Thursday, March 8, 2012

Welcome Home

After I was diagnosed in September ’99, I remained stationed at Camp Eagle (Korea).  I was grounded from flying but still in command of D/1-6, an Air Cav maintenance troop.  Stability provided comfort as I tried to adjust to my MS.  The Army was my family and I was not ready for more changes.  Further health complications in late June changed that; in a few short weeks I was back in the US for my MEB (Medical Evaluation Board) and outprocessing.  My diagnose-to-retirement from the Army was a whirlwind of events and changes.  With those changes came a flurry of emotions, mostly fear of the unknown.

The MEB world was a cold and lonely place.  I felt as if everyone there had one single purpose: to separate me from my family.  In two short months at Walter Reed my fate was decided and I was ‘separated from service’; I think of it as the ultimate divorce.  Before I left, I was handed a copy of my medical records.  The specialist told me “when you get where you are going, find the closest VA hospital.  Bring these.”

When I get where I am going?  What does that mean?
Find the closest VA hospital?  Then what?
Bring these?  And do what with them?

I ended up in Pittsburgh, PA.  I had a new job and a new home.  Now I needed to find a doctor.  Pittsburgh has a VA hospital so I figured I would go there first then try to figure out what’s next.  Dazed and confused, I found the room for inbound records.  In October 2000, I walked up to the desk as a 28-year old retiree and handed over my records.  That time was a blur; I don’t remember the names, faces or just about anything that happened that day.  That day, however, has one crystal clear image in my mind.  The gentleman behind the desk took my records.  He reviewed the coversheet, quickly scanned some pages then looked up at me.
“Welcome Home, Captain Byrne”

“Welcome Home.”  Those two words summed up that visit and every day since then.  My family at the VA has been in lockstep with me ever since.

The VA always remain discreet, never calls attention to itself, and never expects any thanks.  I’m ashamed to admit that I don’t remember most of the names, although everyone is sure to introduce themselves every time I come in.  I do remember the care and support.  I want to take this time to acknowledge some of the most amazing women and men I have ever met.  This includes, but is no way limited to:
·         The Gentleman at the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System records desk.  Your friendliness and help was the best thing that this frightened patient could have experienced.
·         The Pharmacy staffs at the VA Pittsburgh & NY Harbor Healthcare Systems.  You tailored my medication fulfillment around every oddball work and travel schedule I could come up with, never once telling me I was pushing my luck!
·         The Mental Health staff with the Wilmington (Delaware) VA Medical Center, because every MS patient will hit that wall.  You were there to keep me strong.
·         The Optometry, Ophthalmology, and Neurology staffs at the Wilmington VA Medical Center.  I walked in the front door one day in 2005 and told the nurse I couldn’t see out of one eye and the other was fading.  For the next 6 hours, I felt as if nothing else mattered to you.  I walked out on my own that day, arm in arm with my then-fiancé, on the road to recovery.
·         The MRI technicians at the Portland VA Medical Center.  Every time you stay late, come in after-hours, or tuck me in with a warm blanket, my anxiety disappears.
·         The nurses in the Nurse Infusion Clinic at the Portland VA Medical Center
Funny Story: while undergoing treatment last year, I felt a bit itchy and uncomfortable.  I walked up to the nurses’ station and said just that.  “I feel itchy” was actually full blown anaphylactic shock.  The nurse calmly said OK, asked me how my throat was and walked me back to my room.  For the next 3 hours, every nurse and aide on the floor was in and out treating me (and the 9 other patients who were there as well).  I walked out on my own that day, arm in arm with my now wife, on the road to recovery.
·         Mary, my Nurse Practitioner at the Portland VA Medical Center.  I’m not sure how many patients she has but during every visit and call I fell like the only patient in the VA Healthcare System who has their own personal caregiver!  I’m not sure I could have handled 2011’s rash of MS issues without Mary
·         Marsha, with Education at the VA Puget Sound Health Care System.  I’ve realized that writing down my stories is great therapy for me.  In 2010 I was referred to Marsha and she set me up with my own blog!  As I sit here typing my 16th entry I realize that I have lost count of the benefits I have gained and others have shared with me!

Thanks to these wonderful people, I realized that I never left my family after all.  They just stopped wearing fatigues. 

It’s great to be home with family!
Kevin Byrne - Portland, OR


  1. Kevin,

    It was great to meet you yesterday and to hear about your experiences with the VA. Stop by any time that you are up on the Hill.


  2. Hello Kevin,

    It was great to meet you yesterday and to hear about your experiences with the VA. Stop by anytime that you are on the Hill.