Day 24: A painful journey from the V.A to the Cleveland Clinic

I am not going to lie; there are times that I forget that my husband is broken. Maybe that’s not the best way to word it. Should I say permanently injured? I don’t know. Tyler joined the Army at eighteen in the best shape of his life, and now about six months from his 40th birthday, we are spending our fifth day in the hospital, hoping to get some relief for the pain in his back. Only this time, we’re at the Cleveland Clinic instead of the V. A. 

You’d think after almost eight years, I’d be used to his limitations. But I am not. I 110% blame him. Tyler is amazing and pushes through the pain more than he should. To give you an idea of how bad things are, he was medically retired from the Army for how destroyed his discs were in his lower back. Before thirty, he had one of the destroyed discs replaced, his back fused, and has two rods and four screws. However, if you looked at Tyler, you’d never know he lives in constant pain. 

Probably one of the worst things about his injuries; unless he takes his shirt off, there are no visible scars. I know they are there, but it’s easy to forget. Tyler still goes about his life, mind you, sometimes slower than others our age but still more active than most. 

He coaches our son’s 10U rec baseball team, and he isn’t just sitting on the side. I can not count how often I watched Tyler and wondered if his brain had fallen out because he was catching for Mark as he warmed up to pitch. I’m certain that I pray every time he squats down that he’ll be able to stand back up because I’m far too tiny to help. Luckily there are some big dads, and his assistant coaches can help if that is ever the case. 

In December, on his way home from work, Tyler hurt his back after changing the tire on the truck. When he got home, he was very stiff and was having trouble getting off the couch. I suggested that we go to the V. A., and he shot down the idea. He told me he just needed rest. So Saturday rolled around, and I did my best not to bug him, which felt impossible since he had promised to put up the Christmas lights. However, the rest did not help, and when he woke up Sunday, he told me, “we’ll go. Something is wrong.” 

The V. A. doesn’t give painkillers anymore; however, they did give him something to help manage the pain. The Er gave him two shots, one was a steroid, and the other was a muscle relaxer. A few days later, we were surprised to find out that the Er doctor could get him in for an MRI. It had nearly been two years from his last one, and no matter how many times he told his primary care doctor, they never sent him to get a new one. 

Tyler got the results of his MRI back through the patient portal with no call from a physician at the hospital. So we were left to try and decode what was going wrong with him. As he waited to hear back from pain management or anyone from the hospital, his back went out again. 

At the end of January, and the beginning of 2023 baseball season, Tyler was in pain. It was so bad that he called me and said we needed to go to the Er. I called my parents and asked if they could watch the kids as we went to the Er. Of course, they said yes. 

After checking in, a nurse came in with a wheelchair. Tyler tried to refuse it, but she was very convincing, and thankfully he took the ride because it would have been a very long and slow walk. 

We had been to the V. A. hospital nearly once a month for the last three months and it had been a pure shit show. Just trust me when I say you never want the government involved with your healthcare. It has been a nightmare of a fight trying to get Tyler taken care of. It took putting the V. A. on blast on social media, before we finally started to get somewhere regarding his health care. Only it was far too little too late. His health was declining, and the injections scheduled at the end of February were looking to be too long down the road. 

The Er doctor gave Tyler the steroid shot again to alleviate the pain. That way, we could make it to the February appointment. The nurse came out with a cane, and he outright refused it. But I took the cane and threatened to beat him with it if he didn’t use it. The nurse laughed and asked how long we were together. She also asked him to blink twice if he needed help. Tyler, of course, blinked rapidly. 

Since he likes to pretend nothing is wrong when he’s on the field, I’m a bit hypervigilant watching him during practice. And at the beginning of the season, one of the mom’s noticed that I looked stressed. Anita was Adelyn’s cheerleading coach in the fall, and that was probably why I unleashed everything when she asked if I was okay. I didn’t mean to word vomit everything we’ve been dealing with with the V. A., but I did. Anita sat and listened to all the crap we’ve dealt with the V. A., and her ex-husband listened too. I knew she was a nurse, and I assumed he was a doctor because he always wore scrubs. I didn’t know he was a neurosurgeon specializing in spines and degenerative disc diseases. 

After I explained all the shit we’ve been going through over the last seven years, Dr. Miller asked if we had a copy of Tyler’s mri, which, oddly enough, I had the write-up in my email. I showed it to him, and Dr. Miller said, “that was the worst thing he’s ever read.” I wasn’t surprised because the medical care, or lack thereof, we were used to getting at the V. A. had to trickle down and into the imaging department. So I told him we’d bring the cd to the next practice. 

So by the rec baseball season opening day, we had to visit the V. A. twice for how severe his back pain had gotten. Even though Tyler is in chronic pain and probably shouldn’t be coaching baseball, he has never allowed the pain to get in the way of doing what he loves. Because if he does let the pain stop him, then what does he have left?

I know I joked at the beginning of this blog about Tyler falling down and not getting back up, but it’s not really a joke. His bulging discs have been pressing on the nerves in his back, affecting his legs. Tyler’s right leg has lost feeling, and when he steps, he doesn’t entirely feel what his leg is doing. 

A few days after Tyler gave Dr. Miller the cd of his MRI, Tyler told me that the pain was terrible. He didn’t actually need to tell me. I could see it. He had trouble standing from a sitting position, and his legs had trouble supporting him. I suggested we go back to the V. A. He complained that there was no point since they wouldn’t give him anything for the pain, and he had an epidural scheduled for a few weeks. But I reminded him that the Er gave him a steroid shot, and it did help a little with the pain. Instead of going to the ER, as I suggested, he waited. But he did promise that if it got worse, he’d go. 

The following day was the opening day of baseball. Tyler coached, but this time he actually sat. His thigh started to pulsate, making it even more challenging to stand. I was worried and told him we should go to the hospital, but he said no because Mark had a travel game. He promised if he felt worse after the game, we’d go. I teased him a little about waiting, but I was glad to know he was toying with the idea. 

I didn’t join him for the second set of games. I went home with our five-year-old and three-month-old and started making dinner. As I cooked, I had a strange feeling that something terrible had happened. For the last hour, I had not received a text or phone call, and usually, he would text me randomly throughout the games, like stupid memes or updates on how Mark was playing. However, it had been radio silence. 

Then the game ended, and shortly after Tyler would usually call to tell me about the game, I received a call. 

“I’m only telling you this because I know how pissed off you’d be if you heard it from someone else.” 

I don’t know what ran through my mind other than it couldn’t be that bad because he was driving. 

“My leg gave out,” he said before I could ask. 

I tried not to laugh, but I did. “Excuse me, what?” 

“A foul ball came over the fence, and I stepped to catch it, and my leg gave out.” he was laughing while explaining what happened. 

“Did you at least catch the ball?” I asked. 

“No! That’s the worst part.” 

I waited until he got home to hear the whole story. Again I called my parents and asked them if they could watch the kids as we went to the hospital. I think it was becoming routine at this point. I finished cooking, inhaled my food, and packed up things for the littles in case they had to stay the night. 

I heard the door open and nearly pounced on him. I asked him if he was okay, and he said not really. His thigh was still pulsating. It looked extremely uncomfortable and weird. He grabbed a bowl of dinner and ate, explaining what had happened. 

A ball went over the fence, and he barely stepped back. I asked if he was on the sidewalk or stairs, and he said no, it was level ground. One minute he was fine, and the next, he was on the ground laughing. A few other dads laughed with him, but I think they did it because they were equally uncomfortable with what happened. 

One dad, Larry, a physician assistant who used to work for a nero, walked over and asked if Tyler was okay. He said yes. Then Larry asked if Tyler was going to just lay there or wanted help. Tyler chose to lie on the ground for a while. 

A few moms checked on him, and one yelled at the other laughing dads and then yelled at Tyler for not using his cane. That just made Tyler laugh more. His motto is if you can’t laugh at it, then what’s the point? 

He said that after getting off the ground, Dr. Miller called to discuss his MRI, and Tyler told him about his leg going out. Dr. Miller said his nurse would call in a steroid pack for him and try to get a hold of him on Monday. She would be starting the process with the V. A. To get his case transferred to Dr. Miller because what the V. A. had planned wouldn’t help fix what had made Tyler’s leg go out. 

As he told me about the incident, Tyler rubbed his leg. It had been pulsing for eight hours, and it was fatigued. The muscle hurt, and Tyler couldn’t fully support himself. We dropped the kids off and headed to the V. A. 

They gave him steroid injections and sent us on our way. 

About a week or so after that Er visit, we were at the V. A. again, only this time for a scheduled visit. Tyler’s pain management doctor had him set up to get his nerves burned, and the procedure that he was supposed to go through was to see if he was a candidate or not. Everything seemed to go reasonably smoothly. He went in relatively close to his appointment time and was out in the approximate amount of time.  I was ready for him to tell me something had gone wrong. Nothing ever goes smoothly with the V. A. 

So when I asked him how everything went, I shouldn’t have been surprised when he said they changed everything once he went back with the doctor. 

“Well, what did they do to you?” I asked as we were walking to schedule his next appointment. 

“I got an epidural,” he told me. “the doctor said he looked at my MRI and said what the pain management doctor wanted to do wouldn’t help without doing the epidural first. And since I was already there, they just had to get a different pack.” 

I guess that’s the only bonus of being at the V. A. If they change their mind about what they want to do, everything is at their disposal. It seemed the epidural helped some with the pain. He could walk without a cane if he used a knee brace to give him enough support. The epidural worked well enough to avoid returning to the Er as we waited for Dr. Miller’s office to be approved by the V. A. 

About two weeks later, we got a call from Dr. Miller’s office. They were ready to schedule Tyler’s procedure. The nurse apologized to Tyler for it taking so long. She said there was a miscommunication between the offices. Without her even saying what the issue was, Tyler asked, “did you receive information for an R. Jenkins?” and the nurses said, “yes! I couldn’t figure out why they kept sending me the wrong person’s information, and finally, I saw that Tyler was the middle name.” 

I don’t know how many times this has happened. Tyler always forgets to tell people that he goes by his middle name. And I don’t think he thought about mentioning anything to Dr. Miller’s office since he’s so used to doing everything at the V. A. with his last name and social. 

Tyler received the call Monday, and by the end of the week, I was waiting in the lobby of the Cleveland Clinic to take him home. 

After the procedure, Dr. Miller came out to talk to me. He explained that Tyler would be a little sore and that in the next 48 hours, things may hurt slightly, but it should be better by the end of the week. He reminded me that Tyler should take it easy and not overdo anything, and I said that would not be a problem. Usually, I’m the problem asking him to do things for me because I’m too tiny. Dr. Miller also recommended lots of fluids. 

“Does beer count?” I asked. 

He laughed. “No.”

 “Well, you might want to tell Tyler.” 

When Dr. Miller left, two women sitting in the lobby looked at me like I had grown two heads. 

“Was that Dr. Miller?” one asked. 

I nodded. 

“He must really like your husband. He never does that.” 

On the way home, Tyler and I talked about his procedure. The nurses kept asking if he had wanted to be satiated, and he said no. He was used to receiving the injections with localized anesthetic when he went to the V.A., but with how many times they asked, he was wondering if he should be sedated. When Dr. Miller started the procedure, Tyler and he were joking around. The first injection didn’t hurt, but the second one did. Miller said the second injection was on the nerve causing the most pain. The third injection hurt the worst. Dr. Miller had poked him once, but Tyler’s mental rod was in the way, and he had to dig around a bit. Dr. Miller apologized for the pain, and Tyler said, “don’t worry, I’ll just make your son run, so he hurts as much as me.” 

I don’t think the nurses were ready for the banter between the two men. 

We’re four days out from the nerve injections, and Tyler says he can tell that the feeling is finally coming back in his leg. Today as he was going down the stairs, he knew his leg was still a little weak, but it wouldn’t be long before he wouldn’t need the knee brace anymore. 

I just hope we’ll be able to avoid hospitals for a while. 

Leave a Reply