Thursday, March 22, 2007

No Man Should Have To!

It was spring of 1996. The pain lasted for over a week. For a week he had treated it with antacids, and they had provided periodic relief. But the pain kept coming back. On Thursday, while driving to work, he coughed, deep, and his head swam briefly. When he opened his eyes, he could only see out of the left one, the right one showed only a small hole of vision but it was looking down and to the right. He wadded up a tissue and stuck it under the right lens of his sunglassses, and drove one-eyed the rest of the way to work.

By Sunday night he was drinking Pepto Bismol right from the bottle. He'd sit in the chair in the bedroom pushing his breastbone into his chest as that killed some of the pain. By 5 AM he had begun to throw up blood, likely from the antacid abuse over the past week, but he was convinced it was his stomach.

His wife had remained downstairs all night, knowing what was happening, but too worried and afraid to say anything about it. She waited. Finally he called down about the blood. He said, "Make the call."

She called the on-call HMO physician who instructed her to hang up the phone and immediately get him to the hospital. On the way in he smoked a cigarette, reasoning that if they cut open his stomach he would not be allowed to smoke for days. As they neared the hospital, he told her to go around the block so he could have one last smoke. She ignored him, pulling up in front of the ER doors she said, sharply, "Get the Hell in there! Now!" He'd already had his last smoke. He hasn't smoked a cigarette since.

At the emergency room they did a quick EKG and laid him onto a gurney in the ER. He tried to tell them, "No left arm pain, no nausea, no fainting or dizziness, just sharp unremitting pain. No family history of heart trouble, but plenty of family history with stomach woes."

They started an IV of Nitro, and another of synthetic Morphine. Nothing was touching the pain.

The doctor wanted to do a procedure called a heart catheterization.

He asked the Doctor, "What are the risks if we don't?"

The Doctor coldly replied, "Death".

In the corner, his wife started to weep.

"But I feel fine, I just hurt like Hell!"

They gave him some clot-busting medications and sent him up to ICU. His wife went to work.

In ICU a male nurse calmly told him he was an a**hole. He needed the procedure and they should do it as soon as possible. Somehow, it registered, and he relented. By this time they had to contact his wife at work to get her permission because of all the drugs he had been given.

They rushed him to the Heart Catheter Lab, and did the procedure -- three balloons worth. A rather long blockage in one of the major arteries.

That night, around midnight, he sensed a presence and looked toward the door of his ICU bay. There was a man standing there.

The man asked, "Mr. Reynolds?"

"No, I'm Wilson."

"Oh, I'm sorry, I was supposed to come in and pray with Mr. Reynolds."

"That's okay, Padre, come on in, I'll never turn down a prayer."

They prayed together for a half hour, and the minister left to find Mr. Reynolds.

Two weeks later on a followup to his hospitalization, the family Doctor told him they had revised the criteria for Diabetes, and he had Type II Diabetes. He prescribed medication and a careful diet.

In 2000 he had another episode with his heart, and another balloon angioplasty. Another in 2002.

By then the diabetes was in full control of him. He was taking three different pills at maximum dose and giving himself shots in the gut of a long lasting Insulin every night. He had added fifty pounds all around his middle. He was having trouble at work: fatigued, he would sleep much of the day, on the way to and from work, and when he got home, would go to bed early. Day after day it was the same.

A friend came by one day to compare notes on the Diabetes. He was a Vietnam Vet, a Marine, and he was getting a 50% disability for the Diabetes for exposure to Agent Orange.

He tried it, opening a claim online in the summer of 2003, knowing even if he lived, he could not work much longer, and they were just two years into a new house. He had to have some income.

In 2004, after his fourth heart attack, he got his first stent.

Three weeks later he received his denial from the VA. "You did not serve in Vietnam! You never set foot in Vietnam!"

Two weeks after that he retired on half pay from his career, unable to work any more.

He applied for Social Security Disability and was denied before he got all his paperwork in. For the next two years he sweated out the appeal process, finally winning at a court hearing in 2006. 3 blockages in the heart of more than 50%. Same condition as when he first filed. The retro money helped, but was not a final answer.

Then he heard about the latest on the VA's refusal to grant disability under Agent Orange to Blue Water Sailors. It took an officer named Haas to finally get the court's attention. They overturned the rule requiring actually being "in country".

He immediately filed again. It is still pending as the VA fights the ruling in the courts, hoping to deny covering Navy vets of the Vietnam War.

But why all the battles? Is it not enough to battle the diseases? The heart, the loss of his teeth, the peripheral neuropathy in his lower legs and feet, the skin problems, and the depression that goes along with having to fight a battle for survival every day, knowing in the end he would lose, but fighting it, so he could fight another battle, to provide for his widow after he is gone. Fighting and fighting. Fighting...his own government, the very agency that was created to care for him in return for service.

It is an emasculating concept that forty years ago when he went to war it didn't count...even though he volunteered, it didn't count...even though he engaged in combat operations, it didn't count...even though his own government had sent him literally around the world so that he could fight there, it didn't count...even though he served in a “Combat Zone”, it didn’t count…even though he received Combat Pay, it didn’t count…even though he was likely exposed to dioxins, it didn't count...that in the end, he didn't count.

And so, day after day, he fights his own deteriorating body, so he can fight his own government, so his wife won't have to fight to keep the house after he dies, so she can have enough money to bury him.

VN Vets

"With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan--to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations." -- President Abraham Lincoln

"Without a decisive naval force we can do nothing definitive, and with it, everything honorable and glorious." --President George Washington

Copyright © 2007: VNVets Blog; All Rights Reserved.

1 comment:

  1. I have filed a claim for agent orange exposure in oct 2009. I have been exposed to agent orange and was also in the navy and also proving to be in inland vietnam waters. I have had a heart attack, open heart surgery and 5 stenths.I have heart disease, lukemia, and diabities and all confirmed by va doctors that it was caused from agent orange. I have been to Washington Dc and went to the National Archieves in College Park Maryland and got the ships deck logs that the VA needed to approve my claim. My claim is sitting at the DRO office now in Waco Texas waiting for an approval. It has been a long battle and i hope my body doesnt give up before my claim gets approved.. Tom Texas