For Grandpa

September 26, 2008

While giving Mariah a back rub, I offered her a penny for her thoughts. She said simply, “I miss Grandpa.” When asked what she missed about him, she was silent. I said, “I miss him, too.” Then after a few more moments of silence, I said, “I believe his spirit is still present, and that he’s nearby now watching over you.”

Standing Tall (McGuire VAMC, 9/25/08)

Standing Tall (McGuire VAMC, 9/25/08)

With Mariah’s permission, I dedicate these pics of her work yesterday to my Dad, Donald Robert Steinwinter, an Army veteran of WW II.

A few minutes after this picture was taken yesterday afternoon, Mariah broke into sobbing. One piece of her puzzle is that each step forward seems to be accompanied by great sadness.

Walking Toward Tomorrow

– Mark


A Great Day in … Richmond!

September 24, 2008

Mariah returned to Richmond’s McGuire VA Medical Center on Tuesday afternoon to resume her rehab therapies. And to get reacquainted with sorely-missed privileges such as listening to the radio, watching TV, wearing her own clothes, and moving about the hospital and grounds at will. Freedom’s not just another word for nothin’ left to lose. (Sorry, Janice.) On her new bulletin board are posted the goals she set for herself, including: brush hair, brush teeth, walk, speak clearly, and eat without assistance.

Today (Wednesday) she started her first full day back at work a little sleepy but with renewed enthusiasm. In the care of a new therapy team she asked to be taken outdoors several times, propelled herself in her wheelchair (see below), walked about 300 feet using a walker, and stood without any support! During one assessment, she was asked questions like “If you got a flat tire on the highway, what would you do?” Her response was, “Call AAA.” To the question, “Why might you be late?” she responded, “You might be pregnant.” 🙂

Here are some pics from this new chapter in the book of Mariah’s Reemergence. (Click to enlarge.)

Student Driver (McGuire VAMC, 9/24/08)

– Mark

A Trip to the Beauty Shop

September 20, 2008

Everyone loves Friday. Especially when it’s time for a makeover. (Click to enlarge.)

This was Mariah’s first trip off the ward for non-medical purposes. Thanks to the docs and nurses who made this treat possible. And to Mini and Vanessa for adding makeup, a manicure, a pedicure and loads of heartfelt caring for the last ten days. You guys are pure sunshine. We love you.

The plan is to return to McGuire VA MC in Richmond next Tuesday. Please pray for a smooth transition.

– Mark

The Kid On The New Block

September 15, 2008

Mariah is adjusting to her new quarters at Walter Reed. She eats every chance she gets.

Saturday she walked with assistance around the ward. On Sunday, she ate a lot and had an MRI that shows no unexpected damage beyond what she suffered in the original stroke. Today she had a rigorous sit-stand-walk workout in the PT gym, followed by dozens of tricky and fun questions from her speech therapist conducting an assessment. Did I mention she’s a great eater?

Unfortunately, an expected visit to the beauty shop was vetoed by the doctors who don’t want her leaving the ward yet, leading to disappointment. But a quick regroup by the nurses resulted in a new plan to get her a shower on the ward and a mini-makeover in her room. Depending on the results, we may yet get a photo op.

She’s trying to be a good sport, and the nurses, therapists, and her family are making a mighty effort to thwart boredom. But she’s used to a marching band and now there’s only the buzz of a kazoo, albeit an enthusiastic one. We’re all hoping the doctors’ predictions of a rapid stabilization and return to Richmond are correct.

Blessings on all who continue to love and support Captain K., especially the terrific staff at Walter Reed.

– Mark

Mariah Returns to Washington

September 12, 2008

As has been often noted, Mariah’s emotional pain has been pretty intense even as her physical progress has been outstanding. Whether due to the trauma of the stroke, the unceasing demands of months of hard work, the various medications, something else, or a combination of all these, Mariah reached a point last week where she couldn’t continue to reliably participate in her rehabilitation therapies.

So a decision was made last Wednesday to return her to Walter Reed in Washington, DC. At WR her psyche and spirit are getting the care and attention they need which will in turn enable her to return focus to her physical reemergence. This wasn’t a problem with the McGuire VA Medical Center in Richmond. That’s a center of excellence for physical rehab, and Mariah’s body has benefitted hugely from that focus. It’s just that her most pressing needs at the moment are centered in her heart and her head. And Walter Reed has the specialists who can help in those mysterious and vital places

The medical experts and commanders in the Army and the VA are to be praised for their wisdom, insight, and ability to double-team the perplexing array of physical and psychological demons that are harassing Mariah.

I spent a few hours with her this afternoon and evening. She’s as talkative, ironic and funny as ever. At one point, I started to say “Thank God for..” something and she wrinkled her nose. I stopped and said, “Oh, sorry. Thank secular humanism for..” at which she laughed. She refused to agree to eat dinner, but consumed her entire meal with gusto – poached salmon, wild rice, green beans, and fresh fruit. She looks fabulous, even in the hospital-issue green PJs.

Her nurse, Vanesssa, is lavishing care and affection on her. Vanessa’s foot rubs elicited broad smiles and little grunts of pleasure. When she returns on Monday, she’ll do Mariah’s fingernails and toenails. (Mariah requested OPI Confuscius Say Coral (?!?!) but will settle for Equadorable Coral. Where does a feller get that stuff? Surely not at Home Depot.)

She’s also seeing two of her old therapists here. They asked to be assigned to her case, and they were both astonished at her progress.

I haven’t taken any pics yet because I’m not familiar in the ward and I don’t want to make a move prematurely. Mariah’s vulnerable and a little fragile, so visitors are restricted to family members for now. If you want to send a card or note, it should be addressed to:

Captain Mariah Kochavi
Ward 54
Walter Reed Army Medical Center
6900 Georgia Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20307

Please continue to pray, send positive vibes, think good thoughts, and make burnt offerings (or at least light a candle) on her behalf. She needs your support and her strength more than ever right now.

– Mark

P.S. Aunt Judy, Mariah sends Happy Birthday greetings. 🙂

Clay: Saturday and Sunday

September 9, 2008

A day for rest and time with family:

Mariah slept in Saturday, just like Friday. Hey, it’s the weekend. No school on Saturday or Sunday, right? So the only news I have to pass on about Saturday was that Mariah still knows how to pamper herself on a day off from school. Or rather she knows how to make her brother pamper her. Her head was real itchy and upon taking note of her perennial scratching, I reached over her bed and helped out. After a minute or two my hand drifted off and no sooner had I stopped than Mariah piped up, in a very sweet little voice, “Clay?”
“Will you keep scratching my head…please?”
….ten minutes pass, and, after my hand drifted off again…
“Would you please give me a back rub?”
“sure, I’d be happy to.”

Well, it was only a little while after the back massage (oh yeah, and hand massage, lets not forget that) that a little voice piped up again,

“mmhm…?” (Clay is watching TV)
“Will you rub my feet?”
“What?! Are you freakin’ kidding me?!”


Sunday is coming to a close. We lucked out today. During lunch in the dining room (which she mostly avoided yesterday), the nurses had arranged (as I hoped) for us to go off campus. So, at 12:30, Ramon, Clay, Mariah, and nurse Lori all headed down to the Wounded Warrior van to ride over to the Science Museum. But before leaving, we were intercepted by Suzanna and Glen with Zoe and Chai (the dogs). Mariah spent a few minutes with her beloved dog and her friends while I pulled up the van and Ramon donated his navigator GPS system.

After a short ride we hung out in the museum playing with enlarged stuffed dominoes that Mariah kicked over, a huge bubble-blowing device (like a two-way mirror made out of a wall of bubble-blowing juice!), and lots of scientific stuff, like laser lights and light prisms and so on. Then we all sat in the IMax theater for a 45 minute showing of “Grand Canyon Adventure”. Mariah ate a hot dog, a bag of Chexmix, and even shared her Cheez-its with me while we delved into the Grand Canyon on the astronomical 3-D dome-shaped movie screen. I don’t know about Mariah, but I sure had a blast.

Mariah came back in the late afternoon for a visit with mom, and caught an early bedtime after a shower cuz the little lady was all tuckered out!

Stay tuned, and please please keep praying for Mariah, Mark, Mary, and Clay, as well as anyone else struggling to accept the seemingly unacceptable.

Love and Light,

Love Those High Notes

September 4, 2008

The most beautiful music ends on a high note.

Pausing For a Moment (McGuire, 9/4/08)

Pausing For a Moment (McGuire, 9/4/08)

This morning a troubled and withdrawn Mariah was taken for an unexpected MRI while I was away working. A drug she was given to relax her before going for the MRI may have had the opposite effect. Whatever the reason, she lashed out at the nurses while waiting for the procedure and the MRI was postponed. Back in her room, she was visited by her doctor and burst into tears – the first huge cry she’s allowed herself in someone’s presence. After the outpouring of fear and anger and anguish, a different Mariah seems to have emerged. Far more cheerful, talkative, joking, engaged, and endearingly sweet than I’ve seen since this began nearly three months ago. I don’t get it, but I love it.

When I returned she was on the patio chatting amiably with two of her good nurse friends. Almost unconsciously, she moved her sunglasses from her face to the top of her head as she described how she used a laser to excise tumors from giant sea turtles during her 4th year vet rotation in Key West.

This evening, Mariah, Clay and I took a trip to Target (pronounced Tar-schay) to buff up Mariah’s wardrobe (my treat) and to simply get some time together away from the hospital. It was the first time in nearly three weeks that Mariah was allowed to operate without a nurse being present, and we all appreciated the freedom.

Mariah propelled herself through the store alternately using her hands (another first) on the wheels and her feet on the floor. She moved gracefully among the racks of clothing, stopping to touch and comment on the pieces that caught her eye and to hold up alternatives for closer examination. She unfailingly checked the price of each item that she chose, once asking “Are you sure, Dad?”. I’d give her my life if I could, and she was concerned about spending $9.99 for a pretty shirt.

An hour ago (8:30 pm EDT) Mariah, Clay, nurse Linda, Colonel Atchison, and I were sitting on the newly opened 2nd floor roof deck. Under a vault of stars a Chesire moon-slice grinned at us over the darkening silhouettes of the surrounding buildings. We dined on cheeseburgers and fries that the colonel smuggled in. We talked and laughed in the dark like old friends spending the evening together. It was all so refreshingly .. normal. Something wonderful is indeed emerging.

Playing on the Lokomat

Chatting With Friends

A Day At the Zoo

September 2, 2008

Labor Day was too beautiful to spend cooped up in a hospital, so Mariah, her nurse, and I went to the Richmond zoo on a field trip. We all piled into Mariah’s Outback for the trek into the country where the zoo is nestled. Nice change from the usual urban concrete menagerie.

One cool feature was an overpass at the giraffe exhibit. We walked up to their head level and fed them right from our hands. A giraffe’s tongue is huge, long, blue, soft, and odd-feeling. They love being fed but they don’t much like being touched. Sort of like teenagers.

Lunch brought out all the animals. Roosters and a peacock strolled amongst us while Mariah wolfed a hot dog with mustard (hers and most of mine, actually), an order of fries, a fruit smoothie (more like a Slushee), and an ice cream cone.

The nurse suggested we stop for tattoos on the way home. I wanted a giraffe tongue snaking up my arm, but Mariah declined.

Lunch Chat (Richmond Zoo, 9/1/08)

We hope your holiday was as much fun as ours. See you at the monkey house!

– Mark