Horses, heroes, headstones, hospitals, and history

We’ve been living here at the Fort Sam Houston RV Park for ten days. It’s not what I’d call a scenic location, but on my fitness walks and drive-abouts, I’ve seen some interesting things.

OK, some parts are scenic. It's Texas in the spring, so there are wildflowers lining the roads.

OK, some parts are scenic. It’s springtime in Texas, so there are wildflowers lining the roads.

I’m used to smiling and waving at heroes who drive by me while I’m walking. They often lift a camouflage-clad arm in greeting as they politely slow down and pull toward the center of the road to allow me plenty of safe space. Courtesy and respect as the norm: a military base bonus for sure!

But one day, I saw a different kind of hero coming toward me in the passenger seat of a sedan: dude wearing full-on Superman shirt. Not just a Superman t-shirt like you can pick up at Target. I’m talking costume. It was shiny. And he was muscle-y. I bet my ear buds he had on tights with that thing. Had I been in a car instead of on foot, I may have followed, just to see how that played out.

And right around the corner from the RV park lies the Fort Sam Equestrian Center. I’ve got friends who take their kids there for equine therapy and riding lessons, so one morning I walked over to check it out.FullSizeRender 2

This is Barry, the barn cat. Friendly chap. He trotted right up to greet me. Also, achoo!

This is Barry, the barn cat. Friendly chap. He trotted right up to greet me.
Achoo!

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Today’s walk was sunny, but somber. I chose to head over to the cemetery, thinking it would be a nice, quiet place to think and reflect as I puffed along.

But as I drew close to the gate, I heard three volleys of rifle fire, and I knew.

One of our nation’s heroes was being laid to rest.

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A hero was committed here today, with full military honors including funeral caisson.

The deceased was buried with full military honors, including a funeral caisson. Not all service members are eligible for those. If you’re into such things, and don’t mind deciphering a bit of Armyspeak, you can read about eligibility requirements here.

Things took a lighter turn on my way back home, as I passed by an old vet on the golf course. “Step it up, step it up!” he shouted with a grin. “Yes, sir,” I replied, switching from walking to marching in a hurry. He laughed. “Aww, I’m just kidding. You’re looking great!”

I heart those old guys.

And finally, here’s a story of mistaken identity, combined with history, and progress. Feels a little like a ghost story, really:

It starts when I lived in San Antonio the first time, as a college freshman in 1987. A friend had a bad asthma attack, and since he was the son of an active duty Army officer, he was taken to Brooke Army Medical Center for a few days of treatment and observation. My roommate and I took a taxi to go visit him, and I remember pulling up in front of this enormous, imposing, intimidating, straight-out-of-the-movies stone edifice — and feeling really rather afraid to go in.

We timidly asked someone in uniform how to find our friend. He’d been admitted to the pediatric ward, and if you can picture a hospital ward from a 1950’s movie, your mind’s in the right place: cavernous room with high ceilings, metal cots lining the walls, white privacy curtains, a central nurses’ desk, sepia-toned surroundings — all of it.

It was like stepping back in time, and we. were. petrified.

Flash forward nearly a quarter century, to my family’s arrival here on PCS orders in 2010, and making my first appointment for an annual exam. And finding out said exam would be performed at none other than Brooke Army Medical Center.

Gulp.

You mean… I’d have to go back to… back to that place? The haunted hospital?

I mapped it. I got in the car. And when I got there, I stared with my mouth open for who knows how long, at this:

(Photo borrowed from srmc.amedd.army.mil)

(Photo borrowed from srmc.amedd.army.mil)

OK, that was not the building I remembered. At all. And for a few years, I assumed the old hospital had been torn down, and this one built in its place.

Nope.

Turns out it’s a got too much history.

The old BAMC is still here, repurposed to serve as headquarters for US Army South (which, coincidentally, was located in Puerto Rico when we lived there, from 1999-2002).

Two days ago, I finally set out to find it.

Now that's what I remember! There's a great timeline and slide show of the hospital's history at this link.

Now that’s the building I remember!
The “old BAMC” opened in 1938. There’s a great description and slide show of the hospital’s history at this link. It’s got lots of old-timey photos, which I like.

It’s not on a part of the base one would normally just drive by, which explains why I’ve managed not to stumble upon it after nearly 6 years of schlepping over here for medical appointments and commissary shopping.

Found it! But I’m still afraid to go in.

We are literally in the hospital’s shadow, but can’t get there from here

See this map?

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This map is why we chose to stay at the Fort Sam Houston RV Park for Tim’s surgery (detailed here, if you missed it).  Brooke Army Medical Center, BAMC, is circled in purple. The RV park is circled in red. See how close they are? Doesn’t it look convenient?

And here’s the view of the hospital from our site.

I am standing at the end of our parking spot. No zoom.

I am standing at the end of our parking spot. No zoom.

Looks like we could walk there — easily. But no. Thanks to fences, train tracks, and barbed wire, it ain’t happening. And because of random road blocks, base security, construction, and mystifying Army logic, we can’t even drive there the quick way.

Instead, the trip takes 9 different turns; exiting one gate and entering another (with the customary armed sentries, ID card check, and slalom course of barriers); and a total drive time of anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes, depending on whether or not we have to wait for troop formations to cross the street.

By comparison? When we lived in our house, I could get to BAMC in 30 minutes, from 22 miles away.

Strike 1: shitty commute

Strike 1: shitty commute

But let’s get back to those train tracks. They are active. Very active. Perhaps the most active train tracks on the planet, with locomotives passing by at least once every hour, day and night. And at night, they’re a bazillion times louder, and the sadistic engineers seem to enjoy pulling on the horn for nice, long, ear-shattering blasts. Every hour. All night. It’s really not conducive to sleep at all, much less a peaceful recovery from major surgery, even with regular doses of narcotic pain relievers.

Strike 2: loud fucking trains

Strike 2: loud fucking trains

And to top it all off, no wifi or cable. None.

Strike 3: electronic dark ages

Strike 3: electronic dark ages

Yyyyep. Three strikes and we’re out. We’d originally planned to stay for the 30-day maximum, but that has really become an unattractive — and probably unhealthy — option. If Tim gets the all-clear from the surgeon at his follow-up appointment on Monday, we’re moving out on Tuesday. Hell, I’ll take 0630 reveille at the Air Force base over this business any day. And every day, as it were.

On the positive side of this coin, Tim’s adrenalectomy was a success, and although he had a rough ride coming out of anesthesia, he was able to eat normally and walk around the next day, and had to spend only one overnight in the hospital.

Yes, they called him "Sir," even when he was puking into an emesis basin. Care was top notch, with only one issue. "Just once, I'd like a tech who is over 12."

Yes, they called him “Sir,” even when he was puking into an emesis basin.
Care was top notch, with only one issue.
“Just once, could I get a corpsman who looks older than 12?”

And here at home in the Toad, Nurse Lola is on duty. And by “on duty,” I mean trying to beat me to Tim’s side every damn time, and sneaking into the bedroom when he’s supposed to be resting.

"See? You turned your back for that one second, and I walked in here to stand guard. I win."

“See? You turned your back for that one second, and I walked in here to serve as guard dog and charge nurse. I win.”

But this human nurse has purple streaks in her hair, not to mention opposable thumbs. Pretty sure I win.

But this here human nurse now has sassy purple streaks in her hair, not to mention opposable thumbs.
Pretty sure that means I win.

Important update on things that aren’t working right, one of which involves surgery

Katy Perry had Left Shark.

Tim has Left Adrenal Gland.

It produces too much aldosterone, which is why it’s being ejected from the game next month. Ready for a little medical education in an RV lifestyle blog?

I’ll try to make this very long story (6 months worth of doctor’s appointments, imaging, testing, and waiting, to which I obliquely referred in this post) a little bit shorter:

Although Tim had no obvious lifestyle or dietary risk factors (genetic factors are an unknown because he was adopted), he was diagnosed with high blood pressure a little over ten years ago, in his late 30’s, and has been on medication ever since.

Within the last 3-5 years, he’s also had very low potassium levels, as in, “Sir? Are you sure you’re feeling OK? Because your readings are barely above the mandatory hospitalization mark.” Hello, gigantic horse pill potassium supplements.

Then last summer, right about the time we moved into the RV, Tim internet-stumbled upon a rare condition called Primary Aldosteronism, and asked his doctors to start the testing process.

“In primary aldosteronism, your adrenal glands produce too much aldosterone, causing you to lose potassium and retain sodium. The excess sodium in turn holds onto water, increasing your blood volume and blood pressure”

High blood pressure. Low potassium. Ah haaaaaa.

“Diagnosis and treatment of primary aldosteronism are important because people with this form of high blood pressure have a higher risk of heart disease and stroke. Also, the high blood pressure associated with primary aldosteronism may be curable.”

Ohhhhhhh. So… curing it means no more meds?

“Options for people with primary aldosteronism include medications, lifestyle modifications and surgery.”

Turns out that surgery is indeed an option for Tim, as the left adrenal gland was determined quite clearly to be the culprit. Had both glands been overproducing aldosterone, then the only recourse would have been daily, lifelong medication in the form of a hormone blocker — because like kidneys, you can live with one adrenal gland, but not with none.

Anyway, once the pesky left one’s out, Tim will be able to discontinue his potassium supplement for sure, and his BP meds can either be significantly reduced or eliminated entirely. So it’s a good thing, and we’re thankful we’ve got the military healthcare benefits to make it happen.

What it means though, is that we’ll be putting off our rolling adventures for another few months. Surgery is scheduled for 3/23, and it’s followed by 4-6 weeks of recovery and follow-up appointments to make sure the remaining adrenal gland picks up the slack, so San Antonio is home through at least the end of April.

Two really cool things

  1. We’re talking laparoscopic, robot-assisted surgery. Robot, y’all. Oh, how I wish I could watch!
  2. Tim’s surgeon is the same doc who saw me for follow-ups after my breast cancer surgery two years ago, and he remembered me when we showed up for Tim’s consult on Thursday. I greeted him with a cheerful, “Hi, Dr. N. You’ve seen me before. Quite a lot of me, actually!” He looked at me for a second and then said, “Oh I remember you. You’re the funny one.”

And then he drew a diagram for us, right there on the examining table paper:

The four dashes on the right side of the drawing, at the lower end of the kidney, represent 8-12mm incisions where the laparoscopic stuff goes in. If for some reason things go sideways, the doc will make a traditional incision instead, and take care of things "the old way." This will mean more pain and a longer recovery for Tim, so we're hoping all goes well with Dr. N and the Robot.

The four dashes on the right side of the drawing, at the lower end of the kidney, represent 8-12 mm incisions where the laparoscopic instruments go in.
If for some reason things go sideways during the operation, the doc will make a traditional abdominal incision instead, and take care of things “the old way.” This will mean more pain and a longer recovery for Tim, so we’re hoping all goes according to plan with Dr. N & the Robot.

And what other things aren’t working? As if a human gland weren’t enough?

Lola. She has retired as our hiking dog, and she still willfully ignores her bed in the most in-your-face way possible.

Lola.
Due to her age and kidney deterioration, we opted against surgery for her torn ACL. Thus, she has officially retired as our hiking dog. Also, she still willfully ignores her bed in the most in-your-face way possible.

The RV clock/thermometer. It was in here when we bought the thing, and has since decided to ignore new batteries, and submit us to 105 degrees all the time. "Honey, the thermometer's broken. We need a new RV!"

The RV clock/thermometer.
It was in here when we bought the thing, and has since decided to ignore new batteries, and make us think it’s 105 degrees all the time.
“Honey, the thermometer’s broken. We need a new RV!”