An hour at the VA TBI-Polytrauma center gym

Sam working out in the gym_12_26_07 Christmas day this year was spent at the VA hospital in Palo Alto, Ca visiting Sam and Erin. On the 26th I went into the TBI-Polytrauma center physical therapy/gym with Erin and Sam.  He has been going to the gym for a couple of weeks for his physical and occupational therapy.  The whole process of getting Sam to the gym is quite extensive.  There are usually 3 therapist involved in getting Sam into a sling/pulley/crane device that gently picks him up out of bed and puts him into his wheel chair.  The wheel chair has a head rest if needed and can be tilted back if desired to make the patient more comfortable.

I’d like to describe for you, the hour I spent in the gym with Sam.  It was very intense.  I felt so helpless and at times scared.  I had to leave a couple of times to pull myself together.  Partly because of Sam, but also because of my experience of the other young men in the room:

Sam isn’t very “sprite” today, (we later found out he wasn’t being given his stimulate medicine this week) but—he is still really impressing me with what he can do in the gym!  He spends about 15 minutes on the cycle machine.  His feet are strapped in and there is a motor moving the peddles…but, the machine readout indicates how much power the rider is using on their own and it shows Sam is providing 50% of the peddling power!  You’ll notice also that even though Sam’s wheelchair has a neck brace, he is not using it.  In fact, through the 45 minutes or so we are in the gym, he keeps his head up by himself the whole time.  I wonder if he’s showing off for Julie and me?

While we are in the gym, two other TBI patients get wheeled in for their therapy.  I want to share with you my experience of these two brave young men because this is really a part of the “war” that isn’t in the newspaper or on the local news; at least, not that I have seen.

Dan (name changed for privacy), doesn’t look a day over 18. He is in the Air Force and is also a victim of an IED attack in Iraq.  He doesn’t need the modified wheel chair that Sam needs, but I can tell he is in pretty bad shape.  He’s sort of stooped over to the side in his wheel chair and mostly just stares at the floor in front of him.  The therapist asks Dan if he knows where he is and why he is here.  He speaks in monotones and stares off into space as the therapist speaks to him. She occasionally repeats the questions—but, he does answer her correctly.  My daughter leans over to me and tells me Dan has incredible anger issues and is prone to throwing things at the nurses and therapist on his bad days—anger and frustration issues are very common with TBI patients at a certain stage of their recovery.  Dan isn’t married so his disabled mother comes occasionally to be with him when she can.  One of the local charities provided her with a motorized wheelchair so she can get around the hospital and to/from the Fisher House when she is able to visit.

Mario (again a pseudonym) looks to be about 21 years old. He is in the Army—also recovering from TBI after receiving a bullet in the head in Iraq.  Mario has a wife and two young children. The therapist moves a curtain around his therapy area as he is wheeled in for his session.  I’m wondering why they are using a curtain, but soon understand.  Mario lets out blood curdling screams as the physical therapist starts working on him.  The screaming continues for a while—Sam doesn’t seem to mind and continues with his cycling.  After a while, I hear giggling and laughter from behind the curtain as Mario says his first word after being wounded, “amore”  (love).  Little miracles and victories do occur among the despair and anguish in the TBI ward.

This is our new (and mostly hidden) generation of wounded war veterans:  so young—so damaged.  They will spend the rest of their lives recovering from their wounds. Will they get forgotten like so many Vietnam and Korea era veterans?  Welcome to an hour at the TBI Polytrauma center at the VA hospital in Palo Alto.


7 Responses to An hour at the VA TBI-Polytrauma center gym

  1. kabbruzzi says:

    Hi Sam, Erin and Family,

    Happy New Year to you all – I just know that 2008 is going to be filled with happiness, joy, peace and Sam’s continued recovery for you all. Tony I cannot thank you enough for the stories of these brave heroes such as Dan and Mario. This is such an important, impactful and I’m afraid invisible part of war – you are so right that we do not see this in the newspaper or the local news. And this country needs to see and hear them. Every single day. We as a country need to know about and realize the immeasurable sacrifices that are made for us each and every day. Thank you. And thank you to the Dans, Marios and every single other hero out there that has been wounded in this war. God bless you and God forbid – you will never be forgotten. You are all in my thoughts and my prayers each and every day. As are all of our heroes past and present – were not for you all, we would not know how beautiful, sweet and precious Freedom really is. I only wish more really understood how expensive (not monetarily) it is. I am so proud to be a recipient of Freedom, I’m so thankful for my way of life. God bless you all and thank you all.

    Sam, dude you are really cooking with gas now. Look at you holding your head up and kickin butt at 50% peddling power!! You’re doing great. And so are you Erin – talk about a strong woman. Wow. You’re just incredible. Keep up the great work and never forget that prayers, support and LOADS of Angel Hugs come your way each and every day. I am so excited to continue to watch Sam’s miracle unfold. And it is unfolding – yes it is.

    God bless you all.

    – Kris, a Soldier’s Angel from RI

  2. NO TONY…WE WILL NOT FORGET.WE WILL NOT FORGET; I am just praying for the day when we can come; I hope sooner that later. God is still there 24/7, He never sleeps, and never leaves, and most of all He never forgets… God is Love.

  3. Tony, I’m in tears again, thank you…for sharing these moments of agony & miracles with us all, may we NEVER forget & constantly be reminded of the sacrifices made daily by these brave young men & women who step forward to protect us all & extend freedom to a world away.

    You know, these HEROES and these moment by moment battles they face & struggle through, as well as their families…were the very foundation & inspiration of the recent song I dedicated to Sam & Erin…titled, “Unsung HEROES Life”.

    May I take this moment, to share them with your readers…as our hearts go out to you, all!

    Please, give them a hug for us, tell them we don’t have to know them by name…tell them we PRAY for them, God knows them, each one…and, may something you & they hear/read from my simple songs from my faith & experiences as a soldier’s mom…lead them to a place of peace & guide them to Christ!

    In HIS service, and, may God BLESS them, ALL!

    Susan D. Wiseman – “The Tribute Lady”

    The “Epic Version” is Dedicated to SGT. Sam Nichols, USMC
    His Loving, Devoted, Dedicated wife … Erin !

    ( )

    ” Unsung Heroes Life ”
    ( Behind EVERY Soldier – There Goes A HERO Passing By )

    There he sits … at a coffee stand
    Looks like … an ordinary man.
    There she goes … in a brand new dress
    Just got back … did her very best.

    But, No one knows … There goes a HERO passing by
    No one knows … the HEROES left behind.

    There he sits … in his faded jeans
    He’s searching … for what life … really means.
    He’s too young to drink … now, he has no hands
    Looks like a boy … but, he’s such a man!

    And, No one knows … There goes a HERO passing by
    No one knows … This ” Unsung HEROES Life ” .

    There she sits … in her rocking chair
    With her picture book … and … his lock of hair.
    Another stands … in a faded dress
    A promise kept … now, laid to rest

    And, No one knows … There goes a HERO passing by
    No one knows … The HEROES left behind.

    There he sits … that’s him, in a wheelchair
    Parade’s over … folks pass him by, don’t know, don’t care.
    You see … His medals hang o’er a mantel piece
    Near a folded flag … of a son, of which … he can barely speak.

    And, No one knows … There goes a HERO passing by
    No one knows … This ” Unsung HEROES Life “.

    It’s 6:00 am … He’s at the gate
    A flight to catch … Can’t be late!
    Across town … she’s standing strong
    As her children cry out … “WHY’S” Daddy gone?

    And, No one knows … There goes a HERO passing by
    No one knows … This ” Unsung HEROES Life ” .

    There she sits … at his bedside
    So thankful … he’s still alive.
    Begging God … to see him through,
    And, give her strength … in all she must do.

    And, No one knows … There goes a HERO passing by
    No one knows … The HEROES left …

    ” Behind EVERY Soldier ”
    Every woman & man
    There are legions of Angels
    All across this land … Doing battle
    Fighting every day
    The kids, the job, politics
    And, which bills … We pay with our lives
    Die … In our fears
    Some live endless sorrow
    Year, after year … Parade’s are over
    All your flags … packed away
    But, you’ll know US … by the ribbons
    And, yellow bows we still … Hang onto promise,
    Hold … onto Faith
    As we hold out Freedom
    To a world … Away from our loved ones
    In a world of our own
    We dance … to the heartbeat
    Of this … ” Unsung HEROES ” song.

    And, No one knows … There goes a HERO passing by
    No one knows … this Unsung HEROES … life
    No one knows … There goes a HERO passing by
    No they don’t know … this …

    ” Unsung HEROES Life ”

    VIDEO at … ( Mp3s Coming Soon )

    ( ALL Downloads free … Under “FREE DOWNLOADS” section on homepage ) ( Lyrics ) ( For more info on Sam’s progress )

    ( Copyright – July 4, 2007)
    Susan D. Wiseman – ” The Tribute Lady ”

    “Christ-Centered Pieces” – Given Gifts
    P.O. Box 1591
    Fayetteville, Ga.

  4. Lori & Tony Peoria says:

    Dear Sam and Erin,

    Keep peddling! You are all in our prayers.

    Semper Fi, Sam!

    Daughter of a Retired Marine,
    Lori Peoria

  5. Sam and Erin (and Tony) –

    Hang in there! TBI is survivable — I’ve been living (very successfully) for over 30 years with the after-effects of a TBI sustained when I was attacked as a child by some kids who didn’t like my looks, and I’ve recently been dealing with re-injury issues from a 2004 fall.

    I can tell you from plenty of personal experience that things DO get better, but the road can be long and unpredictable, and the experts often have a lot to learn, themselves. Learn all you you can about TBI and your own abilities/limits, experiment, push the envelope, get plenty of rest and good nutrition, use your own judgment, and above all trust your own minds and hearts, even when your brain(s) seem to be coming up a little short. The human brain is an amazing thing, and we have so much to learn about it.

    You may want to check out the book “The Brain that Changes Itself” by Norman Doidge. It’s an amazing work that focuses on personal triumphs by people whom others all but gave up on — how they changed their own brains, or found ways for others to help them make positive changes.

    Never, ever, ever give up! You can do this thing called TBI recovery!


  6. Kris Abbruzzi says:

    Hey there Sam, Erin and Family!!

    Just stopping by to let you all know that you continue to be in my thoughts and my prayers each and every day. And you always will be. I wanted to wish you all a very Happy New Year – may it be filled with peace, happiness and health for you all. And for you Sam it is going to bring you closer and closer to recovery. You CAN do it!! You ARE doing it! Dude you are kicking some serious BUTT – it was great to see you holding your head up and look at you peddling at 50%. You’re getting there Sam – little by little you are getting there! And Erin – you just ROCK! 🙂

    Thank you so much Tony for Dan and Mario’s stories. No we do not see this in our newspapers or on TV. And we should be. We as a country need to be aware of the incredible sacrifices that are made for us each and every day. The sacrifices these wounded young heroes will make for the rest of their lives are mind numbing. We need to know these heroes need our help, prayers and support and they must never EVER be forgotten. Our heroes past and present have made our way of life possible. We would not know how precious Freedom is without you. We as a country need to be more aware of how expensive our way of life really is. And I’m not talking in terms of dollars.

    God bless you Sam, Erin and your families. Prayers, support and Angel Hugs come your way each and every day. God bless all of our heroes past and present and thank you so much for my freedom and my way of life. I’m so proud and honored to be a recipient of these gifts, made possible by all of you.

    – Kris, a Soldier’s Angel from RI

  7. Mesothelioma Cancer Guide…

    […]An hour at the VA TBI-Polytrauma center gym « Sgt. Samuel Nichols, USMC[…]…

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