralysis or life with prosthetics.
It was my biggest fear to be half of what I considered a functional human being when I returned.
What twisted the knife ever so slightly was the simple fact that I would be sacrificing my life passion for a cause I couldn’t have been further from supporting.
When I indeed returned from Iraq with my faculties intact, I decided it was time for some new passions.
I learned to cook.
I learned Chinese.
I learned to dance salsa and bachata.
I started trekking, camping, and exploring much more.
I began to travel: chasing epic races nationally and internationally.
I got married……
I got divorced shortly thereafter.
When I was informed of my unexpected deployment to Afghanistan, I was much more successful with my preparation. I had seen men running in the Army Ten Miler with double above the knee amputations. I was sure I would be able to overcome it.
I never needed to.
This past year in September, I ran several double-digit days, especially towards the end of the month. John biked behind me as I ran my last 20 miler on the 29th to celebrate mine and my dad’s life. It was the one month anniversary of his suicide. It was healing, calming, and exciting all at once.
I love movement.
In October on my first night back from the filming of 72 Hours, when I was itching all night and couldn’t sleep I didn’t worry so much. I thought Hydrocortisone cream and I’d be done with it. The next day my fatigue made sense. I hadn’t slept but two hours the night prior. I had no problem collecting wood and starting a raging fire, so I thought I would be done with the “weird, itchy jet lag sickness” around lunch the next day. We camped out after we didn’t find a hot spring that wasn’t closed about 10 years ago for a second time, and the next evening, realized we were within reasonable driving distance to Mrs. Tammie Queen’s house. We headed that direction.
After another four hours in the car, we were super happy to see the Queens come greet us as we arrived to their vacation-esque style home. With a pool, a jacuzzi, a BEAUTIFUL view, and a guest house all our own, we were pretty excited to rest and recover with my surrogate mom and dad. 😀
The next morning, after sitting in the warm sunshine for a few hours with John and Tammie, I was whisked to the Phoenix VA Emergency Department according to plan. We wanted to make sure everything was ok after my adventure. After only a four hour wait in the waiting room, I was brought in to be seen.
I told the doc my symptoms: numb feet, hyper-sensitive skin, itching unbearably when hot, fatigue, and burning when urinating.
The docs at the VA decided I had a urinary tract infection because I had white blood cells in my urine, gave me some antibiotics and pain meds, and sent me on my way. A total six hours of my life.
I went back to the Queens’, took the pain meds and the antibiotics, but before I could finish, I needed to go back to the emergency room. Symptoms this time: Searing sciatic pain (IED injury reinflamed) down my right leg, numb feet and legs, hyper-sensitivity to touch all over, fatigue, weakness in my lower body, inability to walk on my own.
When I was wheeled to triage, the nurse recognized me. He acknowledged my severe pain and told me the wait would be much shorter than last time.
After the FOUR HOUR MARK of sobbing in the emergency room, we couldn’t believe I hadn’t been brought to the back to be treated yet. Two other PATIENTS had even checked on me! Another 20 minutes later I broke. I needed to be out of the wheel chair, so I crawled down to the floor and proceeded to lie on my back.
No sooner had John set my feet down on the seat of the wheel chair, did the entire staff of the emergency department erupt, “That’s not safe!!! You can’t be that way!! It’s not sanitary!!!”
“I can’t sit in the wheel chair any longer,” I sobbed, barely audible.
“She can’t sit in the chair any longer,” John said much more assertively.
“Then we’ll have to take you back,” the man said matter of factly, and proceeded to help a dumbfounded John lift me back to the wheelchair. John and I looked at each other, wide-eyed and disbelieving.
“That’s all it took?” his eyes seemed to say.
“Ha! Should have done this sooner. Damn.. Ouch.” mine replied. 🙂
I was brought to the back, but unseen by a doctor for another 20 minutes or so. I was shaking and sobbing uncontrollably when a volunteer named John (not my John) in to help. He brought me a warm blanket and moved my bed to lift my legs. He was the first VA employee to be genuinely humane to me that entire day. There was no comfort for me, however. When a doctor finally appeared, it was because she heard my cries and blew off the patient she was supposed to see first to help me.
I can’t remember her name, but I remember her kindness.
I was given stronger pain meds and muscle relaxers, ordered a back brace at Prosthetics (that wouldn’t be open for another two days since it was a Saturday), and sent home to rest.
I didn’t get to rest for long. This time I caught a ride with an ambulance and went somewhere other than the VA, because I couldn’t wait another four hours to be seen again.
Thank goodness I was made to get last-minute catastrophic insurance for my adventure!
Thank goodness my great friend, Peter Goll, helped me get it and coached me on which policy to choose.
This was my third time to the ER.
It had been 14 days since I’d defecated. FOURTEEN DAYS!!!!! I could barely move anymore. All the ginger tea in the world wasn’t helping. Suppositories weren’t working. I was simply in pain. They brought me in. I told them my symptoms: No poop in 14 days, numbness in my feet, sensitivity to touch, weakness, inability to walk unassisted, extreme difficulty urinating. I repeated the same thing I’d been saying from the very, very beginning: It’s possible I have a parasite.
After being seen that day, I was sent away knowing my pituitary gland was swollen from a CT scan of my brain, and that my torso was mostly shit from an MRI of my abdomen.
There was barely any room for my organs. I was shocked I was alive.
I never felt so full of shit in my life!!!!
They gave me two enemas before sending me home with a prescription for lots of laxatives, thinking once the poop was cleared from my system, everything would go back to normal.
My 4th trip to the ER was back to West Valley. We returned AGAIN because although we went through 6 enemas at home, I was blocking up, yet again. (Little did I know my bowel muscles were no longer working)
My symptoms: Complete loss of the ability to walk unassisted, numbness in my legs and feet, delirium, trouble speaking clearly, complete loss of bowel and bladder control (we’d gone to diapers), speaking through my dreams, hallucinations, etc.
I pooped my pants during this trip to the ER… I wasn’t wearing a diaper. oops.
I had to get rid of my pants. :/ oops.
They decided I could possibly have a parasite, and ALMOST gave me a spinal tap, but decided against it when they saw white blood cells in the stool sample they grabbed from that convenient accident I had just had.
They diagnosed me with infectious traveller’s diarrhea, and sent me home with some more antibiotics and an order for 3 stool samples.
A few days later, though before we were finished with the antibiotics (that weren’t working) Steve came in and asked me how I was doing.
I remember feeling I hadn’t convinced him that I was OK in the moment, and that was proven when he took John aside and asked, “So, how is she REALLY doing?”
It was declared to me that we were going to have a stand-off with the hospital that day.
We loaded up in the Queen’s vehicle, with me laying in the back on top of folded seats and John following in our vehicle.
By the end of the LONG day in the ER, we left with a piece of paper saying to see the infectious disease doctor at the VA.
The next day we did exactly that.
The next day I was admitted, just in time for things to get worse…