Saturday, April 14, 2012

Working through the pain

Aaron's initial injury was caused while he was an Infantryman back in 1989. The soldiers would do field exercises and one of these was called a human breach. Aaron was chosen that day to use his body as a bridge.  His body lay across his M-16 (weapon) and the other soldiers ran across his back like a bridge. Now, I don't know about you, but when I first learned about this practice I thought it was ludicrous. How could anyone's body withstand that type of weight of their spine? It turns out that it can't.

Soldiers are trained that to seek medical help is a sign of weakness and if you do seek help then you may be put on a "profile" If you are medically unable to report to duty then you're letting your team down. So, more often than not, soldiers don't seek help. Aaron's back was injured during the human breach, but he didn't seek help for over 2 months due to deployments to Panama and Korea. Finally he sought medical attention and at this time was told that he needed to get stronger, stand up straight and that he had a pulled Trapeze muscle. I have to laugh at this, because Aaron was in top physical shape. I don't think he could have been any stronger. Just look at the photo below, taken while he was a lifeguard (Mt. Sinai).

For the next 3 years, Aaron perservered thru enormous pain in his thoracic spine (mid-back) and completed his time as an enlisted soldier. He was doing what the military has taught him..."to suck it up." He then graduated with a B.S. in Nursing (my career sidetracked his goal of becoming a Physical Therapist) and decided to go back into the military as an officer in 1998. During this entire time his back caused pain. I remember when he would stretch his body across our couch to try to relax the muscles, press up against a doorjam to relieve the pressure or how we rarely went to movies, because he couldn't sit that long in one position. Looking back, I really don't remember him complaining much. He just did what he had to do.

Obviously, nursing is a physically demanding career and the Army makes it even more demanding. Being in an understaffed hospital meant that nurses routinely maneuvered patients without assistance and the heavier a patient, the more strain it put on his back. He still did it, because it was his job. Later in 1998 he asked a Dr. for an MRI consult. The Dr. hesistated due to it being an expensive procedure, but the results didn't lie. Everything that Aaron felt over the years was right there on the image. The Dr. told him that there was bulging discs, compression on the spine and spondylosis (change in the signal thru the spinal chord). At this time, surgery wasn't a consideration. Most people will tell you that back surgery is a last resort.

Late 2006, Aaron was sleeping beside me and I couldn't fall asleep, because about every 30 seconds his legs would jump. He mentioned to me how tired he was lately and I said "Do you realize that all night long your legs are jumping?" It's no wonder he was tired, because he wasn't getting any deep sleep. In reality, his legs were spasming due to the pressure on his spinal chord. Also the pressure on his spinal chord was creating fasle sensation in his bladder making him feel like he had to urinate and this would wake him up throughout the night.

Jan 10, 2007 Aaron volunteered for an upcoming deployment to Iraq. He was scheduled to leave towards the end of February. However, at the same time his legs began to give out on occassion. I recall one day he was walking down the stairs in front of our house and I saw his legs give out. He tried to hide it until I said, "Did your legs just give out?" Of course he responded with, "I'm just really exhausted." Now I know that he was in denial with what was happening, because he wanted to deploy. The symptoms continued and he reluctantly sought help from Dr. Floyd (a neurosurgeon he had deployed with in 2003). Dr. Floyd was concerned enough that he referred Aaron to Dr. Haroon Chaudri at MCG in Augusta,GA. This referral led to the diagnosis that Aaron needed back surgery. Dr. Choudri recommended that Aaron not wait until returning from a year long deployment, because one wrong move in Iraq could do damage and there wouldn't be proper medical resources to help Aaron. He told Aaron that "if you keep doing your job, you will go paralyzed."

So, Aaron sat there for several minutes thinking. I was trying to figure out what was going thru his mind. Now, I know that he didn't want to have the surgery because this meant another soldier would have to go in his place. Soldiers just don't do that. At the same time, he hoped that the surgery would alleviate the constant pain and our lives could get back to normal.

When Aaron came out of surgery on Feb 7th, he was in more pain than he had ever experienced. The trauma caused to his spinal cord during surgery not only paralyzed him, but caused him to feel like, "Someone is stabbing my back with a knife and twisting it around and like being cut alive." Not only had the surgery gone terribly wrong, but his pain was worse. How could this have happened? Why isn't the surgeon doing his rounds on Aaron. Why wasn't the surgeon or his team speaking to me after the surgery? What did this mean for our future? Was his career in the military over? Would he ever walk again? My mind was filled with questions that I didn't know the answers to and I was a person that wanted answers. I needed control and I didn't have it.

So, years later Aaron is still in a wheelchair and still in pain. Of course, he looks back and says, " I should have deployed" and I reply, "At least you're still here." For him, this links to the notion that if you're not injured in combat then your injury isn't recognized the same. I've seen it time and time again by the lack of resources available to him. He deployed numerous times and came back safe. It just so happened that he was injured stateside after all those deployments. It doesn't make his sacrifice any less than anyone else's. I'm saddened by the fact that the Army brushed him off when he was first injured. If someone had listened back in 1989 maybe he wouldn't be where he is today. But we all know going down that road is not productive.

 I don't understand how he manages each day in 10+ out of 10 pain. I couldn't do it. He goes around with a smile on his face and is pleasant to everyone he encounters. He hides it so well  that even I forget  that he is hurting, but he is and he always will be. There is no remedy for neuropathic pain. I have to believe that Aaron is still with us today, because he is going to serve a bigger purpose. That's the only way I can make sense of it.

1 comment:

  1. Hey Karen,
    You are very brave for telling your story. I am ashamed that the military did not help him the way that they should of and now you are left to pick up the pieces. You both are very strong to deal with the things that you are going through and still be trying to help others. I pray for you all daily :)