Celebrating Christmas in the VA Polytrauma Unit

Christmas will look a little different this year:  We are so grateful that our daughter is staying at the Fisher House on the grounds of the Palo Alto VA hospital where she feels like she has a little home away from home.  We are thankful that Sam and Erin are relatively close to us.  We are thankful that Erin is so confident in the staff at the polytrauma center—the nurses, therapist and doctors, even the janitors at the VA hospital are so wonderful, caring and friendly. 

This Christmas is going to look a little different for our family’s home in Citrus Heights.  We won’t have a Christmas tree or any decorations or even any presents—but none of that is really important to us right now.   We will be celebrating Christmas together as a family—sitting around Sam’s bed in the polytrauma ward of the VA hospital.  We’ll have the room decorated nicely.  I’m bringing my guitar and we’ll sing Christmas carols together.  We have so much to be thankful for—the charitable organizations that have reached out to us to make this day happen, the wonderful staff at the VA hospital, and mostly importantly, the gift of seeing Sam make little improvements every day. 

Article in Military.com:  There is a very nice article in Military.Com about Erin and Sam and their battle with Sam’s TBI.  The article was written by Kristin Henderson who is a journalist, author and wife of Navy chaplain who served with the Marines in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Kristin has also been featured on NPR’s All Things Considered and Fresh Air, NBC’s Weekend Today, and C-SPAN’s Book TV and After Words

VA Announces $4.7 Million to Help Caregivers:  On December 6th, the Department of Veterans Affairs announced they will provide $4.7 million for caregiver assistance pilot programs.  The programs are designed to “expand and improve health care education and provide needed training and resources for caregivers who assist disabled and aging veterans in their homes”.  The acting VA Secretary Gordon H. Mansfield said in response to the announcement:

“At VA, we’re committed to looking after caregivers who dedicate their own time and well-being to take care of loved ones who are veterans.”

There are eight different pilot programs starting at various VA hospitals across the country.  The services focus on providing caregivers assistance with transportation, respite care, case management, assistance with personal care, social and emotional support and other services.  For a more detailed listing of the pilot projects being implemented by the VA, click here.

Sam’s medical status:  Yesterday Sam was taken to Nuclear Medicine for a bone scan on his backside.  They want to ensure he doesn’t have any infection in his bones that could be affecting the healing that should be taking place in his backside.  He isn’t healing as quickly has the doctors would like to see.  So far, all results are negative.  It did take a lot out of Sam since he had to leave the polytrauma unit and be taken to the main hospital for the scan.  Erin said it took a lot out of him because he was gone for most of the afternoon. 

Much of Sam’s signing has been at the prompting of Erin or his therapists, but Erin has noticed that lately, he has been initiating more signing on his own.  He has been signing “I love you” more often when Erin does things for him, like make adjustments to his pillows, shave him, etc. 

Another area of improvement —When Sam arrived at the VA hospital, it was very difficult or almost impossible to get him to open his mouth.  Lately he has been opening his mouth and even using his tongue a little.  In fact, just recently he was sticking out his tongue which he has never done.  He’s also making more sounds with his vocal chords, mostly “agh” type sounds.  Erin asked him if he was trying to speak and he signed that he was.  While I was talking to my wife this morning who is staying with Sam and Erin for a few days, I heard Sam using the whistle that one of the Docs from Kilo brought him to help with his speech therapy.  When he got it a few weeks ago, he wasn’t able to make a sound, but I heard him over the phone just whistling away with it today.

Sam has been in the gym every day for about 30 minutes.  He’s been using the arm-bike, but due to the lack of full movement in his left arm, he’s not able to do much with it.   He has been using the leg peddles though, and Erin said he was on it for 15 minutes yesterday.  Much of the actual cycling is done by a motor on the machine, but Sam is also using his own power to some degree.  Erin also noted that Sam is able to check the timer on the bike as it counts up to the 15 minute mark. 


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