Tag Archives: rehab assignments

Passages: Thoughts on My Last Week at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth

“Andre Dawson has a bruised knee and is listed as day-to-day. Aren’t we all?” Vin Scully

“It’s a mere moment in a man’s life between an All-Star Game and an Old-timers’ Game.” Vin Scully

“The oldest pitcher acquires confidence in his ball club – he doesn’t try to do it all himself.” Burleigh Grimes

Every day is a new opportunity. You can build on yesterday’s success or put its failures behind and start over again. That’s the way life is, with a new game every day, and that’s the way baseball is.”  -Bob Feller

As any of my regular readers know I relate most of life to baseball. For me it resonates more than more than almost any other part of my life.  I think by now with over 29 years in the military that I count as a seasoned veteran who has been dinged up some and had to try to recover from injuries to his body but also to his self confidence and ability to stay in the game. My assignment at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth has been one of those assignments that was a lot like a rehab assignment to get me back in form for an assignment on a new team where I will be the number one starter in the rotation instead of a rehabbing pitcher making spot starts and relief appearances.

Today I finish up most of my administrative out processing from NMCP as I prepare to transfer to Naval Hospital Camp LeJeune. I have been at the command two years and it has been an eventful tour.  During the assignment I was forced to deal with the effects of my tour in Iraq, notably my PTSD and its related physical, psychological and spiritual impacts which included a loss of faith and absence of God that left me for a year and a half a practical agnostic. I also had to deal with the end stages of my father’s struggle with Alzheimer’s disease which culminated in his death in June of this year.  While this was going on I also dealt with a nasty Kidney stone that sidelined me from almost all human activity for over a month, a tooth that had abscessed and had to be replaced by an implant after a root canal failed and various nagging injuries to my shoulders, elbows, a knee and ankle from Iraq.  Most recently I have had to struggle with my hearing, I have something called Auditory Processing Disorder as well as some really annoying Tinnitus, I can hear lots of noise but somehow my brain is not processing it correctly. With all of this in the background and sometimes the foreground I worked and often struggled through the assignment which despite my skills as a critical care chaplain was more difficult than I could imagine.

I compare my time at Portsmouth to a baseball pitcher that goes to a new team but has injuries that he thought were manageable but which were severe enough to take him out of the game and into a rehab mode.  Of course not all teams give older pitchers that chance and that is true more often than not in the military when injuries to an officer are severe enough, especially emotional ones to keep him from functioning at top form.  I was fortunate as Chaplain Tate gave me the chance to heal and looked at my potential rather than my weaknesses when writing up my evaluation reports.  I can say that that is not the norm in much of the military where I probably would have been given reports that would have kept me from being promoted and resulted in me being placed in second tier jobs until I was able to retire.

I was fortunate however because during the assignment I was given time to recuperate and begin to heal.  That has not been easy by far but I am doing well enough now to handle things that would have sent me down the toilet of tears a few months ago. I give a lot of credit to Chaplain Jesse Tate and my therapist Dr. Elmer Maggard, better known as “Elmer the Shrink.”  I couple of retired Navy Chaplains on our staff also were men that helped me through the very rough times; Monsignor Fred Elkin and Reverend Jerry Shields gave me much spiritual support and provided me the opportunity to vent as I needed to during really difficult times.   As I got better and able to handle more responsibility Chaplain Tate started putting more responsibility on me, especially after I was selected for promotion to Commander.  It was like I was done with the rehab work and being put back into the game.  He held me accountable and was like a pitching coach or manager working with me, pushing my limits and making corrections even while encouraging me.  He did this with the purpose of getting me ready for my next assignment where I will be in charge of a staff of 6 personnel.  The past couple of months were high pressure due to all the activities the department was engaged in. These including a retirement, two major conferences and the transition of our Pastoral Care Resident Chaplains as one group finished their residency and a new group went through orientation.  In that time I had to deal with a lot more pressure than I had been exposed to most of my tour. After the last conference ended I realized that I could now function at a high level again and not just in my clinical areas.  I am now sure that I can do well in my new assignment and I am looking forward to the opportunity.

As I leave NMCP I will be leaving a lot of friends in my department as well as the rest of the hospital, especially the staff of our adult, pediatric and neonatal ICUs.  Some of these staff members will continue to serve at NMCP, others are now either deployed in harm’s way, have transferred to other commands or have left the service or retired.  I have to thank them as well because each in their own way has been a part of my recovery.

Most people do not get this kind of opportunity to serve and to heal at my age, rank or time in service. Most are put out to pasture until they can retire.  To quote baseball immortal Lou Gehrig “today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.” As I re-read his farewell speech a lot of it resonated with me even though I’m not to my knowledge dying and he was.  I’m blessed and somewhat lucky and I am grateful for all that I have experienced at NMCP.  I will leave many friends and if I am lucky enough hope to continue my career as a chaplain in Navy Medicine and return to Portsmouth, perhaps to finish my Navy career.  When I depart on Thursday it will be with a grateful heart and I will miss those that I worked with at NMCP. I am fortunate in one respect that my next assignment is a Naval Hospital and that I will know a good number of the staff at it from my time at NMCP or other duty stations.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Baseball, Military, Pastoral Care, philosophy, PTSD, remembering friends, US Navy

Rehab Assignments

There are times in life that many of us experience some kind of injury; physical, emotional or spiritual that puts us in the position that we cannot function at the level that we are accustomed to doing. For some people this might be the result of some kind of traumatic event, perhaps a serious illness or physical injury or even something that causes us to lose faith in God or in whatever higher power that we ascribe meaning in our life.

As any regular reader of this site will recognize I interpret or frame much of my life experience through baseball and baseball analogies. In my case I frequently frame that through pitchers or older ball players that have encountered injury or rough spots in their careers.  I think about pitchers a lot because the craft of pitching involves such a degree of connection between the physical and mental dimensions of the game.  There are many times when a pitcher suffers a physical injury that requires changes in his delivery or the kinds of pitches that he throws.  When this happens it also affects his mind as he may lose confidence or over think what he is doing as he tries to make adjustments, also while experiencing residual physical pain.  Some pitchers are able to make the adjustment, for others the adjustment is more difficult and they are not as effective as they were previously. Still others either cannot recover from the physical injury or never make the adjustments and end up out of the game.

Those that experience injury as they recover are sent back to the minor leagues, or if they are in the high minor leagues to a lower level league in order to get back to the level that they were before the injury.  Even when they get back to the majors or to triple-A the pitching coach and manager may still go easy on them in order to ensure they are 100% and do not re-injure themselves.  This is called a rehab assignment and it is part of the game.

In the military we seldom get that chance unless the injuries are so significant that we need to put on some kind of limited duty and a placed in a non-deployable status until they are considered fully fit for duty. I returned from Iraq in February 2008 with several nagging chronic physical injuries to my ankles, knees and shoulders and an elbow which coalesced to sideline me from much physical activity. Even worse I was dealing with PTSD which was not recognized or diagnosed until late June of 2008 when I was falling apart having flashbacks, night terrors, chronic anxiety, insomnia and moods that alternated from anger to despondency.  When I left EOD Group Two I for my assignment to Portsmouth Naval Medical Center I was still in denial of sorts, though I knew that I was in ragged shape I went into the assignment trying to act as if and perform as if I was uninjured.  I threw myself into the job pouring working on the average 65-75 hours a week for almost a year mostly on the ICU and PICU before my boss finally stopped me and put me on more administrative duties with minimal clinical duties and plenty of time to get back in physical, emotional and spiritual shape.  Not many senior officers would give a subordinate that kind of grace nor would they rate an officer under them with an eye on their potential versus what they were doing for them at the moment.  Mine did, I will be forever grateful to Chaplain Jessie Tate for giving me that grace.

Eventually his patience as well as my hard work and a lot of God’s grace were rewarded. Things started to turn around in December of 2009 in what I call my “Christmas miracle.”   Slowly my physical injuries healed and I can now say that I am in as good or better shape than when I went to Iraq. I had to make some adjustments to my physical training regimen as well as confidence to believe that I was not going to re-injure myself.  My mindset in my physical training went from timid to confident as I gained in strength, speed, dexterity and endurance.  This was coupled with the loss of 16 pounds and a body fat percentage that went from 32% (when I ballooned from 167 to 194 pounds between April and November of 2009) down to 22% as of last week.  Spiritually I began to believe again. Most of the time after Iraq I struggled with faith sometimes even doubting the existence of God or at best feeling alienated and rejected by him and many of his people.  My spirituality has changed as has the way I approach my faith being much less doctrinaire to relational focusing on the grace, love and mercy of God and to trying to show that to others as St Francis said “preach the Gospel at all times, use words when necessary.”  Psychologically I was able to come to grips with my PTSD and make the adjustments that I needed so that I might be able to function.  I am much more in touch with feelings and what is going on in me than I was before and my observation of other people has improved, I guess once a person has had everything fall apart that they become more sensitive even to the unspoken things when they are around others.

In a sense this assignment became a rehab assignment for me. I was able to come back and become not only functional but able to be in the game again.  When I was selected for promotion my boss had no hesitancy in nominating me for the supervisory Chaplain at Naval Hospital Camp LeJuene. I can see the future again and it is good.  My plan was for Portsmouth to be an “All-Star” game for me where my clinical and academic skills would enable me to be a water walker but it was different, it was a fight to remain in the game a fight to regain confidence, overcome injury and return to relatively normal life.  My rehab assignment is over and I am back in the game performing at a level that I expect.

For those that are in similar circumstances I hope that you have a boss with the grace to help you through the difficult times and not abandon you as “broken” or of little use to the organization. I know that happens in the military and outside of the military, even in churches.

Peace and blessings,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Baseball, christian life, faith, Pastoral Care, philosophy, PTSD, Tour in Iraq