Author's Blog

by S. Mina

TABLE OF CONTENTS:
1. "Tales from the Georgetown Hospital Surgical Ward,
The Florida Mayo Clinic, and Beyond"
2. "The Iraq War: The True Story of a Soldier"

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"TALES FROM THE GEORGETOWN HOSPITAL SURGICAL WARD, THE FLORIDA MAYO CLINIC, AND BEYOND"
by Samantha Mina

Chapters:
* Introduction
* 2008: My First Year in a New World
* 01 - 02/2008: Stories from the Georgetown Surgical Center
* 12/2007 - 01/2008: Recollections from Reston Radiology
* 03/2008: Post-Surgical Update
* 01/2009: 1-Year Anniversary of Diagnosis
* 01 - 02/2010: Tales from the Jacksonville, Florida Mayo Clinic

Cutting-edge medical researchers now believe that life and death begin in the digestive tract."
— Jordan Rubin, N.M.D., Ph.D., in The Maker's Diet

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Introduction:

What's it like to experience a real House, M.D. mystery from the eyes of the patient? To find out, read on. My story is also featured on Discovery Channel's Mystery Diagnosis Program.


To view all 3 parts, click here

Or, for the condensed, five-minute version of my story, watch my YouTube video, as posted on the profile of the World Rare Disease Day Organization:

For all of 2008, I went on leave from the University of Virginia due to SUPERIOR MESENTERIC ARTERY (SMA) SYNDROME - an illness so rare, I had to author the Wikipedia article. On January 31, 2008, my life was saved by a fairly major surgery (open duodenojejunostomy). With SMA Syndrome, every day is a struggle, as every bite hits the stomach like broken glass. SMA syndrome may never make one "look sick" to passerby, but having the blood-cell count of a cancer patient, the weight of a ten-year-old, and a limited (or even nonexistent) capacity to digest solid food makes it hard to attempt normal life. It changes you, to be diagnosed with a life-threatening condition with a demographic of only 0.013%, making it one of the rarest disorders known to medical science. I've learned first-hand that I honestly do not fear death, because I trust in Christ. In January 2008, my cardiologist told me I was only a few pounds away from heart failure. According to the World Health Organization, a body mass index (BMI) under 18.5 is considered underweight, under 16 is starvation and under 15 indicates a danger of organ failure and cardiac arrest. My BMI, just below 70 pounds as of January 2008, was an 11.5. People in the street stopped me to say that my "super-skinny body is to die for." They didn't know just how frighteningly true their words were. Yet, throughout this entire ordeal, my joy and trust in the Lord has only strengthened. :)

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2008: My First Year in a New World

There are two forms of SMA Syndrome - chronic and acute. The chronic manifestation is like a phantom; afflicted individuals are predisposed at birth and subject to "attack" - or onset - at any time during their lives.

For me, it all began with a case of pneumonia near the end of my sophomore year at the University of Virginia (UVA), when I was nineteen. For ten days, I couldn’t leave my bed, let alone walk to the dining hall. Naturally, my weight was in the mid-nineties, but by the end of that week, I was down to the upper eighties. I began to get awful stomach pains that were unrelated to the pneumonia. Only a week later, I developed sinusitis. And then the flu. Summer came, and I found that I could barely swallow a bite without feeling sick—and I don’t mean that figuratively. I was always freezing, even though the weather was hot, and I caught colds every other week.

Summer faded into fall, and I returned to UVA. In my very first week there, I stepped on a friend’s scale in her dorm and saw that, at a height of nearly 5’5”, I was now seventy-five pounds. By then, I’d become so weak, the physical aspect of college life had become all but impossible. I lived in a building that was a forty-minute walk from central campus and twelve and a half flights of stairs up from the street, with no elevators. I found couldn’t go anywhere without taking several rests on the curb. I stopped bringing half the required books to class because I couldn’t lift them. I grew faint and dizzy even when sitting in lecture. I was always so cold, I wore leggings under my pants and turtlenecks under my sweaters, even in early September. Sometimes, I kept my winter coat and gloves on, indoors. I skipped half my extracurriculars out of exhaustion. Every night, I had tremors and palpitations that made it difficult to breathe and impossible to fall asleep.

But, worst of all was the sensation of shards of broken glass in my stomach and the projectile vomiting. Every single time I would eat or drink, I would feel as though I were stabbed. I became afraid of food because eating inevitably caused pain. I grew to hate mealtimes. I'd have this empty feeling inside of me, this hollow exhaustion screaming in my head: you need to eat, you must eat, but I knew if I did, I would be in agony. The pain was like a hot knife, stabbing me over and over, always in the same spot. It would be so intense it would literally bring me to my knees. After meals, I’d always have to lie face-down, even if that meant stretching out on the chairs in the dining halls.

One November day, I tried to jog after a bus that was about to leave without me, and this debilitating pang struck me in the center of my chest—I’d never felt anything like it before. I felt my chest tightening and my throat closing; I couldn’t breathe. I stumbled to the ground, dropping my backpack, hands numb. The bus stopped and the next thing I knew, someone onboard had called an ambulance, reporting that a college student in the street was having a heart attack. I was rushed to the University Hospital. There, I was given an EKG, and I will never forget what the doctor told me. He said: "The heart is a muscle, and just like you've lost most of the other muscle in your body, you probably lost some of your heart muscle too, because you are so underweight. Samantha, you are sixty-seven pounds. According to the Body Mass Index Scale, a BMI below 18.5 is underweight; a BMI under 16 indicates starvation according to the World Health Organization, and a BMI below 15 is indicates danger of organ failure and cardiac arrest... Samantha, your BMI is an 11.5."

When I mentioned my continual stomach pain - the reason my weight was so low - the doctor told me I probably had Irritable Bowel Syndrome, which is a very common, incurable condition. I faced myself with the prospect of feeling like this every day for the rest of my life. The idea was unbearable. I was convinced that it had to be something more serious. Something treatable.

When I went home for Christmas break, I scheduled appointments with every single type of doctor I could think of. I saw a gastroenterologist, a cardiologist, a hematologist, a rheumatologist, a physiatrist, a nephrologist... I must have seen over a dozen different doctors and took as many grueling tests: I was scanned, biopsied, scoped, prodded, poked, injected, infused, dehydrated, starved, x-rayed, strapped to a tilt-table and turned upside down, fed literal liters of radioactive chemicals, and was even landed in the ER once from reactions to the IV and oral fluids. The holiday season passed with nonstop tests but no diagnosis. By then, the pain had forced me into an all-liquid diet. All the while, my gastroenterologist wouldn’t take me seriously because she was convinced from the moment I walked through her door that I was anorexic. She said I was only a couple pounds away from heart failure.

That was when, for the first time in my life, I began to think seriously about death and dying. As I lay awake in bed with heart palpitations and stabbing stomach pain, I thought about heaven and eternity and found that I honestly had no fear of death. Since the day I was saved by Christ, I’d always hoped I’d have the faith not to fear death, but I figured I’d never really know until I actually faced it. While I never expected to at age twenty, I was surprised and relieved to learn that I really didn’t mind. That night, I praised God for bringing me into this situation because it made me grow closer to Him and discover that I really did trust in eternity. I told Him I only wanted to live for the sake of my family, but if it was His will for me to go, I was ready. I asked Him for just one last thing: a diagnosis, so my family could have the comfort of a name for what was killing me.

It was the night of January 3, 2008, and I was paging through my enormous medical file, reflecting on all the "negative" and "normal" test results. And I noticed, for the first time, that all the tests I had done so far just focused on my stomach and my large intestines. So then I thought: what about everything in between? That’s when I went online and read about “CT with PO contrast” and “UGI series,” and how those scans would image the stomach, small intestines, and large intestines. So I called my doctor and requested the tests. Four days later, on January 7, 2008, the results were in: I was diagnosed with Superior Mesenteric Artery (SMA) Syndrome—a life-threatening condition with a demographic of only 0.013%, making it one of the rarest disorders known to medical science. I was told that the diagnosis would’ve been missed if I’d only done the test the doctor ordered. God had answered my prayer.

The following week, I met with a surgeon at Georgetown Hospital. He was the first to truly explain SMA Syndrome to me. He said that it used to be terminal, but now, 1 in 3 patients die of the condition by any of the following means: catabolysis (a type of advanced malnutrition in which the body begins to digest organs), acute gastric rupture (where the SM artery slices through the intestines), aspiration pneumonia (when food spasms from the stomach to the lungs), or sudden collapse of the entire cardiovascular system. I was confronted with the fact that my life could only be saved by a specific major surgery. However, the surgeon said that I was so underweight, heart failure during the surgery was a serious concern. He also said that, during the operation, there was a possibility that the superior mesenteric artery would be severed. This is a major artery that stems straight from the aorta, which runs right out of the heart. So, basically, he was telling me that, if this artery is merely nicked, I would bleed to death immediately. I remember crying in his office and asking, “Is there any other way? Is there anything else that can be done besides this surgery?” And he just looked at me and said, “I’m sorry, no. If you do not have this surgery, you will die.”

I was supposed to return to campus to start my spring semester that very weekend. Instead, I went to UVA to empty out my dorm room and submit leave-of-absence forms. I cried the whole time I packed. I prayed for peace during the drive back home.

My surgery was scheduled for the last day of January. During the three week wait, God did indeed grant me the answers to all my prayers. My fixation with academic perfection dissolved as I accepted the idea of staying out of school for at least the rest of my junior year. Only then did I realize how meaningless my straight A’s were when compared to eternity. God also erased my anxiety about the operation. I felt surreally calm when I was wheeled into the cold operating room, numerous pairs of eyes following me. As I climbed up onto the high table, beneath the blinding white lights, and before a sea of green scrubs and blue surgical masks, I kept silently repeating in prayer, “Even now, Lord, You are to be praised. Even now, You are good to me.”

I went on medical leave from college not only for the surgery, but to cope with all the damage SMA Syndrome had done to my body by that point. I truly know what it is like to live in constant pain, all day, every day. But, by the grace of God, by 2010, I have gained about twenty pounds from my lowest weight of 67 and have successfully graduated with honors from UVA. I know the Lord carried me through all this, and no matter what comes my way next in life, I’m always shielded, armed and ready - not by my own strength; the Lord Almighty knows that ran out long, long ago. I'm running on the strength of Jesus Christ, my Great Physician. :)

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01 - 02/2008:
Stories from the Georgetown Surgical Center:

Prepare to enter the world of my hilariously horrific hospital stay (January 31st - February 7th). Get ready to laugh/cringe.

#1:

My nurse wanted to give me my daily hebburn shot either in my stomach or my arm. She didn't know where I had my surgery, and, anatomically, the stomach is the best place to give that specific kind of shot since the medicine requires a certain amount of fat at the site of the injection for proper absorption. She could see that my twig-arms obviously didn't qualify (but, then again, she said she believed no part of my body could, including my concave stomach). In any case, I told her to give to my arm, since my abdomen was the site of the surgical incision. She said, "Oh, I'm sure there's some room next to the incision." Was she kidding!? My stomach hurt so badly, it couldn't tolerate the mere touch of my gown. Yes, I actually sat there holding my gown up all day for the first three days after the surgery, so it wouldn't even brush into my tummy. And she wanted to stick it with a needle.

#2:

At 4:00AM on Saturday, February 2nd, a technician thought it was a fabulous time to give me a chest X-ray. You know that heavy pad that's used to shield body parts that don't need to be imaged? He woke me up that morning by dropping pad on my stomach. No exaggeration - he actually dropped it, smack dab onto my incision. It was all I could do not to scream at the top of my lungs and wake up the whole ward.

#3:

My roommate defecated on the floor of the bathroom. Not just once or twice, but multiple times a day, every day. One really cannot blame her - she did just come out of GI surgery, after all. The unbelievable part is that three days passed and no one cleaned the diarrhea - more just kept piling up. How could the staff at Georgetown leave post-operative patients in such an unsanitary environment? So, I placed a special request, but after yet another day, it appeared as though my inquiry was ignored. It turned out they had sent the housekeepers to the wrong room. When it finally did get cleaned, I didn't even get to use the bathroom once before my roommate went back in there and... well, you can guess the rest.

#4:

My surgeon said to my mom, dad and I that our behavior is a "testimony to the strength of this family." He obviously has no idea that my parents are divorced…

#5:

For the first four days after my surgery, I was put on a morphine drip. I could push the button every eight minutes for pain relief. (Imagine a fork jabbing and twisting your intestines like noodles - that was how the internal stitches felt, even with the drip). Well, I turned out to be allergic to the morphine; it made me itch like I had mosquito bites all over my body. So, the nurse decided to give me a second IV with hydroxyzine to make the itch stop. The combination of medicines was too much for my sub-70-pound body to handle - I fell unconscious. When I finally woke up hours later (not on my own, but with help), she asked me, "How much did you say you weighed again?" When I told her, she exclaimed "Oh, if I'd known, I wouldn't have given you that much medicine!" I was shocked: Nurses are supposed to have the patient's records on hand. And, even if she didn't have my records, couldn't she see my childlike frame with her own two eyes and know to ask? Of course I didn't think to tell her myself - I trusted that she, as a heathcare professional, would know how to measure a safe dose.

#6

One afternoon, when my surgeon visited my room, he told me, "I know you well, inside and out."

...Creepy much?

#7 - 10:

There are a few more incidents I can think of, like the time the nurses delivered my pain meds ninety minutes late despite my incessant pushing of the call button; the hour-long needle torture sessions by nurses who didn't even know how to properly stick an IV or a catheter; the afternoons my parents spent watching America's Funniest Home Videos on the room TV when I couldn't even chuckle (let alone laugh) without my stomach feeling as though it were about to split apart; and the evening when the nurses took away my dinner when I said I was intolerant to one ingredient in it, ultimately forgetting to provide any replacement meal at all...

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12/2007 - 01/2008:
Recollections from Reston Radiology:

#1:

The Friday before my surgery, I spent nearly the entire day (from 10AM to 4:30PM) doing an Upper Gastrointestinal Series (UGI) at the Reston Imaging Center. I had to fast both the night before and as long as the test was in progress, which made me quite dizzy, achy and cold (body-heat and muscle function requires energy, and it's not like my body had a reserve to draw from! The technician was like, "stop shivering, it blurs the picture"... like I could control it!) The test proceeded as follows:

STEP 1: I swallowed three tablespoons of dry Alka-Seltzer crystals (ouch) in order to create a pocket of air in my stomach (and the technician instructed me, while I was about to explode, "don't burp!"... like that's possible!)
STEP 2: I downed two sixteen-ounce bottles of barium sulphate (think: acidic cement... gag) so my organs could show up on the X-Ray.
STEP 3: a radiologist whacked my belly repeatedly with a paddle (!!!) while I was swung around on a tilt-table beneath a fluoroscope. Can you say 'nauseaaaa'!
STEP 4: a technician took images every fifteen minutes until the barium hit my colon. (He exclaimed, "For a young, healthy individual, this test should've only taken two hours, not all day!" I didn't really know what to say to that. I mean, if my digestive system was "healthy," I wouldn't have spent my day in an X-Ray machine in the first place, now would I!?)
STEP 5: I repeated step 3, during which the radiologist said (direct quote): "If you have to vomit, lean forward - just don't do it ON the machine." Oh, the horror on her face...

#2:

Overall, the UGI was still a less intense experience than the Computed Tomography (CT) scan I had in late December, though the CT took far less time. The chemicals from the CT IV caused some serious hot flashes in addition to the sensation that your throat is closing, heat in the bladder area, headaches, metallic taste in the mouth, numbness in the hands and feet...

The nurse who stuck the IV told me, "The solution is flowing into your veins at the slowest possible rate it can be set, but even that is faster than your own blood flow. So, this may feel a bit intense." As the solution coursed, my veins protruded all the way up my arm like a black net.

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03/2008:
Post-Surgical Update:

I saw a new gastroenterologist at Georgetown Hospital for my post-surgical follow-up: Dr. Stanley Benjamin, who is on the "Top Doctors in America" list. He costs the same as any other GI (thanks to insurance) and he works at the hospital at which I've been receiving treatment thus far, so I figured why not see him instead of my original GI? The only drawback is that he is crazy-busy (not just seeing patients, but attending/holding conferences, traveling to his fellowships in other hospitals, writing and publishing research papers, teaching med classes--basically, doing far more that your average GI). This means that his secretaries practically have secretaries of their own, and that his appointment waiting-list goes on for a mile. But, I didn't have to get on the month-long list for my visit because I am a post-surgical patient from the Hospital. I was seen within two weeks of calling!

My appointment on March 24th was interesting. Dr. Benjamin told me that my UGI and CT images were reviewed in a large conference throughout the Georgetown Gastroenterology and GI-Surgical departments after my operation in January. The topic of discussion? The existence of SMA Syndrome. Apparently, the condition is so rare, some people in the medical community at large doubt its existence entirely. Dr. Benjamin said he was a skeptic himself, though he's now more willing to consider it, for my images are a "most compelling example" (which truly is something coming from a doctor so experienced!)

This may sound odd, but it felt like a slap when such a prestigious doctor told me of his skepticism, straight to my face. (Little did I know that this was just my first encounter in a lengthy succession of "SMAS skeptics"...) How can someone doubt a condition that disrupts (and, in more than enough cases, destroys and ends) lives? Untreated SMA Syndrome is fatal. Many have actually died from it before. Even with treatment, the mortality rate is 1:3. A few weeks ago, I was contacted via YouTube by a fifteen-year-old girl who was diagnosed with SMA Syndrome when she was eight. Unlike me, she never had a duodenojejunostomy. Instead, she's being fed for 20 hours a day via jejunal feeding tube. All she can eat by mouth is chicken broth, and even that does not always stay down. Her story makes me want to cry. It makes me really wonder how some medical professionals can look at her and deny that her condition is real.

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01/2009: 1-Year Anniversary of Diagnosis

God has humbled me a lot throughout 2008; He temporarily revoked my comfort-zone of the university, forcing me to slow down and straighten my priorities so that He always comes first, before grades and performance and extracurriculars. I've also gained a better perspective of the limits of human medical science and technology. Most people think doctors can fix anything. But, the truth is, only God can, through whatever means He chooses.

I think it's the "glass half full" mentality that is getting me through it all, and that mindset is truly a blessing from God. Not to say I never have my fair share of private whiny and mopey moments, of course ;) . But I figured that the suffering would only intensify if dwelt upon. For example, instead of groaning about how little sleep I'd get because of my abdominal pain, I'd think instead: "Hey, I just had five whole hours, which is one more than yesterday!" And so forth. Also, if something looms over my head, like surgery or particularly invasive tests, I try not to think about it at all, except when in prayer or at a doctor's appointment. I figure, if I'm going to have to go through with it anyway, why "pre-live" it hundreds of times and multiply the suffering? This has saved me a lot of fear and stress.

My priorities have definitely changed in the last year, mainly because God has shown me the consequences of putting Him second. When I gave my novel-writing almost all of my free time, God gave me a massive computer crash that deleted hundreds of pages. When I channeled all my energy into obtaining a 4.0 GPA and participating in as many extracurriculars as possible (cutting into time that I should have spent with Him), God responded by taking the University of Virginia from my life for all of 2008. God used that time to sharpen me, and make me cling to Him. I see these trials as revivals. When my parents split when I was twelve, my relationship with God took a leap forward. Same with this health saga today. So, I now figure, how could I be too sad or upset that these "bad" things happened when they ultimately lead to something as good as spiritual revival?

Now for my college update: After twelve full months on leave, I will not be returning to UVA until the 2009 - 2010 academic year... but not for medical reasons, this time! I have been accepted into Georgetown University's highly-selective "Semester in Washington" Program for the spring 2009 semester, which, in my case, includes a Congressional internship on Capitol Hill alongside a full schedule of politics classes.

January 2009 marks the one-year anniversary of my diagnosis of SMA Syndrome and consequent life-saving duodenojejunostomy. 2008 has been an incredible year in every sense of the word. The Lord has taught me much as He captained my spirit through storm after storm. And, He continues to hold my hand wherever I go :)

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01 - 02/2010: Tales from the Jacksonville, Florida Mayo Clinic

As of January 2010, two years have passed since my diagnosis, and, sadly, the terrain has grown rocky once more. After months of nearly pain-free life, I began to experience recurrent SMA-Syndrome symptoms, as well as new "twisting" and "stabbing" pains at my old surgical site. With a condition so rare, "I don't know" was the only answer my local doctors had to offer. Indeed, it is not uncommon for those with "orphan conditions" to have to travel far and wide to find a doctor who could possibly understand what is happening and recommend the proper treatment.

The legendary Mayo Clinic agreed to take my case. Mayo applicants are not accepted on a first-come-first-serve basis, but according to the doctors' evaluation of the severity of every patient's condition. Less than 24 hours after submitting my request, the Clinic contacted me to say that, while they are technically "booked" through March, they are squeezing me in this very month. And so, I road-tripped 800 miles to Jacksonville, Florida and checked into the Hospital at 7AM on 01/28/2010. I was diagnosed with and treated for abdominal spasms and dysfunction (a by-product of SMA syndrome) and abdominal adhesions (a complication of my previous open surgery). I was discharged the evening of 02/02/10. (My surgery back in 2008 was on 01/31 and I was discharged on 02/07... same time of year...!)

To read my "Mayo adventures," continue on. (Also, click to view my Mayo Clinic Photo Album).

#1:

To celebrate the incredible leaps and bounds in SMA Syndrome awareness that are already being made in the year 2010 due to my new public education and service project, the "Superior Mesenteric Artery (SMA) Syndrome Awareness & Support" Community, and to encourage prayers for my Mayo Clinic trip, Maria McMillan (the administrator of Laura Fay's SMA Syndrome Support Group in Australia) declared 01/28/2010 as "WORLDWIDE SMA SYNDROME AWARENESS DAY." Hundreds of people from across the world RSVPed, agreeing to wear purple. And, my wonderful friends from Reston Bible Church all spent the day in fasting and the evening in prayer! Words cannot express what a blessing it has been for me to come home on February 3rd and see all the emails, public facebook posts, and photos of purple-clad folks. (I only wish I was able to participate in "Purple Day" myself, but I had to wear a pale blue hospital gown on 01/28. I did, however, take my purple picture in advance, right before leaving Virginia!) I'm truly blessed by each and every single prayer warrior, participant, and friend!

#2:

The Mayo Clinic is truly enormous, composed of three major wings with 214 beds and 22 operating rooms(!) The 6th floor of the Davis Building is the Gastroenterology Unit. If you want a... erm... rather unforgettable experience, visit the public bathrooms in the Gastroenterology unit... I shall say no more about that!

#3:

Having a rare condition in a major research hospital inevitably means that lots of doctors and interns will ogle at you throughout your stay. (Never mind that SMA Syndrome is not externally visible!) One doctor actually said, straight to my face, "Well, no one really knows if SMA Syndrome is a real, valid entity." I fought the urge to be rather un-Christlike and say something along the lines of, "Well, how about I kick you in the stomach, and then you can tell me if that feels real or valid!?" But, I kept quiet, of course; I didn't want to be rude or a bad testimony.

#4:

After my very first full day of consultations and testing (01/28), I took an evening walk on the Jacksonville beach, only five miles from the Clinic. One thing I noticed was that there were surfers in the water... in the dead of winter. Florida or not, it was chilly and windy outside, even by Virginian standards!

I also noticed, when I looked down at my snowboots, that my tracks were perfectly imprinted in the sand. I was immediately reminded of a poem of faith that I once read, titled "Footprints." Later that night, I made a personalized edit of the poem:

I was walking along the Jacksonville beach with the LORD,
after my first day at the Mayo Clinic
and scenes from my life flashed before my eyes.
In most, I noticed two sets of FOOTPRINTS IN THE SAND:
mine, and the Lord's.
But, at the very lowest times along the path of my life--
like today--
I could only see only one set of footprints.
And so, I asked Him:
"Lord, You said that once I decided to follow You,
You'd walk with me all the way.
I don't understand why, when I needed You most, You would leave me."
And He replied:
"My daughter, I love you and I would never leave you;
during your times of trial and suffering,
when you see only one set of footprints,
it was then that I carried you."

#5:

The Davis Building has the fastest elevators I ever rode. We dropped from Floor 6 to 1 in mere seconds - I felt like my stomach was going to exit my throat. Before installing them, how come no one considered the possibility that sick people may have to ride the Hospital elevators!?

#6:

At 5AM on January 29th, I woke up screaming in the hotel room from stabbing abdominal pain that was far too extreme to control with any oral medication. My dad and I decided to head for the Mayo ER.

It was the morning of only our second day in Jacksonville--we were still fairly unfamiliar with the area and unsure how to get to the Hospital from our hotel. And so, we had to use the car's incredibly chattery, glitch-ridden, slow and clunky navigation system. While I screamed and thrashed in the passenger seat beside him, my dad had an epic verbal spar with the automated voice.

GPS: Good morning. Welcome to Onstar E-Nav. Let me connect you. Or, say, 'No thanks.'
(Lengthy pause)
Dad: Hurry the h*** up!
GPS: I'm listening now. Please say the name of your stored destination--
Dad: Mayo Clinic!
GPS: --or, if you cannot remember the name of your stored destination, please say 'list,' and I will gladly list everything I have stored in the system.
Dad: I said, 'Mayo Clinic'!
GPS: Slower, please.
Dad: Mayo Clinic!
GPS: I'm sorry. I didn't get that. Could you please repeat for me the name of your stored destination? Or, if you cannot remember it, please say 'list' and I will gladly--
Dad: TAKE ME TO THE D*** MAYO CLINIC!
GPS: Pardon?
Dad: Samantha, will you stop screaming!?
Me: I can't help it!
GPS: I'm listening now. Please say the name of your stored destination. Slowly, please.
Dad: Maaaayyyoo Cliiiinnnniiic!
(Lengthy pause)
GPS: Got it. You said, 'Mayo Clinic.' Is that correct? Please say, 'yes' or--
Dad: YES!
GPS: --or say, 'no.'
Dad: I SAID YES!
(Lengthy pause)
Dad: Come on!
GPS: Alright. Got it. Please wait while directions are sent to your vehicle. You may cancel your route at any time. To do so, just push the hands-free calling button and say 'cancel route.' Thank you and good-bye.
Dad: It's about time!
(Dad then takes the wrong way out of the parking lot).
GPS: You have left the highlighted route. Would you still like directions to your destination--
Dad: Yes!
GPS: --or should I cancel your route? I'm listening now. Please say, 'yes' to get directions or 'no' to cancel your route.
Dad: YES!!!

...Somehow, we managed to make it to the Clinic! There, I was given IV Vicodin for the pain and a CT scan to make sure nothing new was 'happening.' Intravenous Vicodin is far stronger than the pill, and the side effects are greatly augmented, too. The entire morning was a complete blur; I couldn't even walk straight (no exaggeration) and I lost control of a couple of my other, um... faculties. Of course, it probably didn't help that I was fasting for so long by that point, causing my body to have no defense against the drugs...

#7:

I had to prepare for my procedures by fasting for nearly two straight days, except for four liters of a super-high-powered "system cleanser" consumed the night before. The solution was so disgusting it literally made me gag with every other sip, and it descended upon my empty stomach like a block of lead. It took me over five hours to drink the entire, massive container; I had to force down a mug every fifteen or so minutes. And I spent the rest of the night (literally) in and out of the restroom...

#8:

It's hard to describe what it felt like to be in an operating room once again. The deja-vu overwhelmed me as I lay upon the icy table, trying not to pay attention to the nurse mis-sticking my veins repeatedly, causing hemorrhaging. My experiences inspired the following poem:

"Operation"
by Samantha Mina

Pre-Op:
He pulls up my shirt
revealing
the distinctive, mountainous ripples
of my ribs
and the deep bowl of my belly.
Cold hands probe and dig--
the hands that sliced into a thousand bellies,
saving lives with a scalpel--
his icy stethoscope glides
across the concave valley.

Now,
from the high, hard table,
my eyes scan the OR, glittering
with machinery. I'm naked
under the towels but too
numb
to shiver.

White light like a blade
hovers
inches above my head.
I turn and look into the mass of masked
faces, covered heads, and green
scrubs, only recognizing him
from his icy
hazel-grey eyes.
He approaches me slowly and
winks
before placing a clear, plastic mask
over my mouth and nose,
pressing
so hard, the edge
cuts
into the skin between my eyebrows.

Count, he orders.

Ten
...nine
......eight
.........seven--

blackness

* * *

I am now back home, taking some time off from college to recover. I arrived in Northern Virginia to a beautiful blizzard and a lovely "welcome home" bouquet from a group of my awesome friends at Reston Bible Church! I will conclude this update with my New Year's prayer: Lord, I forfeit all my pain and fear. I face this thorn in my side with Your courage alone. And, no matter what, I will praise Your Holy Name. :)

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"THE IRAQ WAR: THE TRUE STORY OF A SOLDIER"
by Samantha Mina, 2005

At first, I only told this story to a couple of my close friends. But when one responded with "the more all of us know about it, the sooner we can make it stop," I realized that I should spread this to as many people as possible in order to increase awareness.

As a freshman in the "Help Our Troops" Club at the University of Virginia, I am a pen-pal of a US soldier serving in Iraq. So far, we have received two letters in response: one from each of the leaders of the platoon we were sponsoring.

Oh

My

Goodness.

I don't know where to begin. One of the officers, Tom (name changed to protect privacy), claims that "the platoon has high morale" and is "in good spirits" but I honestly find that hard to believe when considering all the horror that the other officer, John (name changed to protect privacy), relayed to us. Well, to start off, sixteen soldiers serving alongside the two in their "square of Iraq" have already died, many more wounded. John and a few of his men went on a night raid and accidentally wound up badly wounding / slaughtering a group of four to ten-year-old Iraqi children. John described this all in detail, how visible chunks of the little kids' legs got blown off and how some of them were bleeding to death before the marines could transport them to their hospital units...

There's also the story about how John's unit fired at the enemy, missed by 500 feet and wound up shooting a fellow soldier right through the hip while giving another a concussion. Others fell into a ditch when their structure had collapsed, and they became buried beneath giant boulders. Many suffered broken bones and concussions. All had to be rescued.

Then, there's the time where they had to travel 150 miles (which is only a little more than the distance between my hometown, Reston, and my college town, Charlottesville. It is a 2.5-hour car trip, to give you an idea) across an Iraqi desert at night, accept that it took them 19 hours due to their dilapidated vehicles and tanks that keep breaking down. John's description of the 19-hour voyage and all the troubles it involved goes on for pages. He says "travel in the military world sure isn't the nice, neat, two-hour trip in the Lexus back home."

John details how his platoon conducts attack after attack, travel after travel, raid after raid, strategy session after session, all without sleep. They asked us to send them white socks and protein supplements like Nitro Tech and "ripped fuel."

There's a part in my Fire & Ice novel series in which a military commander says something along the lines of: "The state of the war was becoming so desperate, we were receiving batches of untrained rookies at an alarming rate, and they were dying as fast a they were arriving." Indeed, that actually mirrors real life. So many "green" recruits, as John calls them, are being sent over to Iraq before they learned how to properly drive a Hummvee. The result? Two seven-ton hummvees overturned (driver error), three more crashed (driver error again), two more collided on the road (driver error the third), and three more took incorrect routes - that is to say, routes that were rigged with mines. Those hummvees exploded.

Then, there's the time where they witnessed an insurgent's firebomb kill 160 civilians. All John had to say about that was "it could have been worse."

And there's the story about the mortar fire that took the men by surprise - with neither helmets nor flak, they huddled together for protection, which of course did nothing. Officer John is angry at them for behaving like a "flock of geese, or something," and huddling when they should have been mobilizing.

So, what is John's reaction to all the horror he so meticulously relayed? He said he is "tempted" to feel sad, but he refuses to because "as leaders we can't afford to dwell on the ugliness, and the tragedies. We have to accept it as an unfortunate reality of war. To dwell on it would be counterproductive. The military is a destructive force by nature, what this is called is collateral damage, and we have to accept it and move on to the future." John is only a junior at my university (2 mere years older than me) and he's already talking like that.

Tom, on the other hand, claims that the morale of his platoon is, in fact, "very high" and that they are "definitely bringing the fight to the insurgency... lead[ing] many successful operations." Tom emailed Erin, the president of our club here at my university, a picture of himself and a few of his comrades, which she printed out and showed to us today at our officers meeting. It was unspeakably difficult to look into their eyes, to behold their young, smiling faces.

Overall, John's tragic letter trumped Tom's cheeriness in the eyes of our club. As I write this, I myself am still working on absorbing everything he conveyed. But, alas, I suppose I should have expected this.

These letters have made writing to my own penpal tougher. Erin warned us sternly to "BE UPBEAT" and avoid mentioning their tragedies, as they are not supposed to dwell on them, and the purpose of our club is to offer encouragement. Sure, I thought, like I can just ignore everything John wrote and scribble down a bubbly "Hi! I had a lovely day in sunny, safe Charlottesville while you were out there in the desert, dealing with all that #&^%@!"

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