Busy week as we as Rachel and I spent most of it in Heidelberg for our annual clinical system trainer conference. A little odd to be at a conference to train on how to train trainers, but we made it work. More importantly, as you may recall from an earlier post, this annual training conference was the first thing Rachel and I did upon arriving in Germany last year. So as we quickly approach our 365 day mark in country, attending this conference with a year of experience under our belt was a good milestone of what we’d accomplished.
When Rachel and I first got here we didn’t know anyone. At least I had been doing the job as a contractor for a few years, Rachel had just left work as a Speech Therapist. She didn’t have a clue what anyone was talking about. And, as we looked around the room this year, we could see other brand new employees with similar slightly-overwhelmed-but-hiding-it-well grimaces on their own faces. And for Rachel, the transformation from last year to now was particularly impressive.
I had said months ago that Rachel would take off in this job, and I was right. A year ago she was watching me make presentations to the entire conference, and was simply focused on shedding the identity of “the other Yeaw.” However, this year it was me sitting there, as I watched her receive an award for being nominated for European Region Army Clinical Trainer of the Year. So proud, good for her. Alas, she didn’t win, …but she was a crowd favorite (well, I thought so anyhow).
So, I’ve also done pretty well for myself, as in one year I got promoted to manager, been a guest speaker in four countries, and received combat coins of excellence from the Commanding General of Walter Reed and the highest ranking medical officer in the Army, …the Army’s Surgeon General. Not a bad resume for 12 months. And I’m already on target to go for bigger and better things in the next few weeks (…stay tuned).
Rachel and I have been a dynamic pair, and loving every minute of it. Its tough working with your spouse (as I lamented in this side article), but we make it work. Work hard and play harder. When not at the hospital, we are either out and about touring Europe (as seen here on the blog), or planning to be out about touring Europe (to be seen here on the blog). We’ve got a 3 day weekend ahead this weekend as well, and hey, its our 7 year anniversary. Shhh, …I got us a hotel in Paris, and got 2 tickets for a show at the Moulin Rouge. We’ll see if Rachel reads this blog before Friday, LOL. Never a dull moment.
If touring scenic Heidelberg weren’t enough for one week, Rachel’s dad and stepmom came through the area on their way to Warsaw. As Rachel’s stepmom, Christel, is German, having them here gave us a good excuse to hit our favorite non-English speaking restaurant in the area. Hmm, love their spätzle and cordon bleu. We also took the opportunity to revisit one of our favorite short destination trips, Strasbourg, France.
I tell ya, I never get tired of visiting Strasbourg. It’s just one of those places that everyone should see. First off, it has a truly breathtaking cathedral that is so big you can see from 10 miles away. Walking inside you can’t help but gasp. Like the National Cathedral in DC, and Notre Dame in Paris, …this is the kind of building that actually makes you believe in God.
In addition to your expected, albeit extraordinary, stain glass and rising pillars, the Strasbourg cathedral also features one of the world’s largest and most intricate Astronomical Clocks. It is 3 stories tall and can tell you everything from the time of the day, to the position of the sun, to the zodiac’s location, to even the earth’s position in the universe, …no kidding. It is amazing. And, every hour it puts on a little show, like a giant cuckoo clock. Except this clock has death come out, spooky.
In the town of Strasbourg you will find a village simply referred to as Petite France, or little France. Odd to have a place *in* France called Little France, but if the name Strasbourg, didn’t give it away, this town used to be in German territory. In fact, Strasbourg has switched hands so many times over the years, I doubt the people here really know where they are. It is truly a blend of French and German cultures. A tour along the river through Petite France is magical. Every house is right out of a Grimm’s fairy tale (which were mostly derived from German stories by the way), and the whole town is like this. Come for a visit, and I’ll take you. France’s best kept secret. Or is it Germany’s? I forget.
Now, family isn’t the only one that visits us in Germany. Because of our hospital’s critical mission serving *all* incoming wounded from Iraq and Afghanistan, it is a major draw for USO shows and celebrities (yah, Chuck Norris ). Photo opps aside, it is great of any American to take the time to come shake the hand of a wounded soldier. It is interesting to see how, well, human, some of these paparazzi-hardened celebrities become when they suddenly are face to face with an 18 year old soldier, ..without any legs.
As I’ve learned walking the halls of this hospital for the last year, the average American solider is, well, not who you often think he, or she is. I see many of them, and they are kids in my eyes, …and they are scared out of their mind. Sometimes they just want to talk away their anxiety, or want to hear how everything will be ok. Sometimes they just want a hand to hold onto. These are American’s children here, and I meet them on the worst day of their life, every day.
Angelina Jolie came though here last month, and I was told she cried. Makes sense, ..it is a natural response to what is happening over here. It is human. Security had the clinic she toured pretty well locked down, but looking through the windows, I was told she personally hugged every nurse on her way out, and posed for a photo with the staff. Michelle Obama had a similar reaction. During the USO tour last year I had a chance to have a beer with Stephen Baldwin. He also commented how unprepared he was emotionally for interacting with the wounded warriors. True, enough, I don’t think anyone is.
Last November the Counting Crows came through here, and I remember the singer, Adam Duritz, was at a complete loss for words. Grasping for what to say, …he just sat down on the edge of one soldiers bed and sang. It was clearly the only way he knew how to offer comfort. Kind of like the story of the Little Drummer Boy, I guess.
Just yesterday I was walking past the Behavior Health clinic and noticed that guards had it closed and a small crowd of people were peering through the doors. The clear indication there was someone famous afoot. Now, being an employee of the hospital I can access many of the back door entrances to the clinics, and was able to make my way over to where the excitement was. Turns out it was magician David Blaine doing card tricks for some of the boys. Very cool.
I really give credit for these entertainers for being able to take our wounded warriors’ minds off the pain they are in. I also appreciate those that take time to thank the staff. The clinicians here have a tough job facing this every day, and they are human too. I’ve seen many a doctor holding up a wall in the hallways here at Landstuhl just trying to keep it together. The term “compassion fatigue” is one you hear commonly here. It’s the point you don’t have anything left to give. This war is going on ten years next week, longer than WW1 and WWII put together. There is no data on what to expect from the psyche of the soldier or medical community, …this is unprecedented.
As Rachel and I close in on our 1 year mark tomorrow, it will be interesting to think on how much this experience in Europe has changed us as well. Yes, one is always growing and evolving, …that is expected. But has our time outside the US, being embedded in the military community, and being surrounded by America’s wounded soldiers every day affected us in a more permanent way? Only time will tell I suppose.
However, seeing your home country from abroad gives anyone a more worldly perspective on things, yes. And, even more so, facing the true cost of our nation’s wars every day I enter work will affect my perspective on conflict, no doubt. But, Rachel and I expected to leave Europe different people. The real adventure in all of this so far has been in figuring out in what ways.
Well so far, so good. 1 year down, 1 year to go. 52 weeks of our European Tour complete. Thanks for joining along with us so far. Till next week blogfans. Now, …time to pack for Paris.[Return to Previous Page]