Thursday, April 30, 2009

Last day of the month

One of the rose bushes I planted for Cherie

4/30/09 Thursday
It’s the 30th, the last day of the month. The first of the month is when I normally get my disability check and we always carefully plan on how the money will be spent. Not this time. Even if we do get a check we will have to pay it back and we will have to pay back all the money they determine was excess because of Cherie’s income. We had informed the VA Cherie was working last year but they didn’t move on that till now. Now they are going back to December 2003 and will review everything from that date. Cherie has a ream of paperwork to fill out. She is majorly stressed out about it. “Will the take the farm?” she asked with fear in her voice. I tried to assure her but really don’t know just how the VA will attempt to collect any funds determined to be excess.

I had hoped to rent a tiller attachment for the tractor so I could till under all the weeds that have popped up. Almost none of the 650 pounds of rye seed has come up and what did isn’t growing well due to lack of rain. There were several other things we hoped to do with the check, both for the farm and for our needs as well. The front tires of the truck are pretty much bald and I’d been shopping for replacements. That’s a safety issue. Yesterday, while talking to the veterinarian my phone died, just went black. It stayed dead despite my plugging it into the charger or anything else I tried. There’s another unplanned expense.

Dr. Law said that the X-rays confirmed her diagnosis of a spiral fracture on Ben’s leg. This will require a pin and she will wrap the bone in wire so it will heal correctly. If it doesn’t heal she told us that his leg will have to be amputated. She said that at least his hip is still in the socket. If things go well Ben will be home Monday.

It’s an incredible feat, Ben taking four days to struggle back home with a shattered leg. I don’t know how far he had to come but it’s nothing for dogs like this to travel five or more miles away in a short time. But Ben didn’t give up, he knew where home and love are. To think he developed this kind of attachment in less than a year (I went back and checked, we found him September 10. You can go back in the archives and read about it. There's a good picture of him on his first day with us) is something else. When we rescued him off the interstate he just laid his head on my shoulder as I carried him to the truck. When we tried to adopt him out because he killed our cats Ben went into a severe depression, wouldn’t eat and kept trying to tunnel out, so we took him back. He may kill cats but we love anyway. It is our hearts to always reach out to the underdog, the unwanted and downtrodden whether human or animal.

Folks, we need some help. If anyone wishes to donate to Ben’s vet bills you can click on the Pay Pal Donate icon on the right side of the blog. It wouldn’t have been such a problem before but we lost that $980.00 monthly check. We knew that it would be stopped but it still hurts.

Today I hope to get a lot of stuff done. I’m way behind anyway but the last four days sure set me back farther. At some point I should take the flyers I put out about Ben down. I did manage to get the buffalo grass planted on the side yard I’ve been working on so must keep it watered well so it will germinate. Only a patch of it came up on the other side of the house, that I had planted a couple or three weeks ago. I might till up the area with the two surviving apple trees so I can plant buffalo grass there too. But I need to plant the garden. There is so much to do before I can put seeds in the ground, tilling in compost and setting up the drip feed irrigation. It’s disappointing that Tommie got a hernia and thus can’t provide the help I so badly need. That’s just one of those things. Like Cherie said “It seems that everything hits at once”.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Ben IS BACK!!!!

BEN IS BACK!!!!! I kept hearing dogs yelping down towards the interstate, so did Rascal and Trixie. They would rush to the edge of our property and bark excitedly in return. After many repeated episodes of this I went into the house and got the binoculars. I looked and looked down that way but never saw a thing so went back to doing something, don’t know what. Walking out of the garage I again looked that way and…and…was it? IT’S BEN. There was no question he was hurt and the back leg looked broken so I ran to him, along with the rest of our dogs. He just laid down, exhausted and panting hard. We all examined him closely. It looks like Ben has been in a fight. Gretchen was especially excited to see him. I cried like a little baby, not caring that someone driving by would see. I didn’t want to pick him up so tried to coax him to walk the rest of the way but he only made it a short distance so I picked him up and carried him. Then I called Cherie. She was happy and said that at least not all the news today was bad. Next was a call to Dr. Law, our veterinarian. I told her it was an emergency and on her approval carefully loaded Ben in the truck and rushed him to the vet. This upset Gretchen, who wanted to stay with Ben and ride with us. She terribly missed him.

Dr. Law examined Ben and explained that he did indeed have a broken leg. “It’s not broken where I would have liked. It’s a bad break in a bad place” she explained. “The cheap way to do it is with a splint but I don’t think that will work”. I’m sitting there with tears and told her that we wanted to do it right. That will entail major surgery and putting a pin in the bone. The pin would have to come out in about two weeks, requiring more surgery. “I don’t care what it costs” I said, and “It’s our dog” as if that explained everything. It will be expensive and the timing sucks but we will do whatever it takes. This may be one of the rare times I ask for help.

So I left Ben with the vet after petting and reassuring him. She will take X-rays after giving him pain medication. The surgery will probably happen tomorrow. She said we will probably get Ben back Monday. Then it’s weeks of nursing and recuperation.
The more we can keep him off the leg the better it will heal.

This all just blows me away. How thankful I am to have Ben back. Hopefully I will snap out of this depression. Just think, Ben has been gone for four days now and hobbled back on a severely broken leg. The doc said his injuries are the type you see when a car hits a dog. Either that or he got caught up in some kind of equipment that twisted his leg. That’s a mystery I’m not worried about solving.

Disability got canceled

Ben playing with Ginger.

4/29/09 Wednesday
I’m feeling rough this morning. Woke up fine but about an hour later started getting that fuzzy headed feeling that is a precursor of things to come. My typing speed tells me I’m slow, I’d guess a five on the bob scale. I’ve loaded the truck with things destined for the landfill. Part of that is a basketball hoop and backboard I’m disappearing for Steve and Janie. The pole is filled with concrete. That hurt when I loaded it on Cherie’s truck. I’m not taking it to the landfill. Don’t want to lift it again. Just dumped it out in the back where so much stuff has gathered.

After the landfill I plan on posting more flyers about Ben. I’m clinging to the hope someone took him home thinking he was lost or abandoned. Gretchen started to take off yesterday evening. I debated calling her back or following in case she knew where Ben was. I called her back. Being in heat her instincts are to go out and find male dogs. I blame her for Ben being gone. She wandered in when we got her and went out exploring just about every day, taking Ben with her. I think she’s responsible for Scooter disappearing. For those who don’t know, Scooter was a little yorkie type dog that appeared one day. When Gretchen went into heat last time, the time she had the litter, it caused a lot of problems with Ben, who was aggressively protective of Gretchen. Scooter just disappeared one day.
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We knew it would happen. I just picked up the mail and there is a letter from the VA stating that my disability pension was discontinued because of Cherie’s income. In fact they suspended it as of December 2003 until we fill out the ream of paperwork and send it in. They will assess us for anything they see as overpayment going back that far. It could be a bunch. So as usual, when things start looking good we get stepped on. But at least Cherie has a good stable job so that’s good. It will be tight but we’ve lived on next to nothing before. This is why I must get the farm going and adds to the frustration on not being able to do so. It also amplifies the depression I’m dealing with. I was looking so hard for Ben on the way to the landfill I ran off the road twice. A lady called and said “You lost a dog?”. My heart jumped in hope but when she said the dog she had was white it sunk back down. If I drank I’d be drunk now. Glad I don’t drink. But it’s hard to keep going. Hell it’s hard to even get going. I look at my failures to get stuff done and think “why try?” But I know why so will trudge through. I’m building a life with and for my wife. I need to keep my eye on that goal and not let the other stuff overcome me. It’s tough when you work hard and fail.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

4/28/09 Tuesday
I guess we must presume that Ben is dead. I just wish we knew what happened. This morning I will post the flyers Cherie made at work with the hope we can get Ben back or learn what happened. I’ve got to fight this depression. Don’t believe in the medications they put out for it. They do some people a lot of good but I’m not keen on playing with the chemistry of this damaged brain. It took eight years for me to get where I am now and I’m not about to play with the delicate balance this brain has achieved. Severe depression was a big factor in my fall into madness before the accident and has been an issue since. It’s a common problem with traumatic brain injuries and just doesn’t go away because you want it to. There was a time that I was the champion of a positive mental attitude and worked to instill that in my employees. I had a confidence and “can do” attitude that inspired others. It’s hard to do that now when I daily see what I didn’t do the day before.

Gretchen hasn’t wandered at all since she came back. Whatever happened traumatized her. She spends a lot of time in the safety of the garage now. Rascal and Trixie must sense that because they’ve been nicer to her. Trixie has always been jealous and regularly would pick on Gretchen and prove her dominance.

I don’t know what I’ll do today. It’s a poop scoop day and Cherie brought some more plants home that need to be put in the ground. I asked her to not bring any more home. Still haven’t gotten a single seed planted for the farm. The weeds are going to seed now so I must do something about that. If I had a disc set up for the tractor I could disc it all under in a few hours. Without that my options are to use the tiller or mow them down. If I mow them they will just keep growing so that’s an exercise in futility. It took six weeks or something like that for me to till everything before.

Losing Ben is a lot harder because we don’t know what happened to him. He’s died a thousand times in a thousand different ways in my mind as I picture what could have gone on. Then there’s the guilt that goes with it. Was he somewhere hurt and slowly dying because I didn’t go out and find him? It’s a kind of self torture that is hard to stop. Every time the dogs alert to something I jump up hoping they saw Ben. I look out across the fields hoping to glimpse his yellow fur often. Yes, this will fade but till then…

Monday, April 27, 2009

No sign of Ben

4/27/09 Monday




There’s been no sign of Ben. I rushed out this morning with the hope of finding him but I really didn’t have a lot of confidence he would show up. I know the odds are against it. He’s either dead or someone kept him. I got out early and made this sign which is posted in front of the house. Even if he’s dead we would like to know that, it would make things easier.







I managed to finish planting the roses and other stuff but my heart wasn’t into it. Today I’ll have to force myself to focus on work more than usual. Gretchen is depressed too. Ben was her life companion. I kept watching to see if she went off looking for Ben because I know she was with him when whatever happened. She never even crossed the road. Part of what’s hard is my imagination as I wonder what happened. Did a farmer shoot him? Was he run over? Is he lying somewhere injured and unable to get home? Gretchen is in heat, did Ben try to protect her from advances of other male dogs and get killed? Even coyotes respond to a dog in heat.

I just heard the dogs barking outside as I typed this so ran out hoping they were welcoming Ben home. No such luck. This will be a hard day. I plan on printing up some flyers with Ben’s picture on it and posting them at the grocery store and post office. Probably won’t write much.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

yesterday was exuberant

4/26/09 Sunday
Yesterday was an exuberant day. Yesterday was Cherie’s birthday. I took her out to a nice expensive restaurant that Steve and Janie suggested. It was nice, and expensive, but we enjoyed it greatly. It was nice to find such an establishment. Cherie had a wonderful birthday.

I wanted to write more about that but am a bit down. We knew that our two outside dogs, Gretchen and Ben, were at risk because they went exploring so much. At about noon I noticed Gretchen had come back alone. That is very unusual. The two of them are always together, all day and all night. My heart sank. I called for Ben and called hoping he would run around the corner, but it was not going to happen. Cherie came out and I told her about Ben being gone. Then I hopped in my truck and started driving up and down the roads looking for him. There was no sign of him. We hope he’ll show up but I think the odds are against it. Gretchen had been running when I saw her. If Ben could have he’d been with her so something happened. At the least we hope someone found him and decided to keep him, and give him a good home.

I hoped Gretchen would lead me to Ben like they do in the movies but she just stayed near me. Now I see her looking around for him and whimpering. This will be hard. They had both just gotten over the depression that came when their daughter, Ginger, was run over. We really like having outside dogs and feel strongly they make the place safer. I would have rather lost Gretchen than Ben. She’s in heat I think and that probably contributed to whatever happened. Poor Ben has been fixed so it was quite frustrating for him. If he doesn’t show by the morning I’ll put up a “Lost Golden Lab” sign in front of the house and we will print up flyers to put in the post office and grocery store.

Right now I’m trying to finish up tying the drip irrigation stuff together and planting everything Cherie bought. I’m depressed. Cherie went to get mail and is driving around looking for Ben.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Another wonderful day

4/24/09 Friday
It looks like another wonderful day. Why is it wonderful? I’m up, dressed, and ate breakfast and it’s just a little after 8:00. After Cherie leaves for work I usually go online to check my email and sometimes write in this journal and post on the blog. Going online is one of the biggest time wasters I have. I have to practice self discipline to avoid parts of the internet that aren’t very healthy to visit. That’s a constant battle in the mind. The bible says to “Take every thought captive” and that requires some serious discipline. With my paranoia regarding what people think of me, what they say about me, and worrying about what I said or did that would offend them, it’s important to be able to recognize what is reasonable and what’s not. If I dwell on these fears they just become worse so forcing myself to think of other things or focus on positive things is how I fight this. The bible also says “Whatever is pure, whatever is holy, whatever is just, think on these things”. (That’s a bob paraphrase) So I take charge of my thoughts. That can be hard to do.

They had this "Pulling rig" (I think that's what they are called) working on our oil well the other day. I guess that's done regularly as they were out here last year too.

I visited my friend, Don, yesterday. I think I mentioned him before but can’t rely on my memory. Don’s bones had collapsed in his ankle. There is an infection in his bones down there and that can be deadly, especially for a diabetic. He had surgery to rebuild it but it will be a while before they can determine if it was successful or not. Lift him up in your prayers if you could. It’s hard to know what to say in these circumstances, at least it is for me. So I just visited, let him know I was there for him and would help any way I could. His wife, Cynthia, has a lot on her shoulders with all this so needs some support too.

Yesterday Aldridge Nursery had a big sale. Cherie was excited about going and looking forward to it but I dampened her spirits when I asked her to not get much because I was still working to get what we bought Saturday planted. I hated to do it but the fact is I’m overwhelmed as it is. Like her I get excited about fixing up our home, doing landscaping and other things to make things look good, but getting crops in the ground is more important as that will provide income. In the end Cherie decided not to go to the sale. I feel bad about it but there is wisdom there as we need to keep priorities in order.

The wind does fascinating stuff. I wondered why the burn barrel was tilting over so bad so went and looked. The wind dug everything out around and even under it about ten inches deep.


Today I hope to finish getting those flowers planted. I’ve come a long way and got most of the drip irrigation stuff in. The last big part of this project is to put some fencing up to keep the dogs out. I’d hoped for Tommie’s help with this but he’s not inclined for good reason, that would be his hernia. I don’t think he understands there is no heavy lifting, I just need another set of hands to hold things up as I fasten them in place. I’ll do it by myself because it must be done. It’s not going to be too hard, just awkward. Holding the fence in one hand as I try to drive a stake with the other as I hold it in place with my feet or knees. I’m sure that would make a good video. Wish me luck.

So time’s a-wastin. Got to go.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Typical for me

4/22/09 Wednesday
It’s 12:14 and time I’m supposed to eat lunch. I might do that or might not. It’s one of those days. I’m a little slow, about a five on the bob scale. Let me try and give you a glimpse of a typical day for me. Mind you some are much better but this is not unusual.

This morning Cherie and I talked about what I need to do, as we usually do. I determined that I would focus on finishing the front flower beds. I’m partway through putting in the drip irrigation, having dug about half of the trench. I fixed breakfast after checking my email and seeing how many visited the blog. I made a point of seeing how many and what pictures were downloaded. That always fascinates me. With breakfast eaten I headed out the door with the intention of getting my gloves, grabbing the trenching shovel, and getting to work. Seeing the dogs food bowl was empty I went back in and filled it. Then I went again to get my gloves out of the garage.

Since that time I’ve watered the plants that are still in the pots, watered the lilies and tulips I planted the other day, changed out the broken hand sprayer with one of the new ones I bought, watered the apple trees and herbs we have in the back, and did a whole bunch of other stuff I can’t quite remember. Little things like picking up broken glass or tools left out and forgotten. During all this I remember heading back to the garage to get my gloves and get back on the task of digging that trench at least three times. Each time something would catch my eye and I’d be off.

I don’t think I got to the gloves till around 10:30. Then I think I just carried them with me for a while before getting the shovel. I went out back to grab the hoe I’ve cut down to fit in the trenches and remember stopping out in the fields and wondering why I was there. Then I remember, I was getting the hoe. Walked right past it with my thoughts at the elsewhere I often travel to. I do this often, all day long on the bad ones. When Cherie and I got back together we would jump in the car and head out. I’d usually drive. By the time I pulled out the parking lot I’d forget where we were going and have to ask Cherie which way to turn all the while trying to remember where we were going. Then there was the embarrassing “Where are we going?” I’m a lot better now but it’s still an issue. I often refer to it as “Wandering around lost”. I bounce from thing to thing like a pin ball in one of the old games you hardly see anymore.

So I might or might not eat lunch. I intend to but can’t make any promises. Cherie sometimes calls me to make sure I eat. Right now it feels good to be inside. Yesterday I got the air conditioner up and running. Can’t think of much else I did but that was the important one. I always feel good when I complete a task and right now I’m enjoying the benefits. My pain level is pretty high, mostly from digging the rest of the trench. I took a pain pill an hour ago but it isn’t doing much good. That’s a problem with opiate pain killers, you build up a tolerance so they become less effective over time. Then they prescribe stronger doses, and it goes on and on. Doesn’t matter, the pain will subside as I lay here so I can go back out to work in a little bit.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Missing Ginger

4/21/09 Tuesday
It’s going to hit the nineties today and will be warmer tomorrow and probably the rest of the week. I guess it’s time to clean out the evaporative air conditioner now. Was going to do it earlier and then it got cold so put it off. Cleaning it basically entails washing out all the sand that built up over the winter. I’m sure there will be a lot of it. Then I’ll run some of the de-scale stuff through it that is supposed to dissolve the mineral deposits that build up so fast.

The other day, while at Pet Smart, Cherie saw Spot, the other puppy we wanted to keep out of Gretchen’s litter. I know he has another name now but that’s what we called him. He was going through obedience training. I told Cherie that she should have called me for I would have jumped in the truck and run up there to see him. She said he looked real good, which I knew he would. I had asked Laura to contact the family, whom she has a good relationship with, and ask if we could at least get some pictures to see how he’s turning out. She never got back to me. Anyway, seeing Spot brought back a lot of memories of Ginger and Cherie said she cried on the way home. I cleaned out the refrigerator yesterday and found the ham hocks we use to make beans with. This too brought back the pain of losing Ginger as I remembered how crazy she would go when I would give her pieces of the ham hock after we took them out of the now cooked beans. Oh how we loved her, the little puppy sure made her way into our hearts. But that’s the way of nature. It’s the babies, the little ones that touch something deep inside. Not just with us humans but with all life to one degree or another. There are constant pictures and tales of animals of one species adopting babies of another and raising them. What makes these compelling is they are often species that dislike or prey on each other in nature.

So we miss Ginger and always will. Cherie said “No more puppies” after losing her and I must agree. Until we can insure they won’t get out on the highway it would just be inviting more heartbreak. I can sure relate to Janie, who had her sweet puppy run over right in front of her. She keeps a picture of Zoie, the puppies name, with Zack on her blog.

It will be another busy day. Yesterday I decided to work on Paco. That project has languished too long so I must make it important. I keep thinking I’ll work on it at the end of the day but by then I’m exhausted and just go to bed. So I pretty much worked on that most of the day and didn’t get much else done. It’s a tedious process. I’ve taken Paco apart and am going through it piece by piece. I force glue deep into the cracks and follow that up with wood filler, also forced as deep as I can get it. On many areas I put the wood hardener on to fortify where it’s rotted. Today I plan on starting the recarving process where I basically shave minute amounts of wood off the surface, carefully following the original carving cuts. Fortunately I have wood carving tools that are the correct size and shape for most of it. When I get that done I’ll reassemble it. I plan on soaking the whole thing in the wood hardener but don’t know if it would be better to do that before or after I reassemble it. I do know I must stain it before I put the hardener on because the hardener will seal the wood and prevent stain from penetrating.
Here are some trenches I'm digging for the irrigation system for the house. As always my helpers are there to supervise and get in the way

Then there’s finishing installing the drip irrigation for the house flower beds. That’s a rush now because we have all the plants and roses Cherie bought at the Master Gardener’s sale sitting in pots. The last thing I want is to see them die because I didn’t get to it. I’ve killed enough plants and trees since we moved here.

Another important thing on the to do list is to get seeds planted in the flats prepared at the seed starting station. Then prepare garden beds, irrigation, fencing, and all the rest required to grow a farm. Being overwhelmed is a daily thing with me.

Today is a poop scoop day so I’ll be running into Midland. We still haven’t gotten our stuff back from Beau Berman of channel seven. I keep forgetting to call him and actually can’t find his number though I know I wrote it down. I’ll have to call the station and leave a message. And I will as long as I remember. We know the odds on that, or at least I do.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Tornado wanna-be

4/19/09 Sunday
I was surprised to see that I haven’t posted since Wednesday. I guess I shouldn’t be, because I’ve had several “slowdowns” and have been working as hard as I can, considering that. The labor we hoped for and expect from the two we sold Cherie’s car to hasn’t come about. Tommy just learned that he has a hernia, probably brought on when they helped us get all those railroad ties, so I can understand his reticence about working for/with me. I told him there is plenty to do that doesn’t require heavy lifting and that they need to at least start “making payments” on the car, that would be working off the agreed to price. So far they haven’t done anything but that’s ok. I just sure could use the help. Trying to hang a fluorescent light fixture in the garage by myself turned out to be quite a task. I fell off the ladder twice but landed on my feet. Holding a four foot four bulb fixture with one hand while I tried to screw it onto the rafters proved to be difficult but I’m a stubborn man and kept at it till I was done. I think it took me at least an hour to finish.

The seed starting setup. You can see the 400 watt light is on. A 1000 watt light would be better but costs more. Got this fixture cheap at the Habitat for Humanity's Restore.

So now I have five fluorescent lights working in the garage instead of the two our church family helped put up. Actually they put up four but only two of them were hooked up to electricity. All this started with my desire to get a seed starting station hooked up. Because it required running wires over the rafters I figured I might as well do the other wiring I plan on while I was up there. There is a fine dust on top of all the rafters that is an inch deep in some places and not fun at all to deal with. Lots of it ended up in my hair and probably lungs. While on a wiring kick I also hooked up several electric outlets on the north wall and replaced the extension cord I had running to the other side with regular wiring. All of this took several days, with me having to redo some of it when I would discover little glitches in my reasoning. Simple things like running the wires in the wrong direction, just little gaps in my cognitive skills that I must deal with daily anyway, but it’s frustrating to be stupid for a moment.

We had some interesting weather a few days ago. I can’t remember what day it was now but we have lots of pictures. I went inside and told Cherie “You’ve got to see this”. She calls this formation “Big foot”. It was steadily spinning at a slow pace, at least it seemed slow to us but it was still a few miles away so the probability is that it was a pretty heavy wind up there. But we knew it was a tornado trying to form so Cherie quickly packed up things we didn’t want to lose in case it turned into one. Top of that list was our computers and the external hard drive we keep everything backed up in. There was an extra change of clothes and room for Rascal and Trixie in the truck so with that done we watched the storm slowly approach. I took pictures the whole time, perversely kind of hoping for a tornado just to capture it on film. Ok, it’s a digital camera so there’s no film but you know what I mean.








It was something else to watch. You could see the tornado trying to form and then dissipating to try again somewhere else. All of this while it slowly got closer and closer. It went directly over our house with both of us watching carefully for a tornado to come out, ready to grab the dogs and hop in the truck to race away in an instant.









Looking around I could see how the powerful updraft of the storm was sucking sand out of the farmer’s fields right up into the clouds. The clouds had passed over us when that part hit. It blew, was sandy, and things got tossed around a little, then all was quiet. With the potential danger passed Cherie went back inside but I stayed out watching, ready to dial 911 if a tornado should appear.

It was something else to see how quick this storm evolved into something big. There wasn’t a drop of rain when it went over us but after that you could see it was just pouring torrents. There was a huge column of sand rising up to the cloud that I saw once it was a mile or three away so I tried to get a picture of it. It’s hard to see but if you blow up the picture you might be able to detect it. That’s when the lightning started in earnest.






Things are starting to green up here. The trees are getting their first leaves. I’m always glad to see that but it just presses home how far behind I am on getting things planted. I really need that help from Tommie and Jamie. I was very glad to see that the two remaining apple trees are blooming too. All the others had died, probably due to gopher attacks.

Yesterday we went to the Master Gardener’s plant sale at the Horseshoe Arena. Cherie had wanted to go to get flowers and shrubs for around the house. We got there early to beat the crowds but the crowds were already there. It was a mass of confusion with people running around and grabbing what they could. Cherie looked at me and suggested we should go but I doggedly said “We’re here so lets at least look around”. It didn’t take long for Cherie to find things that excited her so we started filling the boxes we had to put things in. All the activity was real hard on me. It got to a point where I told Cherie “this is about $XXX dollars so far”. She knew I was pushing through and said “This is enough stuff. I’ll quit now”. We went to Walfart as planned but in the store I had a serious slowdown, triggered I’m sure by all the commotion at the plant sale. I pushed through with Cherie helping to guide me if I got lost on what I was doing. That was it. The other plans we had for Midland got shoved off and we went home.

I was in poor shape all the rest of the day but there were things to do so pressed on. Last night we had the church fellowship at Jen and Wally’s and decided to go despite how bad I was. There was a table set up in an outer room that was a little more isolated so that’s where we headed after getting a plate full of food. Oh, it was good food, without a doubt. John and Cindy sat with us and I was able to hold a decent conversation though I concentrated on my food. I just don’t do well in social settings as a general rule but it’s better when they are people I’m familiar with and comfortable around.

They played an interesting game where everyone wrote something “Wild and Crazy” they had done in their lives on a post card without their name on it. The cards were pulled out of the bag and read one at a time. The task then was to guess who had done the crazy thing written about. I had a hard time figuring out something to put down that wouldn’t be too shocking for these good people. I decided to put down the motorcycle ride I took in December when I went from Toledo to Denver. The ride was grueling in itself and without all the details as to why I did this and what happened in Denver it was tame enough for this crowd.

The interesting part of this was that as a “Wild and crazy” happening was read people would often look at me and say “That must be Bob”. I think I won the prize for being the most likely candidate to have done all these things. One of the guys said something about the expression on my face leading one to think I did these things. That brings up one of the issues that comes with my TBI. That’s the expression one often finds on my face. I look stern, or mean, or something uncomfortable much of the time. This doesn’t reflect what’s going on inside, at least not too much. One of the things lost or damaged with the TBI is that part of the brain that controls the social communication performed by facial expression. I laugh when I know I should, not because I understand the joke told. I’ll understand the joke a few minutes later but often don’t process quick enough to get it right then. Much of the time I’m working to keep up with what’s going on around me so perhaps have an expression that shows that struggle. I don’t know cause I don’t keep a mirror handy to see what my face looks like all the time. What I know is that I can make others uncomfortable around me. Most of us judge people on the expressions of their face. For me that’s bad because unless I think about it I don’t have one, or at least not a pleasant expression. Thus I am judged by many.
Here's the wanna be tornado directly over the house. (You can just see the top of our chimney at the bottom)

I was glad to get home, where things are familiar and safe. These slowdowns drain me. We went straight to bed. Today we decided to skip church. Cherie has lots to do and of course I always do. Mostly we decided to not go because of the “One month to live” program the church is putting on. It’s a powerful emphasis that I know hits people hard with the reality that life can be short and puts the question in front of them “What would you do if you knew you only had one month to live”. Having already not just died but lost everything, even my mind, I’ve already dealt with such questions in a way beyond what this teaching can do. So it doesn’t have the impact on me that it might on others. I loved being able to put some of my experience on the table to help bring these points home but I’m sure that some might get tired of hearing that so will stay home and work.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Gotta get off my butt

4/15/09 Wednesday
I should get the seed starting station finished today. Of course I should have had that done months ago. I’ll need to build a frame for the HPS light in order to hang it from the ceiling. I guess the first thing on today’s agenda is to clean up the garage from last weeks sandstorm. I’ll put a dust mask on and set up my shop vac to blow air. That way I can get the layer of sand that’s on top of everything blown to the floor where I can sweep it up. It will be interesting to see how much sand there is so I’ll put it all in the wheelbarrow. One of the things I’d like to eventually do is collect this fine sand from all the places outside where it has gathered and made miniature sand dunes. I think the sand will be good to use with concrete for when I pour the curbs and other things like setting critical fence posts, the ones on corners that bear the loads of stretched fencing. If nothing else I need to gather the sand in order to fight how it encroaches and builds up on top of…everything. One of the jobs for the tractor will be to shovel out where the sand has gathered over the years, up to five feet high in some places. Speaking of that reminded me of another chore I must do quickly. I’ll write that on my to do list right now or I’ll forget. That task is to unbury the strawberries. They were covered by sand during the storm and the rain turned that into a hard crust. We lost some of them but if I don’t get off my butt we’ll lose more.

There is so much to do. I returned all of the fertilizer I bought from the Midland Farmer’s Co-op. I’d asked for ammonia nitrate and they gave me ammonia sulfate instead. That acidifies the soil and the nitrogen is not as readily available to plants. Ammonia Nitrate is hard to find because it’s what terrorists and idiots like McVey, who blew up the federal building in Oklahoma, use to make bombs with. I know there are places farmers can get it but don’t have a clue where they are. I’ll ask the old man, he’ll know. I don’t think he’s happy with me because I haven’t finished restoring Paco yet. That’s another project I need to make important. I keep planning on working on it in the evening but am often done in by the end of the day so it hasn’t gotten done.

What else? Don’t know right now. I’m a little slow again. I can tell by how hard it is to not only type but to figure out what I’m going to say. There has been a resurgence in the slow downs lately and I’ve experienced the disorienting sensation that comes with seizures a couple of times. I’d take a seizure pill and lay down and they go away without becoming a major event. These are such strange occurrences. My ears start ringing loudly, I get dizzy and lose visual focus, and sounds become amplified with particular ones, like the wind or voices on TV strangely coming to the forefront of what I hear. On top of that I become confused. When I had the bad ones back in Toledo Cherie had to guide me like a lost child and I didn’t even recognize where we lived. Those don’t happen any more and are evidently controlled by my medication, but I sure don’t want a resurgence of them. Mentioned it to Cherie to make sure it was known. If they continue I’ll probably have to go to the VA neurology clinic in Albuquerque, New Mexico. They will probably play with the medication to get it right. The first stuff I was prescribed just doped me up badly I complained so they switched to the Lamotrigine that allows me to function much better.

That’s it for now. We were able to visit with Don and Cynthia yesterday. Depending on the doctors they might go to Lubbock today to prepare for the surgery. If not it’s scheduled for tomorrow. Don said the surgery might take up to five hours to complete. I enjoyed helping Genelle clean up her garage yesterday. It just feels good to help someone in need. She insists on paying me and then pays me too much. I’d rather do it for free but there’s no sense arguing about it. By letting her pay me she will ask for help, otherwise I don’t think she would. So the price of the ticket to help is to accept payment. For those of you who think it’s strange for me to not want to be paid for work this is an illustration of my attitude on life. For me it’s not the money one makes that’s important, it’s the lives you touch.



Ok, not so fast. As usual, when I downloaded the pictures from the camera I always keep with me in the truck I remembered something I thought would be good for the blog. When I went and got some poop from the old man, Whiskey, his horse, came up to visit. I think it’s name is Whiskey but am not sure. Despite having been born in Texas I have never been around horses before. Rascal and Trixie were in the truck and going crazy. The last time I brought them they were real nice around Whiskey but this time they weren’t. I had let them out of the truck and they went barking at him so I put them back when he stomped his feet to let them know to stay away. Horses are smart and I watched as he would come up to the partly opened windows of the truck to tease them. Then Whiskey came over to help me. He would kind of nibble on my arm with his lips, horse kisses I guess. And he wouldn’t quit, examining me from my toes to my face sniffing and kissing all the way. It got hard to shovel poop, actually impossible as he followed me and would stand right where I was shoveling. Then he went to biting my truck. Nothing serious, he started with the new handle I put on the truck door and then would bite at the trim and started to pull it off. I think he is used to being fed when someone shows up and was hinting that he wanted me to give him some kind of treat. I need to ask the old man about what is proper to give him. Don’t have a clue other than I’ve heard they like apples.

So now I’ve got to go.


Gotta go fix breakfast before I forget, and get to work. See ya next time.
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Ain't she beautiful?

I came in to rest my back a bit so checked the blog and email as I do. Looked at some old pictures and found some of Cherie. She just looks so good. It is so great being in love with her. Working on our fourth year and it’s still fresh. Hell it’s better now than when we first got back together.

I ate some bean dish that I made way back when for lunch. It shot through my system and rudely made me hurry to the bathroom. Don’t know how old it is but it’s worm food now. Threw that stuff right out. Not feeling to swift, a little sweaty. With the amount of noise my stomach is making I suspect I’ll be visiting the little boys room more. I’m pretty tired. Still have much to do and don’t seem to have done much, but I know I’ve kept busy. Got Cherie’s tulips planted and put up some lightweight metal garden fencing stuff with the hope it will keep the dogs out of it. Checked the mail and there wasn’t any. Cashed the check Genelle gave me. Suppose I should take a nap because I’m falling asleep writing this but it’s already 4:30 and I’ve got stuff to do.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Another nice day

4/14/09 Tuesday
It’s gonna be another nice day. I got a lot done yesterday despite having a slowdown. Unfortunately picking up the manure hurt a lot. That’s because it was all soaked by the rain and thus weighed ten times more than when dry. Plus I had to lift the tongue of the trailer while it still had a load on. Dumb and I knew it but had to do so in order to put it back on the hitch on the truck.

Today will be a busy one. It’s my normal go to Midland and poop scoop day, when I try to get as much done in that city as I can. In addition to poop scooping I will go to Genelle’s and help her clean out her garage along with anything else she might need done. For those of you who may not know, Genelle just had knee replacement surgery so can’t get around well. I also want to visit with my friend Don. He is going to have his ankle rebuilt, I think on Thursday. This is a fearful time when the outcome of the surgery is unsure because Don’s diabetic and that means his body has a harder time healing than most. I understand how thoughts can roll around in your mind as you contemplate the potential worst case scenario. It can be hard to control these thoughts as trepidation rises. These are the times it is good to have others to talk to. Others who can help keep you positive and not focused on what “might” happen. I don’t know if Don is having this problem, just know it’s not uncommon.

I got a lot of the wiring in the garage done but still have a ways to go. In addition to getting the seed starting station set up I’ve also run wires to the two fluorescent light fixtures that were installed in the ceiling but not hooked up. Plus I started installing electric outlets along the north wall of the garage. It will be nice to not have the whole garage wired with extension cords running hither and dither, hanging down from the rafters wherever I needed it.

If having more equipment is a sign of a better farmer then I am making progress. I have a tractor and now a farm jack. That’s what they call this five foot tall monster. It can lift 7000 pounds. When I saw it on sale at Harbor Freight I decided it would be a wise purchase. For one thing it’s about the only way I’d have to change a tire on the tractor. Those tires are on their last legs as it is. Plus it will be great for pulling those metal fence posts out of the ground. Before I’d have to dig them out by hand. I need to get implements for the tractor so am keeping my eyes open for that. It’s nice to have the tractor and I’ve used the front end loader but without a plow or other things it’s designed to pull it can’t be utilized to its fullest. Little by little things are coming together. With more mechanical equipment I’ll need the tools to work them. I’ve got lots of hand tools but they are smaller ones that work great on cars and lawnmowers. The tractor requires bigger stuff for some areas. A welder and cutting torch are on the long list of things to get. That can be used to modify or fabricate things needed around here.

Times a’wastin so got to go.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Grandson pictures


Here's some baby pictures of my grandson. His name is Stewart Ash Simmet and he was born on March the fifth, five days late. Seven pounds and thirteen ounces.


4/13/09 Monday
It’s a beautiful day out. A little chilly but scheduled to warm up to the low 70’s. I seem to be a little slow, about a six on the bob scale. There is a touch of melancholy on my soul this morning. I discovered that Bruce had pictures attached to the email he sent last week. Went to read it again and noticed the attachments. I was just going to email him and ask for pictures. Looking closely at the one showing him holding his baby I see that Bruce’s hair has some gray in it. He was still a kid living at home when I had the accident.

I walked out to where they are putting in the pipeline to check it out and take some pictures for my records. Was surprised at how deep it was. I seem to be slowing down even more right now. The ears are ringing again, another common problem for TBI survivors. Think I’ll quit and go find something simple to focus on. Oh, that’s right! I borrowed the trailer from Chuck and picked up a load of manure this morning. Forgot about it when I came in. It’s in the back waiting for me to unload. So that’s the simple task I’ll focus on. Got to go.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

A windscape

click to enlarge any of these pictures

4/11/09 Saturday


Here are some of the sandstorm pictures I took. Lots of interesting things the wind and blowing sand do. There are many weeds I’ve seen out there that had their leaves stripped off. The exposed wood fencing is more deeply etched from being sandblasted. Then the sand covers and fills in where it doesn't strip away. The wind giveth and the wind taketh away.












To prevent the wind/sand from scrubbing all the dirt away from the shallow roots of the buffalo grass I so want to get established I turned on the sprinkler. It had this surprising result. Every blade of grass was coated with sand that, mixed with the water dried to a hard shell. I later ran the sprinkler again with the hopes it would wash off the sand but had limited success. Up north folks would occasionally turn their sprinklers on when freezing weather was coming to create an icy wonderland. You would see the same result only with ice instead of sand.







Hearing from my son brings back memories of how we built a railroad set together, an ongoing project we would add to from time to time. It ended up taking almost half of his bedroom. I would have killed to have been able to reproduce the landscape the wind created. It’s really something else to see the delicate shelves carved out like some wild west movie set. Click on the picture to enlarge it. Really brings it out. If you look carefully you can see the thin unsupported shelf of sand jutting out.








Now that we’ve removed the weeds and tilled up the soil the wind has been reshaping the farm. It has been carving ditches where the landscape focuses the wind. Fortunately that’s often common pathways we use out there. Really cleaned out the area between the house and garage. Now you can see many of the small rocks that probably were put there by my grandfather to make a path. There are many things the wind has uncovered as of late. It’s fascinating to see what surfaces. There’s a ring of rusty tin roof that Rudy had used around the fruit trees they once had. I’m sure he did that to protect them from the gophers. There was a brightly colored ceramic hat with a red bow that went to some kind of…who knows.



Here’s a picture of a small tumbleweed. There’s thousands of them out there. But look how the root is exposed. You can see how much dirt was eroded away. When you look out it’s surreal, a landscape with miniature trees. Again it would have looked good with a model train landscape.







Among the goings on here has been the arrival of a white dove. I've never seen this in the wild before and don't have a clue as to how rare it is to see a white dove. It's been here for two days now. Hope it stays around. We've had a lot of doves around lately, probably because of the water and six hundred pounds of rye seed we've got out. There's still very little of it that has germinated. Walking out there I see lots of the rye seeds lying exposed by the wind. Sure could use some rain out here. Anyway, I got lots of other pictures but only so much room.











One problem I didn't foresee with the rock wall and garden is the sand. Removing this on a regular basis will probably be a cost of having it. If I'm lucky I'll be able to wash it out with a hose.













I'll leave you with a picture of the white dove flying away. Some would say having a white dove coming around has some kind of mystic meaning. I just think it's neat.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Sandstorm level wind

4/9/09 Thursday
The wind is howling at sandstorm level. I tried to cover the air conditioner to prevent getting another half inch of sand coming into the house and coating everything. Just getting the big garbage bag on was a struggle. I had to press my chest against it as the wind rushed in, trying to blow it away. After a while I was finally successful. Had it all tucked in as best as I could but knew I’d be lucky if it stayed up. Walked into the bedroom and heard a loud pop. The bag didn’t blow off the air conditioner, it inflated and blew a hole to release the pressure. I’ll try something else but don’t have much hope.

There’s no way I’m working outside in this. I’ll work in the garage to run electrical wiring to where the seed starting area will be. Then I suppose I’ll continue working on the old man’s wood sculpture. Rascal and Trixie aren’t too keen about being outside so I let them in. The other two have found sheltered spots to hide in. I’m real tired, more than usual and earlier that usual to.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

start of another day

4/8/09 Wednesday
Well it’s the start of another day. Cherie’s truck is done. I have some opinions about the shop owner and how he squirmed out of any blame but will keep them to myself. It’s hard for me to do that. There is always a lot to do and always a lot I should have done by now. First on my list of things to do is to buy the gasket maker I need to finish repairing the gas leak on the tractor. While in Midland to get it I will also buy some Sudan seed and check on fertilizer prices. I will need to keep motivating myself because of the depression. Last night I had lots of dreams involving my fall into madness. These are triggered I’m sure by the news of my son’s newborn child.

The wind is coming back according to the weatherman. Tomorrow they are predicting thirty to forty mph winds with gusts reaching far above that. If it comes from the opposite direction of last time I might end up getting some of my debris back. I might not post much, just don’t feel like talking to anyone, want to be alone. Cherie is the exception to that but I’m a bit short about things. Not good. Bye.
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I’ve heard stories of tornados driving two by fours through brick walls but this caught me by surprise. The high winds, clocked at 80 mph by Cap Rock Energy (Our electric company) drove this lightweight piece of dried up tumble weed through the wall of my drip tape. You can see how big of a leak it caused.

I need to quit feeling sorry for myself and writing, my way of talking to the world, probably will help. Sorry about whining folks.
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I got the gas leak on the tractor fixed. Had to give it a jump to start it and drove it around the outside edge of the five acres to see how it went. It went like the old used machine it is. We’re ordering the shop manual for it online. I found all kinds of southern engineering on it, like a plastic tie wrap holding the throttle spring. I’ll have to fix that cause it will no doubt break just when I don’t want it to. The tires don’t have long to live. I found chunks of rubber coming lose and there are cracks that go down to the belts. Pretty dry rotted. I wonder how much tractor tires cost. I also wonder if you can get used tractor tires. Now is when you start seeing what you didn’t see when you were looking at it to buy. There’s a pretty bad leak on one of the hydraulic cylinders of the loader. It’s a fixer upper you know. My first tractor. I don’t even know what all the handles and stuff do yet. Another adventure.

I’m worn out. Don’t know all that I did but I stayed busy. Bought three hundred pounds of fertilizer but when they went to get it they found out that they only had a couple of bags left so I’ll have to go back when they get another delivery.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

I'm a grandfather.

I just checked my email and got a reply from my son Bruce. I’m a grandfather and didn’t even know his wife was pregnant. This hit hard. How I miss not being in touch with them. He’s also about to be deployed to Afghanistan. After two tours in Iraq I thought he would be safe but not so. I think I’ll go to Midland and do some laundry and think about this. Don’t even know if it’s a boy or girl yet. Has my head reeling.
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I’m depressed. Not just a little, a lot. Learning of my son’s having a child is hard on me. I know it should be joyous news but it reminds me of my failures and like my answer to Jeff’s comment on this post it tells of the prices I pay for my sins. We all reap what we sow but some reap more than others. There are those who say they’ve “lived a life without regrets”. What a load of crap. Everyone has moments and decisions they’ve made that they wish they could have changed. My life is one of many regrets, many mistakes. It doesn’t matter what excuses I have or the justifications I find for my actions, the results speak for themselves. I find myself wanting to be able to hold that baby, to cuddle it in my arms and hear it’s coo’s and cries. I wonder what it looks like and now I go back to the early years when Bruce and Adam first came into my life at the ages of five or six. I can’t remember how old they were but remember well certain moments. It was them I fell in love with, not so much their mom. Even today seeing children anywhere is my bright spot for the moment.

How I miss Bruce and Adam, but it’s my fault we are no longer close. One of my goals has been to write them regularly, to regain something of the father son relationship that I imagine once existed. I’m not terribly sure of that. Those memories are still part of the jumbled fragments that have not been fully restored, and may never be. It is a sad aspect of this brain injury that I have not followed through on this desire to reach out to them, just like I continually forget to write my sister regularly or anyone else. What I want to do I can’t seem to accomplish. I told Cherie that I need to get back to using the calendar to schedule these tasks so they get done. I can’t remember how long it’s been since I wrote them with the exception of the emails I remembered to send a day or two ago, the one that triggered Bruce’s response where I learned I was a grandfather. My sister told me, in her response to the email I sent at the same time as the ones to my boys, how much she wished we could be one big happy family. I am alone regarding that, I’ve been alone much of my life with the exceptions of the times Cherie and I had together in our first marriage and the times we have today. It’s hard for me to have friends, I don’t really know how and social interaction is real hard for me. I’m uncomfortable around others and that makes them uncomfortable as well.

I saw my friend Don today. Isn’t that a contradiction to my previous statement? I guess in retrospect I do have friends. I know I want to. Regardless, I saw my friend Don today. Don is a man who has been a strong Christian his whole life, or at least much of it. I don’t know for sure. He is diabetic and has been on dialysis for not just years but decades. The bones in Don’s ankle have deteriorated and collapsed. They are going to see a specialist tomorrow to see if he can have an artificial one installed. As you can imagine he is depressed, with much better cause than I have. He is facing losing the ability to walk all together. He has prayed and prayed for God to heal him or at least relieve him from some of the pain but to no avail. This tears at his soul. He must contemplate the possibility of dieing early and talked to me of this. Don, I know you read this blog and hope you don’t mind me sharing this. His concern isn’t for himself as he is confident of going to heaven, but for his wife, children, and grandchildren. Compared to my problems it puts me to shame. But it brings up the question I ask all the time, “why me”. The “why me” has nothing to do with the hardships I’ve endured but the blessings I’ve been showered with. Why should a good man who has been faithful and always eaten right and taken care of himself suffer these diseases? It really should be me. I’ve lived hard, beat up this body, and turned my back on God, yet I am blessed above all men. Well not all men but I deserve none of it. “Perhaps” I wonder, “Perhaps I am blessed for the sake of Cherie”. Perhaps God did this for her knowing how deep her sorrow and loneliness had been after that terrible divorce we had twenty four or so years ago. The bible says that the rain falls on good and evil alike. These things I don’t pretend to understand.

So I love my stray dogs intensely. Just spent time with them outdoors giving them the hugs and attention they so desperately crave. I must put Rascal and Trixie in the house to do so as they are jealous and interfere. Ben and Gretchen just bury their heads into me and soak up the love they had always desired, like all animals do, but had not received from their previous owners, getting beatings and abuse instead. I suppose my past is what spurs me to reach out to the unloved so hard. They are just coming out of the depression they had from losing their daughter, Ginger. It’s good to see them happy again, to see the spring coming back into Gretchen’s step.

I’m tired and crawled into bed hours ago. There are things I should do but have lost the desire. These depressions come and go. I hope this doesn’t last long. Pray for my friend Don if you could. Bye now.
Battle rages inside for many Iraq veterans


Ken Klotzbach/Post-Bulletin

Gabe Cruz struggles while talking about his memories of the Gulf War and the care he has received in the Veterans Administration system. He carries worn papers and a notebook with him to keep his experiences and treatments in order.

4/3/2009
By Jeff Hansel
Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN

One moment he's talking about his Dachshund named Gia, with relaxed joy evident in his face, voice and posture.

The next, an uninvited memory pushes into his mind and tears begin to stream from his eyes.

"I've tried to commit suicide a couple of times. But the damn gun didn't go off," says Cpl. Gabe Cruz, a veteran of the first Gulf war. "I had a 12-gauge shotgun with a slug in it and it just went 'click!' -- and then faith kicks in."

As veterans re-enter the civilian work force, return to their families and their neighborhoods, many will enter a lengthy healing process.

They'll need the help of friends, family, neighbors and co-workers to find a renewed sense of grounding, said Mark Frenzel, program manager with Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraq Freedom with the Veterans Administration in Minneapolis.

It's important for veterans and their kids to get reacquainted. Spending time together, perhaps going through photographs from special events or looking through report cards, is a good way to let that happen, Burnes said.

Cruz says he served in Kuwait and Iraq during the first Gulf war as a "tanker" with the Army's 2nd Cavalry Regiment. He was responsible for the tank turret and eventually became a gunner, firing 9mm and M16 guns. He has documents that confirm his 100 percent war-related disability.

"There was six of us. There's two of us left," he says. "There was six of us and four of us are gone, sir, and they did take a gun to their mouth. It just hurts. It just stings. It really stings."

Suicide among veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars is high.

"The suicide rate among this group of veterans is twice that of the national average. And suicide is a very real outcome from being in combat," said Katie Burnes, a psychiatric nurse practitioner who works full-time helping soldiers at the VA Clinic in Rochester.

A note left behind by one of his crew members, Cruz said, explained "'I just can't take this any more. I'm sorry for the pain I've caused you. But whatever I caused you, it isn't half what I'm going through' -- and then he pulled the trigger."

Thousands of U.S. soldiers are coming home with concerns, memories and injuries they -- and you -- will have to deal with.

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Copyright 2009 Post-Bulletin Company, LLC

http://www.postbulletin.com/newsmanager/templates/localnews_story.asp?z=2&a=392821


Veterans struggle to truly come home

4/4/2009
By Jeff Hansel
Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN

After returning stateside from serving in the Gulf War in 1991, Gabe Cruz had a stable job.

He was a surveillance specialist with the Lubbock, Texas, Health Department, tracking the incidence of sexually transmitted diseases in the west Texas population. He was considered a public health expert, especially in the field of HIV/AIDS.

"I oversaw 42 counties. I dressed in shirts and ties and I worked in nice clothes," he says.

But he experienced a personal tragedy and an emotional breakdown at work, and he lost his job. Anything can trigger such an unexpected downward spiral for veterans who might think they've returned to normalcy.

"I went crazy," Cruz says, showing his disability documents that state, "you were found running barefoot in the street, claiming people were shooting at you."

He had a flat tire and "I just started crying. I couldn't get it together."

While on active duty, most routine things are predetermined, so changes in routine can throw off veterans.

"I remember one guy getting off the plane, met his wife and family at the airport, went to have a meal and felt completely overwhelmed because the waitress put a menu in his hand," said Katie Burnes, a psychiatric nurse practitioner who helps soldiers at the VA Clinic in Rochester. "Because he didn't have to choose anything. He didn't have to choose what to eat for 16 months. And he didn't know how to act. He didn't know how to respond."

Cruz uses the disability statement as if it's proof for non-believers.

"I read it over and over (because) I forget," Cruz says. "I think any logical person would say they'd want to forget the worst parts."

He has formed a relationship with a woman and her two children, but he struggles. In post-war relationships, when a woman rolls her eyes in response to his behavior, he says, he knows it's over.

"I sleep in the garage because I don't want the kids to see me. ... It's cold in the garage. It's more embarrassing, though, if they were to see me," he says.

Severe panic attacks are the problem. Any unexpected noise can set one off.

"You just see some little kid's head split open....," the words spill out of his mouth almost too fast to follow, an intrusive memory that he'd rather not relive, but he stops himself with fits of sobbing, then regains control.

Delayed stress can hit veterans

Delayed post-traumatic stress affects veterans, often years after they return from war, said Mark Frenzel, program manager with Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraq Freedom with the Veterans Administration in Minneapolis.

Veterans specialists like Frenzel and Burnes want Minnesotans to understand that they can help veterans return to stable civilian life. But it's a long road.

"Don't make any quick decisions," Burnes advises family members. "It takes over two years to reintegrate to home life. If they're deployed for a year, it's going to take two years to readjust and re-establish their roles."

It's better to get help early, she said, because recovery will take longer if the veteran delays getting help.

"They left, they've been gone a year, year-and-a-half. The wife, the husband, the parents have moved on. They've all established sort of normalized roles during that time and all of a sudden the veteran has to come back and reinsert themselves," Frenzel said. "Being in a war zone, combat, you need to be hyper vigilant. The adrenaline's flowing. How do you replace that high they've been experiencing?"

When Cruz seeks care, he's often in the midst of a crisis, desperately in need of medication to ease intrusive thoughts, auditory hallucinations he can not suppress.

"I hear tanks. I hear gunners," Cruz said. "You can hear your commander talking to you and your fellow soldiers yelling at you."

Cruz doesn't want to be medicated into a zombie state, so he avoids medication, walking a thin line between loss of control and overmedication. But when war thoughts take control of his mind, he needs help to escape them. That's when he visits health providers, hoping for a prescription to stave off flashbacks.

But, seeing his agitated state, it's easy for health providers to believe he's an addict.

He says he doesn't drink or take street drugs. Alcohol, for him, would make the flashbacks, nightmares and reaction to loud noises even worse.

Cruz says his pain is real. He believes his back problems came from shrapnel from a mortar round that scraped across his back, knocking him down.

"The concussion just folded me backwards," he says. "Right when they get close you hear them -- 'sceerrrr!,'" he says.

Variety of stresses

Returning veterans experience a variety of stresses, Frenzel said.

One in four returning veterans has a traumatic brain injury. Brain injuries can cause impulsive behavior, agitation and outbursts of frustration. And 44 percent of returning vets have mental disorders such as post-traumatic stress, depression or another diagnosable mental illness.

Cruz has a scar along the side of his head from an improvised explosive device or mortar round.

"I took this blow here. I'm not exactly sure how I took it off of a tank, they say I took it off the tank," Cruz says. "Part of my brain still works. But if you ask me what street I turned on five minutes ago, my memory's shot."

He doesn't trust the Veterans Administration and has been banned from a Rochester medical center after missing too many appointments.

Cruz says he no longer believes in God.

After he'd been back in the United States a while, he was sleeping at his parents' house one night when a thunderstorm rolled through. He awoke in a fit and hit the wall next to his bed.

"My fist went right through it, and my dad was like, what the hell is wrong with you?"

Friendships

The effect of war can be tough on friendships, too.

"These soldiers form their strongest bonds with their fellow soldiers, so they may not be willing to talk about their experiences in Iraq," Burnes said. "If it's a non-military friend, that non-military friend needs to accept that. And they also need to understand that the veteran has changed, because you can't go through combat and come back the same. So don't plan on having the same relationship. Accept that growth and maturity have happened while they've been gone."

Cruz agrees.

"I miss the Army. I miss my friends. I miss being able to tell somebody I got your back," Cruz says.

He would serve again if he could, to protect the children of today from having to go to war.

"I would do this over again, 1,000-billion times," he says.

Employers

Employers, coworkers and health-care workers all need extra patience with returning veterans.

Most likely, a veteran will never share his or her entire story with you.

"Understand that they may have little patience, or they might be irritable. And coworkers need to not personalize that, because the veteran may have been triggered by something and is privately trying to deal with that," Burnes said. "Kind of back off and kind of give them some space. The last thing they need is somebody to be really in their face."

For Cruz, memories flood back without invitation.

He was responsible for setting up the tank's turret and eventually became a gunner, fighting against Saddam Hussein's Republican Guard in the Medina Division.

"We had the largest tank battle since Patton. It was rough, because you see all these hoards and hoards of people surrounding you," he said. "There's nothing worse than cleaning someone, or you actually hit someone that's full of gangrene and you've got to clean that off your tanks -- watching the dogs eat -- we shoot them. I saw kids getting out trying to dig holes to bury these people. Then you get to Kuwait City and you see that they killed women and cut children up, and after that you shoot them in the forehead.

"You are slightly spooked all of the time, and afraid," he said. "There are some horses that, if they get spooked, they are useless." That's the way Cruz feels; incapacitated by a fear.

Health care

One medical center in Rochester won't see Cruz any longer because he took too many pain pills, and another won't because he keeps missing appointments because of his memory loss, he says.

He writes notes to himself in a notebook, as many people with brain injuries do. He even wears a watch with an alarm to remind him of the appointments.

"Then they beep and I'm like, what's it for? And then I start going through the (notebook) and I began thinking, what am I looking for?"

To a medical provider not used to such a high number of people living with brain injuries, the patient might appear inappropriately angry -- frightening enough to ask the veteran to leave.

Instead, Burnes said, health providers should take time to figure out what's going on with the patient.

Patients should be assessed for depression, post traumatic stress and brain injuries, she said. "It may be beneficial if they know that they're dealing with a veteran to do a reminder call, that's because the memory component can be affected. Watch for signs of alcohol abuse."

It's important to remember the trauma veterans have experienced, Burnes said.

"What I hear from veterans is please ask people not to ask questions like 'did you kill somebody or did you see anyone die,'" she said. "Because, more than likely, that happened. That's not something these veterans are ready to talk about."

Healing

Perhaps it's part of Cruz's healing process to speak out.

"I want people to learn. I want people to see -- it's human life," he said.

A woman at a local medical organization hung up the phone on him after he became agitated.

"She told me to just deal with it and during the conversation, she got real snippy. I was like, look, lady, the advice you're giving me, you may as well just give me a bottle of whiskey and a shotgun with a round in it and let me blow the back of my head off. I'm going crazy here. And she said, 'Oh well' -- and hung up. ... Why don't they understand that I'm afraid? I'm always, always, always, always, always afraid. ... It's just not fair not to be able to get angry."

About 20 percent of veterans will continue to struggle on a relatively long-term basis, Frenzel said. But there are many services, including many new ones, that can help. But veterans or their loved ones must take action to get help.

Burnes said most veterans, after adjusting, are able to return to a stable life.

"There's hope," she said. "The bad news is that you have it -- PTSD or TBI. The good news is that it's treatable."

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Reporter Jeff Hansel covers health for the Post-Bulletin. Read his blog, Pulse on Health, at Postbulletin.com.
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Copyright 2009 Post-Bulletin Company, LLC

Vindicated?

4/7/09 Tuesday
I feel vindicated? I’m not sure if that’s the right word to use so let me explain. There is a stigma that all of us TBI survivors carry. That is that we have “brain damage”. Well we do but that’s not the point. With that stigma comes a judgment in some peoples mind that we are unable to make good decisions or think straight and thus our words and opinions carry little or no value. This attitude brings with it a lot of pain and can trash already fragile self esteem. Fortunately not all think this way and for others it comes in varying degrees, but it’s still there, a sometimes silent discrimination and undertone in how others interact with you. One of the common problems us survivors must contend with is a level of paranoia. To illustrate this I placed the previous post. It describes what some other survivors go through and must deal with on a daily basis. For me the paranoia isn’t the kind where you think someone is spying on you or plotting against you. I worry more about what people think of me and also wonder if I said something wrong or terribly offensive. What makes this even more difficult is that I do have lapses in judgment, make poor decisions, and many times offend others. What we need is instead of judgment, communication. For folks to talk to us and try to understand where we are and when in error to help us see that and why. And here again is a difficulty for I, and many others like me, can be obstinate, convinced that I’m right and unable to see otherwise.

So why do I feel vindicated? I had expressed concern that the brakes on Cherie’s truck were not operating right and when it was inspected the mechanic said “The brakes are fine”. When we took Cherie’s truck into the shop yesterday, after the brake pads wore through, they found many things wrong. Not only were the bake pads gone but one rotor and brake drum were in such bad shape they had to be replaced. I had let them know the first time that I was concerned because the brake pedal traveled so far before the brakes engaged. Come to find out the master cylinder was shot and about ready to fail. When a master cylinder fails the brake pedal just goes to the floor and that’s it, nothing, no brakes at all. You simply can’t stop unless you have the quick wits and reflexes to slam it into reverse and hit the gas. To say this was a life threatening situation would be an understatement. How is it none of this was discovered when the brakes were inspected four weeks ago? Obviously the mechanic was negligent. I’m sure that the shop owner, who’s name I won’t give out of respect for our friend, will have something to say to his mechanic. I know that when I owned several businesses I would dearly like to be informed if one of my employee’s actions put a client in danger of physical harm or even death. Or if his actions opened me up for a lawsuit for damages he caused.

It’s not so much that I was right that makes me feel vindicated, it’s that I wasn’t wrong. I’ve been wrong so many times that I’m almost gun shy so it’s a relief to not be so. I asked that the shop look at the front end because of the steering problem I detected. Good thing that I did. The pitman arm and another part were so loose that they were also ready to fail. “You could move it this much with your hands” the shop owner told me holding up his hands to indicate how far. This was caused by long term wear, not by our running off the highway episode, though I’m sure that didn’t help any. I’m grateful this was discovered before Cherie had an accident. If the pitman arm had come loose it means that not only couldn’t the truck be steered but the wheels could have just turned any way they wanted, even in opposite directions. Cherie told me “There’s no doubt that God was watching over us” especially when we went to Brownwood to get the tractor.

The bible says “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not to your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths”. That’s one I depend on. It sure seems to be the case for us. I don’t trust too well but we sure seem to have His hand on our life. It always boggles my mind how things work out. Every day, when I wake up and see Cherie I am amazed she is there, amazed about how this all worked out.

There’s lots to do as there will probably always be so I must get moving. By the way I bought a new American flag yesterday. It’s a much higher quality one than the previous and is made in America. Despite that I went into sticker shock when it rang up at $43.00. WHOA! I said. But the other one only lasted a few months and this one came with a year’s warranty so I went ahead and got it.

Got to go. Looks like I’ll have to get the tiller out again. The rye isn’t doing well because of the drought’ but the weeds and sticker grass are getting to the point they will be making seed soon so I must stop that, need to till them under. Eventually I’ll be able to get a six foot wide or so tiller or disc for the tractor but until then it’s by hand with the Cub Cadet.