Saturday, January 10, 2009

SICU at Walter Reed

My first days at Walter Reed were overwhelming and had me out of my comfort zone most of the time.  Allen was in the SICU when I first saw him.  I was absolutely amazed at how great he looked.  He had some tubes and wires but greeted me with a huge smile.  His little room was pretty full when I arrived.  I had beat him to the hospital but they didn't take me to see him until he was somewhat settled in his room.  

The nurse was there trying to get everything settled.  It was pretty close to shift change too, which made things that much more chaotic.  There was a doctor or two in with him as well as SSG Sylvia Bastian, the National Guard liason for Walter Reed.  She ended up being a Godsend for us and we still keep in touch with her.  

One of the first things I remember about seeing my husband that first evening was that he quickly said hello to me and then turned to the doctor and asked when he could return downrange to his guys.  The doctor basically laid across his chest and told him very firmly that he would not be returning to Iraq anytime soon.  It was almost as if he had been waiting to see me since he was back in the states and as soon as he had he was good.  He was ready to roll as he would say.  

After seeing Allen, I didn't go back to my room until the next day.  He didn't want me to leave him, nor did I really want to leave him either.  I was also a little paranoid about finding my way around or back to my room for that matter.  Walter Reed was a big place and really intimidated this sheltered midwestern girl!

This is another area that needs to be improved on there for the families who are coming in.  I had no idea where to go or what to do.  I knew that there was a meeting the next morning (Monday) in the Mologne House lobby at 1000 hours.  (Everything worked on the 24 hour clock the military uses.)  In order for me to receive my per diem I would have to report to these meetings twice a week to sign in.  I had been told there was a shuttle that ran around the campus and that it would take me back to the Mologne House.  I also knew that I could walk, but once again I had no idea where it was.  (I am completely direction illiterate!)  

So, the first night I was there I stayed in a chair next to Allen in the SICU.  It was a very restless night as I was uncomfortable and in an ICU where there is always a lot going on.  I was very relieved though in a lot of ways because I had actually gotten to see Allen and see that he was going to be okay.  

The next morning I met another wife who was leaving the SICU to go back to the Mologne House.  So, she showed me around the hospital a little and showed me the short cut back to the hotel.  That was another one of the many angels who came our way.  She had been there for 2 or 3 months at that point and her husband was still in the SICU.  

The meetings that I had to go to were very overwhelming at first.  They are put on by the SFAC (soldiers family assistance center) and give out all the information we as caregivers need.  They go over benefits and all sorts of stuff.  They also passed out a map, (what a concept!)  

After the meeting I had major information overload.  I went back to my room for a shower and then headed back to the hospital.  When I got back to the hospital, Allen was in quite a bit of pain.  They had removed his chest tube while I was gone.  I was really thankful that I had been gone for this.  While I can now handle many things I never thought I could, I still do not handle blood and cuts or holes in the body very well.  I did however have to learn how to dress the wound from the tube as they did not stitch it.  They said that it was better to let it heal from the inside out.  

By that evening I was gaining confidence.  I now felt more comfortable finding my way around the hospital and campus.  I at least knew I could find the cafeteria, subway sandwich shop, and my room.  I was good.  I still didn't sleep in my room though.  Allen really didn't like me leaving him for very long at a time.  So, my routine became heading to my room in the morning to shower and change clothes and then going back to his room until the next morning.

After they had removed the chest tube, neurology came in to do their initial exam.  The neurologist actually tried several things to make him go into the seizures.  He even talked him into hyper ventilating which worked.  He actually hyper ventilated and began having seizure like activity.  I'm sure that my eyes were huge as I watched this all unfold.  However, this is when I probably first started becoming aware of the calmness I was able to deal with this stuff with.  It was very hard to watch though.  It did help me handle situations later on  though.  I figured that the more I saw in a controlled environment the better off I would be in the long run.  (This was so true as I have had to watch some pretty scary moments with my husband since this time.)  

Sometime throughout this time in the SICU psychiatry also came in and did evaluations.  They were always very nice and Allen really liked one in particular, Dr. Clark.  He was LTCOM for the Navy.  After Allen was moved to outpatient, he mentioned really missed Dr. Clark.  Many times he commented that he wished he could just talk to him again.

Later that Monday, Allen was transferred out of the SICU to the 5th floor, ward 58.  This is where the head trauma patients are.  Most of the guys wounded in theater would end up on ward 58 or 57.  Ward 57 was for the amputees.   These are also the wards where the celebrities who come to Walter Reed visit.  It is great that they take the time to do this.  However, more of them should.  We had the ARMY cheerleaders from West Point visit and the NFL referees from the Redskins.  Queen Latifah and Morris Chestnut were rumored to be coming when we were there but they never showed up.  Stevie Nicks came through but we were at an appointment and missed her.  She gave out ipods to all of the wounded warriors she met with.  The NYC Fire department came through the first part of December and brought a group of World War II POW's with them.  That was probably our favorite group.  We actually made lifelong friends with some of these people.  We also got to go on a trip to NYC with them later (more about that in another post.)  

Thankfully Allen's time in the SICU or any ICU didn't last too long.  Once he was moved to the other ward it was much easier for me to stay with him and help take care of him.  At this rate, I was beginning to think we wouldn't be there too long.  I was sure we would be home before Christmas!  

Even Now....Gina


  1. Gina-
    Sorry I haven't talked to you-I know tomorrow (sunday) you are supposed to head to Ft. Riley-I will be thinking about you guys and praying all goes WELL!

  2. I checked out your blog today! I love it.. Good for you.. You are a serious blogger.. I need to work on my writing skills!! Take Care and Hope to see you guys soon..