Friday, April 23, 2010

carrying around a dragon for almost 30 years...Dan

I served in the US Army in the early 1970’s when I was honorably discharged after 6 years with a disability rating of 30% and a sleeping killer that I was not aware of for another 14 years. Let me rephrase that; I knew something was wrong but no one could identify and name it until many years later.

In 1973 I was severely injured when a drunk driver ran a red light and T-boned the car I was driving on the driver’s side. I suffered a massive hemo-pneumo thorax, ruptured esophagus, ruptured spleen, ruptured diaphragm, lacerated liver, multiple fractures, a 3 centimeter tear to my right ventricle and a separated pelvis. I pumped blood into my lungs through the ventricle tear for 3 days. In that time frame and through my second open chest surgery I took 196 units of blood and exhausted the supply of three counties blood banks.

After I left the service I found myself frequently tired, often depressed, constantly aching, nauseated and slightly feverish. I had pains in my abdomen, pains in my joints, and pains in my legs. My quality of life was lower than I had ever known and no amount of tests, observations or treatments ever seemed to improve my quality of life or provide any answers. I had my perfectly good appendix removed to try and stop the stomach pains. I found out my appendix was still good by the lab results. I had been a corpsman and I knew how to read a lab report.

In 1984 out of frustration and with medical records showing I had been treated for non-A, non-B hepatitis I filed for service connection with the Veterans Administration. I was denied after several months of waiting. I was given no reason for the denial other than evidence was not provided to support my claim.

I continued to be sick off and on with an assortment of symptoms and no one was ever able to determine the cause of my ailments. I was told by several doctors that I needed to get over my trauma injuries and learn to live with myself. I was given medication after medication but nothing ever seemed to work to clear up my ailments. VA doctors kept trying to refer me to psychiatry. I was going in circles. Tests and evaluations, medication and referrals, more tests, more evaluations, more referrals, back for more tests.

Sick and tired of being sick and tired I quit going to doctors. My symptoms did not stop; I just stopped seeking any answers.

After being sick and vomiting with stomach pains I sought help one more time and found a VA doctor who ran a test on me for Hepatitis C. It was late 1990 or early 1991. I don’t recall exactly when. Now I finally had a name for the beast that was making my life miserable. My viral count was less than 1 million, my liver was not swollen and the biopsy showed no signs of cirrhosis. We talked about treatment options and they did not sound that good so I declined.

I followed up with that doctor until 1999 when I moved away from that hospital. I moved to the Midwest in 2001.

I sought out care at a VA hospital in Illinois. I was told at this VAMC that they had no treatment plans for drug addicts with Hepatitis C and if I wanted that kind of care I would have to go elsewhere. I was only at that hospital for an annual blood draw to check my liver enzymes as I had learned to do from the other VAMC where my good doctor was still practicing. I let this new doctor know that I was not a drug addict and in fact I had a security clearance and I took random drug screens whenever asked to support my job as a government contractor.

My enzymes were up and so was my viral load. I was told by the mid-west VAMC that treatment was expensive and I would need to be carefully screened before that option ‘might’ be offered to me. I chose not to be screened.

I sought out and found a new civilian doctor, outside of the VAMC. It was a good choice because I found a good doctor who took good care of me. We discussed treatment and all of my options. I went back to the VAMC and I was told again that I might not be offered treatment for Hep C and that even if I was offered the treatment I would have to do the whole 48 weeks and if I quit or had to stop that was it, my treatment options would be back to zero again with no chance to try again. I returned to my civilian doctor hastily.

I took the treatment for 48 weeks with no help from the VAMC whatsoever. As a geno 1A my chances of clearing the virus were about 50\50. With the help of other vets at I filed for service connection with new evidence and a new attitude. After 16 months I was granted 10% for hepatitis C.

It’s not very much of a price to pay for carrying around a dragon for almost 30 years. Not when all of the evidence (no use of universal precautions, a lot of exposure to other peoples blood, needle sticks and all of those transfusions, and let’s not forget the multi-unit jet injectors) was so easy to gather and present directly out of my medical files and personnel jacket.

My appeal for a minimum of 20% is still pending.