Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Iron Man

Well, I had another visit to the orthopedic clinic today, and managed to get a copy of my x-rays while I was there. The stitches in my wrist came out as well, and I actually got to help out with that part by holding them with the tweezers while the corpsman cut them with a small surgical blade. Very interesting to be involved in one's own suture removal procedure, lemme tell ya.

This here's my left wrist, post-surgery, obviously. Though you can only make out two, there's actually three plates in there, with something like 18 screws holding everything in place. The weird thing is that when I have my cast off, I can actually feel the hardware in there, which is a bit unnerving.

I've still got a long ways to go with the physical therapy, as I can't really flex my hand forward or backwards much, and can't quite make a fist just yet.

Here we have my right ankle, with what looks like about a 4 or 5-inch steel plate with 8 screws holding it in place. If you look closely at the bottom of my tibia, you can see what appears to be multiple fractures down there. I don't know if there really are that many, but it sure looks pretty cool.

What you can't see is the fracture in my fibula, the thin bone on the left. I'm told it was broken a few inches below my knee, which means the force had to travel between the two bones, which also means there's some risk of damage to the ligament between the two bones. Although the doctors could've done another operation to screw the two bones together (and there was much debate on the subject), they ultimately decided that everything was aligned as it should be, and additional surgery was (thankfully) unnecessary at this point.

Obviously, I'm very grateful that this is the extent of my injuries - motorcycle accidents have a nasty way of turning out very, very badly for the rider. However, I am getting a little tired of the knowing looks and self-righteous mini-lectures from the medical staff when they find out that I was in a *motorcycle accident*, but I suppose that they see this kind of thing all too often, and that undoubtedly colors one's perceptions somewhat.

Of course, all these plates and screws means I'll never have a normal airline flight at any time in the foreseeable future...

Thursday, February 12, 2009

God's Timing

You know, a funny thing about being one who is "in need" (as opposed to having everything in order and simply trying to maintain the status quo) is that the Lord has a remarkable gift for bringing just the right people into your life at just the right time. Allow me to illustrate:

Around Thanksgiving 2005, I was beginning to think seriously about pursuing the chaplaincy. One of the first orders of business was to decide where to go to seminary, obviously. Since it was important to both my wife and me that we be near family, I had narrowed the choice down to two places in Southern California: Talbot School of Theology and Bethel Seminary San Diego.But I couldn't decide between the two schools. Then my wife and I attended an OCF retreat. There we got to know Chaplain Fred Robinson and his wife, who taught many of the classes that weekend. Just before we left, we happened to sit with them at lunch. When he heard that I wanted to become a chaplain, he naturally wanted to know where I was going to go to seminary. I told him my two choices - and my dilemma, and was surprised to find out that he had degrees from each of them! He told me everything I wanted to know about both schools, and based on his recommendations I chose Bethel, which has proved to be the perfect place for me.

Another example of this occurred just this past week. I have been a long-time reader of a blog called "Neptunus Lex," written by a now-retired naval aviator whom I've actually had the pleasure of meeting a few times. He posted a brief article about my accident, and asked his readership to wish me well. A few days later, I was contacted by a woman who also happens to live nearby and is the Assistant to the President of an organization called Soldiers' Angels, whose purpose is to provide support for servicemembers in many different ways. When she heard about my situation, she offered to check and see what she could do for us. Imagine my surprise when she called the next day and told us she had been authorized to purchase me a brand new laptop with voice recognition software! Not only that, but she came by the same day to deliver it and help set it up and get it linked in with our desktop computer.

Now I no longer have to wheel myself out to the garage and sit there trying to type with one hand while my injured leg gradually begins to throb because I am unable to elevate it. Instead, I can now work from the comfort of my bed, allowing my body to heal while still keeping my mind engaged with schoolwork and blogging.

My friend Jay Tobin once gave me this bit of knowlege; he said that "God is rarely early, never late, and always on time." I'm continuing to find out just how true that is.

Why I'm Not a Navy Chaplain

Ok, this is the question I've gotten most frequently when people hear of my prior Marine service (18 yrs) and then find out that I'm planning on being an Army chaplain. To be honest, it was a bit of a struggle for me, as I had originally planned on doing exactly that, and it took quite a bit of work for me to change my mind.

Briefly then, here is my reasoning:

- First, having spent so many years in the Marines, my desire (as a chaplain) would be to continue that by serving with Marine units whenever/wherever possible. This in itself isn't a bad thing, but I felt that I would in some ways be less-than-enthusiastic about the (necessary) assignments I would have to have with the "blue" side - those strictly Navy assignments where there's not a Jarhead in sight. I felt that I would in some ways be "chomping at the bit" to get back to "my" Marines, and that my ministry to those sailors might suffer as a result.

- Next, I also believed that my wanting to be a "Marine chaplain" had something to do with my continued ability to wear the Marine uniform and associate with my fellow "devil dogs." All of which seemed to boil down to a pride issue - I didn't want to give up the pride that came with being affiliated with the Marine Corps, and pride isn't exactly the best trait to have as a chaplain - humility is much better.

- Lastly, I felt that when I was with the Marines, there might be a tendency to want to revert to a Marine officer mentality; that is, I could potentially forget my proper role as a chaplain and instead let my 12 years as a Marine officer begin to color my advice and recommendations - all of which would run counter to my ultimate purpose and efforts as a chaplain.

In the end, I realized that I had to be willing to give up all those personal pride issues that were so near and dear to me, and get down to what really mattered: serving those men & women in our nation's armed forces by ministering to their spiritual, mental and emotional needs. Now, as a soon-to-be Army chaplain, I find that my clarity of purpose is much better; every time I don my Army ACUs I am again reminded that it's not all about me - it's not about the uniform, the rank, or any of the shiny bits they may give me to wear. It's about service. As the Apostle Paul said, "I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do this for the sake of the gospel, that I might share in its blessings..."
- 1 Corinthians 9:22-23, NIV

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Things Break

(Note: this post was typed over several days at Balboa Naval Hospital. With one hand.)

Well, I suppose it had to happen eventually - at least according to the safety statistics my father used to throw at me in my younger days: I had an accident, Not just any accident, mind you - but the dreaded motorcycle accident. No falling down the stairs/slipping on ice/tripping over the curb mundane wonks for yours truly - no sir!

It began as a very normal - maybe even unusually good Friday morning. I had pried myself out of bed to meet some buddies for our weekly 0600 coffee & muffins Bible study at Pannikin's in Encinitas. There I splurged and got one of their excellent cinnamon rolls, with no idea that this tasty pastry would be my "last meal" until Sunday evening. After sharing some prayer and camaraderie with my buddies, I headed to Vista for some personal training with another buddy of mine, Van. You see, Van and I have known each other for almost 15 years. We were roommates at artillery school back in 1995, then were assigned to the same Marine unit here at Camp Pendleton, where we did a "WestPac" deployment together, then ended up as roommates again up until we both left the Corps in 1999 - me temporarily; him permanently. Though we'd stayed somewhat in contact over the years, it had only been in the past year or so that we'd begun renewing our friendship. So when he told me that he was opening up a small gym in Vista to do personal training, I thought it would be a perfect chance to kill two birds with one stone. I would be able to see my friend on a regular basis, AND I would have someone who knows me to encourage me in my efforts to get back in better shape. Oh, and since he's a self-described agnostic, I get a lot of time to talk to him about God. (Van, if you're reading this, yes, I am trying to convert you...)

So I showed up at 0800 and went through an hour of cardio/core training, then headed home to get cleaned up. I didn't have much on the schedule, but had been invited to attend a luncheon at Bethel Seminary with our guest speaker at noon, so I decided to get down there with plenty of time to spare. Being a "typical" day here in sunny SoCal, I decided that a ride on my "Trusty Triumph" would be just the thing. Despite the warmth, I still put on my heavy-duty Vanson leather jacket, little realizing that this garment would live up to its well-deserved reputation for durability less than an hour later. I headed down the I-15 for the 30-mile run to school, a trip I'd made countless times since purchasing my bike last May. The weather was beautiful, the sun was shining, traffic was relatively light, and I even got to zip along in the HOV lane for part of my journey - what could possibly ruin such a perfect day?

Plenty, as it turned out.

I was only a few miles from the seminary, heading east on I-8 as I entered the off-ramp for College Ave. I could see that the far end of the ramp was blocked with traffic, so I eased off the throttle in order to increase the gap between me and the guy in font of me for the inevitable slowdown. That's about when it happened. Some guy in the next lane to my left decided that gap was meant for HIM, so he darted into the space, unaware of the traffic piling up only a few hundred yards further down. I imagine that a few seconds later he had an "Oh crap!" moment as he realized that the equation [Mass • Velocity = Momentum] was about to interject itself in a very hard and fast way. So he did what any other knucklehead would've done - he slammed on his brakes. Since I had insufficient time to re-establish a safe gap between us since his abrupt lane change, I was forced to do the same thing.

Funny thing about motorcycles - you can hit the brakes pretty darn hard when you're straight & level, and she'll respond fine; just hunker down a tad as the front forks absorb the weight shifting and deceleration. In an uphill curve? Not so much.

So, I ended up laying her down on the right side going maybe 30mph, which wouldn't have been nearly so bad had not my right foot gotten caught underneath (causing multiple spiral fractures in my tibia) or had I not been thrown forward onto my left hand (shattering the wrist to such a degree that it took 3 plates, 4 wires and 18 screws to put the pieces back together).

X-rays of both my left wrist and right ankle (pre-surgery)

You can see how the bones on the wrist are all pushed over to the side - what you can't see is all the little bone fragments from my radius that were sheared off by the impact. It would take the doctor 6 1/2 hours of surgery to put it all back together.

On the right is my right ankle, with a couple of pretty nasty spiral fractures at the bottom of my tibia. I would also need a 5" long steel plate screwed into the bone to hold everything together.

And no, I have no idea what that thing on my hand is.


Now, after 10 days at Balboa Naval Hospital and two (successful) surgeries, I'm here at home recovering nicely. All the CT scans came back negative for any other damage - no head trauma, spinal injuries, or internal bleeding - just the two aforementioned fractures. Amazingly, there was hardly even any "road rash," which I must attribute to wearing the proper safety gear, esp. a good quality leather jacket! God truly was with me through all of this, as I am well aware that it could've turned out much worse. As it is, I'll be off my feet for a few months, and will have to endure lots of physical/occupational therapy, but the prognosis is good, and I anticipate regaining full movement and use of both wrist and ankle.

Thanks so much for the many prayers and offers of help and support that have been sent our way - we are very grateful and thankful!