Tag Archives: VA

Warning Signs

7 Sep

When I was a young girl I would often travel with my cousin, aunt and uncle to their cabin on Echo Lake in Northern California. On the winding mountain road there were signs posted that read, “Watch for Falling Rock.” At the time my uncle quelled the inquiries of us two little girls with the following story:

Falling Rock is a little Indian boy who was lost from his tribe. His father put these signs up so people would keep a look out for the young boy in hopes of finding him. So keep your eyes open for little Falling Rock and let me know if you see him.

Needless to say, my cousin and I would keep our eyes glued to the great horizon, through the boundary of trees and cliff sides, through each pane of glass afforded in the Jeep Wagoneer, in hopes of reuniting the little Indian boy to his family. Of course upon our arrival to the cabin the distractions of fun took precedence to the road sign call. However, the search would continue for the duration of the ride down the mountain and would commence again the next trip up.

Here’s the thing, I honestly believed my uncle’s story up until I was in my nineteenth year. At this point I don’t remember where I was headed, but I do remember it was somewhere in Southern California (not northern) and I was in the driver’s seat. I also remember that I was alone at the time for when I passed the “Watch For Falling Rock” sign and had the epiphany that it is actually a roadside warning sign due to the potentiality of loose rocks falling from the cliffs and not anything to do with a little Indian boy, I had to ingest the knowledge of my gullibility and my uncle’s cunning tactics alone. I remember feeling duped, enlightened and dumb all at once.  I remember I was also relieved. Finally I could let go of the concern, genuine concern, I had stored up within me for this little lad–his non-existence lifted the native American plight. And for the first time I interpreted the “Watch For Falling Rock” sign as its placement intended, a warning to driver’s that rocks may fall onto the road.

Warning signs along the way of life are helpful. The yellow road signs are “suggestions” and meant to assist the traveler’s path. And so we become accustomed to looking out for these markers and almost expect they will keep us from dangerous terrain. So is true for emotional warning signs–or so I thought.

In my previous post I shared that this summer I have been purposeful in negating grief’s call. And had you asked me a week ago, I would have felt somewhat successful in the endeavor. But this past week I was tagged, caught in the whirlwind of sorrow and was thrown back into the throngs of pain as if I had never left. It truly was akin to a PTSD experience. Though we (the Bent 3) have not had the formality of the diagnosis (you can imagine that staying out of the doctor’s office is more the goal than in!), even so signs and symptoms have been present since May 17, 2013. Veterans know. In fact we’ve had a few seasoned military men and women ask us (respectively) “what are you doing about YOUR PTSD?” My answer is usually the same, “I’m smoking and drinking and doing drugs,” an answer I borrow from the wit of my deceased son–dry sarcasm at its finest! Of course I am not doing any of those things, my penchant for health has been marking my actions for almost three decades now. But I did get tripped off this past week, Wednesday to be precise, and it came without warning. Where’s Falling Rock when you need him?!

I was at work, a place I am usually disconnected from my personal loss for the work pace is such that one doesn’t really have the time to dwell upon self. It was an “all staff” gathering in which the entirety of the 2 hour block was devoted to rolling out our new health benefits plan. I arrived to the location in normal form, coffee in hand and laptop ready for note taking, but I was also eager to learn more about the new change–I had high hopes of finally being able to afford health coverage for Brian and Esther. So it came as a surprise to me when at about 30 minutes into the presentation my heart began racing and my vision was blurring to the point I couldn’t read the informational paperwork. I began to get nauseous and a headache was creeping in. I left the building to head to the bathroom and get some fresh air, but it didn’t help much. As I tried to stick it out it felt more and more difficult to focus and actually breathe. I had to excuse myself, pack up and leave–if I was going to loose my lunch I wanted to be home sooner than later!

Back at my office to gather my things I contemplated the symptoms upon me and began to point the finger toward my tuna sandwich I ate for lunch. It seemed the most viable culprit due to the fact I purchased it from the 7-11 convenient store.  I thought I was most likely experiencing food poisoning given how quickly the affliction hit. Thankfully my niece was at work with me that day and was available to be the appointed driver. In haste we hit the road in hopes that I could keep my tuna from swimming back up for the duration of the hour long ride home. But as our voyage north inched ever closer to Miramar National Cemetery where Cole is buried (a landmark I pass by twice daily, Monday through Friday), I knew this was not the flu nor was I poisoned by fish. As the guttural cries could be contained no more I realized the topic of healthcare and health insurance was cause for my angst.

I spent the rest of the day in my bed crying. I remained in this condition throughout most of the night. I awoke on Thursday and could not pull myself together enough to make it into work, which thankfully my boss understood. I had been tripped off. For me it was a strange experience for I usually can see the signs coming. The thoughts of Cole in my head and the pangs within my soul typically provide fair warning that I am moving toward unstable ground. The difference with this situation is that the physicality of symptoms hit first and I honestly thought I was coming down with the flu or having a bad reaction to something I ate. My son had PTSD and I learned a lot about it at result, which is how I also recognized the symptoms within the Bent 3 upon our loss. But this being “tripped off” was a new aspect for me, personally, and a bit alarming if I am to be completely transparent. I didn’t like that my body was responding to something my mind hadn’t caught up with yet. A panic attack without knowing yet that panic is present. It is strange indeed.

During my son’s two years of struggle post surgery we, collectively, hurt for those veterans who lacked the advantage of an advocate. I was honored to assist Cole and he was grateful to have my voice in his corner. And I have not forgotten those Vets still lingering without assistance. I somehow need to find a way to navigate topics that trigger adverse physical and emotional responses. I do hope to one day be able to advocate for veterans and active military, in honor of Cole and his own soft-spot for helping others, his own understanding of how much red-tape exists for military men and women, young and old, in need of health care. Cole’s story is layers-full and rich with injustices from all sides: US Marine Corps, Army Medical Centers, Department of the Navy and Veterans Affairs. And sadly, his story is everyone’s story, is the majority of circumstances and reform is most definitely needed.

So here I am, trying to gain ground in healing in order to have access to strength for the impending task at hand. I know the call to action is inching ever closer, I can feel it. Most likely as life has proved, I won’t be ready but provisions will be there. Opportunity will call me out before I seek it. And the broken heart I carry will come with me, not hindering but guiding, reminding me of my own vulnerabilities and need of grace.

Without warning we live daily, though not without help.

Psalm 23


13 Jun

There are several “markers” in my life which present themselves in such a way as to remind me of the fact the past five or so years have resembled that of a vortex, a whirling mass of something.  For instance, tonight I grabbed my ‘chili oil’ from the pantry to use in my dinner dish only to notice the expiration date was fall of 2007 (mind you I have used it several times since then).  Last month I began to wonder why my antiperspirant/deodorant was looking odd.  Upon closer inspection, “expired December 2010”; the probable cause of the yellowish hue and perhaps my new found “scent”.  Vitamins for Cole, expired November 2011.  ‘Get the Red Out’ eye-drops, expiration date of 2006–is that why it stung?.  I do believe I can even produce some well intended makeup which was purchased several years back when the inspiration to “do something about it” was a fresh idea…probably inspired by a glamorously airbrushed Vogue photo shoot.  Hidden Valley Ranch salad dressing, out of date over a year ago.  And do you know what happens to yogurt when it is allowed to extend its shelf life several years?  How about lemon curd?  …let’s just leave those two alone because smelling the chili oil was bad enough!

Now when I come across such ‘expired’ items as the ones mentioned above, they serve to remind me that I have had cause, since about the beginning of 2007, to loose a bit of the hold on life that I once thought I had.  Now whether I did, or whether I didn’t could be discussed philosophically for hours…but that, my friends, would be a moot point.  And boring to say the least.  But if you take my word for it, you might come to understand–with a bit more clarity–how and why I could possibly be in possession of so many items which are used, and still useful, though quite past their guaranteed shelf life.  Just take a look at my week past, project the chaos of the days backward and forward and voilà, here I am.

The gist of the past several days went something like this:

Friday, June 8th–  Pick up car rental and head for northern California.  Get situated in the rental for the 6 hour drive to the bay area for the high school graduation of my nephew.  (Being the projected arrival was due to occur simultaneous to the processional, my long time friend planned to give us a dinner of salmon and flank steak to hold our position in the area of the school so we could meet up with the family afterwards).

1:00p.m. traffic on the 5 freeway north came to a halt.  We sat in one location for two hours; the perfect conditions for my ever loving husband to present to myself and our daughter the evils of marijuana smoking and his disdain for recreational drug use.  A “public speaking announcement” brought forth from his experience in the men’s bathroom just moments before at the Carls Jr. where we stopped for a moments relief and where he received more than his fair share of second-hand smoke.

3:00p.m. we were escorted off the freeway as the wildfire, which prevented our progress, continued to rage.  We were now faced with alternative routes.  Thanks to our friends in Bakersfield, we took a very long, though pleasurable, drive around the grapevine and ended up at their house for dinner somewhere close to 6(ish)p.m.  Tacos, friends, and a warm place to lay our heads…sorry to say goodbye to the salmon and flank, but glad to be so well received on such short notice with a hospitality that made the 7hour drive worth the while (it is normally a 3 hour drive tops, to Bakersfield from where we live).

Saturday, we finally made it to our original destination, Livermore, CA.  The house of my brother and the barbeque celebration of my nephew’s milestone.  We enjoyed the afternoon with family and then headed to the east bay for another party–a surprise birthday for my godmother.  We celebrated into the night and were part of the clean-up crew which continued the next day into the afternoon.  We had intended to leave for home on Sunday but were quite tired from the previous days events and two nights of intermittent sleep (no fault of our hosts, just the way it goes sometimes).  So it was decided, between the three of us, that we would stay another night in the bay area and then head home along the coast and take a couple of days for a leisurely Highway 1 adventure.  I was even willing to sleep overnight in the car if we couldn’t find a hotel along the way…the call of spontaneity was beckoning to me.

Monday morning, I awoke with a sore throat and we received a call from our son Cole.  Cole had intended to make the trek up north with us but hadn’t been feeling well a few days leading up to the trip and so opted out in order to rest.  His symptoms had continued to present themselves and he felt a visit with the doctor was in order.  Our friend (and neighbor) agreed to take Cole to the doctor at 10 that morning.  The doctor, alarmed by her assessment and Cole’s medical history, sent him directly to the ER for further testing.  And though we were on our way to the coast, via the 101 freeway, we instead took the Pacheco Pass (152) over to the 5 freeway and arrived at the hospital by 7(ish) p.m., in time to take our newly discharged, though not expired, son home.  After having a blood panel drawn and a CT scan with contrast, it seemed his symptoms are result of his brain tumor location.  And though we do our best to manage his diet for optimum health, the involuntary actions of the gastrointestinal system are under the mismanagement of a trauma induced malfunction.  We made it home, the four of us (our neighbor having spent his entire day with Cole, headed home upon our arrival at the hospital), Cole in need of drink and food and me, by this time, in need of my own personal box of Kleenex.

Tuesday (yesterday), it became apparent I had caught a flu bug of some sort which kept me in bed with a fever and my trusted box of tissues.  But even a day of illness could not stop the chaos…Esther called from the shoulder of the freeway, broken down on her way to work.  And after the car was towed home, Brian, while out test driving the car after making adjustments to it, was broken down and in need of a ride to the auto parts store.  Cole needed me to pick up a stool sample kit from the VA clinic and I just needed to sleep!

So you see, when I do grab something off of a shelf or out of a cabinet that in its ‘hey day’ provided a useful function of some sort but is now debunked by the outing of a date stamp, I am reminded that it is all Okay….yep, all of it.  I truly appreciate the notice of expiration because it validates the tourbillion of the past several years, and I wish each one of you were here with me as I toss the spoiled item, into the trash, and laugh at the ironic, but precious, reminder.  Ironic because I continued using the product as if it were fresh and viable while unknowingly its potency had been long exhausted.  And it is there, in its ‘invalidation’ that I find my own, ‘validation’.  Thank you FDA…

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