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The Dark Days, Saudi Arabia



I figured out by one of my previous social workers that writing about everything from the event post stroke though today helps to provide a measuring stick to where I was to where I am now. This is not why I wrote my initial story that was posted in the introduction forums; but I will get to why in one of my blogs later down the line.


I’ve always had the intent to rewrite it as a full story and not keep “fixing” it for each occasion. I think I’ve rewritten it 4-5 times at this point. I want to have my full story so I can look back on it decades from now and see where I’ve come from; be able to share it with everyone without going through the exhausting story what might have been near a hundred times at this point. Last, but not least I’ve been told that how I’ve gone though it with my attitude and determination has been inspiring. I’ve only been on the forums about a week and already I’ve touched a few people. If reading everyone else’s stories has helped me find my way again; well I can only hope that this helps pay it forward.


I plan on going all the way back to the beginning and will first break it up by each country I was in; then by hospital once I get back to the USA and then who knows after that. This first one might be a little bleak; I wasn’t very hopeful. No one knows my full story; you will be the first. Oh, I’ll also put links in where I can and will try to remember to underline then as I go. I do know the boards change the font a little bit for linked items.


I was stationed in KSA (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia); helping our allies secure their boarders and infrastructure. On 8 February 2014 I was in a very minor vehicle accident. Was a little dazed and developed a stiff neck. Saturday is the last day of the work week and Sunday and Monday are their weekends. I stopped by Eskan clinic when I got back to post, I don’t remember why, but post was closed that day too; some sort of Holiday. Either way I was trying to be more cautious because my wife had two very minor bumps on her head in January that gave her a TBI. It caused her to move back home with her parents and put her out of work for several months. I figured that Tuesday would be fine and when I got there I talked with the doc on duty and he said I was fine; just to take some Motrin for the headaches and stiff neck and if not better to come back. My stiff neck and headache were not getting better at all. I went back on the 17th and asked to see a different doc because the last one just didn’t give me a good feeling. If you trust what you are feeling, you know when something isn’t right. And since living in my body for 37 years I’ve come to be pretty good listener. That doc gave me a referral for the Specialized Medical Clinic (hospital).


US service members are in the KSA as low level diplomats. We don’t wear our uniforms in public; most can’t carry firearms and we don’t have hospitals like in other countries. We fall under the embassy. That being said, we also use their hospitals and their medical system. In order to see a doctor you have to be pre-approved with cash guarantee. The process took 5 days for the approval and scheduling of the MRI. On the 22nd I went to the hospital and saw the attending neurologist. There is a different culture there. During the entire exam, the doctor didn’t touch me once. He wrote an order for an MRI and said schedule a follow up in a few days. The hospitals there have all the state of the art equipment; very rich country. However their culture of dignity and pride prevents them from doing many things that has to be done if it needs to be done right. The next day I still felt off and getting worse. I could feel the back of my tongue was starting to affect my speech and I was starting to walk with a limp. Good news is that the terrible headache was gone. It was near impossible to function with that. I went back to the clinic to see if they could speed things along; which helped because I was able to be approved for my follow up on the 25th. Please keep in mind I’m still putting in my 8-12 hour days. Not because I was told to, but I did have work no one else could do. It wasn’t very physically intensive; I was an executive administrative assistant to the program manager (PM). Mainly desk work.


My battle buddy and aide to the PM; CPT Dwyer was awesome enough to take me downtown to all these hospital appointments. Between the 23rd to the 26th I asked CPT Dwyer to keep an eye on me and I would leave my villa (living quarters) unlocked and if he didn’t hear from me to just walk in and check on me. He never needed to; but something was bugging me that he may have to. The 25th I went back to see the neurologist. He said my MRI was clean just a couple of vertebrae in my neck were compressed but nothing to be worried about. I explained that my headache was gone but I was starting walk funny and could feel something was off in my tongue. I was prescribed Lyrica, a vitamin and some other drug. I took them the first day, but then stopped because it didn’t seem right.


The next day I started to really go downhill. I had a very important meeting so I went in to finish up the presentation, set up the conference room. As I was sitting there I started to lose the ability to type. Mind you I use to be upwards of 100wpm so for everyone else around me they couldn’t really tell. My tongue started to feel much thicker and I was walking with a terrible limp. Mind you I was in no pain at all. I went back to the clinic and saw a new doc; head of the clinic. He did a good look over; made some calls and told me to go to the hospital that they he will get another MRI authorization pushed though. CPT Dwyer drove and when we got there it seems that the MRI tech was off for the day. We called back to the clinic and they advised to go to the emergency room; that it would force the tech to come in. We walked into the emergency room. They put me in a wheel chair, took me to a room and drew some blood. After some time I was wheeled to the MRI and then back; didn’t take too long. A few hours later the neuro doc came by and told me I just had a small stroke of the pons in my brain and that I would be fine with some rest and an exercise program. I had no clue what the pons was and I didn’t want to push because the language barrier was tough enough. I figured if he didn’t look worried and that everything would be fine in time then no harm no foul right? I mean the MRI from 4 days earlier was clean. At this point I was still hopeful that I would be back to work and then off to my dream vacation to New Zealand in a couple of weeks. I have a friend there we were going to stay with and tour most of the north island!!


I asked CPT Dwyer for my phone and I called my wife to let her know what was going on. Told her that I had a small pons stroke and the doc said I would be fine. Except that now I was losing control of my emotions; laughing and crying. I asked CPT if he could take the phone and just fill her in with everything so I could just lay there and rest. In the next little bit I was moved to an inpatient room. Private room with a bathroom and shower. Had an awesome bed and no real monitoring equipment. Had a TV, but only had local channels so it was all in Arabic. I was still getting worse, but was self-mobile. Was able to eat and get to the bathroom. CPT Dwyer headed back to base for some work to do and to pack me a bag. I had some of their terrible hospital food and then went to bed for the night hoping that I would see a turn for the better in the morning.


The next morning I woke up and could barely move my left side. I couldn’t talk right and had almost zero fine motor control on my right body side. I wasn’t in any pain and had my entire mind intact. I wasn’t freaked out; but very frustrated. The nurse came in with my food and to give me my meds. Aspirin and the dreaded lovenox. I asked if she could help me to the bathroom and she braced to help. I laughed and asked her to see if she could get another nurse. These little Pilipino ladies must have been 110lbs soaking wet. There was no way I was going to put my 230lb broken body in trust of just one of them. They helped me over to the bathroom, closed the door and walked off. No warning, no direction. I finished was I was doing and found the cable to pull on the otherside of the room. It wasn’t too far away, but pretty far for someone that can’t control their weight. When she came back, she looked at me all crazy. Ummm, need help back to the bed now.


A few hours later I got a visit from the Eskan doc and nurse Duffy. Told them I was doing as well as I could be, but wasn’t comfortable, that I was getting worse and didn’t see anyone unless I buzzed for them. They told me they were working on getting me evacuated to Germany but there was some complications with the doc responsible for me. The nurse said she had to go back to take care of a few things, but would come back and stay the night with me. (thank god!!) As they were leaving CPT Dwyer came back. He was always good to fill me in on everything going on. Seems the Saudi doc wanted to keep me another day for observation; which I didn’t know why because there was no observing. I felt like I was left there to die, since I was getting NO medical attention, no tests no visits. He also said my case was all over Britain and the US for consults. I didn’t know why, but assumed it was to help with leverage to get me to a real hospital. He also told me that the COL would be by tomorrow to see how I was doing. He asked what I would like back for my move if they did get me out of there sooner than later. I told him all the important stuff; like my laptop, tablet, cell phone, passports, wallets, etc. He asked about clothes and I said sure, them too. CPT Dwyer is one of the best men I have ever met. Selfless, loyal, hard worker, understanding are just some of his values. He told me I would see him tomorrow and took off after a few hours. Later that evening nurse Duffy made it in. We chatted just to chat; she folded out the chair to a bed and off to sleep we went.


The next day I was finally scared. I lost all function of my left side, couldn’t move a finger or toe. My speech was whacked; I sounded like I’ve been on a drinking binge and not bathing for days I smelled like death. My legs were stiff/sore and I couldn’t sit up. I was so weak. Nurse Duffy helped with the bathroom and also helped wipe me down so I didn’t stink as bad; I just couldn’t move to do it right, too weak. She also spent a bit of time moving my legs for me, stretching them out and getting the blood flowing a bit. A few hours later the COL came by; with everyone. His security, enlisted advisor, driver and someone else I’m forgetting. I don’t mind the company; I worked with them every day. But the way they stood there and looked at me. I could have sworn they were looking into a coffin. CPT Dwyer was the only one that acted like everything was going to be fine. Moved about in a friendly but business-like manner. They stayed for about 45 minutes to chat. The COL told me that another COL would be escorting me to Germany as soon as I got released. I was stunned, because usually that job is reserved for someone the same rank as me or just a bit more. Not someone that has the highest rank in our unit. Just before they were about to leave, the Eskan doc walked in; told me I would be flying out that afternoon. I thought “Thank god”, I didn’t want to die in this country, although I wasn’t sure if I would make the flight. The way everything was going and no medical information provided to me I wasn’t sure what altitude would do to me. The COL also told me I could keep the unit cell phone so I could continue to keep in touch with my family and the unit to let them know how things were going. Which was great, because it had international calling and my personal one wasn’t even turned on. After they left nurse Duffy started to get everything together for me; the stuff CPT Dwyer dropped off, and helped me get into clean clothes (first in 3 days). Also, my neuro doc decided to grace me with his presence. First time in three days!! Told me that I would be released to go home. With a little rest and exercise, inshallah I’ll get better. (inshallah means if Allah wills) Looking back on it, I really wonder if I was put in that room to die.


A few hours later they came in with a wheelchair and said the ambulance was there to take me to the airport and that the plane would arrive shortly. With a ton of help I got into the wheelchair and down to the ambulance. They stopped at the back and then looked at me like I was going to hop out of the chair and into the ambulance. Really!! Someone with more smarts came by and directed them to get a gurney. When I finally got into the ambulance, it was filthy. I know deserts are dusty, but this was not dusty, it was filthy!! I did have a doc ride with me along with my escort. It took about an hour to get there. We flew out of the royal airport; the one where the princes and king flights out of. I didn’t get to see the inside, my passport was checked in the ambulance and I was driven onto the tarmac. I flew by a contacted Swiss Air Ambulance (super cool)!! I had three pilots, doc and nurse, real ones!! Once I was wheeled onto the plane I was hooked up to several monitors. First time I was hooked up to anything and it was on a freaking plane. I finally felt like I was in good hands; now I just hoped I made the flight.


After the flight took off it wasn’t long before I fell asleep. I was only out for about an hour before I woke up; was thrilled I woke up and it was at cruising altitude. The doc and my escort helped me out of the gurney and into one of the chairs for supper. !! It was a ton of work, was out of breath and was effort to sit in a chair. This was the best meal in three days. A microwave airplane meal!! On a different note using an airplane bathroom is much easier than a normal one. That tight space make it easier if you don’t have balance and strength. After about an hour in the chair looking out the window at the Red Sea and Mount Sinai I was back to bed. I took in as much as I could of the once in a lifetime view. After about 6 hours of flying we descended and landed in Germany. As they were unloading me there must have be twenty US Soldiers and Airman that volunteered to help me off the plane and onto the ambulance. I was so full of emotion I was balling my eyes out. It was drizzling a little bit (and freezing cold compared to the desert), but I’m not sure it did much to hide the tears. I didn’t think I would make it this far and now that I did there was no turning back.



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Tony, welcome to the Blog Community.  Lots of interesting points in your blog, particularly do not get sick in a country where you don't speak the language.  We didn't recognise the signs for my husband's first or second stroke, a lot of strokes are atypical. Luckily both times medical staff were on the ball and they did. Looking forward to the next installment.



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Tony, thanks for sharing your time in Saudi Arabia, even though I'm sure not pleasant to remember.  I'm glad you finally got the medical help you so desparately needed.  You can be thankful for your strength and will to survive and the great help of your countrymen.



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Tony, that was a fascinating story and you wrote it really, really well. I'm a retired professional writer and I know good stuff when I read it. I'm also a vet, so I can readily identify with much of what you say. I too look forward to your future installments. In the meantime, best wishes for a full recovery.


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Looking forward to find out what happens next. I am hoping that at least some things get better. We each have our own story. Keep on writing. We are listening.

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I think rewriting parts is okay because as time goes on you will remember more and will also have more perspective on what was happening to you. My initial memories were sketchy and it took awhile for me to get in touch with reality. I was on a medevac helicopter in a life and death situation and was asking the nurse/ stewardess if they had wine service available. It seemed reasonable to me at the time but not to anyone else. It wasn't until later I understood the situation i was in and what was in store for me. You are a good writer so keep writing. I am on the edge of my seat waiting to see what happens next.

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Everyone has been too kind, thank you very much for the feedback/comments.  I'm running a little slow working on the next part.  The past week has been more down than up so I've been selective on where I spend my energy.  I promise I plan on getting it all written out.

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Enjoyed the TED talks you shared. Thank you. Healing is slow. There is no rush. Rest and sleep. We are on the same time schedule. ;)

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