23 January 2015

The Forney Journey: Finding the new normal

June 14: Family vacation! The Forneys travel to see J.’s family in CT, then over to MI to visit LtCol Forney’s family. After a quick return to San Antonio, they head to CO for the Vail Veterans’ Program Summer Trip.  LtCol Forney goes fly-fishing, whitewater rafting and rock climbing, realizing what he is still capable of doing. The family realizes they are truly working towards their new normal.

July 14:  LtCol Forney's left shoulder is finally attended to surgically. During the mishap, his left arm was fully extended (pushing the collective down); the impact broke the humerus just below the head and the shaft of his arm drove into his shoulder socket. The surgeons have not previously attempted any surgery on it, fearing that cutting into the bone would cause severe, life-threatening infections. Now, almost 18 months later, significant HO has built up, and the surgeon does his best to clean it out and give LtCol Forney mobility in that left shoulder. It is somewhat successful, and the joint operates more smoothly, but he will never have full function of his left shoulder.

Aug 14: LtCol Forney is having a tough month of rehab; his right elbow is set in a fixed position due to new skin grafts on his right arm and so he is limited to cardio work only and very limited range of motion work. He's a bit grumpy this month.

6 Sept 14:  Wheels! LtCol Forney receives his adaptive equipment vehicle, in the form of a Chevy Traverse – modified with a spinner knob on the steering wheel with a small keypad attached which allows him to control the blinker, wipers and horn without removing his hand from the wheel. The Semper Fi Fund provides a grant in conjunction with a VA vehicle grant to defray the cost. LtCol Forney’s independence skyrockets and he is immensely grateful that he can relieve J. from the obligations of having to drive everywhere.

11-14 Sept 14: LtCol Forney and his dad make a trip to San Diego, where LtCol Forney visits with his old squadron mates. He gets the opportunity to climb back inside a CH-46 for the first time since the crash.

Oct 14: With the new vehicle comes new opportunities for rehab and LtCol Forney takes part in equine therapy, a kayak fishing program (hosted by Heroes on the Water), as well as working toward the most basic of all Marine Corps training, the run (although he states, “It “doesn't much look like running”).

He starts on the AlterG treadmill, which has an inflatable bubble that supports a portion of the user’s weight.  He works his way up to one mile at 50% of his body weight. He then moves to the CFI indoor track, where he slowly works up to almost a ¼--mile.  He also starts pool therapy, as his skin is finally healed enough to allow him to get in the water. In the water, he walks for the first time without any assistance from IDEOs, a cane or a person assisting him.

Nov 14: Two fingers on LtCol Forney’s right hand were so severely burned that the extensor tendons were significantly damaged, and the fingers curl down as a result. Surgeons install Digit Widgets to help straighten the fingers and LtCol Forney’s prepares for tendon repair surgery.

Two different types of mobility gains arrive this month: the first, a recumbent bike, generously paid for by the Semper Fi Fund, which allows LtCol Forney another option for cardio workouts and participate in local Wounded Warrior bike programs; and the second, huge gains with the prosthetic on his left arm.

The skin is finally strong enough to tolerate the weight of prosthetic arm.  LtCol Forney works through a series of custom silicone liners and temporary sockets to obtain the right fit for the myoelectric socket – a socket with a battery-powered hand and wrist that is controlled by electrical signals in the muscles. With the custom fit set, the prosthetic techs at the CFI begin fabricating his final socket.

Dec 14:  LtCol Forney receives a second type of prosthetic – a body-powered socket, which is harder on his skin, but which has a mechanical hand which opens and closes in response to the flexing of his shoulders. The family celebrates a quiet, relaxing Christmas and New Year’s at home.

By the end of 2014, LtCol Forney has had 31 surgeries, with more scheduled for 2015.

Questions for LtCol Forney:
1. What were the biggest physical gains you made during this chunk of time?
  • Making the transition from walking with a cane to without one, and then to starting to run.  However, a close second has to be getting enough strength and flexibility to get down on the floor and back up.  For a long time there, I couldn't bend enough to do that, and if I fell it took a lot of help to get me up.  It’s still ugly, but now I can at least manage.  Oh, and this will sound crazy, but I was pretty happy when I figured out how to tie my own shoes.
2. How, if at all, has your life perspective changed as a result of the mishap?
  • In one sense, it was like combat in that it taught me to not get wrapped up in the little things of day-to-day life.  On the other hand, it brought into sharp focus how independent I had been, and how important that independence was to me.  Finally, I always knew I put my family, especially J., through a lot when I was deployed, but having to rely on her entirely while I was recovering, and seeing how much she had to do that I couldn’t help with was eye opening.
3. What was the most difficult mental challenge you faced during your recovery?
  • Probably, coming to terms with my loss of independence and how much of an impact that had on my family.  Everything from limiting what we could do together as a family to seeing how much of an increased workload it put on J.  My lowest moments were when I would do something boneheaded like knock a glass of juice on the floor.  I wouldn't be able to clean it up, and then I had to watch as J. had to do it for me, on top of everything else she had to do for me and the kids.  That kind of stuff is still what drags on me most, because there are still a lot of things I can’t do.
  • As for what else to say about recovery, it’s hard to understand unless you've spent 5 months in a hospital bed losing all your strength and stamina. Everything is hard, and recovery is mind numbingly slow.  Everyone tells me my recovery has been relatively fast, and I believe them, but I’m impatient. I want to be where I used to be.  Going from being the most physically active member of the household to the least is a big change for everyone, too.  All of our roles have changed as we figure out who does what now, from taking out the garbage to changing light bulbs.  
Everything changes. The smallest details of life pile up to become the most challenging.  It just takes a long, long time for everyone to figure out the new normal. It beats the alternative, though, by a long shot.

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