Monthly Archives: February 2008

This Can’t be Normal

So it happens to everyone. . . but can this be normal? I was worrying on my side of the globe, but the little information I had didn’t paint the entire picture.

In mid-May I had a very anxious night. I was unsettled and could not put my finger on the reason. That night I began tearing up the dining room carpet to see what was underneath. People who know me know that when I am anxious I tackle big projects that may or may not have any purpose. Did I want to tear up the carpet? Eventually, maybe to refinish a wood floor or put down new carpet. Did I really want to tear out my carpet right now? Probably not, but something inside me kept tearing at the edges and pulling it back a little more. After discovering an acceptable wood floor, I stopped and folded laundry before going to bed. The carpet did come up in the summer of 2007 and we laid a laminate floor instead of refinishing the existing one.

Day 1
Early the next morning I checked my email. I learned that my husband had been admitted to the theater hospital for stomach pain. He was given fluids, antibiotics, and pain medication. The doctors suspected a bacterial infection, but scheduled a colonoscopy to check things out. WHAT?? My husband was in the hospital and I couldn’t be there? That about drove me nuts!

Day 2
The next day test results were positive for salmonella in his system, most likely due to improperly cooked food. He was given a GI cocktail to flush out his system, 1000 mg Tylenol, and a mixture of high-powered antibiotics to kill the salmonella bacteria.

Day 3
Sean was struggling with pain and nausea, so he was sedated for most of 24 hours. The nurse said since his infection was severe it would likely take a while for him to start feeling better. Diarrhea, pain, cramping, and dizziness continued.

Day 5
On the fifth day in the hospital the doctor suspected that Sean’s gall bladder was infected from the salmonella poisoning. He ordered a CT scan to see if it should be removed.

Day 6
Sean was taking medication for nausea every four hours until it was under control. The Tylenol was taking care of the pain, so the doctor decided to send him back to his quarters and back to work the following day. He was told if he had pain or symptoms got worse during the next five days he was to return to the hospital. In five days he dropped from 200 to 175 pounds.

It was frustrating for Sean to go back and forth with no clear-cut decisions. 1st there will be a colonoscopy. 2nd there will not be a colonoscopy. 3rd there will be a colonoscopy and an endoscopy. 4th no scopes. 5th you will have a CT scan. 6th no scan is necessary. You are fit for normal duty, come back if you have any more problems.

Two days after his release from the hospital Sean was doing his PT on the track (couldn’t run or jog, only walk) when he encountered the surgeon from the hospital. Sean described his continuing pain, nausea, and diarrhea. He told Sean to come in to the hospital the next morning for a CT scan and a consult with an infectious disease doctor.

Sean returned to the hospital and met with the trauma surgeon. He ordered lab work and a CT scan. Blood work and CT scan were normal, his organs were all healthy. Sean met with the surgeon, infectious disease doctor, and gastroenterologist. They changed some of his medications which helped with the nausea and vomiting some, though the pain persisted. Of course, he was ordered back to normal shifts right out of the hospital with no time to recover or sleep.

For the next month Sean went to sick call, and worked normal shifts in between bouts of diarrhea and vomiting. He grew weaker and weaker, unable to sleep due to abdominal pain. Finally, in mid-June his commander took him to the doctor and insisted that something be done. The doctor said they could do nothing more for him at Anaconda, so they would send him to Germany for an evaluation and then home to the states.

Sean was tired, sick, and broken, but still he asked his commander, “Can’t I come back to finish my duty after I’m treated?” That’s dedication to duty.

It Happens to Everyone Here

Sean returned to the Iraqi theater in the beginning of April 2006. Within a few days of returing, he was sick. Sean very rarely gets sick. When he is sick, he pulls himself together and goes to work. In the 12 years we have been married, he has maybe called in sick 2 times. He gets upset with me when I take a sick day (I have no immune system–I catch everything). So when I say Sean was sick, I mean he was very, very sick. He was vomiting and had diarrhea constantly. He went to see the doctor who told him he was dehydrated. They gave him fluid, prescribed Pepto Bismal, and a clear liquid diet for 72 hours. He was miserable and hungry. I can’t imagine the discomfort. Far from home, in the heat of Iraq, no indoor plumbing, just porta-johns. Yuck!

Lots of soldiers get symptoms like these due to poor water supply, improperly prepared food, and changes in eating habits when returing from the states to theater, so this is nothing remarkable. In Sean’s case, the doctors guessed that he was getting sick from eating iceburg lettuce. It was the one source that he ate on a daily basis that could have been washed in questionable water.

Sean made multiple trips to sick call in late April and early May as he was rapidly losing weight, and no relief from the diarrhea. The doctor tried Prilosec to see if there was an ulcer, but that did not help. During this time, Sean dropped almost 40 pounds. He continued to work as much as possible. He did not want to let down his unit.

An Aside

Sean plans to give his perspective on his tour in Iraq. It will be added when he is ready. For now, I will continue with the story from my point of view.

R & R

Sean came home for two weeks R & R at the end of March 2006. Murphy’s Law in full effect, there were no flights into Aberdeen. He could either wait two or three days in Kuwait, or fly into a neighboring town. Hmm. . . choice B. Final answer. Sean’s flight was scheduled to arrive at 10:30 PM two hours away from home. E and I made the drive in ridiculously thick fog. The entire way there I was dialing 511 to see if there was a change in road conditions or weather. I was certain that the plane would be delayed, or turned around and we would have to wait to see him. I had been planning this day for weeks. What would I wear? Was the work done around the house? Did I stock the fridge and pantry with his favorites? Were things ready at school for my substitute? How much longer would this take?!

Truly a miracle, one mile north of the airport the fog lifted. Not just lifted, but crystal clear count-every-star-in-the-night-sky lifted. We waited in the tiny airport lounge, looking out the windows and searching for a sign of a plane in the sky. When the plane finally landed, the rush of joy and excitement was overwhelming. We watched the passengers climb down the stairs and walk toward the airport. Sean was somewhere in the middle. At first I was intent on each and every person coming toward us. Once I caught sight of him in his ACUs, carry-on in hand, I can’t remember much else. I know that E beat me to him. She hugged him for the longest time. It was wonderful and excruciating. I wanted it to be my turn! When he embraced me I melted. I smiled. I cried. We were both shaking.

On the drive home it was hard to keep my eyes off him and focus on the road. I watched him doze and was just so happy to have him next to me. The fog had not lifted in any of the surrounding areas, so we drove home in the same conditions. As it turns out, had Sean been scheduled to fly into Aberdeen, his flight would have been delayed or cancelled.

During Sean’s time at home he caught up on some sleep, walked with the dog, cleaned the gutters, visited the FD, and spent time with us. He thoroughly enjoyed having the three kids around and trying to catch up with what was going on in their lives. We took a couple days to ourselves as well. We even found time to attend the annual Home Builder’s Show (Sean’s idea, not mine). I was in heaven with him at home. It was amazing to lay next to him in bed each night, or sit next to him on the couch and watch a movie. If only it would never end.

Once again we took Sean to the airport and said a tearful goodbye. The security at our tiny airport is pretty strict, so the attendant at the counter took it upon herself to search Sean’s military duffel bag (he was in full uniform). In basic training soldiers are taught to fold and roll each item a certain way to insure maximum items will fit in each bag. This woman did not go to basic training. She asked Sean to repack the bag after she had searched it. Sean told her, “You took it all out, you put it back in.” Then he went through the security point, removed his boots for inspection, and was trapped behind the windows, just out of my reach. My husband was gone again.

Camp Anaconda, Iraq

Sunrise over the Guard Tower
Palm trees outside the wire

Sean’s bunk area

Hootch Sweet Hootch

Working in the ASP

Sean meets Jesse James of Monster Garage

Sean driving the gator
Sean arrived at Camp Anaconda, Iraq in early November 2005. He shared a “hootch” with another soldier. They had trailers set up with three rooms, and two people to a room. Not a bad set-up compared to his previous deployments spent living in tents.

I did my research and found out the dangers of living in this camp. This location is nicknamed “Mortaritaville” for a reason. When we talked, we didn’t discuss the dangers. But on the days when no calls or messages came, my imagination ran wild.

The following are excerpts from emails I received while Sean was in Iraq. I will try to get him to add some personal dialogue as well.

November 2005

I have settled in. . . have a bunk and a locker. . . lots of sand here. . . the sand is much worse than flour and gets into and stays in everything. . . I have been working every day now on shift from early morning (still dark) to mid-afternoon so not too bad.

I am not outside the wire in extreme danger although this place feels and acts like a pressure cooker out of control.

December 2005

It is mid 70s and low 80s during the day and in the 50s at night. . . I work in an ammunition company and oversee operations and inspect ammunition to see if it is good or not.

We eat normal food over here. . . same as home sometimes. . . there is a variety: Mexican night, Indian night, cheeseburgers, corndogs, tacos. . .

We have very heavy gear. . . a protective vest and kevlar helmet that together weigh about 100 pounds that we wear a lot of the time. . . we also carry weapons and ammunition with everywhere we go, even when we work out at the gym or shower.

I will be working on Christmas so that the younger troops can be off.

I had my first day off yesterday. . . got some sleep. . . that was good.

Jesse James was in Anaconda doing the last show of Monster Garage forever. They came to the ASP (Ammunition Supply Point) to get some parts for a humvee he is making over. . . if you want to get a glimpse of Anaconda, tape the show. . . I got a picture with Jesse James last night at the education center. He was there emailing home at the same time I was checking my email.

Man is it cold here. It has been in the upper 20s and low 30s at night and half of the morning for the past week. You can see your breath and there was a thick frost the other morning. I’m cold even wearing long underwear, neck gator, stocking cap, gloves, and my fleece coat. Of course it does not help that I shaved my head last night. I told the commander if I wanted South Dakota weather, I would have stayed home with my wife and been warm.

January 2006

Yesterday it rained for most of the night and part of this morning. It was a total downpour. Everything here was very wet and muddy or soupy. Our forklifts just slide around. We had an hour or so of fog and it was as thick as pea soup. . . there is mud everywhere and you slip and slide. . . the mud sticks to everything, shoes, boots, pants, coats, yuck! Well, at least it warms up during the day.

My days off are spent sleeping or catching up on sleep. . . I now automatically wake up at 4:00 AM before my alarm rings and shut it off before I head to the shower in the freezing cold weather. . . but at that time in the morning the water is still hot. . . then to breakfast and work which I don’t leave until 1700 at night.

I find myself often counting back nine hours to figure out your time.

June 2006

Two days ago it was 123 degrees. . . yesterday it was 126 degrees and in category black by 11:00 AM. . . today at 12:00 PM it was 121 degrees so it is stifling hot. . . not much appetite lately, but I’m trying to eat. . . also can’t sleep but 2 or 3 hours a night. . . we are fairly busy at work. . . last two days feel like a blowdryer on high. . . takes your breath away.

From Kuwait to Iraq

Sean in full Battle Rattle before boarding the plane in Kansas
Camel Herd in Kuwait
50-Man Tent

Sean travelled to Kuwait in mid-October 2005 and arrived at Camp Buerhring.

While in Kuwait, Sean lived with 55 men in 50-man tents. No heat or air. Uncomfortable cots. On base was a tent that housed a gym where they would play volleyball for 2 hours a day and workout. A movie tent ran 24 hours a day as did the internet cafe. Uncomfortable cots, nervousness and anxiety, and missing their families made it difficult for many to sleep, so many soldiers would spend time in the movie tent and internet cafe.

Before the unit could move forward to Iraq, they had to complete a rigorous training routine. The unit participated in had PLS (palletized load system) truck training, forklift training, moving concrete barriers, and pallates of water bottles. They held “Forklift Rodeos” to hone their skills. They loaded vehicles desinated as “excess” to be shipped back to the states. They took a camping trip to weapons ranges to drill on combat ambushes, checkpoints, and close quarter combat training. They slept in large tents and it got brutally cold at night. They encountered their first camel herd on this trip.

The phones were a 20 minute walk from Sean’s tent with a 15 minute wait to make a call. Sean called every three to four days. I counted myself very fortunate that my husband would find time to contact me at the end of his busy days. Some wives only heard from their husbands every couple of weeks! Others got messages or phone calls every day. My grandmother told me after seeing a news bit about emailing troops stationed overseas, “When your granpa left for WW II, I didn’t get to talk to him for three years!” She thought we were very lucky and very spoiled.

Email was spotty at first, but improved during his stay (in Iraq). Sean would walk 30 minutes to the internet cafe tent on base, wait up to 1 1/2 hours and email me every few days. Internet service was slow and unreliable. There was not always time to read or send messages once he had computer access. Here is a sampling of emails I received from Kuwait.

94 degrees today. . . very bright out. . . needed my sunglasses all day. . . you can relax for a little bit as I am safe for the moment.

There’s not anything here but sand and tents. . .

It is warm here during the day 110 or higher.

I am extremely proud of you for taking on the kids at this difficult time in their lives. . . thank you from the bottom of my heart.

I really need to focus because I want to come home safe and I need to bring everyone else home safe.

It has cooled down a bit to high 80s and at night it gets down to 50 or 60 and can be cold. . . I already sent my sleeping bag to our final destination. . .

The food is not bad here and there is a big selection.

I go to bed a 11:00 and get up at 3:30 every morning because I can’t sleep. . . it’s cold. . . the cot is not comfortable.

Putting Out the Flames

For every homefire you burn, there is a hotspot sure to pop up.
I learned this lesson all too well while trying to manage a home, family, job, and long-distance relationship with my husband.
The short list:

  • bed bugs (they are more than just a cute rhyme at bedtime–a bonus parting gift from the hotel in Denver)
  • exterminator for pesky bed bugs
  • new living room furniture, matress and box spring thanks to pesky bed bugs
  • run-in with a deer on the highway (he ran into me)
  • new doors on the van thanks to renegade deer
  • runaway child (we’ll protect privacy here)
  • multiple body piercings (your father won’t be happy to see THAT)
  • school attendance problems and failing grades
  • missing car (multiple occasions–had to remove the tires a time or two)
  • influenza A with all of us home for a week
  • my father’s brain tumor, removed twice, and triple bypass surgery
  • traveling from family events in horrible weather where I swore I would NEVER drive again once Sean got home
  • traumatic events in my step-daughter’s life
  • my step-daughter moved in (a blessing we had long awaited)
  • death of Sean’s grandfather
  • flood of May 2006 with inches of water in the basement
  • demolition of the basement due to water damage
  • the flat tire dilemna that plagues us began–I don’t know how I can drive over that many nails!
  • math homework meltdowns that required calling a friend for backup
  • 3 teenagers in the house (you can use your imagination here)
  • mysterious hives and canker sores (an entire mouth full)
  • smashed rear window in the car (an incident at the skatepark)
  • leaky ceiling when the snow melted
  • leaky ceiling in the basement when the toilet overflowed

My doctor thinks my headaches are due to stress. Really?