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REMF Diary of Dying and Bureaucratic Complexity

By David Willson

OCTOBER 2008…

My ribs had been causing me serious pain since June. I’d been to see Dr. Brooks several times and lots of theories had been pursued. Finally, I got the diagnosis: multiple myeloma. I recognized the name of the disease from the Agent Orange Dirty Dozen. I looked up the list on the VA website and there it was, nestled between Hodgkin’s disease and respiratory cancers. Fine bedfellows: “Presumptive conditions for disability compensations.” 

An open and shut case. I am a Vietnam veteran who served in-country from September 13, 1966, through October 23, 1967. I was stationed in Tan Son Nhut and then in Long Binh, but I was all over the country. I was presumed to be exposed. I was told that I had Stage 2-B multiple myeloma, and that my disease was in an aggressive mode. Looked to me as though I hit the jackpot. 

I wrote the VA a letter. I included a copy of my DD-214 and a document from my doctor which showed that I had been diagnosed with multiple myeloma, with no remission. This should do it, I thought. I got a letter back from the VA in a week or so. I was given a file number, but not a claim number. The letter assured me they had received my application for benefits. They sincerely desired to decide my case promptly. They have a lot of claims, so I shouldn’t hold my breath. They will contact me if they need additional evidence or information.

I looked at the address on the letter. It was wrong. So wrong that I couldn’t figure out how the letter got to me. My name was spelled wrong, too. I was beginning to think this process might not work as well as I’d hoped.

Vietnam veteran friends told me that I was doomed if I didn’t have a service rep. My dear old friend Marc Leepson referred me to VVA rep Roosevelt Ward, and I met with Ward in the VVA office on the tenth floor of the Henry Jackson Building. I spent a couple of hours with him as he patiently helped me through the VA forms. He gave me a serious orientation into what I had to deal with. Basically, the VA had developed a series of hoops that are incredibly hard to jump through. Ward said that my disability application wouldn’t go anywhere without copies of the documents related to my marriages and divorces. The VA would not be easy to deal with.

My wife, Michele, and I spent the next Friday morning in the Seattle courthouse and records center. We did battle with ancient microfilm readers and ancient microfilm and microfiche. Around us were other sick old veterans, nearly crying tears of frustration as they tried to deal with the decrepit machines and the ruined microfilm.

Later, we checked in with Dr. Norman’s office and completed the process of qualifying for the thalidomide. The thalidomide costs $9,600, of which we had to pay $4,000. We left feeling poor and bereft. Shouldn’t the VA be paying for this? The book on federal benefits for veterans and dependents says that I met the presumptive conditions for disability compensation. But when?

Time passed. I took the thalidomide and the steroids as prescribed. I registered for a VA medical card and got put into the VA system. I called the Agent Orange Registry Office for an appointment. They want service-treatment records. Those records will help them determine how my disabilities are connected to my military service. How? 

I hope I live long enough to see this process through. In a couple of months, I will have to put another $4,000 on my Visa card—if the card will stand it. This process could get brutal.

NOVEMBER 24, 2008…

My most recent letter from the VA indicated that I could use email to communicate with them. I did get into the system, but I got nowhere. They don’t make it easy.

I called the regional VA office and was told that to change my address I needed to write a letter. To change my name, I needed to get an official copy of my birth certificate and send it to the regional office. I tried to explain that I didn’t want to change my name, that I wanted them to change the way they are misspelling it.

DECEMBER 2…

Roosevelt Ward told me that my claims application was in the process at the VA and that I would hear from them in about four weeks. He’s trying to straighten out the name and address problem. The VA, I feel, has a moral and ethical obligation to pay for my chemo because I was drafted and sent to Vietnam where I was poisoned by Agent Orange.

DECEMBER 5…

I got a letter today from the VA with the right name and the correct address. But it was only my new Veterans Identification card. It was sent from American Lake (VAMC) Tacoma, not from the VA Regional Office in Seattle. The left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing.

DECEMBER 6…

I have lots of back pain, rib pain, blurry vision, unsteadiness on my feet, and tingling in my fingers and toes. Getting up and down from a chair is agony. Getting a jar of jam from the refrigerator left me exhausted.  

DECEMBER 15…

The days between December 9-12 are a confused haze of narcotic-influenced dreams and pain. Michele loaded me into her CR-V the morning of the 10th. I was howling with pain, and I felt as though my vertebra were broken and trying to get past each other on a bumpy country road. The act of getting my pants on and hobbling out to the car left me dripping with sweat and seeing double.

At Group Health Urgent Care, Dr. Norman and the nurses put me through more x-rays, and further tested me. Then I was taken via an ambulance to St. Clare’s. The two medics in the ambulance gave me something that made most of my pain go away. Morphine, maybe. 

I spent one week in St. Clare’s. I had spinal surgery. Two vertebra were broken into pieces, and the broken pieces were grating against each other, causing me pain in the ten range of the one-to-ten scale. For a couple of days I’d had my head confined by tubes of oxygen. The confinement was beginning to drive me bonkers.

DECEMBER 18…

Why does the VA make it so hard? Why don’t they level with us about the process? This is not a country to be a veteran in.

DECEMBER 23…

I got an email from Roosevelt Ward: “Has Mr. Willson been admitted to the VA? If not, let me know and I can put an emergency review on the case. Please contact me regarding his whereabouts.”

JANUARY 4, 2009…

Once you’ve been told by a doctor that you are living on borrowed time, you can choose your response. A sense of urgency can pervade your actions. Or a sense of resignation, of hopelessness, can paralyze you. I find myself vacillating between these extremes. As always in my life, I fail to find a happy medium. 

Yesterday I did a few small chores. No pain, no jolts to my sensitive vertebrae. Today I woke up feeling great. But when I attempted to arise from my sitting position on the toilet, spasms of pain shot through my spine. Sweat stood out in drops on my forehead. I had to call to Michele, my caregiver, to come and help me. She had to pull up my boxers and my pants.

JANUARY 6…

Michele brought me a walker. I was able to walk all the way into my computer room, where I carefully sat down in my chair. No pain. I had mental images of all the doddering oldsters with walkers I have intersected with through the years. Was I always compassionate and understanding?  No, I was not.  Do I believe in karma? I don’t know. 

JANUARY 7…

It seems impossible to make progress with the VA. There’s no way to get a sense of where the claim is. The process is a mystery. Although the process should be totally transparent, letters of inquiry are never responded to. Telephoning and email don’t result in connecting with anyone who knows or cares what’s happening with my claim. 

JANUARY 9…

I felt that I’d accomplished a lot, just getting through the treatment. I wasn’t up to driving today. I have too many different chemicals in my body and too much pain in my back for me to trust my driving skills. Perhaps driving is now a thing of the past. 

January 12…

Today’s big expedition was to the Seattle VA Hospital for an appointment with the Agent Orange Directory doctor. Because my body is rigid with fear, every bump and every chuckhole the Honda hits causes pain in my lower back and in both legs. 

Dr. Peterson asked me a lot of questions. He tapped my knees with a little hammer and looked down my throat. He listened to me breathe in and out. Dr. Peterson didn’t ask me about duties I had performed, such as guard duty, shit burning detail, or filling sandbags. I was surprised he didn’t ask, but it didn’t occur to me to volunteer that information. His manner was brusque and matter of fact. I have already been diagnosed by Group Health doctors as having multiple myeloma, so why am I being talked to as though nothing is known about me and my condition?

The process seemed full of paranoia and assumptions that I was trying to put something over on the VA. Dr. Peterson asked me when I went into the Army (January 1966) and when I’d gotten out of the Army (October 1967). That’s only 21 months, not the full 24 months that make up a two-year enlistment. His body language indicated that he had a problem with that, but he didn’t ask me to explain, and I didn’t volunteer that I’d extended my tour of duty in Vietnam by a month and a half so that I’d get an early out. 

JANUARY 14…

The division of labor in our house has come to an end. All of the tasks and chores that were my province have fallen to Michele and my daughter, Allie. 

JANUARY 20…

At the Tacoma Radiation Oncology Center, Dr. Wang, the radiologist, was quite positive that the radiation treatment would relieve the pain in my spine, and we would start with ten treatments. He emphasized how noninvasive the treatment was and how the side-effects would be minimal.

The nurse prepared the metal table with sheets and pillows, but I still had to go from a standing position to a sitting position on the table and then to a position where I was flat on my back, but with my knees up. I felt like a giant turtle stranded on his back in soft sand. It took all of them to get me back on my feet.

JANUARY 22…

Today was the first of the twelve radiation treatments. I emailed Roosevelt Ward and asked him about the status of my VA claim. I was going to have to expend another $4,000 for my next thalidomide prescription, and I wanted to know how to get the VA to pay for it.

JANUARY 30…

More radiation treatment today. No back pain, but my nausea was pretty extreme. The treatment went perfectly, and then I picked up new meds, including an anti-nausea tablet.

JANUARY 31…

I am not very brave when I think of what would happen if I suddenly toppled to the floor. My Swiss-cheese bones might all crumble up. Fear dictates much of my decision making. Fear of pain, fear of bad results. I am a scaredy cat anyhow, given to conservative activities. I’ve never been much of risk taker and am less so now.

FEBRUARY 1…

I continue to battle with constipation, not a romantic battle, but one that has motivated me to stop taking pain pills since they shut down my system.  

FEBRUARY 2…

Dr. Norman told me straight out that this chemo and the radiation will kick my butt. He put it a bit more elegantly, though.

FEBRUARY 6…

It’ll be good to not have that trip to Tacoma every day. The results so far have been encouraging. The first couple of treatments were painful, but I promised myself I would stick with them for the long run, just to see if good results happened. I guess that’s my attitude about lots of things I am going through right now, including what is turning into a long wait for the VA to adjudicate my disability claim. What looked like a slam dunk back in October is far from that.

I guess that the VA really does have a policy of waiting for the Army to die. I’d always thought that was just a nasty thing said by bitter old vets.

FEBRUARY 11…

Today’s radiation treatment took almost no time. I was handed a certificate of completion by the staff and a coffee cup that had the words, “health, healing, hope” written on the side. I know what I drank in Vietnam, especially at Long Binh where the water came from a creek polluted with dioxin. I bathed daily in that water.

FEBRUARY 17…

We went to the Seattle VA Hospital to get a primary care physician. We entered a spacious waiting room, filled with old veterans who looked in worse shape than I. Many were in wheelchairs, and many had canes and walkers. We went across the hall to our appointment with Dr. Franks. She went through the stuff again, from the doctor angle, and explained that we would get a referral to Oncology. As we took our leave of Dr. Franks, she patted me kindly on the shoulder and said that she wished me well. I appreciated that gesture. I always like being patted by a lovely young woman.

FEBRUARY 20…

We are eager to please the VA Oncology Department, both for the possibility that we might get my chemo paid for, but also because we might learn something further about what protocols might help me fight the MM. After all, the VA must be dealing with many veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange and have contracted multiple myeloma. 

February 24…
I have no clear idea what the signs are for a person who is dying of MM. Am I currently as healthy as I can be, given my situation? Many of my numbers seem to have improved since I began the protocols, but those are numbers mostly related to my kidneys. I did wake up this morning glad to have made it through another night.  

We went to the Seattle VA Hospital to keep our appointment with Dr. Schubach, the head of the Oncology Department. He held the door for us, shook my hand, and asked me to tell him my story. He was attentive as he listened to me recount my history with my multiple myeloma. He said that patients in their 60s through their 80s have successfully received such treatments. He also made the point that the treatments were not so invasive and awful that quality of life became a bad thing. He said that apartments nearby were available for us to stay in during the treatments. All gratis. As is all the medication and treatment. Both Michele and I were impressed with Dr. Schubach.

He explained that the VA would pay for my chemo whether or not I was being treated at the VA. I immediately felt that the VA was the way to go. Dr. Schubach has many more resources available to him and us than does Group Health. 

MARCH 3…

We went to the lab. I looked around at the vets who were waiting their turns, and a sadder, greyer lot you can’t imagine. Not a chuckle in the place. Most have serious problems with their ambulation. We were all sitting in low, modern chairs, and every veteran struggled to get up when his name was called. Some had to be helped by a caregiver, usually a grey old wife.

MARCH 4…

I will have to be at the Cancer Care Clinic every day for twenty-one days straight. 

MARCH 11…

At the Tacoma Radiation and Oncology Center, the nurse made a point of telling me how great I looked and praising me for getting my weight back up from the low of 165 pounds that I plummeted to during the radiation treatments. Then we had a brief chat with Dr. Wang. We told him how pleased we were with the Center and the staff. The treatment had eliminated the pain in my spine. 

MARCH 20…

We called the VA to get information on my disability claim. The claim was forwarded to the department that will make the “informed decision” on January 5. So they’ve had the claim for close to three months, but nothing has happened. When Michele asked how much longer it could take for the informed decision to be made, no answer was forthcoming.

MARCH 26…

Dr. Schubach said my kidney function had improved further. I told him that I was thrilled with the improvement to my quality of life under the new regimen and that I was feeling on Cloud Nine. He said that I must have taken the dexes. I confessed that the dexes did have that effect on me.
APRIL 7…

At the hospital, we frequently got turned around. When we seemed lost, someone was always helpful in telling us where to head next, and when I got trapped with my walker in a bathroom, another vet held the door for me so I could escape.

APRIL 13…

Today’s mail contained a large envelope from the VA. Inside was an announcement that I had been approved for 100 percent disability due to my multiple myeloma being connected to my military service, and that I could expect my first check in about fifteen days. Michele and I were both stunned. The process had taken less than six months.

I emailed Roosevelt Ward and thanked him. I am certain that his involvement in the process was important in attaining this 100 percent, and that without his help the process would have dragged on much longer. I’ve heard stories of years passing without adjudication.

When I start getting checks we won’t have to continue depleting my pension fund at the same rapid rate. When the pension fund is gone, it’s gone forever. But the VA disability check will continue as long as I continue to draw breath. 

APRIL 17…

I got my first check from the VA. Both my name and my address were wrong.

APRIL 21…

We got to the Seattle VA and checked in with Oncology and met with Dr. Schubach. The main topic was the bone marrow transplant. My numbers were good enough for us to go ahead with the transplant. Michele asked what would happen to me if I didn’t get the transplant or if the process didn’t work out for me. The answers didn’t surprise me: I could expect to die sooner.

I spent a lot of time looking at the other sick old vets. I am not convinced that serving in the military is a good thing with respect to longevity and quality of life.
APRIL29…

There was a letter from the VA. Both my name and my address were correct in every particular. It contained a second notice of a bill for medical care in the amount of $32. I had to chuckle. It figures that the VA would get my name and address right on a bill, but not on a check. 

MAY 11…

I sat in an attorney’s office for two hours planning to be dead. I think we thought of everything, including the obvious things that must be planned if I become a candidate for plug pulling and related issues: power of attorney, who is an heir, and who isn’t.

MAY 16…

The creek that ran through our base into the water supply was a dumping ground for any leftover AO that the pilots from Bien Hoa returned with. I can easily summon up a mental image of what a witch’s brew that little creek became. Those of us who drank water and took showers were subjected to the witch’s brew in a manner that totally fooled us. I didn’t drink the water straight, but rather mixed with Jell-o as a sort of punch. Once the chemical cocktail entered our bodies, I guess it went to work. We didn’t have a chance.

We weren’t even guinea pigs. We were just an accident. Because no harm was intended to us, just to the leaves shaking on the trees, no blame can be affixed to the corporations. They were just trying to help the military win the war against communism.  

MAY 20…

The IV room is staffed by kind and excellent professionals overworked by the VA. The room should be about ten times larger and should have room for the loved ones of the patients. And new chairs for the patients to spend those long hours in. 

MAY 25…

I got an email from Roosevelt Ward: “I give thanks for all of us who are able to spread the words about Memorial Day.”  Then he went on to say, “I trust you are doing as well as possible.” Ward ends with “God bless and try to watch that biggest health issue.” I am honored that he took the time to communicate with me on Memorial Day.  

MAY 31…

I have convinced myself that if I had made a better choice—the choice that most men of my generation and background made, to not serve in the military—I would be both alive and well. But I did not miss the paramount defining event of my generation, the Vietnam War. I was there for over 13 months and now I am certified and adjudicated by the VA as 100 percent disabled due to my AO-connected MM.  Never again will my tour of duty be discounted or dismissed as being that of a REMF. 

JUNE 16…

We were in Seattle today for nine hours and I had lots of tests; most involved painfully getting on and off metal tables, and contorting myself into pretzel shapes to please the cameras. We met with Dr. Sternstein, a clinical psychologist who will evaluate me for suicidal and homicidal tendencies as well as a bunch of other things. She was very helpful in answering our questions.

JUNE 17…

Today’s first appointment was in Pulmonary with Bryan. I sat inside a special machine with a breathing apparatus attached to my face. I did hard breathing, panting, breath holding, and all of it with a pincher on my nose. When I left Bryan’s room, he said “You were a great patient.  Hang in there, partner.” And he patted me on my shoulder. 

We met with a social worker and had an eye examination. Afterward, walking to the elevator, I was even more aware how humble the physical facility is. Shabby, worn down, populated mostly by male patients who seem to have been dredged up from the bottom layer of America. 

JUNE 18…

At the Bone Marrow Transplant Unit, I was put in a small office to receive an IV attachment to my right arm. After my blood was taken out, it was mixed with something radioactive and then put back into my system. Next, we met with Patty, the dietician. She was interested in my diet history, my use of alcohol and tobacco, and the usual things that all the other professionals had also asked about. She was pleasant to chat with, and seemed reasonable and interested.

She warned that I will probably be nauseated some of time and not feel like eating. She said that if I became unable to eat, due to afflictions that might strike my mouth and throat, mucus-something, I would be fed through an IV straight into my veins. Yipes.
JUNE 19…

We checked in at the BMTU. The doctor performed a biopsy.  It was intense but not painful. I was happy when he said it was over.

JUNE 22…

Today I had the Hickman IV port installed. Tomorrow they start using the port to dump chemicals into my body. I must live in the moment and only be worried one day at a time. They handled the installation of the port like major surgery, even though it was a minor medical procedure. A team of folks I didn’t see during the procedure surrounded me and got the port installed. I heard talk of a tunnel and a wire. And in no time at all the procedure was over, and the tent was removed, and I was allowed to stand up and move myself from the surgical table back to the gurney.

JUNE 24…

Yesterday, I spent six hours in the chair in the IV Room of the Bone Marrow Transplant Unit. For most of that six hours, my Hickman was attached to the IV machine that filled me up with chemo. Intermittently, I had to be unplugged from the IV machine so I could make the trip down the hall to urinate, as one of the ingredients of my chemo agitated my bladder. Michele brought me sandwiches. I vomited them up later in the day when nausea hit suddenly.

Do I feel normal?  Pretty close to my new normal. I am very thirsty, which is certainly normal. I am apprehensive about this day’s chemo, but somewhat less so, if the chemo is less and if it will wear off during the night.

I hold in my mind this scene of six or seven sick old vets tethered to beat-up recliner chairs arranged around the walls of the IV room, each of us receiving the poison of the day, some for a few minutes, some for hours, but all of us enduring our treatment, hoping for another lease on life. It’s a humble room with a TV bolted near the ceiling and lots of electric cords plugged into the wall to give our meds the power to enter our bodies.

JUNE 27…

I got my shot and my blood drawn and had a brief visit with Dr. Chauncey and the staff. I mentioned my nausea, as when I arrived I was carrying the puke bucket and was asked why. I said that if I spewed I wanted to contain the mess. 

JUNE 29…

I feel as sick as I can feel and still know that I’m not really sick enough to die.

JUNE 30…

It’s my 67th birthday. I’ve outlived my father and both grandfathers. Now what? I got through the night without soiling myself.

JULY 1…

Very shaky and weak today. Getting showered and dressed was a huge chore. Michele drove me to the VA hospital, and Charlie and Lisa did the usual stuff to my Hickman and me. We drove over to the new apartment on First Hill.

JULY 2…

I’ve never felt so weak in my life. I walked to the front doors of the hospital, supported by Michele all the way. I sat down immediately inside the door and waited while Michele found me a wheelchair. I was halfway in tears. Lisa told me that cancer was something to cry about and that when her sister was dying from cancer, they both cried and cried.

JULY 4…

The Fourth of July. For the first time in my family life, everything will be done for me by others. I was weak, tired, unable to contemplate arm wrestling a sick kitten.

This was my first sight of the apartment and it’s a nice one. Pretty nice furnishings, except that the tilt-back chairs are sort of shoddy. It’s very quiet and private.
JULY 6…

We got up early as we had to get to the Seattle VA Hospital by 8:30. Michele is not happy about this early appointment because of my having been at the VA getting transfusions until 1:30 last night. I was so weak this morning that showering and dressing rendered me unable to arm wrestle that proverbial sick kitten.

JULY 11…

As I typed, a fine mesh of brown hair formed on the computer keyboard. I blew the hair away. My hair continues to thin each day, but there is still some on my head. I haven’t decided yet to shave it all off, the way most of my compadres in the IV room at the BMTU have chosen to do. 

JULY 17…

It was great to spend an hour or so in the IV room with other vets. I find that the camaraderie really picks me up and fills me with hope. The information is good, too; balancing it with the information from the professionals helps me determine what might be ahead.

AUGUST 4…

Dr. Chauncey is optimistic that I will be alive for many more years. He seemed to actually believe it. He thinks that there is a good chance the BMT will give me a new lease on life, and that the miracle drugs that are being developed now will be available to me down the road.

AUGUST 5…

I was warned that the chemo would sicken me. It has. My vision is blurry and my stomach is doing flip flops. I didn’t puke until well into the wee hours, and mostly it was spittle, not my lunch. That’s me looking on the bright side. 

 AUGUST 8…

Saw Dr. Schubach in interview room. He questioned me about my physical and mental state. I was honest with him. I feel about 82 percent of the new normal today. How does that feel? Like shit.

AUGUST 11…

I was awake at 7:00 with an attack of diarrhea and stomach pains. The docs said it would come, and they were right on target. I’ve got it now, I’ve got it bad.

August 13…

I was awake at 7:00. Diarrhea attacks in bed. Awful mess. Wore a step-in diaper knowing full well that the diaper was about as much use as the little Dutch boy’s thumb was in the leaky dike. I have lower back pain from yesterday.

A long night in the hospital. I had repeated attacks of diarrhea all night and almost constant pain in my abdomen. Nausea, too.

AUGUST 14…

My night nurse upped the dosage on the morphine drip, but the pain seemed no less. I had an attack of diarrhea and had to completely change from top to bottom. Dozed off, but didn’t have a good night. I think I got too much morphine, as my dreams were bad. The nurse was kind.

AUGUST 15…

I’d spiked a fever in the night. Big discussion of the morphine. I said I wanted no more of it. The nurse said I don’t have to be a hero. Good, because I am not one. I am a marshmallow. Michele helped me shower, and she stayed around until I dozed off again. I vomited after choking on mouth mucus. So many attacks of diarrhea that my bed was full of shit.

AUGUST 17…

I was awake at 6:40 and was dripping sweat and had great pain in my abdomen. Welcome to the world of a man with MM who recently went through BMT and chemo and now is trying to normalize. I’ve never suffered like this in my life.  

AUGUST 18…

I felt good enough this morning to eat breakfast. Dr. Schubach said that “you are doing better than the average bear.” I guess that’s a good thing. 

AUGUST 22…

I took some clothes to the dryer in the garage and put them in the dryer. Worked a bit on email. I love this activity as this stuff is real life, not like being in a hospital. It sure beats having one diarrhea attack after the other and being hitched up to an IV bag of pale-green liquid “food.” My doctor said it will take a year to get my stamina back.

AUGUST 27…

When I got to the VA, I was so tired and shaky that I couldn’t walk. Michele put me in a wheelchair. The doctors interviewed me in the conference room. I puked up my breakfast during our meeting.

AUGUST 28…

Dire thoughts today.  This could be the last gasp of me, I think. I feel like shit. I love having Michele around, but I hate that she has to witness the diarrhea attacks.

AUGUST 30…

The night was hard for me. The night nurses were good to me, all night long. Real heroes. Patient and kind. I had several diarrhea attacks. I did get some sleep. In one-hour increments. I had diarrhea attacks about every two hours. I gotta get out of this place.

AUGUST 31…

My doctor said I seemed good and might get out of the hospital today. I told her I still have frequent diarrhea. At 8:40 I had another attack. The doctor also said that patients bounce back faster at home. I said that I was eager to go home. We were gone by noon. Michele helped me get dressed and dealt with the pharmacist.

SEPTEMBER 2…

I was up by 5:00 and also I was up in the night for about one and a half hours working on my computer. My new computer chair is a joy to sit in.

SEPTEMBER 3…

I checked in with Nuclear Medicine to have my blood taken, irradiated, and then put back in my body. It was an ordeal, of course, but not as painful as in June. The process was made more fraught for me, as I felt as though I was about to have a diarrhea attack.

We went up to Floor Four to the BMTU. Charlie removed my Hickman, and then put a sandbag on my chest to stop the bleeding. The process went well and without pain. I love working with Charlie. He is a real pro and always patient and cheerful. While we were chatting, I brought up Larry R., who had been one of my favorite guys to chat with in the IV room when we were getting infusions. Charlie said, “Larry died last night.”   

SEPTEMBER 5…

I went out into the garage and folded clothes. I put towels in Allie’s bathroom and replaced her toilet paper. Doing these few things left me exhausted and shaky. I want my old energy back. Not going to happen soon.  

SEPTEMBER 17…

Michele and I spent a lot of time chatting about our future. We shed a few tears. Michele has the hard part of the deal. It’s easy to be dead and gone. It’s much harder to be the survivor and have to deal with that changed situation.    

SEPTEMBER 20…

Michele and I looked through my Vietnam War-related photos. I basically looked the same for decades, until lately. Now I look like my own grandpa.  

OCTOBER 8…

I found myself in tears several times reading Max Cleland’s new book. I wasn’t a warrior like Max, but my tour of duty placed me in as much jeopardy as his did him. There’s no easy way to go to war, and there are no guarantees that the war will ever go away. Max made that point, and I think I am making it in this RDD. I hope I am. The butcher’s bill for war is endless.

David Willson is best known for his three REMF Diary novels that chronicle the tribulations of a rear-echelon type in Vietnam. We have greatly condensed his latest non-fiction work here. As this issue went to press in November, Willson was living at home with his wife and daughter, feeling the effects of his marrow transplant but coping well. His doctors say he probably will need a second transplant sometime in 2010.

 

 

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