Posts Tagged ‘In An Instant’

The Gift – An Extra for Well Spouses from My Post About Lee Woodruff

March 25, 2008

On March 7th, I had posted about going to hear Lee Woodruff speak about her book, In An Instant – the experiences of her and her family when her husband, ABC News Anchor Bob Woodruff, was critically injured by an IED in Iraq. In response to that post, the gentleman below sent a comment about a support organization for well spouses of chronically ill individuals, which I provided as a March 9 full posting. As part of his comment, he quoted a Washington Post article about spousal caregivers. However, the link on that post doesn’t work. He has sent a corrected link to the article, listed below. So here is his post, with the new link:

From: Richard Anderson – President of the Well Spouse Association (http://wellspouse.org, 1-800-838-0879), a non-profit, 501(c)(3) grassroots organization offering peer support to husbands, wives or partners of people with chronic illness and/or disability.

Hello again:

“Thanks for posting my response to your March 7 blog, as a further blog entry in Soul Mosaic. I need to make one correction:

The URL for the Washington Post story I gave you was incorrect. This will get people there:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/03/04/AR2008030402498_pf.html

Richard Anderson, President, Well Spouse Association”

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The Post – A Followup to Lee Woodruff and Caring for Our Injured Soldiers

March 9, 2008

A REVISION NOTE: THE URL FOR THE WASHINGTON POST ARTICLE BELOW IN INCORRECT. CLICK HERE FOR THE CORRECT LINK FOUND IN MY MARCH 25 08 POST.

I received a comment on March 7th’s post about Lee Woodruff and her Book, In An Instant. Usually I respond directly on the comment for that post, but decided to respond with a post of it’s own. I do not have personal experience with this group and cannot vouch for them. If of interest, here is the information. There is a Washington Post article that is included in the comment that may be of interest.

First, the comment:

Richard Anderson | richard@wellspouse.org | wellspouse.org |

I have read Lee and Bob Woodruff’s book, In an Instant, and it rings true. The Woodruffs were actually very lucky, thanks to top-quality medical care, and possibly divine intervention as well! It is very much to their credit that they have now started their Family Fund for Iraq war veterans and others with TBI.

As President of the Well Spouse Association (http://wellspouse.org, 1-800-838-0879), a non-profit, 501(c)(3) grassroots organization offering peer support to husbands, wives or partners of people with chronic illness and/or disability, I should know.

About 10% of our members are caregivers to spouses or partners with TBI. In this and other chronic illness situations, it can be a life sentence. They need support to help them feel they are not alone in their caregiver journey. Lee Woodruff made that clear in her book in speaking out about her own experience.

Thank you for a perceptive post. For another perceptive look at the life of a spousal caregiver, read the Washington Post Magazine story, The Vow, p. W10, March 9, 2008, about a WSA member whose wife has Huntington’s Disease, here:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/03/04/AR2008030402498.

Lee Woodruff noted that there are many small groups and large national groups, including some within the military, working to help the families of traumatic brain injury patients. I imagine there are resources out there for other illnesses as well, offering support to family members. To find a support group, or verify that a group is legitimate, asked your physician, VA, hospital social worker, ask at your military base, or veteran’s groups. Usually these places will have further information on a support group or a place you can contact to locate support.

The Post – Lee Woodruff – In An Instant and Helping Our Injured Soldiers

March 7, 2008

Taking a rest tomorrow, so posting Saturday’s Gift and Post tonight.

Tonight I had the honor of hearing Lee Woodruff speak at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh, about her book In An Instant. It’s co-written by Lee and her husband Bob Woodruff, the ABC News anchor who sustained a traumatic brain injury from an IED while on assignment in Iraq . It’s the story of their family’s journey through pain to healing and then recovery.

I could say many things about her – she’s a great speaker, frank, honest, down-to-earth, warm. Passionate comes to mind – she speaks so passionately about our servicemen, what they go through and the struggles they have after sustaining such injuries. She very frankly noted that her family was lucky as they had the care of ABC, Disney, and many family and friends to sustain them. Our servicemen do not. She also frankly noted that it is the willingness of those young men and women to step up to the plate and volunteer that makes it possible for the rest of us, her 16-year-old son included, to have a choice as to what we will do with our lives.

She noted that their family has worked to turn the experience into good, lemons into lemonade, including setting up a charitable fund for servicemen with traumatic brain injuries, which I’ll explain in a moment. They have grown as a family. They have tried to help others. When asked though, given all the good that’s come out of what happened to her husband, and all the good things they’ve done and people they’ve helped, did she view what happened to him as a good thing? Her immediate answer was an unequivocal “NO.” She said if she could rewind the clock, she’d wish this never happened. However, it did. She has come to understand that life is suffering and you simply choose whether it can ennoble you or make you bitter. She noted very simply that she did not want to become a bitter old woman.

She has tremendous compassion for others and said she imagined everyone sitting there has experienced some kind of life-altering event. She feels for all. Often times people come up to her and say “this happened to me, but it wasn’t anything like what you went through.” She immediately put a halt to that thought. Her feeling is that life hands everyone suffering and pain is pain.

She spoke strongly about the struggles of our servicemen and their families when there is a traumatic brain injury. Too often these families are struggling and forgotten. She and Bob make it a point to visit VA hospitals when they travel. It is obvious this is a driving passion for both of them. She feels they were given a chance to have good care so now it’s their turn to bring attention to the servicemen. She shared a quote:

“The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional as to how they perceive the Veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by their country.”

That came from George Washington. She felt we are not doing enough for our injured veterans now.

In gratitude for their good fortunes they’ve started the Bob Woodruff Family Fund to assist service members injured while serving in the United States Armed Forces. Special emphasis is for traumatic brain injury victims. They work to raise public awareness of the problem, excellence in research, prevention, diagnosis, treatment. support and resources for the injured as they try to reintegrate to daily life. They work with individuals and small organizations to do everything from provide money for cab fares to wives of injured servicemen going to and from hospitals, to funds for bills, treament and rehabilitation for a blinded veteran who lost his pension and whose wife had to quit work to nurse him back to health. The stories were too numerous.

Her deep commitment to these men and women showed in her words, her face, her eyes. It is said eyes are the windows to the soul. That is the truth. Her eyes showed her soul. It is a soul of love.

If anyone wants more information on how to donate to the fund and help our servicemen who have given so much, the website is:

www.BobWoodruffFamilyFund.org

And she noted they have only one paid employee – the wife of a Marine who is on his 3rd tour of duty in Iraq, and she works out of her bedroom so they don’t have to use any money to pay for an office.

The Post – Nursery Update, Ethics, Parenthood, Friendship, and Just Being a Mere Mortal

February 25, 2008

Just a quick note this morning as I’m on the run. The next installment of my author journey is partially written. Those take me a bit more time. Pondering, reflecting, remembering. Lots to sift through. So those will resume this week.

For now, just to update – Scarlett O’Hara is still alive in the new tank – the “nursery.” Frankly, I was worried. I’d have felt better if I’d set that tank up last week and it had a week to run and settle out. I just hadn’t come to the point of “embracing” trying to raise larval crabs and when I did finally decide this weekend to try, it seemed like birth was imminent. Kind of a go/no-go response needed to be made ASAP.

Last night she just wouldn’t settle down in the new tank. Kept running back and forth, kept trying to climb the sides of the tank. Was there something wrong with the water that was hurting her? All the parameters looked great, in fact the water in the new tank was better than the original – that one’s overdue for a water exchange and the nitrites and nitrates in that tank are rising. So this one is actually healthier. However, certainly there’s other parameters I can’t measure. So my worry was that I’d put her in something I thought was better for her, but maybe I was killing her and couldn’t tell?

I wondered if she was just disoriented and couldn’t find a place to climb out of the water to get air. I noticed air bubbles escaping from her mouth at one point and was afraid she would “drown.” She has this lovely live rock with all kinds of crevices she could hide in, better than her old live rock, AND it’s much bigger so she can climb on top of it, but I thought that maybe in her stress she couldn’t find it. So I scooped extra gravel out of the original tank and put it in the new one and built her two gravel hills so she could walk up the hill and be partly out of water. She found them, but that didn’t seem to be the problem. She just kept running back and forth and climbing the walls.

My husband wondered if she simply couldn’t understand why the sides of this tank were so clean and where was all the microscopic algae she likes to eat? The other tank, though the glass sides look clear, apparently have microscopic algae on them because the crabs are always “picking stuff off” the sides and eating it.

Or maybe she was just so stressed out, she couldn’t relax and would kill herself with exhaustion?

I also noted last night that the formerly clear water in the new tank was now cloudy. I was convinced something awful was taking hold and maybe the live rock had something bad in it. If so, you would expect the nitrites to be rising. I repeated all parameters last night and the water looked good.

So by this point, who is more stressed? Her or me?

My husband said little, just said “It’ll be what it’ll be. You’ve done all you can.” I told him it’s not easy being “God.” He patted my back and said “At least not a God who cares.”

Anyway, I struggled with “should I just bag this whole thing and put her back in the original tank?” I decided not to add any more stress to her by moving her back. One of those – just let it go and see what happens, moments.

This morning the tank looks less cloudy. My husband said he came down and she was sitting quietly in the water, “tending” to her egg mass – ie – giving it pushes and pokes, as if turning them. When I came down, she had found her way to the top of the live rock and was just sitting there on top of her world, soaking up heat from the lights and appearing totally relaxed. (Or is she dead? Should I poke her? 🙂 Just kidding).

All joking aside about my being so worried, I guess I felt guilty. As I said to my husband – Did I put her at risk of dying because I so wanted to try and raise the babies? Did my ego cause harm in this and should I have just left it all alone?

The ethical questions are never clear or easily answered. It’s like being a parent. You try your best, knowing that even when you do, you don’t know if you’ve made the right choices. And in your less than perfect moments, and we all have them, you wonder, will they be okay? Why does God entrust such a big job to mere mortals?

I think Lee Woodruff’s final comments in her book, In An Instant, apply here, at least for being parents, maybe not for being God to fiddler crabs. She worried about how her kids were affected by all the turmoil and intensity when her reporter husband, Bob, was in the hospital with a head injury. She had to be away for long periods to be with him. Things were in an upheaval even though family and friends were looking after things. I so loved her observations, because they are the truth. In thanking her kids she added:

“May you always remember that there are no perfect parents, just mothers and fathers doing the very best they can. And there are no perfect spouses either, just those who love each other enough to stand by “for better or worse.” Don’t be fooled: that kind of endurance is, perhaps, the greatest expression of love.”

I think she could only come to that lesson because of the messiness of life. I think it’s the messy low moments that teach us the most about being human, and about understanding the “human moments” in others. Those times teach us about being compassionate to ourselves and to others, especially when life is at its least pretty. We all want to look like we’ve got it together. Sometimes we do. Sometimes we don’t. Life gets messy. Thomas Moore, a former Catholic monk, in his book, Care of the Soul, I book I read, reread, dog-ear, highlight…in three different colors, quotes something from the Renaissance humanist Erasmus, that applies. Erasmus wrote in his book, The Praise of Folly, that “people are joined in friendship through their foolishness. Community cannot be sustained at too high a level. It thrives in the valleys of the soul rather than in the heights of spirit.”

So, from one very imperfect human, friend, wife, mother, fiddler crab God, go gently into your Monday. It’s really okay, no matter how it goes.

The Post – Another Side Trip – In an Instant, Life Changes – The ER and Patton

February 17, 2008

One minute you are moving through your day, clearing tasks off of your to-do list and anticipating all the things you will still tackle during the rest of the afternoon. The next moment you’re wondering if you will make it through the afternoon, and can you ever get what is choking you, out of your throat? In an instant, life changes.

I talked the other day about “awareness and staying in the present moment” in relation to my racquetball game. Shift to the future and you blow the present shot. The same thing happens in life.

My meditation class talks every week about paying attention to what you are doing, and that anything can be a meditation if you do it mindfully, full of awareness. I never thought about this extending to swallowing pills. I also never thought about how I swallow pills as a possible life-altering moment.

It’s something we do automatically. Grab the pills, toss them back, throw in a mouthful of water, all while in motion through the day’s to-do list. As you tip your head back to swallow, your mind is already on the afternoon’s plans and everything you want to get done. Suddenly there is this sense of something horribly wrong.

It is said that when we are in pain, our world narrows. While that’s usually said about emotional pain and our tendency to pull away and close down our connections to the world, the same is true of physical pain.

In just a second or two, the brain, reacting to that sense of something horribly wrong, starts reeling in the attention and cranking down the focus. It shifts gears from 4 p.m. back to 2 p.m. Within another second or two, it registers panic and pain. It tries to rally its resources to deal with the emergency. Whatever was on your mind before evaporates. It is suddenly incredibly irrelevant. You may never get to it.

Now focused very much in the present the brain is frantically trying to get a clear picture of what the hell is happening. It’s processing emergency signals from several places in your body simultaneously – heart rate, throat, blood pressure, lungs, mouth, cervical nerves. The eyes bulge, hands go up to the throat, and the left brain finally grasps that the pills you swallowed without thinking, tumbled down the wrong way. In a one-in-a-million shot they’ve lodged side by side in your esophagus and are blocking the whole passage.

At the same time you’re looking for a waste basket to throw up in and get those things out of you, additional panic shoots through you. The brain has further grasped that not only can’t you swallow, but that the water you took with the pills has backed up into all of your air passages and is now choking you. Inside your head you hear the liquid close off passages. For an odd moment, like time standing still, you notice that the sounds in your head right now are the same as when you’ve dived underwater and everything is flooding with fluid. Except you’re not in someone’s pool. You’re standing in an office wondering if you’ll ever take another breath.

The breath. All those meditation classes. Come back to the breath. Breathe in your pain and fear, breathe out caring and calm. But even the breath has been taken from you. Panic. Focus. Panic. Focus. The battle in the brain begins because it knows if panic wins, you may lose the battle completely.

Suddenly the water drains out and you can breathe. The breath. Come back to the breath. You’ve been given another shot. Don’t blow it. The brain is in command. Stay in the moment. Just this moment. Breathe – just one breath. Assess. What’s your next move? Think. Take stock. Breathe again. Just one breath.

You determine you can’t swallow except for tiny amounts. Okay. Focus. One swallow at a time. Look around. What are your options? Get help. Someone to be here in case they have to call 911. You remember the pills are large. Hard. Coated. They’re not going to dissolve. You need assistance. Get to the ER.

Someone stays with you. They’re trying to help. It’s a comfort and calms you, even though you can’t really respond. You’re using all your focus and energy on “Breathe – just one breath. Swallow – slowly. You cringe. Intense pain shoots up your throat as the liquid shoves the pills against the esophagus wall and ever so slowly drips around them and down your throat. Breathe. It takes a few seconds to swallow saliva that you normally don’t even notice is there. A few seconds more and the swallow is finished. Take another breath.

The brain starts to race – how long will it take my husband to get here? How long to get down the street? How long to the ER? How long before they can do something to make this better? Panic. The brain takes charge again. Stop. Stay in the present. Breathe. Swallow.

Every shift of the car gears hurts. You want to be sick. Take a breath. Swallow. Another bump. Breathe. Rounding the corner. Still a mile to go. Breathe. Swallow. Traffic backing up. Panic rising. Breathe. Swallow. Close your eyes. The ER doesn’t exist. Just this moment. Breathe, swallow. Breathe, swallow. Lean forward because it doesn’t hurt so much. Breathe. Swallow. You turn into the hospital. The ride to the door might as well be an eternity. Close your eyes. Breathe, swallow.

You struggle through admissions. Whisper name, date of birth, insurance, address. Breathe. Swallow. The nurse typing in your vitals seems to be taking forever. Will you ever get relief? Come back to the moment. Breathe. Just one breath. You spot your blood pressure and heart rate. It scares you. Close your eyes. Breathe. Swallowing is harder. Lean forward. Get ready. Breathe, swallow, tighten your fist to take your mind off the pain in your throat. Breathe. Stay calm.

I know my husband is there. His presence is calming. I can’t respond to him. Can’t even focus on him because I am focused on breathe, swallow. For a second I feel his hand on my back. Its warmth relaxes me, radiates through my muscles. Calms them. But I can’t tell him yet. Just breathe. Swallow.

The doctor is approaching the room. Breathe. Swallow. You stare past the doctor and see a room across the department that looks just like the one your husband almost died in a little over a year ago . . . when he almost choked to death. Breathe. Swallow. The nurse pushes in the needle for the IV line. Breathe. Swallow. Meds are moving through your veins. Breathe. Swallow. Breathe. Swallow. Calm. The meds are calming. The muscles in your throat unlock. Breathe. Swallow. Suddenly, a tiny burp. Air is moving up. Breathe. Swallow. They give you water. Tiny sips. It slides down your throat. Pills shift and hurt. Breathe. Swallow. Ever so slowly, the burps get bigger. The sips of water larger. The medicine slows your heart rate. Your blood pressure has dropped. You can swallow and breathe without total concentration. Will you ever take another pill unawares?

Joan Didion wrote a book, The Year of Magical Thinking, about what it was like the year after her husband died of a massive heart attack. She was with him when it happened. It happened in an instant. In that moment as he fell, dead, everything changed.

Even as Kate Braestrup stared at her husband’s cereal bowl in the sink that morning, he already lay dead in his state police car, killed when another vehicle lost control and crashed into him. Her life changed in that instant as she described in her book, Here If You Need Me. Lee and Bob Woodruff wrote a book, In An Instant. He was covering a story for ABC News in Iraq when an IED exploded near his vehicle. In an instant he nearly died. In an instant everything in her day changed dramatically.

It happens so often. It happens to everyone. Yet we all try to ignore that an end will come. We pretend that reality doesn’t exist even though it does. In an instant we are reminded that though we think we are masters of our fate, we never are. It’s out of our hands.

Friday night, terrified after what had happened to my day, my body, and with the calming effects of the valium wearing off, I scrambled to put myself in a place that brought me back to a time where I felt I had power. I retreated to the movie, Patton, about the controversial, powerful, and legendary World War II general, George S. Patton, Jr. His nickname, given by his men, was “Old Blood and Guts.” He never retreated.

It’s a standing joke in my house, that especially when I was younger, I was Patton. I was the general. I ran the situations. Whatever needed doing, I gave the order or executed the action. Failure or retreat was not in my vocabulary. Back then, my thought was, work hard enough, push hard enough, refuse to be defeated or back off, and you can do, achieve, overcome anything.

In the movie, there is one scene where Patton, played by George C. Scott, speaks and my family looks at me and laughs. Patton, has been reprimanded and his command taken from him. Patton, like him or hate him, was a brilliant field commander. He also put his foot in his mouth constantly, and some of his actions were controversial. Yet he was a power to be reckoned with. He bludgeoned his way through things, though aware of the pecking order, did manage to yield some deference to God. In this scene he is speaking to his aide after being told he might be sent home from the war in disgrace:

“I feel I am destined to achieve some great thing, what I don’t know. But, this last incident is so trivial in it’s nature and so terrible in its effect, it can’t be the result of an accident. It has to be the work of God. The last great opportunity of a lifetime . . . an entire world at war, and I’m left out of it?! God will not permit this to happen!! I am going to be allowed to fulfill my destiny!!!” [LONG PAUSE] “His will be done.”

The last four words are said almost as an afterthought, Patton remembering that God just “might” have some say in things. For some reason, at that time in my life, maybe even now a little bit, my family saw a lot of me in that scene. 🙂

So Friday night, I took comfort from retreating to a place and time in life where I felt powerful and in control of everything. Yet, in truth, even as I watched that movie I knew it was just an illusion, a temporary salve for a traumatic day. None of us are really in command of our destinies, only our responses to life’s questions. Even the powerful General Patton learned that. He preferred to die in battle. Instead, in Dec of 1945 he was paralyzed from the neck down as a result of injuries in a car accident. He died a couple of weeks later from an embolism.

I took temporary sustenance from the movie, even as I am aware that we can only take charge of some things, our choices, but for the rest, there is just the one and only powerful tool we can use: stay aware in the present moment, and breathe.