9.05.2007

war touches my family


Chief Micanopy by George Catlin

I debated whether to share this bad news, but in the end decided it fits under musings. I met my best friend in kindergarten, her younger brother is the same age as mine and so I've known Catlin (named after the artist who painted the above picture) since he was barely a toddler. Our mothers were fast friends and I vividly remember many, many weekends spent as children together at the local springs and our houses. He grew up, joined the army, and went to Iraq. I learned yesterday evening that he was seriously injured by an IED. From what we know now: his left arm is shattered, he has a skull fracture, and worst he has lost parts of both his legs, one from the knee down and the other from below the knee, his torso is relatively unhurt and the doctors seem to believe his brain is alright. The other guys he was with were not so fortunate. Three of the guys with him died and the other survivor is not doing as well as he is. Thankfully his best friend was not in the vehicle. Thankfully he is alive. I am so worried for his physical and emotional well-being, and so sad for his army brothers and their families.

When someone you know chooses to be a soldier and is deployed, you are very aware of the possibilities, but you can only wait for him or her to come home. No matter your political beliefs, you can only wait. This evening we spent with his mom, dad, sister, extended family and friends on the back porch and ate Southern comfort food, talked, and waited for more news while anxiety and anticipation hung in the humid air. Soon he will be flown from Germany to Texas and we will wait for him to wake up, to heal his body, to grieve his friends and limbs, to heal his heart and soul, and to live. He has a long road before him, I hope he will know he is not alone.

War just breaks my heart, all the loss the comes from it is far too great a cost.

*I am going to continue to update through the comments for awhile*

11 comments:

poppy said...

heartbreaking

Erin said...

*update* I spoke to his sister Alicia last night. He was sedated and in stable condition. Today they planned to wake him up a little to find out the conditions of the nerves in his left arm. Then he'll be in the OR again to clean up some his wounds. Alicia is amazing, calm and ready. She and her parents expressed relief to be able to see and touch him.

redredday said...

hi Erin, your update makes it even harder for me to respond...i just hope he will be okay, especially with the support and love of those around him. i could only imagine what they must be going through right now...

Erin said...

hi Mien and Poppy.

*update* I spoke to Alicia again last night, they let him come to and off the ventilator. He inhaled Ensure drinks despite the warning to take it slow but held it down fine. Because of the medication he acted pretty drunk and silly at times. He was very insistent about wanting to get up and leave and very uncomfortable with phantom pains in his legs, wanting to stand up and the stretch, they'd hold up his legs to get them moving and sit him up to relieve the pressure on his back. They'd tell him what happened and he'd forget a minute later, so they‘d have to tell him again. I think because of the drugs he's not able to retain it yet. So emotionally draining and physically exhausting for Alicia and her parents. Later in the day they gave him an epidural to help him rest. He will be going in the OR on Monday and again on Wednesday, when they’ll do some work on his left arm. Alicia is going to be his main helpmate during rehabilitation.

Alicia found out the full story from his best friend who in the convoy. Catlin was in the first vehicle in the back seat next to the door. His best friend was in the third Humvee. He said it did not look like an IED or EFP but something new and more advanced. Instead of going under the vehicle it went inside and hit the driver. Catlin's body blew a 400lb. door off his hinges (did I mention to you Catlin is a large guy, tall and broad?) and he was thrown clear, which is why he did not have any burns. His buddy ran to him and started administering first aid. They pulled the other survivor out, who was badly burned and lost limbs as well. I don’t his name, but he is at the same hospital as Catlin surrounded by a great big family who Alicia describes as completely amazing. I've been thinking about that guy and his family a lot too.

Alicia and her parents seemed to be doing really well, even if exhausted. Felt a lot better to be able to talk to him.

Can't even believe it still. I think about them constantly. I really believe Catlin will be okay, he is so strong and stubborn, if he wants to do anything he will find a way. I just wish there was a way to know all the right things to say and do to help him get there.

Erin said...

*update* Catlin is awake and aware, his temp hit 103 at one point and they packed him in ice to lower it. He's not eating really well because of the meds killing his appetite. But in general he is not in too much pain. He is out of the ICU and in a ward with three other guys who have had amputations. He's upset about his legs, but pretty chill, too. Just keeps making everyone promise that he'll get prosthesis and saying how jacked up the situation is, saying how guys don't really realize they are being sent over there to get blown up. Before he joined his family really tried to dissuade him from going or at least watch the news for a week, but he wasn't interested, he wanted to join. Since he's been over there he was pretty amazed, and I think, shocked at how messed up it was there. Now he's talking about making sure others know before they sign what they are really headed into. He and his family are angry at the situation. and sad, but still prepared to deal with everything. They are all a little "mush brained" tired and a little out of it, but holding together.

Alicia reports how wonderful people at the hospital are to them; whatever they ask, if the person doesn't know they find out. Catlin wanted the numbers of the families of the guys who died to call them and give condolences so they are in the process of getting those numbers. Alicia was worried about his elbow, so the doctor immediately brought up an X-ray for her to see: one of the bones I think the radius is broken in a few places and he may have trouble rotating his arm, but movement should be good otherwise. Everyone there has been so helpful.

I am sorry I haven't posted new art stuff yet, I've been trying to stay away from the computer to get things done, so it's coming.

Marjojo said...

Oh Erin, I came over to thank you for your thoughtful/insightful comments and now I'm just speechless. Hope C. will recover as best as possible and so glad he's surrounded by loving support. Hope you're looking after yourself too.

Erin said...

Catlin has been pretty sick the last few days. He went into surgery to shorten one of the femur bones and close up his legs and look at his arm. The arm is worse than they thought and they need a bone donor to repair the elbow, until then they have put a "bone cement" to hold it together. When they took him off the anesthetics after surgery his heart rate skyrocketed and they kept him in post-op for five hours. Alicia and her grandfather stayed up all night with him, with him just raging with pain, someone came to give some meds and sedatives and it still didn't help. He slept maybe 10mins the whole night. That morning they moved him out of the ward he was recently moved into and back into the ICU, mostly so they could keep a closer eye on him. Turns out his electrolytes and sodium levels were very low, so corrected he is doing much better. As a bright spot in an otherwise frustrating week, when he was in Iraq he was promoted from Private first class to E3 specialist, but the formal promotion itself had not taken place, so tomorrow it will.

Kirsty said...

Oh Erin, how awful. My thoughts are with Catlin and his friends and family.

Erin said...

marjojo, I can relate to you on Catlin putting a name to the injured in the war for you. Over a year ago, one of my friend’s best friend’s (again the same age as my brother, but this time not known by me personally) was seriously injured while serving in Iraq, not quite as badly as Catlin but his elbow joint is fused as a result and he has had a really hard time with it emotionally, and that had brought it home some for me. I usually think about the war in terms of Iraqi lives lost or childhoods and families devastated, which is absolutely heartbreaking, but also somewhat abstract. Here the news reports dead and injured soldiers daily, but rarely a total number of soldiers severely injured. If ever a specific injured solider ends up on the news he or she tends to be presented as an anomaly. With Catlin getting hurt, it has affected the way I perceive the true cost of the war to Americans. This is how we will experience the Iraq war, when soldiers come home to live lives forever altered, there are so many coming home with lost limbs, traumatic brain injuries, and PTSD, but we don’t hear who they are. Or who their families are. The drop is reported, but the ripple is hidden.
I hope he is being taken care of as well as possible too. His family and all of us will do everything we can to make sure he doesn’t fall through the cracks, yet so much also depends on him finding his own way.

Thank you for your thoughts and letting me share this with you, I am still trying to wrap my mind around the whole situation, all while impulsively inspecting my feet. Strange and precious things they are.
Something else strange: my younger brother is about the same age as my Dad was when he lost friends in the Vietnam War.

Erin said...

Went to visit him last week. When we arrived at the army base we met with Catlin and his family. He's just out of the hospital and getting around in a motorized wheelchair, beginning physical training to prepare for his prostheses while he waits for bone donor surgery on his left arm. He's still very much Catlin, funny, charismatic, a bit reckless and stubborn, and planning as always to have a cattle farm like his grandfather. In good spirits most of the time, venting occasionally when he's tired or in pain, he jokes and visits with army buddies who come to visit and add detail to his story. The base seems to be a good buffer zone, not home, but lots of support programs and events have a strong presence and there are many soldiers recovering from injuries. The entire place is plastered with signs about Warrior in Transition programs, with recreational and work training activities. Alicia, his sister acts as his personal medical assistant taking care of paperwork, medications and scheduling the barrage of appointments he has to keep. It is definitely a full time job. We took her and her mom out one night, while Catlin and his dad opted to stay on base as they haven't learned how to navigate all the details. Things like, "can we borrow a van to transport his chair?", or "is this restaurant wheelchair accessible without being embarrassing?" are now part of his family's mode of thinking. Another evening we just visited with Alicia and toured around the Alamo and the Riverwalk which felt much needed from all sides. I miss her presence and our frequent dinners together very much and am looking forward to her and Catlin coming home.

This is an odd place and time for me, I have never been interested in military life and yet right now I find my life marked by it, not choosing that life doesn’t mean you can escape its ripples. I always pay close attention to the war and am saddened and angered by it, though as a civilian American I usually have the option to cut off the information flow. I can't seem to reconcile something in my heart, knowing the cost of war and knowing the pain of grief accompanies it. Knowing for some war begins as a job and leaves them marked, whether it is visible or not. And others have no choice but try to survive it. Been thinking lots about all the refugees who are in flight and hoping they find safety and peace.

Erin said...

Catlin is home for the holidays, and doing very well driving his mom crazy and learning how to be independent, he decided the other day that he wanted to go visit his grandparents a mile down the road instead of being home alone and so he hopped on his motorized chair, pulled down his cowboy hat with the twenty or so beercaps clipped to the edge and drove it down the highway in the tiny bike lane. In his most recent achievement he figured out how to drive his huge truck around his grandparent's farm with ( 'mind you!) one arm and a stick to push the pedals. It's getting insane. I think him having a girlfriend has been really good for him too. I'm sure it's still very hard and he is still very upset that he being team leader didn't die when the other members didn't two of the guys had new babies and the other guy that lived is still in the ICU. He doesn't understand that.

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