04 November, 2006

This Is What It's Like

Valour-IT helps recipients realize they can continue to do many of the things they did before; they just have to find different ways of doing them. Having a voice-controlled laptop can jump-start that discovery in the middle of the long and difficult recovery process.

The role Valour-IT can play was highlighted in a post by Homefront Six, writing about wounds her deployed husband "MacGyver's" dear friend recently suffered. CPT Chuck Ziegenfuss (whose hand wounds inspired Valour-IT in 2005) replied to her post from personal experience, with comments about what their newly-injured friend may be facing:

Let "MacGyver" and your friend know that it really isn't the end of the world; it's a setback. I love working with my hands, and do a lot of projects too... everything from brewing beer to refinishing furniture. It takes longer, and I have to take my time and actually watch what I am doing, instead of working by feel, and I think my playstation days ended a long time ago, but the hard thing to get through my head was that it wasn't the end of the world. You have to adapt, and the fixes are neither immediate or easy.

Things that used to be easy, or even so simple I didn't consider them, are now often insurmountable (like buttoning a cuff or collar.) I was once completely unable to bathe myself, my hands were so sensitive I couldn't hold the poofy soap things. Hell, at one point, I couldn't even wipe myself. Luckily, I was unable to kill myself, too.

CPT Z has written only briefly about this before. But this is the situation a newly-wounded soldier finds himself in, and this is where Valour-IT tries to reach them. In the middle of pain and frustration and even feelings of humiliation and inadequacy, we show that they there are things they can do, that they are not helpless. We connect them with their support system, which CPT Z writes about next:

It wasn't luck, it was love that saved me though. Carren and my Mom spent months picking up the pieces, putting me back together, and pushing me to do the little things that make up a normal day.

Don't get me wrong, I wanted to do things, but everything was so hard I had no idea where to start... They stuck by me and kept me focused. Valour-IT was a start, of course.

Valour-IT was the easy part, the one thing that didn't cause pain to learn. There is a slight learning curve with the software, but CPT Z has remarked that the mild frustration was worth it. He continues to describe the long recovery process:

As swelling went down and "angry" nerves calmed, I slowly regained strength and flexibility. I re-learned how to do things like get dressed in something other than sweats, and (the Matterhorn of challenges) tie my kid's shoes. (It still takes a while).

It's been 17 months now, and I am so far from where I was on 22 June 05 that it's hard to believe it was only a year and a half.

The surgeons and nurses at the Army Medical Centers are geniuses, as are the occupational and physical therapists--all the kings horses and all the king's men, as it were.

[...] As I look to the future, I see a lot of changes... I'm probably never going to teach the boy to throw a fastball properly, and never start that second career as a brain surgeon. Okay, so that was a long shot to begin with.

Things get better. Even if my injuries had been worse, things would've eventually gotten better. I doubt things will ever be the way they were (unless I sprout some nerves and bones--damn you, BushMcHalliburton, why can't we do more stem cell research?) but then again, it'll never be last Thursday again either. Plans change, life changes. Sure, when the movie we wanted to see isn't showing, we see something else. Not hard, really. When something requires not only a conscious decision to do something else, but long, determined action(s) to make it happen (some of which fail, miserably) it is much harder to see the point in trying, and continuing. You continue anyway, making adjustments as you go [more].

These last paragraphs show a man of strength and maturity whom I am so proud to call friend. Like he says, it's been 17 long months. I take a very small amount of pride at his words that "Valour-IT was a start, of course."

Please help us make sure that other soldiers like CPT Z can look back on their own long roads of recovery and realize that it started with a laptop that showed them what they could do, and kept them in touch with the world during the kind of long and challenging time CPT Z has faced.

Please. Donate to Valour-IT.

Update: CPT Z's wife, Carren, writes about Valour-IT from her perspective.