"Freedom and responsibility we speak of easily, nearly always without recognition of the iron courage required to make them effective in our lives." j. glenn gray

Friday, October 1, 2010

Hope Springs Eternal

Well, been absent a while. Out fighting my demons again. Let's bring this puppy up to speed...

Hmmm, where to start? Where to start??? OK, how's this: It's now been ~7 months and nobody, not a soul, from BABA has made any attempt to contact the Bensons... period. No phone call. No email. No text. No snail mail. Nothing. Nada. Zip. Not a peep. Kinda weird for an organization that indicated their "high level of concern" for the Benson's well-being and that they stated they were still going to provide the Benson's with a home. Especially weird when you consider that Dan Walrath was picked by CNN to be one of their Top 10 "Heroes". Harumph! Some kind of hero. The shit hits the fan and he immediately throws his Troops under the bus, takes the money and hauls ass in a different direction. As long as there is greed there will always be a need for our men & women in uniform.

As for me, well, I rode WWP SoldierRide Texas again in March. This year we road North from San Antonio to Dallas/Ft. Worth. It rained & was cold again in San Antone but by the time we got to Temple/Ft. Hood it was warm and sunny. The Spring wind whipped us a bit but everybody carried on and all had a good experience. Along with a bunch of great OEF/OIF Troopers, I got to meet a man from our Sponsor, Boston Scientific, named Sam Holiday (picture below is of Sam and I & taken during SoldierRide California in May). Great guy and an awesome cyclist. His story in itself should be in a book of what America is all about. I found out from Sam that Boston Scientific makes a spinal cord stimulator that may be able to reduce and/or relieve my chronic leg and low back pain.

I went back to Houston and set an appoint with my primecare doctor at VAMC DeBakey in order to ascertain whether or not we could use the spinal cord stimulator approach to treat my 100% Service-Connected chronic pain issue. The doctor flat out told me that the VA would NOT approve such an expensive procedure and when I asked him for a referral to Pain Management so they could tell me such, he refused. Additionally, even after having told him point blank that I no longer wanted to take a bunch of pills and that they were having a negative impact upon my health and my quality of life... he wrote me 5 new prescriptions and told me they would be ready in the pharmacy when I left! Wow! I subsequently contacted Sam and my wife contacted the VA. Sam hooked me up with his team here in Houston who immediately went to bat for me by calling the VA directly and appraising the right people of my situation. Theresa had the VA change my primecare doctor to a more professional and learned individual whom I then had an appointment with some time later.

So, while we're waiting on this to happen...

I went and road SoldierRide California from Los Angeles to San Diego in May. No wonder there are so many fricken people in Southern California... it is absolutely gorgeous! I loved it! The weather. The people. The scenery. Everything. I even got to go to Sea World and watch the Orca show. That was kind of weird sitting there watching the show while thinking of Dawn Brancheau and Tilikum. It was a great show though and afterward I got to meet the trainers and talk a bit. I learned a bunch and really enjoyed the experience. I also got to meet and speak with an CMH Recipient, a Tuskeegee Airman, Cpt Dan Schindler from RAAM Team 4 Mil, a few celebrities, the Iceman Chuck Lidell and Rick Allen (the drummer for Def Leopard). I even gave Rick Allen my SoldierRide jersey right off my back! That was a switch and, you know, I think he actually really appreciated it. Great guy. Very well grounded. DB Sweeney was a cool character too... just a regular guy. Very cool. Also in Cali I again hooked up with a bunch of really, really great American Troopers whom CNN should be more interested in putting before the public as Heroes than the aforementioned what's-his-name. I also got to ride with Sam again and some of his folks from Boston Scientific, including a fella by the name of Mike Roman who just happens to be the World Land Speed Record Holder. Ah, what a character Mike is. Great, great individual whom I feel honored to have met and ridden with. His story too is one of how to overcome tragedy and not only be active and engaging in life but to totally excel at whatever you choose to do with it. His is a great story of overcoming adversity and becoming more than you ever thought you could. OK, that's kind of redundant but, I really can't say enough good stuff about Mike. You can learn more about Mike here: (Sorry about the pics, but Mike moves around so fast it's hard to get a good picture unless you have a high-speed camera! LOL!)

After CA SoldierRide, Summer came on fast here in Houston. The quicksilver shot up along with our 3rd Coast humidity and, for some weird reason, it hit me really hard this year. I couldn't manage riding my 27-mile "around-the-block" ride let alone any cross-country events. My stamina went through the floor and my attitude followed. After a few weeks of this I stopped and really listened to what my body was trying to tell me. I figured out that I was simply poisoning myself with the long-term use of prescription medications. I had become sensitive to sunlight burning easily along with becoming dizzy and faint if out in it too long. I had no muscle strength or endurance. I felt nauseous constantly and had no desire to be social in any way, which is really weird because I am a very social individual. In fact, my wife says I've never met a stranger. It was a weird feeling and one that I was not used to and didn't care for at all. I changed up a few things & scaled back on the Rx until the withdrawal symptoms turned me into a real asshole and then let it level out. I spent my days playing mad xbox Battlefield Bad Co. 2 in order to give my mind something to concentrate on while my body went through the sweats and shakes and tremors. I'm now taking only one Rx instead of seven and hopefully, if this spinal cord stimulator works out, will be able to get off of that one too. I've lost 10lbs and feel just so much better that it amazes me. I feel stronger, more driven and with a desire to engage life again rather than avoid it. Meeting and riding with all of the Troops on SoldierRide as well as Sam Holiday and Mike Roman and, along with having friends like Scotty and the Bensons and a wonderful and supportive wife gave me a considerable pool of strength and inspiration from which to draw. I don't think I could have done it without you guys. Thank you all.

So that is how my Summer of `10 went. Oh, yeah. I don't want to leave y'all hanging out there so this is how my VA experience has gone thus far... This new doctor just happened to be the one I had some 2 years previously and is the head of the primecare staff at DeBakey. Well, he listened to me, reviewed my file and discussed the situation at depth with Theresa and I. He readily accepted that my situation was not something he could treat in general medicine, that prescription medications were NOT going to resolve the issue and that I should have a direct route to Pain Mgt without having to go through primecare for a referral every time I needed something regarding this injury. He personally called upstairs to Pain Mgt to request and appointment right there on the spot (of course he couldn't get anybody to answer the phone so he ended up having to send an electronic request but, he tried and that says a lot). He also took the initiative to schedule me for a CT Myelogram so that the Pain Mgt folks would have up-to-date films to use to assess the situation (this too was an epic fail as the office called to schedule the appointment a week later and left me a message when I didn't answer; I then called 6 times over 3 weeks to schedule this appointment leaving a message on 5 occassions and nobody called me back until 2 days before my appointment with Pain Mgt thus scheduling the CT Myelogram for 2 weeks after my appointment. Typical VA. Shouldn't surprise you.)

Yesterday I got to see Pain Mgt. The meeting went well in my opinion. It is totally amazing the level and/or quality of service one receives at the VA once you get past the base level of care. I think there is gross disparity in how an individual is treated from primecare to specific care at this VA facility. Anyway, the meeting began with the doctor telling me how he had been made aware of my situation sometime back via my friends at Boston Scientific... Thanks Guys! He listened to me and we went on to discuss my situation in depth, including starting from the initial injury to be sure he had a good understanding of my situation and from where I am coming. It took nearly 4 hours to get through the whole thing but, Theresa said it's the first time she had ever seen me leave the VA without being totally pissed off and fuming. The doctor even went so far as to recognize that new technology and methods in MRI would allow him to see what's going on in my spinal column even with the hardware. He said that the invasive and painful CT Myelogram would not be necessary and therefore I don't have to go through with it. So we changed from the myelogram to the mri and away I go... Once he gets the films from the mri he will review them and we will decide whether to try epidural steroid injections or spinal cord stimulation; however, given the extent of structural damage and subsequent fusion, the age of the injury & the symptoms I am experiencing chances are that we'll go straight to the spinal cord stimulator. The doctor feels that I am an excellent candidate for said stimulator and thinks that we should have very good and beneficial results. In that I am very happy. Perhaps that is why I was not fuming on my way out the door as my level of hope began to rise again after years and years of suffering chronic pain. We shall see...

For now I'm going to "put on my sailing shoes" and go for a ride around the block...

Ride On!

Oh, BTW... keep your fingers crossed for us. The WWP has recently given the "go ahead" for the WWP Cycling Team, however, they are still kicking around a budget and how best to go forward with this project. As one of the Team riders I am very excited about this opportunity and what it will mean to have a chance to reach out to other wounded Veterans with an interest in cycling. If I can help them succeed then I have succeeded.

...and for those who don't know, just click on the title for each of my blog entries to listen in on the song that is running through my head as I create these entries.

Hope you like my pics...