Posts Tagged 'life'

MSgt Dremel: Thank you for saving a life.

Dear Master Sergeant Dremel,

Honestly, I just did a little stalking and found out that you retired from the military some time ago, but I will always remember you as Master Sergeant Dremel (“like the tool” you would always say, yet I had never heard of Dremel tools). And, in fact, I will always remember you.

I was literally raking sand while waiting for a new job.

I was literally raking sand waiting for a new job.

I won’t blame you if you don’t remember me. I was one of a few young airmen that passed through your office at the advanced Russian school at DLI. Sometime in 2008 I failed the Arabic DLPT and began the long process of reclassifying to another job. My friend (who had failed out of Arabic with me but also spoke Russian) had been sent to work in your office as an aide. He put in a good word for me (because I was tired of sweeping sidewalks and raking sand, literally) and you requested a second aide to help clean up and organize a few things around your office.

I was feeling pretty down at the time, but this isn’t a story about how I was thinking of suicide and you talked me out of it (as the title might suggest). I had signed up with the Air Force to get the $12,000 signing bonus and I felt that the new Arabic test was broken and I had been cheated out of my bonus. I knew that I had the option of getting out of the Air Force at that point, and I was seriously considering pursuing that option.

I will always remember how kind and sincerely caring a person you are. I still remember the story you told about how, at another location, you and a few other guys were concerned about a dangerous section of road that the administration was not taking proper care of–the road required some safety markings (a crosswalk, if I recall correctly) and after months of fighting for the markings to be painted no action had been taken. You and your cohorts obtained the necessary supplies and painted the markings yourselves to prevent further injury at that location.

Similarly, you saw that I was in need of a mentor and you stepped up. I will always remember the day you asked me about my plans for the future and I told you I was planning on getting out. You listened and then, in a few more words, asked me to reconsider and give the Air Force another shot. You talked about the many benefits, to include education and health care, that I would be throwing away, and you appealed expertly to my logic and sense of responsibility.

In my mind, the military represented something I didn’t want to do. I felt wronged by the system, had a deep disdain for all of the running and physical exercise required, and didn’t feel comfortable with the military culture. However, your words convinced me to give it another chance.

Within a year your actions brought me tears of gratitude, and I am sorry that it took me this long to reach out to you and let you know what kind of impact you had in my life. Let me tell you the full story.

I had been doing very well in the Arabic program. I was, in fact, near the top of my class. I was selected to study for a month in Egypt. While I was away at Egypt, on 7 February 2008, my wife gave birth to a beautiful little girl we called Sophie.

The light of my life.

The light of my life.

Sophie was the light in my life. We had another son, but he was my step-son and as much as I treated him like my own, this was my own spawn. She was beautiful. She was happy. She made everyone around her happy.

By the time I wound up in your office she was barely half a year hold. Late December of that year, less than two months after you convinced me not to pursue an early exit from my contract, I got a call from my unit superintendent who informed me that a slot had opened up for “some computer job” and, if I wanted it, I would need to report to the new training by the first week of January.

Bundle of Joy

Bundle of Joy

I took the job and after the training, in May of 2009, we trekked across the country from Monterey, CA to Andrews Air Force Base outside of Washington DC.

Everything was going pretty well. I still didn’t enjoy most aspects of military life, but it was nice having everything taken care of. In addition to your encouragement to give the Air Force another chance, I had the attitude that a job is a job and having a good one was better than not having one.

Happy

She made me happy.

By October that year the first signs that something was wrong began showing. We didn’t notice at the time, but in hind sight it’s pretty clear.

Notice the head tilt.

Notice the head tilt.

She had started walking, running a little, and growing more and more confident in her movements. Then, out of nowhere, she reversed progress. She wanted to hold hands more. She used furniture and walls to steady herself. Her head was almost always cocked to one side.

It took us another month and a half before we were concerned enough to get an appointment with her pediatrician. The appointment was set for Wednesday, 16 December 2009.

Her doctor, Dr. Barnes, wasn’t too concerned on the surface. She thought it could be a nutrient deficiency or something else that could be resolved with medicine or therapy, but just to rule out anything serious, she got us an appointment to get a CAT scan the next day at Walter Reed, the larger Army Medical Center for the National Capitol Region.

So, on Thursday, 17 December, we took Sophie to the hospital to get a scan. After the scan, instead of being sent home and told that they’d get the results to us in the next couple weeks (as is usually the procedure), we waited and waited for what seemed like hours (but may have only been a half hour or so, I don’t know). Eventually we were pulled into a closet of a room with a computer and two doctors. They pulled up her scan and showed us a big black area about the width of a baseball and told us that they weren’t sure what it was, but they were sure she would need an MRI and they were not equipped to do it there. They were referring us to the Children’s National Medical Center down the road. Sitting in that room I looked at my wife and knew that everything had changed and could never go back to being the way it was before. They sent us to the ER where an ambulance would pick us up and take us in for the MRI.

The ambulance took forever to arrive. We were scared and confused. It got late. Sophie had been fasting for the scan, and since she would be going in for another she had to continue her fast. She was hungry, tired, and righteously upset. She was the only one that cried though.

This is the first MRI result.

This was the first MRI result.

They couldn’t get her in for the MRI until the next morning. Immediately afterward they urgently recommended surgery. It all happened so fast. Wednesday: ordinary pediatrician’s visit. Thursday: precautionary CAT scan. Friday morning: brain surgery?!? There wasn’t time to think about it then though.

While in the waiting room we were sitting stoically by a nervous mother. “What is your child in for?” she asked. We instead asked what her child was there for. “He’s getting his tonsils removed,” she replied. We never told her what we were there for.

It was about that time that we got up and decided to walk the hallways for a bit. That was the first time we cried. Still though, our thoughts were focused on our family and our daughter. In that moment I was enjoying a gift you had given me–a gift that I became poignantly aware of less than a week later (we’ll get to that in a minute).

After the six hour surgery, I stayed the night in the hospital with Sophie that night and my wife drove home as it began to snow. The next morning we found that we were snowed in. You may have heard of that snow storm in the news as it was the beginning of the terrible 2009/2010 snow storm that hit the East coast.

The snow gave me a chance to finally update my family on what had happened.

She recovered quickly, and by Monday there was a break in the snow, a few roads had opened, and the doctor told us that we were free to go. Less than a week later, the day before Christmas, we got a letter in the mail from TriCare informing us that all of the bills for the hospital had been paid.

A wave of relief rushed over me. It wasn’t until that point that I remembered that in the civilian world people pay a lot of money for things like brain surgery. I wish I had kept that letter with its 6-digit total. That was the gift you gave me. Four years and almost a dozen expensive MRIs later, she is in perfect health, and we don’t owe a dime for any of it. We received some of the top care in the world, from one of the most qualified and expert pediatric neurosurgeons in the nation, under the guidance of one of the most respected and loved pediatric neuro-oncologists in the world, and it was all for the cost of one decision that you ultimately helped me make.

So, Master Sergeant Dremel, how did you save a life? Surely, even if I had left the military, Sophie would have received the care she needed. We would certainly not have been living near the Children’s National Medical Center in DC, so she wouldn’t have seen the same experts she saw. But, you know what? This isn’t about her life. She might have had a worse time with another hospital, or even had a very similar experience. But it would have cost me a fortune under any medical plan I would have been able to afford (remember, this was less than a year after we parted ways).

There are things worse than death. Not being able to support my family and provide for their needs is one of those things for me. That is my life. And you saved it for me.

Thank you.

Healthy, Happy, & Smart

Healthy, Happy, & Smart (with her Teacher)

For some photos and information about Sophie’s adventure, see:

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Mary’s Box

Mary slowly drifted into awareness. She struggled against the bright lights as she worked her eyes opened. Sounds drifted into focus, from muffled noise to the calming sound of a loving voice. Something had been placed in her hand. The voice’s words grew clearer as she sat upright.

“Welcome to the world, Mary. I am your mother and this is my gift to you.” Mary looked down at the object in her hand. It was a box no bigger than her opened palm. It fit neatly in her hand. It was cold but slowly warming. The surface simmered with the light of many colors. It had a lid, and atop the lid there was a spout. From this spout was flowing a sparkling fluid that rolled off everything it touched and pooled on the blankets and on the ground around her.

Mary brought her other hand up to touch the fluid. It bounced and rebounded off her skin, but she didn’t feel a thing. She turned the box over in her hands. Other than the spout and the hinges of the lid, it was featureless. She started to open the box, but the woman quickly clasped Mary’s hands to the box and held it tightly closed.

“You mustn’t open the box early, child.” She smiled warmly at Mary. “It will open on its own one day. Hold it to your ear.”

Mary lifted the box to her ear and listened carefully. Inside she heard a faint ticking.

“Do you hear it ticking? It’s a clock, dear. It is counting down until the day when it will open. You must take care not to rattle it too hard, or the clock will tick faster. Put the spout to your lips and drink.”

Unsure, Mary eyed the strange liquid and brought it closer to her face, but she hesitated to drink.

“Go on,” the woman urged gently.

Mary let it touch her lips and stuck her tongue into the flow. It tasted sweet. She gleefully drank some down and chuckled happily.

Laughing, the woman went on. “That is your fountain of life. It’s always sweet at first, and the more you drink the more you will learn and grow. Some day you will take a drink and notice that it has turned bitter. Do not worry, the bitterness will pass but you must drink that too. The sweetness will bring you joy, and the bitterness will bring you strength. You need both to live.”

“What’s inside, mother? How long until it opens?”

“Nobody knows, sweetheart. Everybody has one, and everybody wonders what it holds inside and how long until it will open. A few have opened their boxes to take a peek, but when they do they are sucked inside and their fountain ceases to flow. And since that is also what happens when the box opens on its own, we believe it is better to enjoy the fountain and the strength and joy it feeds us before we venture inside the box.”

Mary’s head was instantly flooded with a hundred more questions, and more and more the box scared her. Mary’s mother saw the fear building in her face and pulled her in close.

“There, there, my child. You need not fear what you do not know. My mother used to tell me that my box had a beautiful kingdom inside, and that the more I drank from my fountain the bigger the kingdom grew. And when I drank the bitterness of the fountain my kingdom grew more beautiful. She said that when I shared my fountain with someone it meant that I would get to see that person in my kingdom. She also warned that if I am not careful with my box then it could cause the kingdom inside to crumble to the ground.”

“Do you believe it, mother?”

“Well, my father told me that my box might have nothing inside, and that when it opens you get sucked inside because the box is a part of you and you are a part of it. But he also said that if you treat your box badly it would just make our time together shorter, so treating it like it has a tiny kingdom inside isn’t a bad idea.”

“Do I have a father?”

“Of course you do. He’s outside waiting for you. He’ll want to have a word with you before you go out and explore.”

Mother helped Mary out of bed and showed her to the door. Outside, Father gave her a big hug.

“Make sure you keep your box with you and take good care of it. And drink as much from the spout as you can, even when you don’t like the taste. Don’t let anyone else touch your box, but you can share from its fountain. And make sure your box stays closed.”

“OK, father.”

As she walked toward the door to the outside with her parents, she took another drink from her fountain. It was sweet, but perhaps a bit less so than before. At the door they all shared from each other’s fountain and said their goodbyes, and amidst tears, Mary stepped out into the world on her own.

 

Just as Mother had explained, everyone else had a box too. After her parents’ warnings, Mary took great care to keep her box’s lid shut tightly. She carried it lightly, imagining a tiny castle made of glass inside.

Mary enjoyed meeting others. She had many conversations with people, and enjoyed hearing what they thought was inside their box. Some, like her Mother’s father, believed there was nothing inside. Others pictured whole universes. Many felt that drinking and sharing from their fountain was an important part of forming the contents of the box.

 

Mary often pondered on the contents of her box. Sometimes thinking about it made her afraid, other times it just filled her with wonder.

It frightened her to learn just how fragile the boxes could be. She heard that it wasn’t uncommon for boxes to break open when dropped. No matter how the box opened, the moment it did its owner was pulled inside.

 

One day a boy approached her and offered her a sip from his fountain. “It’s extra sweet today,” he remarked. Although her parents had urged her to share of her fountain, she had rarely done so because it was not a common thing. Most people didn’t seem interested in sharing, especially with strangers. Mary was surprised by this boy’s offer, and didn’t know how to react. “Go on,” he urged.

Mary took a sip, and smiled. It was, indeed, very sweet. Her fountain had been particularly bitter lately and the sweetness was a refreshing change. “Thank you,” she said. “I’d offer to share mine with you, but it’s been especially bitter lately.”

“It’s no bother,” said the boy, “I’d love to take a sip so we can share the bitterness together.”

“Really?”

“Sure. When your fountain is really bitter, sometimes it helps to share with others.” She extended her box and he took a sip. His face contorted and he shook his head.

“Wow. That really is bitter!” He smiled. “My name’s Tom.”

“Mary. Nice to meet you.” She took a sip from her fountain, and just as he had said, it didn’t taste quite as bitter. “Hey, you’re right. It’s not as bad.”

 

Tom and Mary became good friends. They spent a lot of time together, and often shared their fountains. Mary noticed that when her fountain was sweet and she shared, it got sweeter. And when it was bitter and she shared, it got sweeter then too.

Mary and Tom grew together. They learned many things. One day they learned that parents build new boxes together and pour from their fountains into the new box and shut the lid. After a while, a child comes from inside the new box. Tom suggested that someday they might want to build a box together and become parents. The idea excited Mary, but she wasn’t sure if she would want to or not.

 

One day they were walking together and they encountered a man standing alone staring down at his box. As they approached, the man flipped his lid open and was whisked inside. The box fell to the ground and broke into many pieces.

Mary gasped and ran to where the man had been standing. Tom ran to catch up with her. She was very upset. Fighting back tears she asked, “Why did he do that?”

Tom put his arm around her and held her close. “I don’t know,” he said. After a while he added, “My mother told me that sometimes a person’s fountain will be bitter for a long time. When that happens and they don’t have anyone to share it with, some people decide that whatever is inside the box has to be better than the stuff coming out of it.”

 

The image of that man getting sucked into his box stuck with Mary for a long time. Once again, she found herself fearing her box. Then, one day she and Tom were together when two men grabbed Tom by the arms and a third took his box. Mary was too afraid to run, and watched in horror as the man opened Tom’s box. “Empty,” he said, and smashed the box to the ground. Turning to Mary, he said, “And what of your box, lady? Any treasure inside for us?” The men tried to grab her, but she fled.

Mary ran and ran without looking back. She had always been so careful not to rattle her box, but while she ran she didn’t care if it ticked a little faster. She ran all the way back to where she had started, back home.

Sobbing, she pounded on the door until her Father opened. She fell into his arms and held him tightly. Mother ran to their side asking what was wrong, but Mary couldn’t speak. They all held each other for a while before Mary went back to the bed where she first awoke. Hoping that her fountain could provide some comfort, she took a sip. But it was more bitter than it had ever been before.

She stayed in her bed, crying to herself, for a long time. Her parents tried to help. They wanted to drink of her fountain with her to share in the bitterness, but Mary refused to share.

Days, weeks, and finally months went by. Mary kept hoping that the fountain would once again produce sweetness to brighten her life, but it was always bitter. She often thought of the man who opened his own box, and found herself wondering if it wasn’t true. Perhaps there would be a beautiful kingdom inside. Perhaps it would be better than staying outside of the box and drinking of its bitterness.

 

One morning she decided she was going to open her box to see what was inside. She had decided that it couldn’t be worse than continuing to drink from the horrible bitterness that was flowing from her fountain. She just couldn’t stand another day of drinking bitterness.

When Father came in to see her as he normally would, Mary told him that she was going to open her box.

“I’m glad you told me,” her father said as he sat down next to her. “But before you do, would you mind telling me why?”

And so Mary told him all about Tom, and the man she watched open his own box, and the men who opened Tom’s box. She told him about how her fountain had produced nothing but bitterness ever since, and that she was tired of drinking it. “I’m not sure what I’ll find inside my box, but I am sure it will be better than this.”

Her father listened carefully to everything she said, and when she was finished he put his arm around her shoulders and lowered his head, letting out a deep sigh. “I can’t stop you from opening your box if you want to,” he said. “These boxes are fragile, as you’ve noticed. They break easily, there is no lock to keep them shut, and somehow or another they all open in the end anyway. And when a fountain goes bitter for a long time it’s a tempting thing to open your box and move on. It is hard to drink from a fountain that is only bitter day after day. One thing I’ve learned,” he held his box next to Mary’s, with the spouts side by side, “is that the bitterness is more manageable when you share it.”

Keeping their boxes side by side, he lifted her hand up and drank from the two spouts together, then had her do the same.

The sweet liquid of his fountain mixed with her bitter fountain was much easier to drink.

“If you share your bitter fountain with those who love you, and mix their sweetness with the bitterness you have to drink, then over time your fountain will once again return to normal. It might take a very long time, but we’re here to share our fountains with you as long as you need us.”

Mary hugged her father, sobbing, but feeling a little better.

Sophie Loves Zippers

Sophie just started laughing last weekend. Today we found something she laughs at for no reason – zippers. Sorry the sound is so bad, we don’t have a video recorder (yet) so we’re just using our camera to take the video. The picture’s never awful, but the sound doesn’t always come out so great.

She ate a lot of baby food today as well. She finished her normal helping of rice cereal (mixed with baby apple sauce for taste) and was still hungry, so we took half of a thing of sweet potato stuff from the refrigerator. At first she didn’t like that it was cold, but it tasted too yummy to refuse. At one point it looked like she was getting brain-freeze. It was cute.

Anyhow, she ate all of that too, and ever since then her spit-up has been a lot grosser than it was before.

Oh, great news: last weekend we finally got some pacifiers that she will take, and she has been a quiet, happy baby ever since. She loves to take her pacifier, even when she’s upset (but not too upset). We even have a CD of her favorite songs in her room (with the crib) and she sleeps in there. We put her in the crib with her pacifier, turn on the music, kiss her on the cheek and say, “good night,” and she puts herself to sleep! Yeah.

Early Poetry

I just realized I had a little something special I could have shared with you all, so I’m sharing it.

I don’t usually do poetry these days, but when I was younger I idolized people like Shel Silverstein and Dr. Seuss for being able to rhyme and make me laugh (or at least smile) at the same time. I thought I could do it, so I wrote a lot of little poems. Not many of them were any good, but this little gem managed to shine despite my obvious lack of talent:

Good Life?

“We’ve lived a very good life,”
A husband said to his wife.
“Oh have we?” she said,
As he got into bed,
And she cut off his head with a knife.

It still makes me smile over a decade later.

That’s all for now. Just wanted to share that little bit of funny with you. Have a great day!

Fix-it Saturday

Today we fixed some things around the house. Last night I went out to see a movie with friends. We saw Iron Man (not a bad movie, if you’re into science fiction action films). I enjoyed it because I am a nerd.

Anyhow, just after I left the house my wife informed me that the washing machine had quit working. She played around with it, checked that it was plugged in, checked the breaker… Everything seemed right, but it wasn’t working. We don’t have money for new stuff, so it’s used and it will continue to be used until we can afford something else. We don’t have money for repair people to come around and fiddle with it and fiddle with us, so I got a little worried when I started thinking about how much I don’t know about washing machines.

Well, when I got home I tried turning it on and it worked fine for me. Strange, but true. Then, before it was done with the same load, it mysteriously quit working again. So, I started fiddling with it and found some loose screws (literally). This discovery led to the finding that the switch that signaled to the machine when the hatch was opened or closed had mostly fallen from its mounting. Tightening the screws was futile – as it turned out the plastic had broken long ago. So, I found an old hair rubber band and rigged the sensor to the closed position so the washing machine always thinks the lid is closed.

You know, it feels really good to, what do they call it? – Jerry rig? It feels good to get something working with a rubber band and not have to pay someone sporting trouser cleavage from my life savings just so they can waste my time and charge me three weeks’ pay.

As a final note, we’ve (my wife and I) been working on designing some radical changes to our family’s routine to help us all develop better self-control and patience. Needless to say, we wouldn’t need to do this if we all had acceptable levels of discipline and prudence. My five-year-old especially needs something that will help him with his physical and emotional control (he tends to beat the snot out of playmates who don’t worship him and bow to his every whim). We’ve got a plan, but I’m wondering if anyone out there who reads this might have any suggestions for a program (something like a cross between yoga and some martial art form) that we could do as a family that would promote patience, self-control and some basic self-defense techniques. My only requirement is that I need to be able to do this without too much class training – we need to start doing this in our home, as a family, without paying for regular classes (we may do regular classes later, but not now – no can do).

Alright. This wasn’t the type of thing I was planning on posting here, but I wanted to take some time to write despite my creativity being on vacation.


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