#ThankfulThursday: Reflections Upon My First and Second “Tours” of Walter Reed

If you remember, I had written for our Memorial Day article mentioning about a family member receiving treatment at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. Now that my family member made it “official” on social media that they are being treated for cancer, I think it is safe to say (at least), that the family member I was referring to all this time is my brother. I just returned from a “second tour” of two weeks (last time I stayed a little over three weeks in May), and I am still amazed and inspired. I wanted to take a moment to share a slice of what I had learned during my most recent trip there.

As always, the medical and support staff at Walter Reed are phenomenal. I feel that my words do not reflect how much I admire and respect all that they do at the hospital for active military and veterans. The medical team working with my brother has been diligent (sometimes over-diligent, but that’s okay). He is still not affected by nausea from the chemo (thank goodness for those newer anti-emetics!) However, he was more fatigued this time around (and lost more hair). Seeing him this way was kind of hard for me. What had kept me up was his attitude through it all. He has kept a positive attitude and, whenever he would go in for an appointment (for the infusion, labs or follow-up with the doctor) he would be like, “Let’s do this!” I am very happy and grateful for the way he has been handling this.

Like last time, we were staying at the Fisher House. This time, however, were a different mix of patients from my last visit. I spoke to a few of them and listened to some of their stories. Between their stories and the stories of my brother, I got a glimpse of active military life. There was one man who was there with his mother – I am going to call him “Joe.” When we – my brother and I – first saw him, he looked like anyone else, except that he was visibly missing the right half of his head. I was amazed that he was able to stand, walk and speak pretty well. Later, when I struck up a conversation over breakfast with him and his mother, and I learned a lot more about him.

About 13 years ago, his convoy was hit by an IED (that’s Improvised Explosive Device). The shock and shrapnel hit him in his head. One of the people in his unit refused to leave without him, despite others telling them to “just go.” He wasn’t expected to survive the night. He was flown to a hospital in Germany, where his mother met up with him. He was alive, but still wasn’t expected to survive very long. He was stabilized and brought to Walter Reed. I am not sure what happened next (they skipped that part of the story), but eventually, he did awaken and was in a wheelchair at first. His medical team remade part of his skull with a plastic-like polymer, so his brain could still be protected (of course). They are here now because that polymer “shield” had gotten infected and they had to remove it. Now, they are preparing to put a titanium one in its place.

Joe can still understand what you are saying and he can keep up in a conversation. Sometimes, if you mention something that strikes a memory in him, he will tell you. He said that his neurologist uses him as an example for his lectures at the teaching hospital. They think that his brain made new connections to compensate for what is lost. He learned to walk on a therapy horse, because their hips move similar to ours when they walk. I then learned that he is blind in his left eye and doesn’t see very well in his right. Sometimes, he has to walk with one arm on his Mother for guidance. He still remembers music/songs that he likes and is re-learning to play the bass guitar (again, I was amazed because the right-side of the brain supposedly controls creativity and music appreciation). The one blessing in all of this, is that he has kept a positive attitude, despite all that had happened. Yes, he had been frustrated at times when he couldn’t do or remember something. No signs of depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) either. Otherwise, he has been pretty happy, he said that he would still enlist, even after knowing that this would happen.

Hearing from their experiences has given me more perspective on things. There were times I would feel down and hopeless. Yet, my brother and Joe still maintained a positive attitude, despite what they are going through. I am definitely inspired and I am humbled by their experiences.

So, my dear reader, I hope that my short story gave you some inspiration and perspective. Again, I realize there are times where we feel overwhelmed and stressed with the tasks of daily living. It may help to try and take a deep breath, then think to ourselves, “This is only temporary; this will come to pass.” Also, it would help to remember that keeping a positive attitude while weathering the current storm can help us emotionally and physically in the end (ex: less stress, less strain on the heart, less emotional toll). I am also a big fan of “talking it out,” because sometimes, by saying it out loud, it helps with the problem’s “release.” Plus, you may get some needed advice and guidance from the person you are discussing this with. There are also crisis hotlines available that one can call or even text – some depending on your area, but most are nationwide. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has a list of crisis lines available (in Chicago, they are listed here: http://namichicago.org/en/crisis-lines/), which includes the Suicide Prevention Hotline as well (1-800-273-TALK).

Is there someone that you know or met in your life that gave you as much inspiration as Joe and my Brother had given me? Feel free to share in the comment box below!

–Maeven

Meal Prep Monday: Mexican Enchiladas

First of all, I would like to apologize for the gap in postings.  First, it was due to the Thanksgiving holiday, and I was away for a while. Not too long after I had returned, I had received some awful news – one of my younger brothers had died due to suicide.

I was numb with shock, and could barely put a thought together, let alone words on paper.  At least now, I am back.  I wanted to share a recipe that we have in the family that I had also shared with my brother, Christopher.  After rolling the enchiladas (as you will read about shortly), we started doing the “Little Monsters” dance from Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” video  with mole on our fingers.   We were very silly and it was a fun time had by all.

This recipe brings a lot of good memories for me (in addition to the one I just shared about Christopher), and I hope that it brings a lot of good memories for you as well.

Enchiladas can be made with a variety of fillings.  In our family recipe, we use chorizo, potatoes and cheese.  The mole is similar to the one in this recipe: http://www.mexicoinmykitchen.com/2013/05/red-enchiladas-sauce-recipereceta.html

Mole (Sauce):

Dried Chile Ancho  and either Chile Guajillo or Chile Pasilla (one package of each, 1:1 ratio).

Brown Sugar (1 tablespoon or to taste) – bonus points if you use the Mexican brown sugar!

Chicken Stock (1 small can)

Tomato Paste (1 tablespoon)

Garlic (1 or 2 cloves, chopped)

Enchilada (Parts):

Corn Tortillas – 1 or 2 packages

Potato (Regular or Sweet) (1 – chopped in one-half inch pieces)

Melting Cheese such as Chihuahua (not the dog, it’s a type of cheese from the region of Chihuahua Mexico) – shredded

Chorizo (beef, pork or Soyrizo)

Yellow or sweet onions chopped

Shredded lettuce

Tomatoes (chopped/sliced/or grape tomatoes)

Vegetable or canola oil

Preparation:

It may be advisable to roast chiles on a dry saucepan in order to get more flavor.

Boil water in a pot.  Once it starts boiling, add chiles and let it boil for 30 minutes.  Take off heat, drain and let cool.  (NOTE: if you have a food mill, you can just drain chiles and place in food mill.  The finished product should be a paste.  Discard what stems, seeds and skin is left in the food mill.)  Once chiles are cool enough for you to handle, remove stems, seeds and skin as best you can.  Place cleaned chiles in blender.   Blend Chiles with garlic and tomato paste.  The mixture should end up as a thick paste.  Add Chicken stock until it becomes a sauce (thickness will be like Sriracha, but not runny like water.  This will make the mole easier to handle with the tortillas).  Taste the mixture – if it tastes bitter, you can add brown sugar to taste to “neutralize” it.  Set aside.

Mole – aka Elixir of the Gods!

Place a sauté pan on medium-high heat.  Empty out contents of Chorizo from sleeve onto pan along with potato pieces.  Heat until potato is tender and chorizo is warmed through.  When done, set aside.

Chorizo & Sweet Potato

Enchilada-rolling set-up

Heat oil in a saucepan – you don’t need a lot, maybe an inch or two deep.   With this step, we will be placing a tortilla in the oil until the edges are crispy (be careful not to leave it in too long or it becomes one big tortilla chip).  Once the edges are crisp, remove with tongs, let some of the oil drip off (in a way this helps cool it off some).  Then place tortilla in mole mixture.  Coat tortilla with mole.

Once the tortilla is coated with the mole, place one or two teaspoons of filling (ie Chorizo +/- potato).  You can also add cheese and some of the chopped onions as well (use only one teaspoon of Chorizo/potato mixture if you do this.  Roll up the enchilada and place into a serving dish.

The Finished Product

Once all of the enchiladas are rolled up and on the plate, you can garnish with extra shredded cheese.   You may also place in 325 degree oven to re-warm before serving.   Serve with lettuce and tomatoes as a side.
Recipe:

http://www.mexicoinmykitchen.com/2013/05/red-enchiladas-sauce-recipereceta.html

 

Depression can affect anyone.  Please speak to someone if you feel sad, stressed and/or angry.  It can be family, a friend, if not your doctor, as long as it is someone that you trust.  You are not alone!

National Suicide Prevention Hotline

800-273-TALK (8255) Press 1 (Spanish, Press 2)

https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ (with online chat)

 

For Hearing Impaired:

1-800-799-4TTY (4889)

https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ (with online chat)

 

Veterans Crisis Line

800-273-TALK (8255) Press 1; or text 838255

https://www.veteranscrisisline.net/SignsOfCrisis/?gclid=CNyXn4bAgdECFcW3wAody-INsg (online chat available)

 

LGBT Youth Suicide Hotline

866-4U-Trevor

http://www.thetrevorproject.org/ (Text & Chat Options available)

 

http://www.suicide.org/index.html