After earning that Spill Promotion (Chapter 36), I rewarded myself in a Big Way. This leased ’88 BMW®325is was my track car and eventually, my race car. (Swan Collection)
Lisa & Laura
You don’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you might just find, you get what you need. From the Rolling Stones.
Our family was one that showed emotion by hugging and verbally communicating our love for each other and Lisa and Laura were doing well in Dayton, despite me frequently working late (or because of it).
Lisa was on the varsity HS basketball team, and when she graduated in 1987, held the school record for the most rebounds. Laura played basketball as well, but was more interested in dating and hanging out with friends.
Both got braces at my expense, of course. Lisa had bad acne, and I found a good dermatologist that was successful in treating her. Each had part-time jobs when they didn’t interfere with sports or school. I bought both a car, mostly with the proceeds from the sale of my seven-year-old 18k Rolex® Datejust.
We went on vacation to see their Grandparents every June and to other places like the 1984 World’s Fair in New Orleans. Great trip. We went to movies, plays, amusement parks like King’s Island Cincinnati, Magic Mountain Columbus, and Cedar Point Sandusky (All great when we were there in the 80s). We visited cities like Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Louisville, Lexington, Kentucky, and Columbus, Ohio, all within a hundred or so miles. Parks in the Dayton area, like Carillon, our favorite, included early technology displays, historic buildings, and lots of Wright-Brothers Memorabilia. We also visited campuses of universities like Purdue, Ohio, Indiana, Xavier, and others to pique their interest in going to college.
Lisa and Laura both graduated high school with GPAs good enough for university admission. They qualified for a VA program for their undergraduate studies that paid most of their fees because of my war record and disability. I sent them money for misc. expenses that were not covered by the VA. Lisa chose the Ohio State University, where she graduated with a BA in the Social Sciences. Laura studied at Bowling Green State University, Ohio, and graduated with a BA in Criminal Justice. Both received their bachelor’s in four years. Lisa went on to earn a Masters at OSU, also in the Social sciences.
Because of some lucky planning and a few connections, I had tickets well in advance of the second week in Sept. 1985 where the Cincinnati Reds were playing a stretch of home games. It was believed that Pete Rose might break Ty Cobb’s record at Riverfront Stadium, and the twins and I were there to see him play on Sept. 10. Luckily, I had tickets for the next evening as well. However, I had a prior out of state engagement for temporary duty for the next several days. I decided to trust the girls (just shy of 17) to go by themselves to Riverfront the next evening. The twins were two of the 50 thousand screaming fans, on Sept. 11, 1985, to witness in person Pete Rose crack a single to left-center (number 4,192) breaking the record Ty Cobb held for almost sixty years.
We were also fortunate to attend a couple of Cincinnati Bengals football games, less than an hour south, also at Riverfront stadium. They played in the Super Bowl the last year, were in Ohio. We were regulars at University of Dayton Flyers basketball games, who played in a first-class arena. They were an NCAA Division I basketball team who went to the sweet 16 during the period we saw them in action.
In addition to all the fun events the twins and I attended in Ohio, one was practically in our backyard.
Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio
Largest display of military aircraft in the world.
Admission is Free.
Don's Ego Shots
Does anyone remember the Rantex™ wipes shortage in the mid-80s, that I got caught up in? Probably not, unless you were in need of those as I was; the only thing that brought any relief to anus and rectum — inflamed from nineteen years of frequent and mushy stools. In my world, my anus felt like the nerve center of my existence.
For some reason, Air Force Rx wasn’t able to get enough of the wipes for me; then, they couldn’t get them at all. I was unsuccessful in finding any (no Google™). I began going to labs with restrooms that sometimes provided Rantex wipes for patients to clean their private parts, before peeing in a cup. (Insert joke here.) When I found some, I would procure a handful. (I am not making this up.)
When Doves Cry–Prince, What’s Love Got To Do With It–Tina Turner, Like a Virgin–Madonna played on the Dayton stations.
Back in Mississippi in 1988, Dale had been caring for Momma and Daddy for several months, as best he could, while holding down a full-time job. Finally, he was able to get Momma into a nursing home nearby. Dale continued to care for Daddy and was spending all of his time off work doing so.
At the end of Dale’s work shift, he’d rush to relive the people (who had been sitting with Daddy eight hours) and remain throughout the night until his wife came the next morning with food for the day and relive Dale to go to work.
The next day, all the same. And it continued for almost a year! My wonderful brother was holding out as long as possible for keeping Daddy out of a nursing home, especially one in a different location from Momma. (There were no vacancies at the facility where she was a patient.)
The twins and I went to Mississippi in June 1988, on our usual vacation, but this time, I was looking for and trying to find a nursing home for Daddy. The twins and I wanted to get relief for Dale, from what had become a burden that he couldn’t continue indefinitely.
Here I was on the scene, the educated world-traveler and younger brother in his new BMW® who had never done a thing in caring for either parent, telling my brother what he should do; take Daddy away from the only home that had ever known, to a nursing home — close by, or not.
I spent a week visiting every nursing facility within a hundred miles of Dale’s home, and I found one about 40 miles away with an opening. Naturally, I encouraged Dale to place Daddy there before the vacancy was filled. My motivation, my reasoning, was to provide some relief for my brother.
The girls and I sat at Momma’s bedside in her nursing home for a long and sad farewell, although we shared some light-hearted moments, from the almost four years she had so faithfully cared for them. As for Daddy, we tried to convince him that Dale was running out of options and if Momma could tolerate a care facility, so could he. We should have treated it more of a farewell, as this was the last time we would see Daddy alive.
I was confident that I had provided some help and that I’d done the right thing; it was still up to Dale to make it all work.
The twins and I left for home trying to put the stress of seeing Dale and my parents in this mess, and the 95-degree heat and humidity, all in our review mirror. Heading north through Alabama, Tennessee, and Kentucky, we listened to I Want Your Sex–George Michael, Tell It To The Heart–Taylor Dane, Roll With It–Steve Windwood; each mile — bringing us closer to our comfortable lives in Ohio.
Several months later, Dale was able to get Daddy into the same nursing home as Momma. He visited them every day to ensure they were adequately cared for.
Losing My Ass & My Job
Daddy died in Jan. 1989 in Amory, Mississippi, (six months after he was admitted to a nursing home) and a few miles from where he grew up, at the age of 83 (complications from a stroke). Soon after I returned to Wright-Patt from his funeral, I began having serious issues with Crohn’s Disease.
Within a week, I was lying on a single white sheet, that scarcely covered a cold slab of shiny steel. Nurses lifted me onto the warm padding of a surgical table in what felt like a 58-degree Operating Room.
The anesthesiologist sat on a stool just inches to the right of my head. I counted backward from 100. Whoa! Propofol surged into my vein — warm-serene, celestial-heavenly — 3.5 seconds of bliss, and I was under.
Advisory: Some paragraphs below contain graphic discussions of human anatomy, disease, and pragmatic surgical procedures. Those paragraphs are in distinctive font.
The surgeon held a #22 scalpel, at an angle similar to a pencil just below my sternum and pressed the blade to a depth of about two inches into my upper abdominal wall and continued puncturing, slicing and lacerating, straight down through my rectus abdominus, obliques, and umbilical to just above my pelvis; about nine vertical inches.
Then, with a seven-inch Balfour spreader, the surgeons opened my belly to their satisfaction. Trading for a #15 scalpel, the doctors began the more meticulous and time-consuming operation of extricating my anus and rectum.*
Next, the surgeons permanently closed my anal and rectal cavity with mesh and sutures, then cut about a foot from my sigmoid colon.
The doctors continued by incising two holes, both about two inches in diameter into the wall of my abdomen (an enterostomy). One was for a mucus fistula, and with the other hole, the surgeon pulled about an inch of my sigmoid colon up through the opening and sutured it into the wall of my gut. That’s called a stoma. It would serve to discharge waste my erstwhile anus and rectum did. (So much for modeling underwear for Calvin Klein®.)
After 6 hours inside my abdominal cavity — slowly methodically, cutting-removing, rearranging-revising and changing my life forever **— the doctors sutured my nine-inch wound. My proctectomy was complete.
A nurse pinched the doctors soiled surgical gloves at the top of their palms and gently pulled them away and deposited them in the same red “medical waste” container where my decaying anus, rectum and part of my colon had been trashed.
For the tired surgeons, their work was done. For me, it was just beginning.
I came out of anesthesia sporting a new appendage, an irreversible colostomy! I would suffer from the effects of major-invasive surgery for a few more days before I would see or worry about my new stoma.
I was wheeled into a narrow hallway, just outside the surgical suite, strapped to a gurney feeling hallowed out and in significant pain.
I spotted a nurse or somebody, and in a voice weakened by six hours of surgery and general anesthesia, declared, “Hey, I thought I was supposed to be on a pain pump,” I pleaded. “You’re on one,” she shouted and kept walking.
With my right hand, I fumbled for the button on the pump, and clicked it two or three times*** with my thumb.
Lying there in front of a large clock (The Chicago Lighthouse) time seemed to have stopped. What seemed like an hour, was actually less than five minutes. “Somebody, please get me away from this clock,” I said to no one there. I tried to calculate how long the worst of the pain would last, five or six hours, I reckoned.
During the worst of it, I was in and out of sleep, yet each time I awoke, I was distressed to see that only a minute or so has passed. I closed my eyes for a moment, but this clock was haunting me, and I kept staring, hoping, waiting, wanting that clock to speed up — just for me.
OK, I’ve never actually had a bowling ball fall dead center onto my lower abdomen from five feet up. But I’m sure of the pain it would cause; the pain I was in right now! And it would not diminish anytime soon.
Eventually, I was rolled into intensive care unit (ICU). There was no clock in front of me, but, of course, I was still in hurting; then I got hiccups and although treated with shots, they agitated me for two days, each contraction coming like clockwork — pulling at my stitches!
Finally, I fell into a deep, peaceful sleep, I thought: [Screaming] Help me, Hagemeister’s down, Help me! I’m bleeding out. Help me! Help, Hagemeister’s down! Get me morphine, you’re the only one left. Call Dustoff. Help us, you’re our last hope, you’re the only one left. Help —
I jerked awake, when a nurse began shaking me from my nightmare of lying on the sandy field at the Ambush site (Chapter 17). The wounded were calling out to me, even those whose dog tags were anchored between the top and bottom of their front teeth. There was nothing I could do. I couldn’t help them. I was here in the ICU.
After a day or so, an ostomy nurse visited me in ICU, and explained how this all worked; what would now be my daily routine. She patiently instructed me and demonstrated how it would function. The nurse placed an adhesive wafer with a pre measured hole on the skin around my exposed stoma. The bag she attached to it would collect my bowel movements. In addition to frequently changing the bag, the “appliance” (no kidding, that’s what the wafer is called) requires replacement, care, and cleaning about twice per week.
Thank goodness for sick leave, stamina, a strong heart and lungs going into the first surgery.
Every Breath You Take–The Police, Total Eclipse Of The Heart–Bonnie Tyler, Straight From The Heart–Bryan Adams played on WTUE.
I continued in my job as Deputy Chief of Public Affairs after a long recuperation, and I got some good assignments.
In the succeeding two years, I would be in and out of the hospital for three more surgeries, one to close the mucus fistula, one for a hernia around the stoma, and one for revision of the colostomy itself! Two of the subsequent surgeries required slicing open the original nine-inch incisions. It never got any easier or less painful.
Love Shack–B-52s, Like A Prayer–Madonna, From A Distance–Bette Midler filled the airwaves in Dayton.
I’d had a stressful job. But it was my job, my dream job; the best of the 32,000 at Wright-Patt, I believed. Now it was no more. I was medically retired, once again, because of Crohn’s disease in early 1991, leaving behind seniority and an annual salary of $95,670 in 2019 dollars.
*Unsurprisingly, several risks are involved in proctectomy surgery, including impotence, bladder incontinence, or both.
** In addition to the obvious maladies of having a colostomy, there were other anxieties: Like trying to explain to a potential sexual partner, never being able to unwind sitting on the throne reading, awaiting a BM, or taking a long shower without worrying about discharge from the stoma and occasionally awakened by the smell of my own crap,
***It’s a time-release pump, so pressing the button more than once doesn’t increase the dosage.