Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A Heartbreak

Thirty-two days in the CCU.  We have seen families come and gradutate to the med/surg floor.  We have heard their stories.  We have come to know them.  Tonight my heart is breaking.
Amanda is a 20 year old Air Force wife.  She is two months pregnant and has a 2 year old daughter, Raven.  Her husband was brought in last week with a gun shot wound to the head.  There is no brain wave activity.

Thursday they are having a special AirForce tribute memorial with the color guard for Amanda's husband. They will shut off life support earlier that day. My heart and prayers are with this 20 yr old mother and soon to be widow of this war. </3

This is the face of war that people do not see.  This is the face of war that goes without mention by the media.  The news announced today that August 2011 has been the deadliest month in the war so far, but celebrities get far more mention, and the wounded are ignored.

Every day I see dozens of young men with missing limbs and/or burns or who have been shot.  And these are just the ones who are still inpatient.  I have not yet gotten to rehab or outpatient, so I have not seen all of those warriors.

These stories should be told.  These brave young men and women should be known.

Moving Forward

Several steps forward, and only a few steps back.  As long as we keep moving forward, I am A-OK with that!  As the 10th Mountain says - Climb to glory!!!  Hoo ah!

The best news today was that the bacteria is out of the blood!  (doing happy snoopy dance) (picking dignity up off the floor and smoothing it out)  Okay, I'm calm.

Derek's white cell count is down slightly to 22.  It has been slowly declining since the jump up on Friday, but he had a fever overnight.  It seems when his white count goes down, the fever goes up and vice versa.
They read the films from the CT scan and said that there are several abscesses in the abdomen.  They are in very dangerous areas, so they do not want to go after them.  To insert a needle and extract them could potentially puncture the bowel or one of the blood vessels.  They do not want to open his stomach because of all of the abdomnal surgery he had down range.  So they are going to hope the antibiotics work.  If they do not, they will have to reassess the risks involved with going after them.  I am going to trust that they know what they are doing and leave it in their capable hands.

Last night Derek's heart developed an arrhythmia.  Dr. Mielky explained that sometimes even healthy guys have them, so it might be nothing to worry about, but because Derek is so sick, they will have cardiology look at him.  They didn't get to him today, so they will be there tomorrow.

Dr. Mielky saw me listening to rounds and took me aside afterwards and asked if I heard it all, understood everything or had any questions.  Wonderful of him.

And today was "line change Tuesday!"  The central line had to be changed.  It was starting to look a little funky (great medical term, huh?), so Dixson, his "big ugly guy" nurse (his description not mine!) called for it to be changed.  They have changed it every week to avoid infection.  Sometimes they have been the cause of infection.  I found out today that one of the lines a couple of weeks ago had been placed wrong!  It was accidentally put in an artery!

Dixson is about six and a half feet tall with spiky blond hair and dances around the room.  He is a Navy nurse and sings "big guy in a little space," and other strange tunes out of no where.  He tells Derek the most insane stories as he works on the lines, moves him, gives him his medicines, and places his "Pillow of Destiny," one of Dixson's own creations.  The Pillow of Destiny is a pillow full of ice cubes that goes behind the head, neck and shoulders and keeps Derek cool and comfortable.

Derek also received his JG tube for feedings.  What should have been a 10 minute, easy procedure took over two hours.  His stomach kept spitting it out and saying, "No!  I don't want it!" like a spoiled little two year old.  Because of his birth defect, his gut is not wired like the rest of us.  He is special in more ways than one.  They couldn't seem to get the tube in.  Finally, they got a shorter tube in place.  It isn't what they would have liked, and they will have to watch it more closely, but it is there.  Hopefully now they can re-start the tube feedings and get his gut working again!  The TPN lady (nutritionist) kept saying he was fine on TPN alone, but his gut needs to work!  He needs real food!

The methylneltrexone that was supposed to start yesterday and help counter the effects of the narcotics to get his gut working was not started due to the pharmacy not sending it up until today.
Today Derek asked for ice chips.  His nurse, a very sweet, very pretty young woman, went and got him ice chips.  When she tried to give them up him, he shut his mouth tight and shook his head.  He then pointed at Krytina.

He also asked Krystina to take him to lunch.  She asked him how, and he said in a wheelchair... to McDonalds... where he wanted McNuggets, a wrap and a Coke.  It has been over five weeks since he has had anything to eat or drink.

The worst news of the day is that Dr. Obi Ugo is leaving us!!!  NOOOO!!!!  I love Dr. Obi.  When he walks down the hall, I sigh in relief.  I know Derek is well taken care of when he walks in.  But his rotation is over and he has to go to Fort Belvoir.  Our horrible loss is Belvoir's awesome gain.  I told him that I was going to kidnap him and shackle him in the basement and only let him out to care for Derek!  I didn't realize that he was only a resident.  I thought he was a full fledge doc already... he is THAT good.  He will be missed, and I wish him the best of luck in all that he does.

Derek had OT and PT today.  His OT, Sam, is very sweet and upbeat.  This was his first day of PT, and Mary Jean was very nice, too.  She had him moving his right leg for the first time.  She also talked to him about getting his wheelchair, and he was all for it.  He wants out of that bed and moving!  Five weeks is a long time to be stationary, even if you don't remember it all.

We found out today that Derek received nine units of Battle Buddy Blood.  When the guys are down range and need blood, they do not have time to test the blood when it is donated, and they do not have a lot of blood stored, so the guys in the platoon donate blood for the wounded.  Unfortunately, if they have contracted a disease since the time that they deployed, there isn't time to test the blood.  So they test the wounded warrior after he returns, every three months for a year.  The alternative is not to give him the blood that he needs to save to his life.  I am grateful that he received nine units of his buddies' platelets down range. 

That's about it for the Derek update.  He is doing well, and we seem to be moving in right direction finally.  Positive thinking, prayers, an awesome medical team and Derek's fighting spirit and never give up attitude will help him fight his polytrauma, including all of those nasty bugs!  Thank you for your continued support.  It means the world to me.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Broken Bed and a Broken Heart

This morning the white cell count was 24.5, down a little.  Fever was 100.7.  CPAP was set at 10 and 5.  After surgery he was back at VC-AC, but they put him back on CPAP at 12 and 5 a few hours after surgery.  We are hoping to get him off CPAP and back breathing completely on his own in a couple of days.  Those infections are still in his lungs, but the secretions are getting less.  They have to suction him less and less from down the trach.

This morning I got so excited and started dancing around the room when Derek moved his thumb and forefinger on his right hand!!!  The nurse asked him to move it and he did!  This was her first time working with him, so she didn't understand my excitement.  When I explained it, and when she saw how excited his night nurse Trista was when I told her, she got it.  This is big!  It means the nerves, tendons and muscles are starting to repair themselves!  Go, Derek!

Surgery 18 went well.  The left leg was swollen and red and there is fluid on it, but no infection was found.  There might be bacteria on it, but it is not infected.  They washed out the left leg, for the first time in a while, the right leg and replaced the antibiotic beads and the right arm.  They also checked all of his other wounds and said they looked good and were healing nice.  The wounds on his back and butt are still causing him problems.

The fixator on his pelvis will be there a while yet, because the pelvis is not healed.  But the jaw looks good and he is opening his mouth wider every day.  We have to force him to do his jaw exercises, because he says he is too tired.

His stomach/intestines/gut has not been processing his tube feeds or any of his oral medications, which stinks because his nuerontin for the phantoms pains and the tylenol are both oral.  To find out if there was a blockage, and to see if the fluid was infected, they did another CT scan.  They did one last week, but with only oral contrast.  This time they tried oral contrast, but it didn't work, but they also did IV contrast.
There is a lot of fluid around the lungs, the lower part of the lungs have collapsed, there is a lot of fluid in the lower abdomen but it does not look to be the source of infection, and they believe that the newest medication (methylneltrexone) will get the GI tract moving again.  The lungs they believe will re-inflate and be okay once they get the infections and the attendent secretions out of them.

And tomorrow they are going to do a procedure to help with the tube feedings and GI tract.  Right now he has a gastro-tube for feeding, but he is going to have a gastrojejunal (GJ) tube.  This placement is a minimally invasive, image guided technique in which a special soft feeding catheter is placed through an existing hole in the stomach (gastrostomy) into the small bowel (jejunum).

The worst part of the day for Derek was his damn bed.  Derek has a special bed because his wounds weep and he had been sitting in a soaking wet bed.  4 - 5 times each shift the nurses would have to change him.  Those changes would effect his blood pressure, heart rate, breathing, etc.  When he was septic and/or otherwise unstable, they would be unable to change him, so he would be forced to lie in a soaking wet bed.  This caused the wounds on his back and butt to deteriorate further.  He had two stage 3 and one stage 2 wounds, or so I was told before he got his new bed on August 19th.  The new bed allowed air flow below him which kept him dry.  It allowed the sores to heal so that they are now stage 1 and 2.

The rep from the bed company came today and fooled with it and broke it!  Right after surgery!  She touched something and it deflated.  When she tried to reinflate it, it started rotating.  Then she had the nerve to say that when it was deflated that he was okay because there was a pad under it and he was lying on the pad.  I checked.... he was lying on hard, cold metal.  I told her so.  His nurse from the other day, Pete with the bright orange laces checked and snapped his fingers to get the new bed in there immediately!
My heart broke as I watched them pull him to move him over to the new bed.  He was in so much pain.
Then the witch said to me that the bed would need to be taken back and checked out and that we should have it back in about a week.  I went through with her what I just said above about the wounds, the wet bed, the stats, etc. and the reasons Derek needed that bed and why he could not stay in the replacement bed he was on for more than an hour or two.  I told her that she better find him another exactly like the one he had within a few hours or else.

They found one.  I was told it would be down in CT scan for when he came out of the machine.  But then the brainiacs brought it to his room.  Why?  This poor kid, on surgery day, had to be moved from the deflated bed to the other bed to the CT table to the other bed to the new bed all because they didn't bring the bed to the CT room.  Dumbasses.  But at least they replaced it right away.

And special prayers are needed tonight for a young woman at Bethesda facing an unspeakable horror. Her husband was shot and is on life support. There is little to no hope. She has a 2 yr old and is pregnant. His family is threatening to sue her if she makes the decision to end efforts. His father who was not involved in his life wants to sue the army for this tragedy. My heart breaks for her.

I can understand the anger and frustration of this.  I remember the mother who wanted to sue when her son was killed in Iraq.  My political beliefs are well known by my family and friends.  This is not the place to air them, but I want to make it clear that I neither hold this administration nor the last one responsible for what has happened to Derek. 

I knew that this was a possibility when he joined the military, and I knew that injuries could occur.  I did not realize that it was this bad, because the media does not let us know that this is going on.  But I knew that he could be hurt, or, God forbid, killed.  I begged him not to join the infantry, but he was gung ho.  He wanted to be a warrior.  I was so proud of my son's bravery and determination. 

I knew when I last saw him on March 19, 2011 at 3:00 a.m. and watched him march down the street with his platoon that I might never see him again.  I hugged him and said, "see you later," because I could not say, "good-bye."  Every time I chatted with him on facebook or had the occasional phone call, I ended it with "love you, miss you, be safe."  His attitude was that he was fine, and nothing would happen to him.  But I knew better.  I am lucky that he is still alive.

I still have him able to communicate with me.  I still have hope that he can fight these infections.  Amanda is facing the ultimate decision.  Please remember her and her adorable little girl in your prayers. 
God bless you all.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Onward Bound

This morning I arrived to Ken, Derek's nurse, laughing hysterically beside Derek's bed.  Derek was begging to lift weights.  He doesn't have a working right hand, cannot sit up, cannot breathe on his own, but he wants to lift weights.  Oh, and everytime they sit him up so that he can breathe easier, it hurts his butt, but he wants to lift weights.  His butt has been giving him so much trouble.  He has sores on it, which they are now thinking are not bed sores but from the original blast.  The notes from the hospitals in Kandahar and Germany are not clear, so they do not know.  They were stage three, but now have been downgraded to stage two.

Derek had to be put on more pressure support on the vent, because he is still having so much trouble breathing.  He is still on CPAP, but the pressure was turned up.

Unfortunately, his white cell count jumped overnight to 30.1.  There is still no answer as to why his white cell count keeps jumping up.  He didn't have much of a fever today, just around 100.

He had bad phantom pains, so they upped the nuerontin, but because he has been unable to digest anything, they had to switch most of his medications to IV, instead of through the GI.  There is some talk about a JG tube for feeding purposes because he is having such problems.  They stopped the tube feedings during the week because he was having problems with them and now he has a drain.

His left leg (the one with the hip disarticulation) is all red, so they will look at it in the OR tomorrow.  We are really hoping they do not have to take any more because that would mean removing the pelvis.
All day he was just feeling bad and slept a lot.  We stayed quiet with him, rubbing lotion on his dry hands, exercising his right hand so that it does not freeze up, and holding his hand while he slept.  The pointer on his right hand is not extending all the way.  Hopefully that will rectify itself.

Just another day with Derek.  Some good news and some bad.  This roller coaster has to end some day. 
Christina Tavaras was an angel of mercy today.  She dropped off a home cooked dinner to us, our first in 30 days!  Christina and her brother James were our carpool in grade school and high school.  My Nana drove us to school and her mother drove us home.  Long time ago.  Dinner was so good.  Thank you, Christina!

But I am always amazed at the family dynamics I see around the floor.  Family members who cannot put aside their hatred for one another to assist a loved one through hell.  I see mothers and daughters-in-law who cannot be in the same room.  Parents who threaten to sue wives if they do not get information.  Mothers who scream at wives when they make decisions they do not like.  Security being called to the floor because of fights.  Wives walking out on husbands. 

I've listened to wives bad mouth their mothers-in-law to me and mothers bad mouth their daughters-in-law to me trying to find a sympathic ear.  I stay nuetral and try to remind them that they need to get along and keep a positive attitude for the wounded warrior's sake, who is the most important one right now. 
I had not seen my ex for 12 years before this happened.  Seeing him the night Derek was admitted was awkward!  It was even worse for my children.  But I had to set aside my feelings for Derek's sake.  I am not saying it was easy.  It was hell.  And we had a few not so friendly words, but this is about Derek, not us.  If Derek wants him here, then he will be here in whatever capacity Derek wants.

Surgery day tomorrow.  Surgery 18.  Hopefully we will make some progress on these infections.  Got to get ahead of them one day.

Good night, everyone.  God bless you.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Invasion by Walter Reed and Irene

This week: tornado warning, hurricane, earthquake, lightning strike, Derek borderline septic, locusts...  whatever is next...  Bring it! We can take it!

Well, the hurricane was more like a tropical storm when it finally reached us.  Winds were 43 mph and heavy rains, but not much else.  The storm that produced the lightning strike that set the tree on fire was worse than Irene.

And the patients from Walter Reed moved over today.  They were supposed to come tomorrow, but because Irene came tonight, the patients moved this morning.  It went without a hitch and now we have all of the doctors AND patients from Walter Reed.  The media and a crowd formed a "parade route" that cheered them on with signs and balloons and they chanted for their heroes!

And today I met with a Mom and tried to comfort her while she was heartbroken over not only her son's injuries but the fact that his wife took off with their two young girls. I was heartbroken just talking to her.  I felt she needed to speak with the chaplain more than me and left her with him.  How could this woman be so cruel?  Maybe she cannot deal with it, but to leave him now when she needs him the most?  The wedding vows are for richer and poorer, in sickness and in health.  She should at least stay with him until he is through this period.  How can she sleep at night and live with herself?  I do not understand the selfishness of people.

I also met another mother who moved over from Walter Reed today.  Her son was injured on June and was in A Co. of the 2-87.  Derek is in B Co.  We were at the same pre-deployment ball.  He is on the 4th floor and he has injuries that are very similar to Derek's, so they will be able to go through this together.
I checked with the doctors today to see if I could go back to Jersey for a day or two to clear up some things, and they advised against it because Derek is borderline septic again.  I am needed on a daily basis to sign consents and discuss things with the doctors.  It is so overwhelming.  Of course I will be there for Derek as long as necessary.

Derek's white cell count was 25 today, down from the 28.6 yesterday, but still too high.  He is not running a fever, but they still do not know where the infection is hiding.  They are debating a broncoscopy to look into his lungs, because he is still having a terrible time with the secretions and struggling to breathe.  He is back on the vent, switching between CPAP and full vent support.  And they are debating doing the CT with IV contrast.  I wish they would just do these tests already and get some answers!

Derek is still bloated and I do not like it. 

The arteriogram/vascular surgery went well and the flap/graft on the arm will hopefully be done next week, if the infections on under control in the arm and blood.

I also asked about the infection that I didn't have clear last night.  It is acinetobacter.  This species is innately resistant to many classes of antibiotics and in acutely sick patients, it can be fatal.  This is present in Derek's lungs and throat, as well as other places in his body, which is why he is on droplet precautions.
Dr. Paolino from the infectious disease team said that we are getting there, but he is still very sick.  He wants to stop one of the antibiotics.  He is currently on 7, and one of them is really only a "drop in the bucket," Dr. P said.  The trauma and SICU teams want to keep him on all of them.  My concern is that all of these antibiotics will start to work against each other.

Tonight while straightening up his room his nurse, Mary, who I really like and who does a good job explaining things to me and answering all my insane questions, accidentally bumped into his fan and knocked it over.  It broke and now bounces all over the place because it is off balance.  He gave us the lip and was upset.  Mary jury rigged it to get it to work tonight, and tomorrow I will go out and get him another one.  She felt bad about it and it was an accident.  I have to go to CVS anyway to get some hairdye (sorry, Sue!).  I am so grey and cannot get to my colorist in Jersey so I have to buy a box (gasp!).  It won't be as good as Sue can do it, but it will have to do.

Today was a quiet day for Derek.  Just rest and trying to fight the infections.  Tomorrow is another day of rest.  Monday is Surgery 18.

God bless you all and thank you for the continued prayers and well wishes.

Saturday, August 27, 2011


Over four years ago, Derek started dating a girl, Krystina Dressler, who was two years younger than he was.  He was 17 at the time, and she was only 15.  At first, I thought she was a little young for him.  I looked at her a little cautiously, and wondered if she was good enough for my boy.

Over the years, she not only proved that she was good enough for him, but she exceeded my expections exponentially.  She puts up with all of his nonsence and loves him anyway.  Derek is sweet, lovable, sensitive, passionate kid, but he is a pain in ass.  He can drive you crazy, as Krystina knows best.  All I have to say is that two IEDs does not surprise us in the least.

Derek is not only loved immensely by his own family, but my Krystina's family as well.  He was welcomed into her family as one of their own.  It is wonderful that these two kids have brought two familites together with such unity and love.  Many inlaws do not share that bond.

When this accident happened, Krystina was, of course, heartbroken.  But then she said, "sometimes we do not choose our path in life, pur path chooses us."  She turned 20 years old on August 18th and she wise beyond her years.  There are so many who have walked away from people they have claimed to love because it got too much for them, that evidence is all over Walter Reed Bethesda as well as in the rest of the world, but this girl is strong as rock.

Krystina sits by Derek's bed for hours simply watching TV.

She left school temporarily and quit her job so that she could stay by Derek's side and help him get well.  She is not yet on orders, and I am his POA, so I cannot leave her here alone, no matter how responsible she has proven herself to be.

Krystina does whatever needs to be done to help Derek.  Whether that be to help suction or anything else, she is not squeemish at all.  She is even talking about switching her course of study to nursing.
What is really upsetting to me is that as much as this girl has stood by Derek's side and has been a source of strength for him as well as for me not only over the last five weeks but the last four years, a group of people who do not know her, and do not even really know Derek, tried to convince her to leave.  Although it is several weeks later, it still upsets me because she is still upset about it and this girl does not deserve that. 

Although it was couched in terms of wanting to do what was best for her and saying that maybe she shouldn't be burdened with someone who would be in a wheelchair the rest of his life (which he will not be and I will thank you to get out and never come back if you are going to have a defeatist attitude), that is her decision and her decision alone, and it was not the time.  Emotions were raw, Derek had not even woken up, and how would it be for him to wake up and the one person he really wanted to see to not be there?  What would that have done for his will to live?  Since he has woken up, he has really only wanted two people on a continuous basis, Krystina and me.  He has asked for others sporatically, but on a daily basis, he asked for the two of us. 

These people wanted her to leave, or wanted her to "do what was right for her and leave," and once again, it would have been left to me to tell him that someone he loves has walked out on him.  He has had people leave him all his life.  He doesn't need the one that he loves most leaving him at a time like this.

The other night I fell in love with her all over again.  Derek was so sick.  He vomited over and over.  I stood beside the bed with a cloth, wiping his face while the nurse applied cold compresses to his head, but Krystina held the pan under his chin and suctioned his mouth.  Sometimes, it was only Krystina when there was nothing for the nurse and I to do.  This went on for an hour.

Many of her facebook posts are dedicated to how much she loves him, how proud she is of each litte accomplishment, and how good their lives are going to be once he gets better.

Last night Derek told her by pushing letters on a board that he would get better for her, then he stroked her face and told her he loved her.  This is true love.

He is so lucky to have been blessed with his angel, Krystina Dressler.  We all are blessed to have her in our lives.

The Calm Before the Storm, In More Ways Than One

Tonight Derek gave me "the lip" and asked for Snapple.  Earlier, he asked for ice chips after complaining his throat hurt.  I know his throat hurts.  He hasn't been able to swallow anything for five weeks, but until he beats those infections a little more and it is determined that he can swallow without aspirating, we cannot allow him to drink.  I gave him an ice chip, but even after warning him not to swallow, he didn't listen, which resulted in a fifteen minute long coughing fit.  He got the picture and didn't try to swallow again.  Later, he only wanted Krystina to give him his ice chips because the nurse doesn't give him the chips with the same love that Krystina and I do.

Surgery was long today.  They took him by 7:30 and did not return him until after 12.  He had ortho washouts of his arm and legs (including replacing the anticiotic beads because that damn right leg is infected again), vascular surgery on the right arm, the urology team, and the trauma team trying to get the fluid from his abdomen.

Dr. Whittaker performed the vascular surgery this morning, but we do not yet have the results.

They determined that they could not risk getting out the fluid from his abdomen because of its location.  It is precariously located behind a cluster of nerves connecting the intestines and other organs and to get to it would put him at great risk.  They tried, but it was too risky.  They have a drain on his stomach and it is producing green bile.  They have not restrarted the tube feedings because he has not been able to tolerate them.  They are hoping tomorrow to restart them. 

His white count is up from 22.5 yesterday to 28.6 today, but his fever broke.  There are other possibilities as the source of the infection, so they are going to investigate them first, and do another CT scan with IV contrast this time, instead of GI contrast like last time, to see if that determines if the fluid is the source of the infection. 

The culture from the trach grew gram negative rods.  That is neither a good thing nor a bad thing at this point, just a thing, according to Dr. Perdue.  They have to wait until it grows to the next phase to see.
The blood culture from the c-line is negative so far but his blood is growing gram postive cocci bacteria and a-bacter (?? - need to find out more about this one). 

Derek is on seven different antibiotics so what the hell is with these new infections?  Today he asked me what would happen if the infections won, if he couldn't beat them, if the antibiotics didn't work.  I told him that they would switch to different antibiotics and find stronger ones that WOULD WORK!  I told him he would have to KEEP FIGHTING and that he WOULD beat them!  I could never tell him anything else or allow him to believe anything else.

Derek has this board that he points to the letters in order to tell us what he wants to say.  With the trach, he cannot speak yet.  He told Krystina tonight that he promises to get better for her.

The earthquake didn't shake the infections out of him, but maybe Hurricane Irene will!  We are battening down the hatches and preparing to the blown away tomorrow!  Hope you all stay safe and dry!  God bless you!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Big Concerns?

Derek's biggest concerns today were a shave and a haircut.  Later in the day, he wanted to know where he will be for Christmas. 

My biggest concerns were those damned infections and the fact that his trach was leaking disgusting yellow, greenish gook.  He vomited the same greenish gook for an hour tonight.  Respiratory came in tonight and didn't know what it was, so I asked for the doctor.  He thought it might be stomach secretions.  He was going to have the surgeons look at it either later tonight or in the OR tomorrow. 

The doctors have been debating for the last couple of days about getting the fluid in his abdomen out.  His white blood cell count is down to 22.5, but that is still too high when it should be below 10.  It could be the fluid in the abdomen.  But the fluid is behind all the major organs that they cannot take the chance of touching.  Dr. Perdue described it like trying to get the pickle jar from the back of the refrigerator without touching anything else from the front of the refrigerator.  So, they might go in from the back during surgery tomorrow.  I have to talk to them in more detail tomorrow morning.  He is first case again.  So, 6:30 a.m. I will be there.

Dr. Whittaker will be doing the angiogram/arteriogram vascular surgery on Derek's arm to make sure that it is ready for the flap.  That's good.  Dr. Thurlowe ordered a special cocktail to protect his kidneys.
But Derek was getting more independent before he got so sick.  He is allowed ice chips or small sips of water, but he cannot swallow, so we suction them out.  This morning, he insisted on doing it himself.  He tipped the cup of ice chips into his mouth with his left hand, since he has no use of his right hand, and then lifted the sunction with his left hand and did that himself, too.  It was heart warming to see him do it himself.

Dr. Ugo said speech should have been around all week, but we have not seen them since Saturday.  OT came by yesterday and today.  She brought Derek a funky glove to help with the swelling. 

Derek is done with the ICU.  He wants the 4th floor.  He thinks that will be better.  I don't know why.  He keeps asking about it.  We are ready to move on and start rehab, too, but we need him to be better.  Moving him now would only set him back.  He is getting frustrated with me when I tell him he cannot go yet, but he knows I love him and only want the best for him. 

I miss my favorite nurses.  We haven't had them in a while.  We've had good nurses, but not our favorites.  I miss them.  We did get to see Sgt Archie the last two days. 

And now we batten down the hatches for Hurricane Irene.  This week we had a severe lightning storm that struck a tree right outside the window and set it on fire, an earthquake and a hurricane coming.  Also, there are locusts at night.  What's next?

Thursday, August 25, 2011


Please remember to pray daily for our deployed military! The last 2 days have been bad ones for Derek's unit. Yesterday his company had 1 KIA & 1 seriously injured due to an IED & today another company had 1 KIA & 1 seriously injured due to a small arms attack. Main stream media chooses to not cover the war anymore but let's all join together and cover our service members in prayer and let's get the message out there by word of mouth.  By speaking out together, we can get the word out there that this war is worse than before.  Even if the media and our politicians want to keep it quiet, we can spread the word.  This war is destroying our youth.

Derek had his 16th surgery today.  Another wash out, but they almost got the wound on the arm closed.  They might not have to do a graft or flap on his arm, but there is still the issue of the repair to the arm.  The right leg was re-opened due to infection.  His pelvis is still broken and the fixator has to be reset.  They gave him blood after the surgery, and his blood pressure was extremely low.  He has bacteria in his blood, which is a major concern.

The central line that was replaced last night collapsed and had to be rethreaded tonight.  That aggravated him.

He was trying so hard not to go back on vent support tonight.  He was on CPAP and breathing very hard.  He fought not to go back on the vent and kept saying "4th floor," which is like graduation from ICU.  He is so ready to get out of the ICU.  I told him he needed to rest tonight, which is also important, so we switched him back to the vent.  He was not happy.

The other night they took 50 cc out of his right lung, but there is a lot more there.  They were only able to get 50 cc.

His white cell count was down to 24 and his fever broke, so that's good.

I really want to shrink myself and do a Honey I Shrunk the Kids, grab a can of Raid, a bottle of Tilex and inject myself into his blood stream and go shooting some of that mold, fungus and bugs myself!
They decided not to drain the fluid from the abdomen.  Why?  I don't know.

We saw Dr. Perdue downstairs when we came out of the Main Street Cafe and he was online to get coffee.  He got out of line and came over to talk to us.  That was so nice of him.  I like Dr. Perdue.
I really wanted to smack his night nurse and my confidence in her is nil.  I told the doctor on call tonight to watch her.  She walked in the first time without her mask.  I told her Derek was on droplet protection.  She said, "he is?  I didn't see anything for that?  There are masks?"  I guess she cannot read.  There is a big sign on the door that says "Droplet Protection" and masks right next to the gloves at the door.  The next time she came in she didn't put on gloves, so I told her to get the gloves.  The next time she came in, she didn't put on a yellow cape.  The next time, she didn't put on gloves.  I told her each time that he was fighting severe infections and that I was NOT going to let him get anything else if I could help it.  I even told one of the doctors in her presence that he had to put on a cape because I couldn't have him get another infection from someone's clothing.

I told the doctor all of this and asked him to please watch her closely.  Needless to say, I am not very comfortable tonight.  I will be talking to the nursing commander tomorrow.  This is not acceptable.  She is on orientation and the nurse working with her should have been watching her more closely.  Not acceptable with any patient, never mind someone as sick as Derek.

Derek is fed up and ready to move on.  This is good because it shows that he is getting stronger.  Hopefully this means he will be on his way to the 4th floor and rehabilitation soon!

Thank you for the continued prayers and support!  It is most appreciated!  God bless you all!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

I Felt The Earth Move Under My Feet

Day 25.

So the white count was actually 36 yesterday at some point.  And last night Dr. Gross told me that I should be content to know that at least he wasn't running a fever.  He had a fever of 102 overnight.
One thing that scared me today is that I was told he is still on the verge of being septic.

And I was not happy today when I found out that the abacter and pseumonas were found in Derek's throat.  I was not told that.  When I asked WHY I was not told, the explanation was that it is all over his body and it is difficult to explain every little place it is found.  Not.Good.Enough.  I want a full and complete explanation of exactly WHERE the infections are, WHAT the bugs are, WHAT is being done to combat them, etc.  HOW do they expect me to be able to deal with this impossible situation if they are not telling me everything?

And I really do not think Dr. Gross leaves the hospital.  He was there late last night, and I saw him at 8:30 a.m. this morning.  I left the hospital tonight at 10:30 after "assisting" with the placement of a new central line, and Dr. Gross was part of the procedure.

Derek had to have a new central line placed due to another infection in that line.  Every line seems to get infected.  What the hell?

Last week, Derek was off the vent.  He was well on his way to being able to speak to us again.  They put him on CPAP, which is just vent support.  Now he is back on the vent thanks to those damn infections.
Hey, docs!  They are just bugs!  And some mold and fungus!  Got some Raid?  Fly swatters?  Tilex?  The antibiotics aren't working, so find something else already!!  Get to it!  Kill those stupid things!
The nurse took blood because his heart rate was questionable.  He was low in magnesium.  Come on!
He also became very agitated and depressed.  He just wanted to go home.  He said over and over that he was done and wanted to leave.  I called in Dr. West to talk to him.  He is frustrated, as we all are.  A few weeks ago, he was independent and could do everything for himself.  Today, he cannot swallow or even blow his own nose!

And then about 2:30 today, we were standing in the day room when all of sudden the room started to shake.  I thought the construction workers had blasted something outside, but the floor and ceiling were shaking and not stopping!  I took off out of that room and ran to Derek's room!  Someone yelled at me to stay where I was, but I yelled that I had to get to Derek!  All I could think was that if the building was going down, I was going to be by his side!  And I thought, "should I gown up before I go in there?"  Stupid.  The building might be collapsing and I was worried about germs.  Not even the earthquake could shake the bugs out of Derek's system!

A lot of the buildings evacuated, but not the main hospital.  Also, I heard the Pentagon and the memorials in DC were evacuated.  The quake was felt from the Carolinas to NYC and NJ and up to Boston.  The epicenter was in VA and was 5.9.  Wow.  Not common on the East Coast.

What really made it freaky to me is that I am reading the Left Behind series and just read the part about the worldwide earthquake.

Derek did not feel the quake and sort of looked at us like we were nuts.

Tonight, Yvette and Dad left, but they say they will be back.  Hopefully Mike, Ryan and Kellina will come back soon.  I miss my kids.  I miss my cats.  I miss my regular stress. 

We are ready to move on to the next step in this healing process.  We are done with ccu.  Let's get to it already!  We want to move on and get Derek walking!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Surgery Number 15

I am so weary from 24 days of watching my child suffer.

Another day, another surgery.  Mold, fungus, infections....  they live in the soil in Afoolistan, so when these guys are injured, these things get into the wounds and wreak havoc.  Frequent washouts are required to help keep the wounds clean.

Derek's white blood cell count was up to 34 two weeks ago, but then it was below 10, which is considered normal.  Yesterday, it was 15.  Today, it spiked above 30 again.  So, they did a CT scan of the chest, abdomen and pelvis to see if they could find the source of the infection.  A cursory look of the scans did not find the source, and he is not running a fever, so we will have to wait for the radiologists to have a closer look tomorrow.

In the meantime, fluid was found on both lungs.  Derek had been off the vent.  Then after surgery on Friday, because he was so tired, he was put back on vent support, but on CPAP, which just offers a boost.  Today, the vent was breathing for him.  The fluid on his lungs was making it difficult for him to breathe on his own.  Tonight they decided to drain the fluid from the right side only, which should help him breathe a little easier.

We were also told Derek had problems with anesthesia.  The gas bothered him. 

During the surgery this morning, they re-opened the right leg and replaced the antibiotic beads to help with the infection, but the wound looked good.  They were also able to close the arm a little more.
Derek is on seven different antibiotics, so these stupid infections should be on the run!  Anyone want to serve an eviction notice on this family of infections?  These parties have got to stop.

Derek was also started on Ketamin for the phantom pain.

Today was an overall quiet day with Derek inasmuch as he was not feeling well.  We sat quietly with him, except when I asked Krystina what she wanted from McDonalds.  At that, Derek became animated and asked me for a small chocolate milkshake by mouthing the words since he cannot yet speak.  I told him I would get him that as soon as he can swallow.

One shining moment today, and something that showed how small the world can be is when I looked up and saw a doctor who had to be about seven feet tall if he was an inch.  Randy Mielke, a friend of my cousin.  My cousin Cristina married Ben and Ben went to school with Dr. Mielke, the anesthesiologist who did the procedure on Derek tonight.  He better have done a good job or I will sic my cousin on him!

I am asked so many times by people how they can help.  I have never been one to accept help, because I always want to do it on my own.  I cannot do this on my own.  If you want to help, donations are being collected at Friends of Derek McConnell, PO Box 1811, West Caldwell, NJ 07007-1811.

Thank you for your continued prayers and support.  They mean so much and are truly humbling.  They really are helping get me through this terrible ordeal.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Another Scary Night

This entry has been a while coming.  On Friday I was visited by Captain Hook (yes, that is really his name) who gave me some news that shook me to the core.  When Derek went into septic shock, they thought I would be getting a visit from the base commander.  Every six hours he wanted an update and was standing by to come and visit.  There is only one reason he would come to see me....

Dr. Ugo had said the mortality rate was 50% when the body goes into full system shut down... just like Derek did.

What I wouldn't give for a day without drama.

Everyone who knows me, knows I raised my children alone.  For whatever reason, the children's father left twelve years ago.  He reconnected with Derek a few years back, but not the other children.  When this happened, he came to the hospital.  Not wanting to cause problems, I did not object to his presence.  He became pushy and overbearing, and I really think he just didn't know how to deal with this.

Well, he cannot expect to be gone for twelve years and allow me to raise the children alone, and then walk back in now and have an equal say.  Not going to happen.  I have POA, and I don't play well in the sandbox.  I have been the head tigress and very protective of my children forever.

Before he left last time, Derek said he wanted him to leave.  I didn't say anything, because he was leaving the next day.  This past Monday, he said in front of a nurse that he didn't want his father to return.  I asked him not to make any final decisions and to wait a couple of days to make a decision.  On Wednesday, I sent in Dr. West to speak with him.  He said he would see his father, but limited.

On Thursday, we had a meeting with the heads of the different departments to discuss what was best for Derek.  Guidelines were set up, and Derek's father agreed to follow the guidelines.  The weekend went without a hitch.  I am so thankful to the professionals who assisted in this, and to Derek's father for being willing to work with us to do what was best for Derek during this trying time.

On Thursday Derek was running a fever of 102.  It broke over the weekend, but a new infection was found - VRE.  They are treating it with a new antibiotic, but it has become invasive.  This is an infection that he picked up in the hospital. 

On Friday, Derek had another surgery, his 14th since the accident.  It was another washout of the wounds and the exposed root was removed from his mouth.  Derek had broken several teeth.  The right leg had to be reopened due to infection, but it was closed again after the insertion of antibiotic beads.  A sore was found on the left side that required a lot of work.

In addition, due to bed sores, they ordered Derek a nice new bed that has a better flow.  It is squishy and has better circulation.  It tilts and moves him around.  He doesn't like it when it turns him because he feels like it is going to throw him off the side.

The good news received on Friday was that his kidneys are back to normal!  They will be ordered a special cocktail to protect his kidneys when he goes for his vascular surgery, but it doesn't mean that they won't revert.

The central line had to be replaced because Derek's mighty bloodflow pushed it out of place.  I was told that the particular brand has been causing them problems.  Well, get another damn brand!!!

On Friday, he pushed Krystina to read Marcus Love's description of the accident to him.  He became very quiet and thoughtful thereafter, but I was told that he is a soldier and can handle the truth if he asks for it.
Derek also had to be placed back on the vent for support because he was tired.  But when a chest x-ray was done on Sunday, they found fluid on his lungs.  They plan to aspirate it tomorrow.

On Friday night, his blood pressure dropped dramatically, sending me into heart palpatations.  He became tachycaridic.  I was beside myself, until I saw the calm faces of Dr. Ugo and LTJG Brian Wilson (his nurse).  Dr. Ugo ordered fluids with albumen.  And I knew Derek would be in good hands overnight with Dr. Ugo and Brian.  They got it under control.

On Saturday, Derek tried to send the respitatory therapist away when she wanted to work with him to get him to talk, because he was tired.  His father was catering to him.  HELL NO!  I marched into that room and forced him to work with her for five minutes.  Allowing him to lie there and wallow will not get him better!  He could hate me later, I didn't care! 

When he was done with the therapy, he look at me and mouthed, "I'm sorry, Mom" over and over.  Broke my heart.

Saturday, Derek looked at me and said, "my toes are tingling."  Then he was shocked that he didn't have toes.  Later, he said his feet were tingling.  He was upset to hear he did not have feet.  We had discussed his aputations before, but he is in a ccu fog.  He will not remember most of what we discussed or most of what happened.

When Brian found out the phantom pain started, he walked into Derek and said, "Dude!  The phamtom pain started?  That is SO cool!  Excellent!  It's a good thing."   Derek looked at him like he had lost him mind.  But it really is a good thing.  It means that his nerves are waking up and starting to heal.  He was placed on nuerontin, and he might be placed on methodone. 

This kid is on so many medications.  Derek was hard pressed to take anything but minerals, vitamins and healthy supplements.  He hardly ever took an Advil! 

Sunday was a quiet day.  My sister and father returned.  Derek spent most of the day resting.  He had difficulty breathing due to the fluid on his lungs, so they upped the vent support.  He is also still not able to tolerate the tube feedings, so they cut them back and has him on the TPN only.

What I wouldn't give for just one day of good news only, forward movement only, instead of this up and down, roller coaster ride.  I am tired of seeing so many young men torn apart, fighting to put their lives back together.  It is so senseless.

Thank you for your continued thoughts and prayers.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Another Roller Coaster Day

Today was Krystina's birthday, so we had a quiet little celebration with Derek, and then Sean and I took her out to dinner.  I purchased a card for him to try to sign, and he became frustrated when he couldn't do it.  He got a shaky "D E" and then gave up.  I told him it didn't matter because Krystina knows how he really feels.  Also, my sister is working with him to get her something special.  It might not be what he had planned, but sometimes life throws us curve balls or puts a detour up, and we have to find another road to get us to our destination.

The numbers are still all over the place.  White cell count, sodium, sugar, etc.  I cannot keep track of them all!  The doctor told me they are "screwy."

The nephrologist came by this morning and said....  the kidneys are back!  They woke up and seem to be on the mend just fine so no more dialysis!  *doing mini happy snoopy dance*  He thinks that next week Derek will be able to have the vascular surgery to begin the repair on his arm.

Fevers ran constant today around 102.  They cannot seem to locate the exact cause except to say he is fighting those damn infections.  The A-line is still out, most of the lines are out, so it wasn't one of them like they thought.

Derek is still the intimidating older brother, even in his condition.  Sean was fooling around and patted Krystina on the head, and Derek scowled at him so fiercely Sean ran from the room scared!  Derek imitated the face for us later and had his nurse, Capt George Johnson, Krystina and me rolling with laughter.

The vent was removed today!  Derek now only has the trach and oxygen.  Excellent.
Dad (Derek's Papa) and Yvette went back to Jersey today.  Derek was sad to see them go.  They will be back.  They had a nice visit, but it was too short.

We received lots of care packages, including an original Power Ranger, still in the box, for Derek from Lynne Gilbert.  Derek was thrilled.  Thank you Lynne, NY Mets, Enterprise Publishing, Katie Mary, and of course, my firm, Piro Zinna, who sent a huge amount of groceries, fresh baked cookies, a gift card, and other goodies.  I cannot adequately express the gratitude I feel.  This is an emotionally wretching journey that has been made a little easier by the kindness of so many.

Today's kudos go to Dr. West (psychiatrist), Dr. Perdue (main doctor), Lt Comm Lopez (nurse commander), Lt Col Glenn, Amy O'Connor (healthcare mediator), Toya (social worker) and Sgt Archie (super dog extradinaire) for meeting to discuss what is best for Derek, protecting Derek and his right to privacy, and making sure that he feels empowered during the process.  The team was compassionate and understanding about Derek's needs during this terrible time.

Thank you, again.  I cannot say it enough.  This is a heart wretching experience that is made so much easier by the little kindnesses being shown by so many, strangers and friends alike.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Doing the Cha Cha

Today was another day of doing the cha cha.  Few steps forward.... few steps back....
This morning started with a bang.  The OT showed up and got Derek sitting up!  He's got pins in his hips to stabilize them, tubes and wires and wound vacs and IVs, etc. coming from everywhere, but up he sat, with assistance, but he still sat up!  He is a tough BAMF, as Sean refers to him.

He is still on CPAP, two days now.  That means the vent it hooked up for support breathing only.... he is breathing all on his own.

But the tube feedings did not go well, and they had to cut them back.

Also, his arm swelled up and became very red and he is still running a fever.  So they did an ultrasound on his arm to see if there was a problem with it.  There wasn't, so they think the redness and swelling is from lack of use.

The fever?  He has another infection somewhere.  The fever is hovering around 101 all day.
Derek is very assertive about what and who is wants in that room, and we are honoring his wishes.  Some will not be happy about what he is asserting, and some will not believe that what he is asserting is not coming from me, which is why I had Derek speak with Dr. West alone today, without me speaking with Derek beforehand or while I was in the room.  Derek very clearly told Dr. West what he wanted, and I intend to make sure that his wishes are honored, no matter what the other party says.  All I want is what is best for Derek.  Derek said short visits, so that is what Derek will get.

Derek watched an episode of Family Guy on a portable DVD player today that Kiki (his Aunt Yvette) purchased for him.  The best was watching his nurse, Capt Johnson laugh as he went about his business taking care of things for Derek.  Derek, on the other hand, was out of it.  He really wasn't feeling good today and wasn't up for visitors.

We had three very special visitors today.  Command Sgt Major Naoma (Army), Sgt Archie (Marine), and Two Star Admiral Laura Lee (Navy) came for a pet and snuggle.  They are therapy dogs and so super sweet.  Derek cannot see them yet, but we can!  Derek will be entitled to a service dog when he is ready, and he wants one.  Krystina asked him if he wanted one, and he was very excited.

Kudos for the day - Dr. Perdue and Dr. West.  They are willing to do what is best for Derek after a meeting tomorrow to discuss Derek's best interests and what Derek really wants in the face of what promises to be a very tense weekend.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Derek Made My Year!

Before getting into anything else, Derek made me cry tonight. 

His top notch nurse LTJG Brian Wilson, who is one of my favorites (that list is SO long and includes nurses and his entire doctor staff, although some of them stick out more than others), was talking about his time in the hospital in Kandahar and how these injuries are life changing but not life ending and that as long as he has the most important people in his life, he will be great.

I told Derek that he had his Krystina, the most important person in his life, and that she was standing by his side.  Derek mouthed "and you."  At first I thought I had read his lips correctly, but I was a little shocked, because Derek has always been reserved with his feelings.  He pointed at me with tears in his eyes and mouthed it again.  I said, "and me?"  He nodded.

That little thing just made my year and made up for the lack of sleep and all the stress of the last few weeks.

Also, earlier in the day, I told Derek that Krystina was thrilled that she would have Derek home for her birthday, and that was all she cared about.  Derek looked at me panicked and mouthed "when?"  He still cannot talk because of the trach and vent.

I told him two days, Thursday.  He welled up, and a single tear slid down from the corner of his eye.  He started to mouth, "Mom!  But, Mom!"  I told him that anything he wanted to get her, we could work out later.  I told him that she would not mind getting a late present, because she was getting the best present in the world, Derek home for her birthday.  I also told him we had a purple bow to put on his head because he was her present!

My kudos for the day - Capt Suzanne Morris (day nurse), LTJG Brian Wilson (night nurse), Caryn Birk (another nurse who assisted me when I had a complicated question), Dr. Perdue (came in early to check on Derek and always follows his case so closely), and the new doc on the floor from Walter Reed, whose name I missed today.  There are others I love and are always wonderful, such as Dr. Ugo and all of Derek's team, too.

I went to the hospital yesterday morning at 6:30 a.m. and except for quick trips back to the room for a shower or a quick snack, I didn't leave except to get dinner.  I was called to return to the hospital at 1:30 a.m., stayed all night, napping only for a few minutes between anxiety attacks, and then have been going all day.  Such is life in the CCU.

I have made sure that we go to dinner almost every night, off base, to maintain some semblance of normalcy.  I feel it is important for the kids to have that time together, off base, in a restaurant, just laughing and not sitting in Day Room 1 on the third floor of the CCU.

I've been told that I have to take care of myself.  Not easy for a mother watching her child suffer.  I just want to sit with him, wipe his sweat, suction the secretions, hold his hand, or simply sit in the chair across from him.  But Derek won't always let me.  Sometimes he wants me to just sit and hold his hand, but sometimes he throws me out of the room periodically because he knows I need a break, and because sometimes he just wants to be alone.  Sometimes, one of his siblings will walk in, and before they are there a few minutes, he is pointng at the door.  We get it.  We love it.  He is asserting an independence that shows he is on the mend.

Every time someone comes to visit or says that they want to come to visit, I tell Derek ahead of time, and he tells me whether he wants to see the person or not.  Some of his planned visitors have gotten a shake of the head for "no," and most of them have been told to hold off.  It's not personal.  Derek is very sick and really does not need the stimulation, nor does he want to be seen this sick.  He really just wants to be surrounded by his family - Mom, Kiki, Papa, Krystina, Kellina, Ryan, Michael and Sean, and he even throws us out when he is tired.  Other visitors have come and gone over the last several weeks, and I can see some tire him and some thrill him. 

His army brothers motivate him in such a way that I am hoping and praying more get their asses here soon.
Yesterday, Fr. Anthony and Fr. Ken came down from our parish, Notre Dame in North Caldwell, NJ along with a friend of mine, Mare.  Derek was pleased to see them.  Mare was here more for me, so she only went in and said "hello."  Derek requested Fr. Anthony and Fr. Ken to return after the quick "hello," and asked for a prayer.  They performed the Annointing of the Sick on him, which I hope helps to heal him a lot faster.

Today, on the way to a conference in Baltimore, Paul Holland, Derek's Boy Scout Troop Leader called me and asked if he could stop by.  I asked Derek and he brightened.  Derek has always loved Paul, and the feeling is mutual.  They had a five minute visit, and then Paul was off.

My Dad came to see Derek for the first time today.  I was worried about him because he was so emotional, but he was fine.  He and Derek had a nice chat.  Dad sat in there for a long time asking Capt Morris questions, and she was so patient!  But it made Dad feel SO much better.
Derek didn't seem like himself today.  He was little down.  From talking to him, I think he was a little upset about the situation, his injuries, being stuck in bed, etc.  We'll get him through this.  Krystina and I are a team, and with my sister, Yvette, whom he calls "Kiki," coming down periodically, he will be on the mend soon!

It was another surgery day.  Because he has had problems with his blood pressure, bleeding, etc. the teams cooperated and moved fast.  He had several teams working on him all at once!  What should have been a several hour surgery was less than an hour! 

He had another wash out of his arm today.  Since the legs were closed, the wound vacs were changed and incisions checked.  All of his wounds were checked and swabbed for infection.
Unfortunately, even though Derek's white cell count is down to 9 (I thought it was 6 this morning, but my lack of sleep misheard), he is still fighting the infections and they are a problem.  He spiked a fever overnight to 102, which is a sure sign of some infection fighting his system.  They removed his A-line, central line and dialysis catheter in case they were the source.  The dialysis catheter was not replaced yet and will only be replaced if he needs it.  Given how his BP dropped yesterday during it, they are hoping to avoid it.

I know I am getting some of this wrong because it is so much more complicated, but I trust the team, and I really do not want to put too much detail, because this is Derek's business and I am trying to walk a line between letting people know the struggle of a wounded warrior, the affects on the family, etc. but still maintain his privacy.  Everything that is posted, I believe Derek would not have a problem sharing.  How do I know?  He and I have been down the medical road before, and he was always very open to everyone who would listen to all the details of his surgeries, etc.  If at any time he asks me to stop, I will heed his wishes.  This is all about Derek.

Good night.  It's almost one and I am up at six!  Thank you for the continued prayers and well wishes!  We will get through this.

And one more shout out - Go, Patriot Guard Riders!  Protect our families of fallen heroes from those Westboro Baptist Church idiots!!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Another All Nighter

Yesterday was filled with laughter and cute "Derekness" as he came into his own with his new found freedom from the tube.

It was a little difficult as he was diagnosed with two level three open sores on his back and one level two as a result of the weeping wounds and inability to keep him dry.  The nurses change his bed completely at least three, and many times four or five times each shift, but as much as his wounds are weeping, there is no way to keep him dry.  With his erratic blood pressure, they cannot often change him and have to wait, because turning and lifting him is a strain on his body.  It is such a balancing act.

I complained about the wet bed the other day, and the nurse spent a long time explaining everything to me.  I didn't just take her word for it since she was new to me.  When a nurse with whom I was more familiar, and of whom I am quite found and quite comfortable with her skills, came on duty, I asked her about her, and she confirmed everything I was told.  While I am not happy about his "bed sores," I realize they are a sad side effect of his condition.

Yesterday, Capt Suzanne Morris, nurse extradinaire, championed the cause to order him a special bed and she found a way of wrapping many of the wounds so that the seepage doesn't reach the bed quite as much.
The good news yesterday was that he doesn't need to have his jaw wired shut and an appliance put in.  The three breaks in his jaw have already mended.  They would have to rebreak them, but even though one of the breaks healed a bit crooked, since his bite is online, they are going to leave it for now.  In the future, if he has problems, it can be done.  He has a lot more problems with which to deal, and if his jaw was wired shut, it would just make things more difficult.  His biggest concern for the oral/max team was when his front teeth would be fixed!

Last night, I got back to the Lodge and finally settled into bed around 1 a.m.  I received a call at 1:53 a.m. that he was having a rough night and was asking for me.  We had come up with a hand signal that means "Mom," and when he shows it, the nurses know to call me.

LTJG Brian Wilson was new with Derek last night, but whenever Derek awoke from a bad dream, which was at least every half hour, Brian leant over him, face to face, and whispered to him the things that I do.  I couldn't hear him at first, so I leaned a little closer.  I teared up when I realized the care and compassion this man was showing my son as he struggled through the rough night.  He told Derek that he was safe, that his family was safe, that we loved him, that no one could hurt him, that his mom was right beside him holding his hand, and that everything was going to be okay.  He said similar things to him all night long.
I sat next to his bed and held his hand all night.  I dozed on and off with my head on the end of the bed, but I woke often from the position and Derek's nightmares.

He had also spiked a fever (102), which they say could have brought on the agitation and added to the dreams.  But his white blood cell count is down to 6 point something.  I was a little punch drunk when Dr/ Perdue told me this morning.

So, now it's back to the hospital.  Surgery scheduled this morning.  Wash out of the wounds, debreed any dead skin, check the wounds, etc.  Due to the fever, there is some concern about the wounds, but they will check them.

Have a great day and God bless.


We were invaded by the staff from Walter Reed today.  They took over CCU and are now calling it SICU.  Odd.

The hallway that was closed the last two weeks was finally opened today causing a little happy dance from Krystina and me.  A shorter walk!  Funny the little things that make us happy.
Derek was more aware today then he has been.  He was most upset about his missing teeth than anything else!

We had a busy day trying to decifer what he was trying to tell us.  He would mouth the words, and when we couldn't figure it out, we got the pouty face or the boot from the room! 

The service dogs came through and Krystina and I spent time loving them up.  Sgt Archie is Krystina's favorite, but I would take home Bobbie or Laura Lee any day! 

The press also visited and filmed something about the facility.  The link is below.  They did a piece on Sgt Archie and his handler while I was petting him, but it didn't make the cut.  He's so cute it should have!

Anyway, that's it for tonight.  It's late and surgery in the morning will get me up at 5:30!
Thank you for the continuing prayers and all the words of encouragement!

Monday, August 15, 2011

A Couple Steps Forward and Broken Expectations

Derek did not have dialysis today, but he did have fluid reduction, called CRRT, all night long.  He received several pints of blood and platelets, and is still off the BP meds.  Antibiotics continue for the damn infections.  his white cell count hovers between 15 and 19, but at least it is down from 34 last Monday!
Back to the OR today.  An off day for Derek, but they decided since it was a slow day, they wanted to attempt the tracheostomy.  They couldn't do it as planned on Monday, because he crashed and we almost lost him.  On Wednesday, he still was not stable enough, the surgery was too long, and there were bleeding issues.  On Friday, the bleeding issues continued, and due to the length of the surgery already, they ended it.

So they decided that they would simply do the trach today and then go tomorrow or Tuesday for the washout of the arm and the urology stuff.  However, once ortho heard he was going to be there, they jumped on board and decided to do the arm today, but the trach team wouldn't let them go first.  Urology was too slow to get into today's surgery. so they have to wait until Tuesday or Wednesday.

Bottom line - Derek received the trach today!  AND a shave!  No more red beard!  Yay!  He looked kind of strange, but still kissably adorable, with the blond hair and red beard.  Before the surgery, they couldn't get the stache or the side burns, so he returned looking like a 70's porn star.  Oh, Derek.

It's strange the things we now celebrate.  This new normal sucks.  I miss the things I used to stress about, most of which almost seem petty now, like whether the kids changed the cats' boxes, cleaned their rooms, did the dishes, folded their laundry, or whether I will get home in time to watch the beginning of a favorite TV show.  I haven't gotten to watch TV in over two weeks, except for a few minutes here and there, and I really have no desire.

Some of the things I stressed about are more of a stressor today.  I still have to worry about paying my mortgage and utilites and supporting my children with no child support and only my income, which I do not know how long will continue because I am not working and do not know when I can expect to return.

We were told Friday that due to the severity of Derek's injuries, it will be a very long time before we can expect him to graduate to the fifth floor.  It's time for a sit down with my firm.
When I packed to come down here, I had no idea what to expect.  I packed two week's worth of clothing, and I expected to return home after that and come down on the weekends to be with Derek.  I knew that his legs were gone, but the extent of his other injuries were unknown to me at that time.  I also figured he would be in the hospital and starting PT, and that he would be getting good care, and wouldn't need such one-on-one, hands on time with me.  I really thought that weekly visits would be all he would want, because Derek is very independent. 

Nothing prepared me for the night I first saw him.  I will never get that picture out of my head.  Never get that horrific feeling off my heart.

He and I have a very close relationship, but he is not a mama's boy.  When he was ill and in the hospital before, he always clung to me and wanted me by his side, but when he was well, he wanted me to let him fly.  At 14, Derek almost died from an encapsulated bowel.  While in the hospital, he never wanted me to leave.  I slept by his bed, showered in the nurse's locker room, bought my food in the cafeteria, ate by his bedside.  As soon as he was released and in his own bed at home, he wanted me out of his room, to only return once in a while to check on him.  Once he was on his feet, he didn't need me except for meals.  That was Derek. Strong, a fighter.  Nothing ever got him down.  I expected the same thing here.
Hopefully we will get there, but the doctors say it won't be any time soon.

We were visited on Friday by Sgt. Archie and Amy O'Connor.  Sgt. Archie is a therapy dog, a German Shepard, who visits the wounded warriors.  So precious.  Amy is the healthcare mediator, and she told me she usually only gets involved when the healthcare is especially complicated.  Not someone you want to meet.  She explained that Derek's care is going to be very complicated, and his recovery is going to be long and difficult.

The left leg is going to be hard to fit with a prosthetic, but not impossible.  Most with a hip disarticulation end up using their wheelchair most of the time simply for convenience.  It is easier to balance and get around.  the right leg will be easier to fit.

The right arm is heartbreaking.  Derek is so into working out and looking good.  He will need his arms and his strength to do PT and get around in his wheelchair, on his crutches, with his cain, when he eventually gets his legs, etc.  They simply don't know how much of his right arm will be of use to him.  It is still so much in the realm of the unknown.

The bone on the outside (the ulna?) has a break with an one inch missing gap.  They will put orthopedic cement in it.  But there is nerve damage on that side, and it is unknown how much use he will have.  He cannot feel his pinky,  Will it regenerate?  They do not know.  There is a deep laceration on the top of the arm that was closed and also contributed to the nerve and muscle damage.  On the bottom of the arm, there is a "shark bite."  This bite from the blast took muscle, bone and tissue and left exposed nerves and tendons that are slowly dying.  They cannot repair them now because they have to do vascular surgery and the die will strain the kidneys.  Derek has been receiving dialysis because he was in acute renal failure.  The damaged nerves, tendons and muscles at this time do not allow him to move his hand.

In order to repair the hand and give him a somewhat working hard, the doctors will need to completely rewire the hand.  This is going to mean taking nerves, tendons, muscles, blood vessles, etc from other parts of the hand where they are less essential and re-routing them to the more important parts of the fingers and hand so that he can open and close his fingers, make a fist, hold a pen, dress himself, etc.  He will have limited strength in that hand.  And the surgeries will take place over six months to a year, once the kidneys have healed enough to begin the vascular part of it.

My heart breaks for the hopes and dreams Derek had and the struggles he now faces.  I see heartbreak every day, and I try to make sense of it, and  I cannot.  Mothers and wives walking out on wounded warriors who gave all and now face life altering injuries alone, without the support of those whom they love.  Mothers breaking down sobbing because they just found out their beautiful little boy has shrapnel in his brain and the damage in so extensive that hope is all but non-existent.  Wives telling me "this isn't what I signed on for" and then getting pissed off because her husband lost a pinky and hardly ever visiting him while he lies in CCU. 

But then there are the stories that give me hope.  The soldier who was told he had a better change of "winning the lottery twice" when the bullet entered his temple and lodged in his brain stem, missing every vital part of his brain.  He was admitted Friday to CCU and graduated to the 5th floor on Saturday, walking, talking and feeling great.  The marine who knocked on death's door the night be was admitted, but who rolled by me tonight in his wheelchair smiling.  The little girls running down the hallway today and jumping onto their Daddy's wheelchair and begging for a ride. 

And there are stories that both break my heart and give me strength to go on every day.  Like the wife who is so devoted to her husband that she fights his every battle, stands by his side, advocates for his every need, and sometimes helplessly watches his body and mental clarity ride the rollar coaster that has become the unseen homefront war on terror.  She is my inspiration.

Every day I wonder whether I am strong enough to face this, to battle this, to help Derek face the demons and challenges ahead.  Sometimes I want to scream and shout and throw a massive temper tantrum.  Sometimes I want to curl up in a ball and cry.  Sometimes I want to hide under my blanket and sleep until I wake up from this nightmare.  And sometimes I want to get in my car, go back to Jersey, and pretend none of this ever happened.

One thing I do know, I will never and can never walk out on my boy as long as he needs me.  I never could.  These are my kids, and I will be with them until I take my last breath.  I know I will have to juggle a hell of a lot, but right now Derek needs me the most.  Tonight, his nurse called me to return to the hospital because he was calling for me.  I will never not heed that call.

I do not understand how any parent could ever walk away from a child, at any age, at any time.
Thank you for the continued prayers and well wishes.  This is a long journey that has only just begun.

Sunday, August 14, 2011


Medically not much to report, which is a good thing.  Still off the BP meds (yay!), even though there was a short period today where it looked like he might have to start them again.  His oxygen stats were good, so they turned down the vent settings in hopes of placing the trach tomorrow.  White cell count went from 15 yesterday up to 18.1, which isn't large enough to cause concern since the infections are still wreaking their havoc.  Tonight they upped the precedex (sedation) and fentynal (pain meds) in the hopes that he would sleep.  He did not sleep last night or all day today.

Today Derek had three visitors (not technically family), and yesterday he had one.  As long as Derek is in the CCU, which we were told would be a long time due to the severity of his injuries, we are limiting visitors to family only.  His army brothers are family.  That is because the army brothers have a way of motivating a soldier that civilians just do not, and because many of them who come by are on leave and will not get to see him if they wait.  I see the difference in him every time a soldier walks in his room.  I take pictures of the visitors because they say he will not remember his time in the CCU, which is another reason for limiting the visitors to family only.  I missed one visitor's pic, but he said he is coming back in September when Kurtz gets R&R, so I will get him then.

Yesterday, "Doc" visited.  Doc is a medic in Derek's platoon who was injured shortly after they arrived in afoolistan.  Thankfully it was only his elbow.  Doc visited once before.  It was heartbreaking to see Doc break down at the severity of Derek's injuries.

The same was true for "roommate!"  Jacob Morgan is Derek's roomate at Drum.  They have a close bond.  When Jacob was injured, Derek took it hard.  Thankfully, Jacob's injuries were not severe and he is on the mend.  He saw Derek today, and Derek lit up when "roommate" walked in the room.  We heard stories it is now too late to unhear.  Anyone have ear bleach? 

We were also visited by two soldiers from Fort Drum who delivered a care package from the FRG (Family Readiness Group).  Sgt Davis and Capt. Fuoco.  Derek sat up a little straighter for the superior officers, and when Master Sgt Bell (our liason from 10th Mountain) came by earlier in the day, he even gave her a fist bump.

Meeting Capt. Fuoco was very hard for me.  He is the one who called me on July 23rd at 9:28 a.m.  I will never forget.  "Ma'am, I am very sorry to have to tell you this, but your son sustained injuries while on patrol today in Afghanistan."  Meeting him brought back all of the emotion from that morning.  He was very nice, and I told him I did not envy him his job.  He said he was sorry he had to give me that news.

The care package contained delicious baked goods that were devoured by the kids, a magazine (not Maxim as Sgt Davis said it might be, much to Krystina's relief), and a glass with the battalion's crest.  That glass is going in Derek's room if he ever gets out of CCU!

I also found out today that five young men from Fort Drum, 10th Mountain Div., the 1/32, the unit securing the area just next to the 2/87 (Derek's unit) were killed this week when their vehicle was hit.  Breaks my heart.

So, the hope is for the trach tomorrow.  If his stats remain consistent through the night, he will be in the OR first thing tomorrow and back in his room by 9.  Fingers crossed, prayers said, good night!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Quick Note with Special Kindness

Exhausted tonight so this will be a quickie.

Surgery today when well.  They did not place the trach because it was already a long procedure and they did not want to overtax him.  They closed the leg wounds (woot!) - let's hope they stay closed this time.  Last week, they closed the right leg and it had to be reopened on Monday.  The right arm I got a poor report about, but that's for another day.  Long recovery.  The doctor's name was Bender - like from Futurama!

He received dialysis for the third day in a row, and they also did a fluid reduction for over twelve hours due to the amout of fluid retention.

His white blood cell count is down to 15, and it is supposed to be 10.  On Monday it was 34!  BIG difference.  He is off all blood pressure meds, and even though his BP is still unsteady and low, he is maintaining it on his own.

This is the most exhausting, time consuming thing I have ever done.  Watching my child suffer and struggle for every breath breaks my heart.

It was heartening when the liason asked me to talk to one of the new arrivals' Moms who was having a tough time.  Made me feel good to help a new Mom adjust.

Derek had a visit from "Doc," the medic who had been injured a couple of months ago.  He called Derek a "bad ass" who was the only one in the platoon tough enough to survive these injuries.  He is a tough kid, and I know he will get through this hell.

But one of the most special kindnesses to come Derek's ways has been from Lynne and Alan of the Adopt a Soldier Platoon.  They are working hard to bring connections and little things Derek's way to bring up his spirits.  He received gifts I've already discussed, but on Thursday he received a call from Jason David Frank, the Green Ranger. 

Derek is a huge Power Ranger fan.  Yes, even today.

A while ago, Derek had connected with Jason and Jason asked Derek to contact him when he returned from Afoolistan.  When Jason called on Thursday, I do not know how much Derek heard or understood as I held the phone to his ear, but he nodded several times.  Being intubated, he could not respond.

I spoke with Jason after, and he wants me to call him when Derek can talk.  He told me that he receives many requests from fans to communicate, but he felt there was something special about Derek, so he contacted him a couple of months ago.  I know it made Derek's day, because he told me how much he thought of Jason and how he had followed his career.

These kindnesses mean so much to our servicemen and women who give so much for our country.  Thank you, Jason, and thank you, Lynne and Alan for making this happen.  And thank you to everyone else who continues to pray for Derek and all of the other brave men and women healing from the injuries received defending this nation and who are still fighting.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Face of War (the homefront perspective)

We have heard about the face of war from the soldier's viewpoint.  We have all seen war movies and our children have played Call of Duty, World of Warcraft, etc.  These tend to desensitize the nation to the harsh realities of war.  No one but a solder, marine, airman, or sailor truly knows the horror of actually being on the front line, living with the terror, seeing a friend die, get blown up, maimed, etc. 
But that is not what this is about.  This is about those of us left behind.  This is about the Moms, Dads, girlfriends, wives and children.  This is the face of war that no one sees.

How many have seen the worry on a Mom's face as she sits at the kitchen table at night watching the news of another attack in Afghanistan wondering if her boy was involved?  She knows that he was not physically injured or she would have gotten that God awful phone call, but did he have to watch as a friend was medivac'd to the hospital fighting to survive.... or worse? 

How many have seen the child sit alone on the playground because his Daddy has not called in three weeks because his platoon is in an area in Afghanistan that does not have phone service and he is worried that he will never again toss a ball in the front yard?

How many have run into a child's bedroom at night to calm the nightmare because she awoke screaming that mommy was never returning from the war?

How many have dried the tears because she/he is worried that her son, daughter, wife, husband, boyfriend, mother or father may never return?

How many have calmed the fears of a loved one suffering from PTSD after returning from Afghanistan, Iraq, etc.?

How many have walked the halls at Walter Reed or the National Naval Medical Center (soon to be called Walter Reed National Military Medical Center Bethesda) and seen all of the amputees, quadriplegics, burn victims, etc?

How many have sat beside the bedside of a loved one in one of those hospitals praying for him to wake up?  Knowing that only a week or two ago he was healthy, strong and vibrant but due to his love for his country, he is now broken and fighting for his life?

How many have answered the phone to be told that her loved one has been injured and is in a hospital in Kandahar fighting for his life?

And worse....  how many have opened the door to see a uniformed member of the military standing there. 
This is the war from the homefront.  This is the daily life led by members of the families of the brave men and women of the military.  We go on day-to-day knowing that our sons, daughters, wives, husbands, mothers, fathers, etc. are in mortal danger every minute of every day and there is nothing we can do about but pray.  And prayer does not keep them out of harm's way, as I know.  I spent hours praying that Derek would return safe and sound.  I now spend hours each day, and sometimes entire days sitting at NNMC waiting on word that he will live.  I see other families just as worried. 

I also see Derek's future, and it gives me hope, but it makes me angry, sad, frustrated and helpless.  Why are so many of our young men and women left without limbs, without the use of their bodies, burned, and suffering from PTSD and other psychological ailments?  For what?  I hear the political reasons, and while I want to believe it is for a good reason, I don't see it right now.

All I see are our youth being cut down in the prime of their lives and I am left to wonder why.

As told by Derek's Squad Leader

Derek's Squad Leader adds his side of the story:

Marcus Love
  • hey kristina,
    I am dereks squadleader and i was shoulder to shoulder with him when he got injured. i was trying to contact his mother but couldnt find her on fb. i just wanted to let you guys know i am deeply sorry for what happened and ill answer any questions you may have about what happened. thank you.
02 August - Krystina McConnell
We had a brief understanding of what happened but if you'd like to tell me what happened from what you saw I'd appreciate it.

02 August - Marcus Love
 well just a little background on how derek ended up in my squad. we had so few guys in our platoon that they split one of the squads up between my squad and another squad. well as soon as we even started talking about doing this there were harsh words exchanged about who would get derek. i wanted him just as bad as the other squadleader. i was the lucky one and derek came to my squad. He fit right in our squad and i was sooo happy to get him. hes a little pack mule ill tell you that lol.   im sure you know about our mission and everything that day so i wont get into that. basically our plt was split into two elements and our northern element hit an ied not to far from us (we were the southern element). my squad was - one point from front was my teamleader sgt wiger, then derek, then myself. we moved to the northern elements position and had to secure an HLZ (helecopter landing zone) for the wounded soldier. without orders or guidance derek positioned himself in an outstanding spot to cover the HLZ. I stopped for a second and said to myself (man, i lucked out on getting McConnel). he just had this situational awareness that was unparrelled. he knew what was going on and he knew his rold in the fight. He made my job extremely easy. Well we got the wounded soldier on the helo. just then someone else stepped on another ied. luckily only the blasting cap went off and just scared everyone more than anything. the enginneers attached to us then began to sweep our area for ieds and found three more. derek was extremely close to them but he was unshaken. even when we were told about how many and where they were he didnt flich. well it was time to pick up and move and my squad took point as usual. again the order was my teamleader sgt wiger, then derek then myself. we came to an open field and i placed in our gun team to overwatch sgt wiger, derek and myself cross the openfield to set in security for the rest of the guys to cross. derek was about 20m in front of me when he stepped on an ied. i ran to his location and he was on the ground looking up at me smiling. i thought to myself (crazy bastard! lol) i asked him if he was ok and he said he was fine. i asked if he could keep going and he looked at me like i was stupid and said "yea sgt im fine, lets go" well after the earlier events i was worried about other ieds around the area so i told him to stay where he was as sgt wiger and myself searched the area for other ieds. we searched all around him in about a 15m radius. nothing. i took a knee shoulder to shoulder with him and told our LT we were good to move. me and derek stood up, he took one step to his right/front and stepped on another one. next thing i remember was being in a field approximately 15-20m away from where the blast happened. i couldnt hear anything but i saw the medic running towards me and i told him to go to derek bcuz i knew he was worse. When i finally shook the cobwebs off i ran and assissted in firstaid of derek. One last thing that stuck out in my mind was when myself the medic and sgt wigir were applying first aid, we were all talking to derek, just reassuring him and i told derek to "spit that f****** blood out of his mouth" and he did. he was barely awake but still fighting. A true warrior. He absolutely amazed me. The helo came amazing fast and we got derek on it and he was off. last time i saw derek was at the hospital here in KAF. I saw him off to germany and i hope he heard me as he was still unconcious.. I know this wont change anything, but id figured you want to know as much as possible about what happend. I am truly sorry about what happened and i take resposibility as his leader for this. I will probably never forgive myself. This is extremely hard to write but true none the less and i would have loved to tell you this in person. and If i get the chance i will.

I do not blame Marcus or any of the brave men who were with Derek that day.