Only the Intrepid
Intrepid: Characterized by resolute fearlessness, fortitude, and endurance.
As many of you know, Greg became an outpatient and joined the Warrior Transition Battalion (WTB) here at Fort Sam Houston, TX, on August 1. One week after becoming an outpatient, Greg began his intense journey of physical rehabilitation at the Center for the Intrepid (CFI). Situated next door to the Fisher House, where Greg is currently living, and across the street from the hospital where Greg spent two months, the CFI is widely considered the best rehab facility in the nation for the type of injuries Greg sustained. Below is a brief description of the CFI from the website:
“The capabilities of the CFI include state-of-the-world technologies designed to be used for rehabilitation, research, education, and training. Patients are challenged by state-of-the-art physical therapy and occupational therapy, demanding and challenging sports equipment, and virtual reality systems. They benefit from individualized case management, access to behavioral medicine services, and in-house prosthetic fitting and fabrication. The Computer Assisted Rehabilitation Environment (CAREN) provides virtual reality training, the Motion Analysis Lab allows specialists to detect gait deviations not discernable to the naked eye, the Firearms training simulator reacquaints patients with their weapons systems, and the Flowrider integrates balance, core strength training, and excitement into the rehabilitation process. The CFI is staffed by active duty Army medical staff, Department of the Army civilians, contract providers, and nine full-time Department of Veterans Affairs employees. Together they work to maximize the patients’ rehabilitative potential and to facilitate reintegration whether or not they remain on active duty or return to civilian life.”
I arrived in San Antonio last Wednesday evening and, as Greg has been tiring himself out during the day at the CFI, found him asleep when I finally made it to Fisher House. I was eager to give him a hug and to witness all the progress he had made in the six weeks since I’d last seen him. The next morning, I met him in the kitchen just in time to say hello while he downed a bowl of cereal and hurried off to the CFI. In general, the CFI prefers to have the guys to themselves because it makes for a more serious workout environment. However, I was lucky enough to be able to attend one of Greg’s physical therapy sessions.
Stepping through the doors of the CFI is a humbling and almost spiritual experience. It truly is sacred space. The spacious, light-infused room with high glass ceilings where Greg began his workout looked like an athlete’s dream gym. Exercise balls, hand-cranked cycles, floor mats, treadmills, trampolines – even a rock-climbing wall in the middle of floor! When I wasn’t keeping my eye on Greg warming up on the hand-cycle, I was captivated by all the objects some creative physical therapists and bioengineers devised to help people in various stages of injury regain their lives and their identities as athletes and soldiers. Even more remarkable were the guys bearing every scar of war imaginable: missing limbs – some legs, some arms, some at the knee or even at the hips – burns, shattered joints, etc. Still, there is an aura of positivity, optimism, and a “can-do” attitude that pervades the CFI. There was a guy there, Will, who was trying out his prosthetic legs and proudly walking through the gym on his own volition. For Will, it was a milestone – that day marked the one-year anniversary of his incident in theater. Eager to envision how things will be for Greg in a few months, I asked Will how his progress and experience at the CFI has been. “You get out of it what you put into it,” he told me.
Turning my attention back to Greg, I was astonished to see that he was done warming up with his left arm (the “good” arm) and now he was warming up his right arm. Just six weeks ago, he couldn’t lift his right arm without assistance from someone else supporting the brace that held his arm together. Now, he was powering a hand crank with just that one arm. Amazing. After Greg’s warmup his physical therapist had him lie down on his back and then performed some manual stretching of his hip flexors. For the third exercise, Greg flipped over onto his stomach to do four sets of ten back extensions. Anyone who has ever done a back extension knows they are not easy. It involves lying on your stomach and lifting your arms and legs altogether in one motion, tensing the muscles of the back. A single set typically causes one to break a sweat. Greg did forty of them.
After his exercises, the prosthetist visited Greg and declared that his right leg is ready to be fitted for a sleeve, the first step toward getting a prosthetic limb. This is exciting news. The prosthetist thinks his left leg still needs a bit more time because it sustained deeper flesh wounds, and there is still some shrapnel left in the leg that is slowly working its way out. But soon that, too, will be ready to be fitted for a prosthetic. The main concern for Greg continues to be his right arm, for he knows that having use of it will make getting up on prosthetics immensely easier. The prosthetist and physical therapist discussed some potential options, including a hard brace that stabilizes the elbow. Greg is determined to get that arm back to usable condition and he is doing everything imaginable to get there. I have faith that he will get there, it will just take time, lots of support and probably some creative solutions by all the therapists and doctors and engineers involved.
The weekdays are busy and the myriad appointments with specialists, trips to the pharmacy, and a consistent regimen of wound care (meticulously performed by Greg’s girlfriend, Summer) all constitute a full-time job. Just like being in school, Greg has homework, too. He is currently learning to write with his non-dominant left hand, and practices daily penmanship assignments. Greg is exhausted at the end of each day and looks forward to spending quiet time in the evenings with Mom and Summer, Steve and other friends and family members who visit from out of town. Weekends are (mostly) free time and provide opportunity to go out on brief excursions. San Antonio’s daytime temperatures top 100 degrees, which makes spending time outdoors during the day pretty brutal. This past Saturday evening, when the temp dropped to a bearable 98 degrees, Mom, Greg and I went to an outdoor mall and had dinner at a wonderful tex-mex restaurant and shopped around some of the stores. Leaving the cocoon of the Army post means that Greg cannot use the electric wheelchair he uses to get around on post, and requires that he be pushed in a manual wheelchair. As difficult as that is right now, I keep reminding Greg that this will not be forever. Once he gets his prosthetic legs he’ll be able to do most everything on his own – including driving a car, shopping, even just grabbing a drink at a bar. And, determined to be independent, Greg is starting more and more to use both his arms to power himself in his wheelchair.
In closing, I am so very grateful for Greg and all of our intrepid warriors, who inspire us in the way they live each day. We have been told that the first year is the most difficult, and to take things one day at a time. For most of us –living normal lives– that is sensible yet ethereal advice that seems almost untenable. For our warriors at the Center for the Intrepid, it is the way they march onward toward a goal they may not be able to see now but they will realize one day…soon. We must keep the faith, stay positive and continue to send them healing thoughts and encourage them to face the future with fearlessness and fortitude for the journey ahead.
Love and peace,
Julia Galeazzi (Greg’s sister)