Supporting our troops is an action not a slogan

June 13, 2009

tweet_to_remind_300x200Back in November of 2008 I read a heartwarming story in the Sacramento Bee of the homecoming of Army Spc. Trevor Hogue who made it back home to Granite Bay California from the Middle East.  All of Trevor’s family came to the Sacramento Airport to greet him and all were very excited to be there to greet him.  The article mentioned an older gentleman who, out of the blue, came up to thank Trevor for his service to our country.  I remember the article brought tears to my eyes. 

Trevor had just come back from spending 15 months in Baghdad and part of his assignment included driving a Humvee through the most dangerous part of the city.  Although Trevor came back from Iraq uninjured, he witnessed unthinkable horror when half of his platoon was blown up before his very eyes.  On June 11th, Trevor took own his life.  He was 24 years old.  Because Trevor’s death occurred after his discharge, his death is not included in the statistics for those killed in the war in Iraq.  Our hearts and prayers are with the Hogue family.

1.65 million U.S. service members have been deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq since 9/11. More than 35,000 service members have been physically wounded. It is estimated that more than 320,000 have sustained traumatic brain injuries and more than 300,000 have psychological wounds.

I don’t know about you, but when I walk down the street, I don’t see our injured service members.  Where is the guy with TBI or the guy with PTSD?  But you know what?…they are out there and they need our support!  Bob Woodruff of ABC’s "World News Tonight" and his wife Lee have taken on the challenge of reminding us that it is our job as American’s to take action in supporting our wounded warriors.  At their website , the banner reads “Support Our Troops”  is no longer a slogan. It’s an action.  They are trying to raise 1.65 million dollars, a goal which symbolizes 1 dollar for every soldier who has served since 9/11.  Their goal is to raise the money by July 4th Independence Day.  Won’t you TAKE ACTION in supporting our injured service members? 

From Lee Woodruff:
”Remember, no matter what you think about the war, this is about the warrior. It is about showing gratitude to the soldiers who left to serve and need help now that they are home. And it is about how we can come together as citizens, as neighbors, as a community and as a nation. The people who selflessly served are asking for our help, and helping is easier than ever.”

Returning to Normal Life: 

Before you read Eric’s (Sam’s dad) update on Sam, which he emailed to me a few days ago, I wanted to give you some up-to-the-minute news about Sam.  This morning at about 5:45AM we received a text message from Erin saying that Sam was being transported by ambulance from CareMeridian in Granite Bay to Sutter Roseville Emergency because he had a temperature of 105.  It’s about 8PM now and Sam has been admitted to the hospital for observation over the weekend.  He has a UTI that may have gone into his kidneys and possibly a mild case of pneumonia. His temperature was back down to normal about noon, and he seems to be doing well, but please pray for him.  PS:  the hospital staff at Sutter Roseville have been reminded by my wife Julie (over and over again) that they are taking care of a war hero…they have been wonderful to Sam and Julie said they are treating him like gold! 🙂

Tony (Erin’s dad)

Sam_June_2009 Sam’s journey thus far would not have been possible without God working through Erin. I’ve reported her drive and perseverance many times in my updates, and I know you can guess how we all feel about Erin. The love she shows my son is so moving, and motivational. Her desire is that Sam re-enter life, no matter what that looks like right now. Sam got to see his first movie at the local theatre this last Wednesday, accompanied by Erin of course, Donny, & Brandi. A wheel chair van was ordered at the appropriate time, delivered Sam to the theatre, and picked them up after for return to Care Meridian. No sushi bar yet, (one of Sam’s favorites) but that is coming. They saw Star Trek, and Sam seemed to enjoy himself. He didn’t remember the movie a few days later, but that is coming too…Friday he went to Supercuts to visit a friend that has cut his hair, (and the rest of us as well) for many years. See the picture taken last Saturday of his regulation haircut. He’s looking really sharp! One of his next outings will be a trip to my house with his brothers and family in lollypop_sam_june_2009 attendance. He grew up here and it should be very familiar for him. Erin continues to challenge him with conversation, questions, and trivia. She was telling him about the national spelling bee that she had watched, and he asked, "What was the championship word?" Sam has always been an outstanding speller, so Erin asked him to spell some of the words that the top 5 contestants went down spelling. To our amazement he spelled most of them with 100% accuracy. The shot of him getting to eat a dum-dum sucker in conjunction with speech therapy, is very exciting. He hasn’t been able to eat anything except by tube for the last 23 months. Erin said he loved the lollypop and I’m sure that eating will be just around the corner as well.

God Bless you all for your continued prayers on their behalf; for the notes of encouragement, the visits, and the interest in their progress. You are all an inspiration to me and the entire Nichols’ and Neria families…

Much Love,


A River of Freedom

September 1, 2008

I’ve always loved the form of poetry called the Haiku.  the poem is only one verse and is normally three lines long.  I’ve always thought that to really be memorable, a poem or song or speech needs to be fairly short, otherwise the listener or reader will be bombarded with too much information.

There has been much written about Taps or “Day is Done” which is played at military funerals.  It consist of 24 notes and it normally takes a little less than a minute to play on the trumpet.  I understand the power of this tune as I am a church choir director and have witnessed the emotional release that occurs at a grave site or funeral when it it played.  We have some dear friends, Susan and Larry Wiseman whom we have actually never met (only though this blog)—Larry is a bugler for Bugles Across America and Susan writes tribute songs to our wounded and fallen warriors.  Both Susan’s and Larry’s blogs can be found in the “Blogs I Read” widget of Sam’s blog.

Susan and Larry were in Washington D.C. this past memorial day as they were asked by the White House Commission on Remembrance to participate in the national moment of remembrance ceremony at the WW II Memorial.   While they were there, Susan met a gentleman who asked if she could “do something” with a poem that he had been carrying around in his wallet for many years (“A Warriors Farewell”) by USAF (Ret) Robert Joseph).  The poem inspired Susan to write the song “A River of Freedom”.  It isn’t a Haiku, but it is only one verse long and is exactly as long as it needs to be to make a very powerful point that all American’s need to ponder.  Below the poem is the video that Susan made where, after much prayer, became the poem-tone, ‘A River of Freedom”.

A River of Freedom ” – ( Taps )

There’s a river … that floods … my soul.
And, that … ” River of Freedom ”
Carries … my blood,
And, of those … throughout all time
Who, for Freedom
Gave their blood … Laid their lives … on the line.

words and music by Susan Wiseman

” A River of Freedom ” – WW II Memorial – Memorial Day 2008

a river of freedom_myspace video_by susan wiseman

Sam’s medical status:

Good Morning All,

When the boys were young and opted to play little league, (mostly at my urging) it proved to be an effort in futility. The coaches were indifferent, largely there to ensure their own son’s playing time regardless of skill; the umpires caustic, and who could blame them? Ha! But the absolute worst were the fans, which were mainly parents of the other players. Loud, obnoxious and generally a nuisance to watching and supporting my own sons. I came so close to a showdown more than once; and although I didn’t have the Lord guiding my steps, I did have a sense of decorum that told me how awful it would be to scrap in front of the kids with another player’s Dad. Ha! Marty & Donny were older and could pay attention, but Sam was hilarious. I remember him standing out in left field, with his glove on his head, visiting with the center fielder. When the ball was hit there once and he had to scramble after it, I asked him what he was doing? He said and I’ll never forget it, “He was trying to decide what flavor snow-cone he would have after the game.” Ha! My boy…

After that I decided that an individual sport was probably a good idea and we looked into martial arts. We found our own Mr Miaggi, the founder of a style he had invented and they were off. They all seemed to love it and maybe out of necessity, since he was the youngest, or it was just timing that Sam seemed to have a special affinity for it. He wanted to be called “Chuck” in honor of Chuck Norris, and introduced himself around Sunday School as Chuck. His older brothers kind of spoiled that as they started calling him “Up-Chuck” which used to infuriate him. As they grew up tattoos and piercing’s were all the rage and they asked; but I said absolutely not until they were 18 as far as visiting sam and erin_8_31_08 memorial day weekend the tattoos go, and threatened forcible removal of any metal in the face. Ha! It never came to that, but Sam’s 1st tattoo was a martial arts tat on his back. It looked good, but what wouldn’t on a rippled muscled back of an 18 year old? I think when he was 17 or 18 he developed an interest in swordsmanship. He began to take lessons from one of only two dojos in Sacramento that taught the art of swords. I said you’re studying what? How on earth will that help you with anything?  He wasn’t dissuaded by my lack of enthusiasm and he began to practice. He had those huge midnight blue pants with the balloon like legs and wore a conventional Karate tunic. He looked and was impressive. He was graceful and being long and lean, granted him the ability of his chosen sport. Usually he practiced with a wooden Samurai sword, but one day was showing off in our living room with the real McCoy. As he went through his routine, he misjudged the height of the ceiling and put a 2 inch gash in the plaster. He looked sheepish as I kind of stared up at the potential repair. His mother had heard it and came into the living room to see what damage had occurred. Sam began to tell us why his move had failed as if knowing would make it better. He was showing us what he should have done and as he went through the routine one more time; he again lodged the sword in the ceiling, not two inches from the original slice. The look on his face was priceless, and the look on his Mother’s face was even more memorable.  Kelley and I roared with laughter and as I saw the smile creep across his face, I knew this would be one for the memory books.

After that it was outside only, and I remember him being proud of the sharpness of his blade; well that brings me to the whole point of this story and Sam with swords. St Paul likens the Word of God to a “double edged sword” so sharp that it can separate the marrow from the bone…Not being a medical professional does not mean that I do not know that marrow is an ingredient of bone and cannot be shaved away with a blade; but the Word of God can do it. I find extreme irony in the fact that when Sam is in desperate need of healing that a “Sword” will be the instrument of his healing. Yeah; God’s Word. The gospels also state that Jesus is the Word, thereby becoming that double edged sword for Sam…Jesus will not misjudge the target, but will deliver the final blow just at the right time and in the right place to fulfill his promise for healing. Since it is in “The Word” and is in the form of a promise; and God never, ever lies; then it is a done deal…and we look forward to it’s completion.

Sam&ErinMilitaryBall I’m including no picture this week [see Eric’s note below and mine too about the pictures] as Sam was having a challenging day on Friday. He was experiencing pain when I arrived and found only comfort with a close snuggle and kisses from Erin. He was having pain from a bothersome Urinary Tract Infection (UTI) and Erin thought he was suffering from shoulder and neck pain for how he had been sleeping with his head to the side. We prayed for him and he seemed more relaxed and went to sleep. Erin and I went to lunch and I dropped her off back at the hospital and headed for work. On my way home she called and said someone wants to talk to you. Sam said…”Hi Daaad!” “I love you Daaad!” Yeah, he had awakened refreshed, alert, and talkative. It made my day and the rest of the way home I thanked God for his mercies to Sam, Erin, me and all the rest of the people involved in his recovery. That includes each and every one of you…

Much love,

You know; maybe a picture of Sam and Erin in a better time…if you’ve already seen it; bear with me for those that haven’t…

Note: The first picture of Sam and Erin was taken yesterday 8/31/08 when my friend Bernadine and I visited Sam and Erin.  Eric was in Kentfield visiting on Friday.  Sam was feeling a little better and Bernadine managed to get this wonderful shot of Sam “connecting” with Erin.  At the end of our visit, Sam gave out a loud and clear, “Bye Bern”.


Faith (and love) Overrules Fact

July 29, 2008

I love to read the comments from people who read Sam’s blog—and I occasionally receive emails from readers who have been especially touched by Sam and Erin’s story.  I received one of those emails last week from a young man studying to be a doctor.

I would like to thank Jason for taking the time to email his thoughts.  I can tell that he really took a lot of time and thought into what he wrote. The letter was so insightful and touching and I’m so glad Jason allowed me to share it with you.

Dear SGT Sam Nichols, Erin Nichols, & Nichols/Neria family,

Hello my name is Jason, and I am a medical student at UCLA. I am a California native and I am Sam’s age – I also graduated from high school in 2002.

Growing up in Southern California, I was indifferent or apathetic at best towards men and women who serve in our Armed forces. I pushed myself to “study, study, study” so that I would get into a good college, and then get into medical school, and then start a career as a doctor. In high school, most of my peers – and me – almost looked down on men and women who entered the military as people who didn’t have the motivation, grades, or resources to attend college instead.

With age comes more maturity, and I have come to view our Army, Navy, Marines, etc. with more respect than I ever had before. I have come to see that Marines like Sam Nichols did not join the military to blindly serve our country, but instead to answer a higher calling of putting themselves at risk to serve and defend our nation.

I am reminded of Army 2nd Lt. Mark Daily, a 2005 UCLA graduate who was an aspiring journalist, a registered Democrat and supported politically liberal causes. Despite his early strong opposition to the Iraq war, he came to believe that his help was needed in the military to remove Saddam Hussein from power, and bring about positive changes to the Middle East and the world. Of my own previous bias against the military, Mark responded: “Consider that there are 19 year old soldiers from the Midwest who have never touched a college campus or a protest who have done more to uphold the universal legitimacy of representative government and individual rights by placing themselves between Iraqi voting lines and homicidal religious fanatics. Often times it is less about how clean your actions are and more about how pure your intentions are.” Mark wrote this the evening before he deployed to Iraq; he was killed by an I.E.D. in Mosul three months later. In case you have not seen it, his letter “Why I Joined” is a must-read for every American. If you are interested, his eloquently worded letter is available at: <>

About a month ago, I came across your blog about Sam’s experience and recovery from Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). I spent several hours thoroughly reading all of the entries and links pertaining to Sam’s injury exactly one year ago on July 24, 2007.  I commend both Mr. Tony Neria and Mr. Eric Nichols for setting up a blog and posting regular updates over the last year about Sam’s recovery from TBI. I am sure this past year has been an emotionally challenging year for the Nichols and Neria family.

We learned about TBI in medical school this last spring, but it is one thing to read about TBI in a textbook or journal. I think it is an entirely another issue to realize how TBI affects people and their families who care for them. Your blog about Sam’s recovery helped bring TBI to life for me. I became interested in learning more about TBI from a medical perspective, but not forgetting what Erin said, “Faith overrules Fact.” Modern healthcare is moving forward in leaps and bounds, but Hope is what gets us through when modern medicine cannot. From what I read, most of the doctors back last July and August predicted that Sam was not going to improve at all. But one year later, Sam has improved beyond what any healthcare professional expected!

From what I can tell, the extent of Sam’s progress would not be possible without Erin. She is nothing short of a hero (I guess I should say heroine). In today’s society, with divorce rates over 50% in the civilian population, and divorce rates as high as 70% among deployed military, the sad reality is that many women might not be able to handle such an emotionally devastating blow. Erin has not only stayed by Sam’s side, but her ability to come up with different approaches and techniques to stimulate his mind is truly commendable. It is clear that Sam appreciates Erin’s unwavering presence. Imagine what is running through Sam’s mind….and all of things he wants to freely say, but his TBI is unfortunately holding him back! The photos of Sam and Erin speak a thousand words – they seem to have a love so pure and strong that even an explosion on the other side of the world can’t destroy.

The word “hero” doesn’t even come close to describing the sacrifice that Sam made, as well as the struggles he has been going through for the past year. But I also think about people who made the “ultimate sacrifice” for our country – Cpl. McRae, Cpl. Zindars, Lance Cpl. Lynch, and Doc Noble of the Kilo Battery, as well as other troops such as 2nd Lt. Mark Daily and over 4,000 people in uniform who have died in Iraq & Afghanistan.

They say that God works in mysterious ways. But trying to make sense of this “mystery” can be daunting and frustrating. Why was Sam saved from death when others were killed by that I.E.D? Why did Sam get injured and experience TBI when thousands upon thousands of other troops have returned home, safe and sound, with no injuries? Why do innocent children around the world die from illnesses, abuse and starvation? Why do “bad” things sometimes happen to “good” people?

There are at least 30,000 American troops who have been injured in Iraq & Afghanistan. Many have physical injuries and amputations; others have mental scars such as TBI and Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD). Even with some government assistance and gifts from charities, many of these wounded veterans struggle to cope and survive. Why is it that the same country and society which these troops served, now seems to have forgotten about them in their greatest time of need?

We may never really know the answers to our “why” questions. But what I do know is that Sam is a lucky man. He suffered devastating injuries, but he is going to make it. Most importantly, he has the support and love from his family – all of you.

Thank you again to your family for posting and updating your blog. Sam and your family demonstrate that TBI, other injuries, and personal setbacks are not insurmountable. You inspire people in the medical community to understand the science behind TBI and other medical conditions, but to never forget how TBI affects the brave people and the family & loved ones who care for them. You inspire people to bring light to where there was darkness, and to have Hope in the most challenging of times.

God bless you all. You are all heroes.

UCLA School of Medicine

Sam’s Medical Status:

On Saturday my wife and I spent the day with Sam and Erin.  Besides Sam’s one year anniversary of his “Alive Day” on the 24th, he and Erin celebrate another special day on the 28th — their fifth year of marriage!  At the end of our visit, I whispered in Sam’s ear, Imported Photos 00004“remember tomorrow you need to say happy anniversary to Erin” and he said “ah-huh”.  I called Erin the next day and asked if Sam remembered and she said no—but she had reminded him about ten times during the day it was their anniversary and every time she told him, he seemed to be thrilled at the news! 

The meds they are giving Sam to relax his throat and tongue muscles which allow him to speak more easily seem to be doing the job.  When we arrived on Saturday, Erin said to Sam, “hey Sam, look who’s here”!  Sam turned and looked right at Julie and said in the clearest and strongest voice I’ve heard, “Hello Julie, how are you”?  That was pretty cool and just made me beam though out the morning.  Sometimes it’s hit and miss when visiting Sam.  If his meds are off a even a little bit, he can be very sleepy and listless.  So, it felt good to get there when he was in a talkative mood.

Imported Photos 00007In the early afternoon, Sam had physical therapy.  When the therapist and attendant were moving him into his wheel chair, he said a few words to them and both said that was the first time they had really heard him speak with some power and clarity.  Once in the PT room, they had Sam get on the “standing board” which is basically a device that allows you to stand up and support yourself with your arms and shoulders.  Sam did pretty good, but was having spasms for about the first two minutes due to his urinary tract infection.  He grunted it out though and finished his PT. 

Later in the afternoon, Sam got more tired and sleepy—but it was still wonderful to hear his gravelly voice…and as usual, it was wonderful and inspiring to see the interaction between Sam and his lovely wife Erin.  Happy anniversary you too.  God is with us—and God is watching over you.


Welcome Home a Hero

July 14, 2008

This evening I went to the Sacramento airport to pick up a friend of mine who had been visiting friends on the east coast for a week.  She was so happy to see me and I know she appreciated seeing a friendly face and getting a warm hug.

I ran across a video of a group of people who go out to the Dallas-Ft Worth airport every time our military troops come home from Iraq or Afghanistan.  Many of these volunteers are veterans of the wars in Vietnam and Korea and remember putting their life on the line for their country and then coming home feeling like no one really cared about the sacrifice they made.

Please enjoy the video of the Welcome Home a Hero Program.  There is a very similar program out of Bangor Maine called The Maine Troop Greeters.  When Sam returned from Iraq on his first deployment, I remember him telling us how touched he was by the welcome home he received in Bangor as he and his buddies got off the plan.  I know some of the Maine Troop greeters, to this day, read this blog to keep up on Sam’s progress.

Sam’s medical status (from Sam’s father Eric):

Good Morning All!

It seems that when I spend time with Erin & Sam; we do an inordinate amount of laughing and carrying on…They each have an incredible gift of humor and what’s more they play off each other like they were professionals…Erin will set Sam up for a great delivery, knowing that he will come through with impeccable timing; and vice versa. Neither of them hog the punch lines nor are upset if the humor is lost on it’s intended audience…(meaning they don’t try to explain it; if you don’t get it, you don’t get it) It’s good natured, (no malice intended) but has been on occasion a little strange…

Sam tickling Erin That intro brings me to the picture. Sam is in his chair, me on his left and Erin is kneeling on his right. Yeah, you guessed it; we were praying. When we are done Sam begins to very sweetly and softly stroke Erin’s cheek with his fore finger. I see it and can’t help but state, “You love her don’t you Sam”…Erin looks up with adoring eyes and to break the moment, Sam sticks his finger in Erin’s nose. Funny in itself, but as she laughs, she asks him what are you going to do now? Without hesitation he mockingly wipes his finger on the yoke of her shirt. Erin and I roar…Sam does not crack a smile, not even a little one. (Donny, affectionately calls him “Deadpan Sam”) Maybe a twinkle in his eye, but you can just tell that the little stinker just let us both know that his humor is intact and he’s not afraid to use it.

You’ve heard the old adage that “laughter is the best medicine”. There have been many scientific studies done, books written, and tests
performed to try and prove that saying; and with many positive results…relieving stress, better communication, and easier to cope with everyday problems…But, did you know it is scriptural? Proverbs 15:30 (NIV) says, “A cheerful look brings joy to the heart, and good news gives health to the bones.” We as a family, have always related to one another with cheerfulness and humor; so much so that it would have to be said when the conversation had to become serious. I am thinking that this has contributed greatly to how we handle the news of Sam’s progress. With God in the picture it has become even easier. I no longer say Sam WILL be restored…I say, Sam IS restored. Jesus said it, I believe it, so it is a done deal. Nothing can separate us from his love so I know that nothing can separate us from his promises either.

I’m still a little unsure of the status of Sam and the seizures. I know they are watching him closely (monitoring his vitals) and reducing the anti-convulsants they were giving him. (4 different ones at one time)…His Doctor and the consulting neurologist agreed that he was overmedicated…Wow, do ya think? His Doctor has ordered weekly comparative EEG’s to track and see, if any, the increase or decrease in the seizure level, and try to regulate his meds. I get the feeling they are a little stumped and reacting to trial and error. When God intervenes, that confusion of the wise sometimes happens. They are doing the best they can for Sam and love him very much, and we appreciate that.

Once again, I’d like to send my appreciation to all who read these updates and Sam’s blog; and to the many who so faithfully respond with comments to encourage and uplift Sam and Erin and their families…(It truly makes my day) I always feel that I can count on anyone in my address book and to the many readers of the blog around the world; for a prayer for Sam and Erin. A brief remembrance to the Most High, that we are all thankful for Sam’s healing and are patiently waiting on him to accelerate his promises. I hope that doesn’t sound too demanding of God; and my answer is simply this: He wouldn’t have said it if he didn’t mean it; so I stand on his word, not mine…

Much love,

Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 500

April 14, 2008

vietnam veterans of america chapter 500 emblem My wife gets a newsletter every month from the Vietnam Veterans of America Sacramento Valley – Chapter 500.  I mentioned in one of my first blogs that my wife is a military bugler and occasionally plays taps at military funerals.  She has also played on a few occasions at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in downtown Sacramento for the annual “Reading of the Names” on Memorial Day. 

This organization has been very good to my family.  In December of last year, my wife and I were invited to their annual Christmas party.  At that time, the President of the VVA chapter, Ted Adams and the Executive Director, Mary Lou McNeill presented my wife and me with a check to help cover travel cost to visit Sam and Erin.  They also have a section in their newsletter and in their web site with updates on Sam’s medical progress. 

vietnam campaign ribbon I’ve always been so impressed with the people involved in the Sacramento VAA Chapter 500.  Both my wife and I were very humbled by their generosity and by their long term commitment to supporting ALL veterans of our military.  In their newsletter, there is a motto that really says it all:

Never again will one generation of veterans abandon another.

Sam’s medical status:  Sam is settling back in at Kentfield Rehabilitation Hospital.  He is starting to mouth words like he did before getting so sick.  He’s also going to be getting a larger dose of bromocriptine, so hopefully he will be progressing quickly in his speech therapy this week.  For the most part, Erin can say a word and he will repeat it. 

Sam's haircut at Kentfield_4_10_08 Even though Sam wasn’t up to par last week, He did well in physical therapy.  On Thursday he was able to sit at the edge of the therapy bench for 23 seconds without support from anyone.  He was also up in his wheel chair from around 9:00 am until 3:00 pm.  Both his trunk and neck strength continue to improve.

Either this week or the next, Sam will be getting a Baclofen Pump.  This device will hopefully help with the spasticity issues in his right leg.  Right now, when he tries to move his leg, it stiffens up.  The other benefit to the pump is that it stores and releases prescribed amounts of medicine at a steady level without the patient feeling the roller coaster effect that is common with taking medicine orally. 

With the Baclofen Pump and Sam being taken off Claritin, (it was thought that he had allergies, but but they now think it was GERD) he will be off all medicine that has any type of sedating effect. 

A few words from Sam’s father Eric who visited them on Thursday:

I’m writing this morning about Erin as I had the pleasure of visiting with them on Thursday and got to watch Erin take care of Sam in person…She gave him a military type haircut which seems simple in itself…(I remember it only taking about 90 seconds back when) Ha! Erin spent at least 30 minutes on Sam’s haircut and not just because she is inexperienced. She is a self admitted perfectionist and challenges herself to do the best job possible. As she cuts, she consults with Sam and asks what he wants and likes even down to how close the clipper head will cut. She is careful to blend it just so that it fades perfectly from one length to another. She takes into consideration the shape of his head and how it will look in 3 days…After she is finished she meticulously cleans all the bits of hair from his head, neck, and back of which there is very little as she has draped him in a hospital gown and towel…She cleans and oils the clipper for the next time…Finally she uses a Neutrogena after shave moisturizing product that soothes the freshly hewn and closely cut parts…Next Sam gets a manicure of sorts to keep any sharp edges from scratching himself. After his grooming he is refreshed, relaxed, and looks great! He feels better too and is ready for speech therapy…He doesn’t say anything to Gayle, his speech therapist, but reads several words and shows he is thinking clearly by answering some deductive reasoning questions…After some encouragement from Erin and I, he answers a question I put to him…”Who loves ya Sam?” He clearly answers, “Dad!”…My day is made and I leave promising to return on Sunday for his next set of words…Erin and I get some very subtle but definite smiles from him this day….

“Keeping the Faith”

A Vietnam Veteran Resists Temptation

December 10, 2007

The two irresistible temptresses:  I wanted to share Erin’s comments that she left on the blog a few days ago after meeting a Vietnam Veteran at the Palo Alto VA hospital:

Yesterday I was reminded that God does know what He’s doing, even when we’re not so sure.

I was sitting outside reading when a spinal cord injury patient, Rusty, an Air Force veteran from the Vietnam War rolled over to chat. I asked him what he was in for, and he regaled me with the tale of his injury. Rusty lived in San Francisco in the late sixties and early seventies, 2 blocks from Haight and Ashbury. A fella could get into a lot of trouble in that time, at that place; and he did. I’ll spare you the details, which he didn’t spare me, but for the last 11 years Rusty has been clean and sober and running a “clean-house” in Hawaii.

Rusty divulged that his biggest weakness is a beautiful woman, and such a woman showed up one day with heroin and was willing to share. Against his better judgement, but faced with two irresistible temptresses, he was ready to throw away 11 years of sobriety. The needle was primed, and he was ready when he heard a siren. In retrospect he says he should have just flushed the heroin and stayed calm, but the adrenaline rush of what he was about to do had a firm grip on his mind, and he bolted. He lived right on the water and as he aimed to run down the beach, he fell four feet off an embankment. He awoke the next day in the hospital with no feeling in the left side of his body.

When he finished his story, clearly embarrassed, but still a little proud of what he knew to be an interesting story, I asked him to clarify something for me. “So if I understand the timeline correctly, you’re still clean right?” He answered, a little relieved, “Yeah, I guess I am.”

God is good; even when we can’t see it.

Erin Nichols

Sam’s medical status: 

Monday December 10th, 2007:  Back in the gym again today.  Erin said Sam’s neck is getting stronger since he’s having to be more upright, so he’s holding his neck up more and not needing the wheelchair’s neck brace as much. 

Sam was prescribed Oxycodone for the headaches he’s been having in the afternoon.  Erin thinks the biggest contributor to the headaches is the afternoon light coming in his window, plus the overhead florescent lights.  He’s been on Oxycodone for three days and Erin said his headaches go from about a 3 on a scale of 1 to 5 to a 1 after about an hour when he takes the drug, so it’s really been a great help to him. 

Sunday December 9th, 2007:  Erin came back from Church this morning to find that Sam was taken to the gym for therapy. When she got there she found him fast asleep.  The therapist said he did manage to spin the stationary “arm” bike by himself for a while before his nap. 

Saturday December 8th, 2007:  Sam did the arm bike today in the gym.  The bike does have a motor to assist the patient, and he was also strapped into the bike so he wouldn’t fall.  He was able to spin the bike a little on his own with his right arm.  Sam told Erin he felt stronger after the therapy session.  He was in the wheelchair for 1/2 hour today.  They’ll extend this to a longer period once he gets more accustom used to being upright.

Hero Miles Program

December 4, 2007

 hero miles
In my September 27th blog post, I mentioned the Fisher House that provides a room for Erin to stay on the grounds of the VA hospital in Palo Alto where Sam is being cared for.  This organization has been a God-send to Erin and many other families who have wounded warriors in the VA hospital.  But when Sam and Erin were at the National Naval Medical Center (NNMC) in Bethesda Maryland, our family had to fly across the country to see Erin and Sam.  But, I am happy to say that during that time frame, no one in Sam or Erin’s family had to pay for their round-trip airline ticket from Sacramento to Bethesda.  There are a couple of charitable organizations that coordinate with the military to provide hero miles participating airlinesfree airfare for the families of wounded warriors.  One of those programs,  called Hero Miles, is a special program offered through the Fisher House.

There are two categories of eligible recipients:

  • Service men and women with an approved leave of five or more days may be given a free round trip airline ticket for a trip from the medical center to their home and return if they are not eligible for government funded airfare.
  • Qualifying service men and women may be given free round trip airline tickets to enable their family or close friends to visit them while they are being treated at the medical center.

    If you are interested in donating miles from a participating airline, Click here for more information from the Fisher House – Hero Mile web site. 

    Correction to my last blog:  In my last blog post, I mentioned that Navy Corpsman Doc Hanson came to visit Sam and Erin.  I also mentioned erroneously  that Doc Hanson was the first person to give Sam medical treatment and probably saved his life. It was actually Doc Couhie who treated Sam who was in the second vehicle that was hit by an IED.  Doc Hanson was treating the Marines in the first vehicle. 

    Sam’s medical status: 

    Monday December 3rd, 2007:  Sam didn’t have pink eye as was suspected yesterday;  it was more of a sweat gland issue.  He still is getting a fever towards the evening hours, but they believe it has to do the the TBI more than anything else.  Erin was joking yesterday that every time she leaves the room Sam’s temperature seems to go up.  Not sure what to make of that. 

    Even though Erin said Sam is having pain issues with his backside, the therapist are going to try to get Sam up and out of bed in some form or fashion today.  Erin said Sam wants to try to get out of bed, so that is a good sign.  He’s still having headache issues in the late afternoon and evening, but I’m sure that is also a part of the TBI fallout. 

    As part of the TBI protocol in the polytrauma unit at the VA hospital, the therapist have been giving Sam some type of assessment test (Erin doesn’t know the name, but it’s not the GRS or CRS test that I have described in past blog entries) and Erin said Sam is actually scoring at a higher level than can be scored…or giving responses that are more sophisticated than can be scored on the test.  I’ll ask Erin to find the actual name of the test.

    Erin continues to make more paper cut-outs of various things like fruit and other objects and playing matching games with Sam to ensure his cognitive skills continue to improve.  She was just thinking about getting one of those magnetic boards with letters to see if Sam might be able to spell words.  The current alphabet board is a little difficult for Sam to use because his right hand gets the shakes pretty bad while he is trying to point to various letters.

    Sunday December 2nd, 2007:  Sam’s had a fever of around 100 the last two days.  He may have pink eye.  Working with the alphabet board, Sam spelled out the names “Dad” (his father, Eric, was in the room) and then “Nichols”.  Erin (who came up to Sacramento on Saturday for her birthday) asked Sam if he remembered that she was not there yesterday and Sam indicated that he did remember her not being there and also that he remembered that she came to visit him later in the evening when she returned.  The reason I mention and continue to mention things like this, is because they are very good signs that he is remembering things from day to day;  a very good sign for someone with severe TBI. 

    Saturday December 1st, 2007:  Today Erin took off her Dr. Erin hat and came up to Sacramento to celebrate her birthday with the family.

    “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”

    – Albert Einstein