Final (?) Physical Exam. Or is it? Part 3

When I left you last, constant reader, I was headed out of the Regimental Aid Station and into the adventure that was my final physical.  Despite the fact that my naive impression that I could knock it out in a single doctor’s visit was crushed by the freight train of medical reality, my ignorance was remedied and I had a plan (and another checklist) to knock it out.   The good Navy corpsmen and regimental surgeon had educated me and set me up for success, and it was my responsibility to follow their lead.  So off I went- first stop: Camp Pendleton’s Naval Hospital.

I had several appointments at the hospital, which makes sense because hospitals is where most medical providers hang out.  I also had a few non appointments to make; a non appointment being a stop at a walk-in clinic.  Appointments are good because you are inked into the doctor’s schedule, and as long as you show up on time you will be taken care of.  It may take a while, but you’ll be seen.  Non appointments, on the other hand, are much like Forrest Gump’s apocryphal box of chocolates: you never knew what you were gonna get.  Maybe an empty clinic with bored providers eager to break the doldrums of a lazy afternoon by bringing you in for a checkup.  Maybe a stuffy waiting room packed with dozens of exasperated people who were just like me with no choice but to wait.  And wait.  And wait.

My plan was to hit the appointments (arrive fifteen minutes early!) and stop in the various clinics between the scheduled stops.  My first appointment of the day was with orthopedics, so I headed over to get my knees, feet, and ankle checked out.  One of the interesting things about being a Marine is that you tend to use such things as knees, feet, and ankles a lot, and as a result they tend to get broken, sprained, and worn out along the way.  In my case, almost three decades of tromping around coupled with four tours in combat zones had taken their toll.  So I signed into ortho, found a seat in the waiting room, and waited.  After a few minutes (and within ten minutes or so of my scheduled appointment) my name was called.  The very nice doctor (a Naval officer) sat me down in the examination room and looked over her notes.  After exchanging some pleasantries, she got down to business.

The importance of the visit was not to find anything new, but instead to ensure that all facets of my previously treated conditions were properly annotated.  After reviewing my case, she brought everything up to date and assured me that everything would be properly recorded in my record.  She had treated my ankle and feet, but not my knees.  That was at another clinic- and she couldn’t re-evaluate what she hadn’t evaluated in the first place.  D’oh- another appointment on the calendar!

After she was done she directed me to the registrar who was in charge of records.  The registrar could make me an appointment with the clinician who had seen me for my knees over the years.  Ok, thought I.  Easy enough.

Wrong again.

The registrar, a civilian who had been doing the job for a looooooooooooooooong time, asked if she could help.  I explained that I had been treated for a knee injury and needed to make a final followup appointment.  She turned to her computer and with a few efficient but furious keystrokes she looked at me and said that she had no record of my treatment.

No record?  Huh?

I recounted my trips to the sports medicine clinic and the treatment that I had received.

“Ah,” she said, “that is Sports Med, not Ortho.  You have to talk to them.”  “Not ortho?” I meekly asked.  “No!” was her emphatic response.  Needless to say, after I left the registrars office I stepped outside to call sports medicine to make an appointment.  Fortunately they had one available, but unfortunately it was over a month from now.  Good thing I had a little time between now and my EAS!

I then headed off to various other appointments, the particulars of which I won’t subject you to.  What was of note, however, was the kindness and flexibility that many of the walk-in providers exhibited when I attempted to squeeze in and get a signature on my medical checkout sheet.  Some were more receptive than others, and fortunately I had picked a slow day at the hospital.  There were few full waiting rooms, so I was able to see the right practitioners and  garner the necessary signatures without too much hassle.  My hat is off to the audiology department in particular, though, because I showed up outside their posted walk-in hours.  The petty officer behind the desk looked up when I poked my head in the door, and asked if he could help me.  I had hurried up to the clinic after my previous appointment but arrived in his lunch hour.  He took pity on me, and beckoned me into the office.  Whew, I thought.  Great!

What I didn’t realize was that his wife and young child were waiting to go to lunch with him.  Once I saw them, I apologized and turned to leave.  “No problem, sir!  I’ll catch up with them.  It won’t take but a minute.”  His lovely wife and toddler headed out to the car and the good Sailor took care of me.  I felt like a complete jerk, but his professionalism and dedication to his duties were such that he could not in good conscience turn away a patient- even one as inconsiderate and boneheaded as me for intruding on his lunch hour.  At any rate, less than ten minutes later I had completed my audiogram (the hearing test where they put you in a booth with earphones on and you push a little button when you hear high and low pitched tones).  With the efficiency and politeness of a true professional he explained the results of the test, signed my checklist, and headed to lunch.  I apologized again, but he told me not to worry about it because taking care of patients was his job, and lunch could wait.  Man, did I feel like a total heel.

So, after spending a few days over the period of a few months I was able to knock out my final physical.   Along the way I got to meet a lot of interesting people who all shared a common trait: each and every one was a dedicated professional, but in true Navy fashion, were unique in their own way.  A young surfer dude corpsman talked about the beach as he drew seven vials of blood for labwork (“this’ll sting a little, dude, I mean sir…”), and a very pleasant young lady with bright red fingernail polish and a blinged out iPhone that contrasted her uniform took my x-rays.  Another sailor talked about his upcoming vacation plans as he removed some stitches from my arm, mixing his anticipation of mom’s home cooking with the possibility of permanent scarring on my arm if I wasn’t careful with my newly-healed incision.  They were all great Americans, and they took care of me.  And, more importantly, they signed my medical checklist, which allowed me to finish my final checkout from the Marine Corps.

My hat’s off to them.  Thanks, Navy!

__________

Lessons learned:

1.  Make as many appointments as you can as early as you can.  It is important that you review your recent medical history (say over the last five years or so) and personally contact each clinic or provider in order to get on their schedule.  I assumed that all of my appointments were set by the medical staff at the regimental aid station, but I was wrong.  It wasn’t their fault- they didn’t know for example that my knees had been treated at sports med instead of ortho, but as a result I had to wait almost an additional month for my sports med appointment because I didn’t personally make the call.

2.  Don’t be a jerk like I was- only go to walk-in clinics during their appointed hours.  The providers will forego lunch with their family or stay at work late to make up the time they lost while taking care of you out of their professionalism and sense of duty.  The best thing to do is not to put them in the position by showing up during their posted hours.

3.  Be flexible.  If you think that your physical will go with anything close to military precision you are wrong.  I had to sit in waiting rooms for a long time to get all of the checks in the box, and you will too.  I recommend making one appointment first thing in the morning and one right after lunch- if you are the first on the list then you will be seen promptly.  If not, you run the risk of waiting because other consultations went long.  This will also allow you to hit the walk-in clinics after you get done with plenty of time before your next stop.  Don’t schedule more than one appointment in the same morning or afternoon or you will find yourself sprinting between floors in order to make it on time like I did.  Save yourself the hassle and space them out.

4.  Go with the system.  Parts of it will make no sense, like my ortho/sports med confusion.  It is what it is, and when the lady at ortho says you have to go to sports med, then save your breath and go to sports med.  It may not make sense to you, but it is what it is.  They aren’t likely modify their decades old records and appointment database just because you don’t like it.  Trust me.

Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah!!!

May the holidays find you together with the ones you cherish, and for all of my friends who are overseas, we are all grateful for your dedication.  You are in our thoughts on this special day.

Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah!

Final (?) Physical Exam. Or is it? Part 2.

A little while ago I wrote about the importance of lists.  Rather naively I thought that I was pretty much done with them as I approached the completion of my checkout sheet.  As usual, I was wrong.

The mighty checkout sheet, about which I wrote several posts, is the administrative key to the other side of transition.  To my dismay, however, I found that the checkout sheet alone wasn’t mighty enough to set me free.  That required that I complete my final physical examination, and just like everything else involved with transition there was so much more to it than meets the eye.

My last post about the final physical left us at the Regimental Surgeon’s office, where I learned about the complexities of the mother of all physical exams: the vaunted Final Physical.  It is the mother of all examinations because it is no simple or cursory survey, but instead an inexorably thorough inquisition of one’s bodily health and mental condition that left nothing uninspected.

It is for good reason, as I learned from the good surgeon.  My final physical serves as the last chance for me, the soon to be departed from the Marine Corps, to avail myself of military medicine and fix those things that had heretofore been unfixed or ignored in typical macho tough-guy fashion.  While the thought of military medicine may make the reader shudder, it really isn’t bad- in fact it is very good, because military health care providers are well resourced and have had a lot of real world practice over the last decade of war.  The perceived problem with it stems from poor management and care several decades ago- problems that have long been corrected.  The point to the physical was to get me into the best shape possible  before showing me the door, whereupon the Veteran’s Administration would take up the responsibility for my health and wellbeing.  I will write more about the VA later, but suffice it to say that the surgeon’s description of the process made me a believer in the process.

“It’s up to you, sir,” he said, “but you’d be foolish not to take advantage of everything you can.  It’s free, and you have the time to take care of anything that may crop up.”

A wise man, that surgeon.

“You would be smart to contact every [health care] provider that you have seen in the last few years.  They will re-evaluate your condition and record it in your health records.  That will help you in the long run, especially with your disability claim,” he continued.

Disability claim?

Visions of walking canes, wheelchairs, and blue parking spaces rocketed through my head.

He saw my look of horror and chuckled.

“You’ve been in for a long time,” he said as he flipped through my medical record, “your knees are bad, your ankle is bad, your feet are a mess….”  He trailed off as he continued to review my case.  “You are going to be rated with some disabilities, and it is important that the ratings are done correctly.  Don’t worry about it.  It’s a rough life being a Marine, and you are going to be evaluated to make sure that you are taken care of.  Here’s my number.  If you have any problems, have them give me a call.”

As Indiana Jones said to Marion in “Raiders of the Lost Ark”:  It’s not the years, honey, it’s the mileage.

With a firm handshake, I left his office with my records in one hand and a newly printed checklist in the other.

The checklist was very thorough.  It ranged from lab work (shots anyone?  A vial or two or seven of blood for testing?) to audiograms for my artillery-assaulted ears (What? What did you say?) to an EKG to make sure my ticker still ticked and a chest x-ray to look at my ribs or something else that is equally important.  How was I going to get any of this stuff taken care of?

In true Navy fashion, I had not walked ten feet before a motivated and professional Petty Officer took pity on me and beckoned me to the counter.  “Hi, sir!  Lemme see that,” he said as he pointed to my checklist, “we’ll get you squared away.”

And he did.  With the dexterity of the queen of the typing pool and the suavity of a Tiffany Jewelry salesman he typed, called, cajoled, and printed appointment after appointment for me.  Within ten minutes he had teed up meetings with specialists and medical providers across the base.  Not only did he hit the basic requirements, but also those specialty clinics and providers that I had seen over the last few years- orthopedics for my feet, physical therapy for my knees, optical for my eyes, audiology for my ears….and so on.  With a smile and a cheery “here you go, sir!” he handed me a sheaf of appointment reminders and turned back to his duties.

That’s why Navy medicine is great- they really bent over backwards to make sure I was taken care of.  I have never seen anything like that at a civilian HMO, that’s for sure!  I looked over the appointment reminders and was surprised at just how long it was going to take to knock this final physical out- all told it was going to take over three months to hit all of my appointments.  Three months!  Yikes.  Navy medicine may be helpful, but it isn’t particularly speedy I guess- especially for those of us getting our outprocessing physicals.  Oh well.  Fortunately I had the time.

So, with a feeling of great relief (and a little trepidation, to be sure!) I walked out of the Regimental Aid Station and set out on the journey that would be my final physical.

__________

Lessons Learned:

1.  Start EARLY.  I began my outprocessing physical about four months before I went on terminal leave with the naive expectation that it would be a quick and easy thing to do.  Not so much!

2.  Plan ahead.  Take the time to write a list of all the things that are bothering you or that you have been treated for over the past few years.  Most Marines just “suck it up” and refuse to show weakness by getting medical care, which is good when the Taliban are chucking hand grenades at you but not so good when you are about to get out.  If you do not have your problems recorded in your record then they do not exist.  Simple as that.  And if they do not exist, they cannot be evaluated for disability purposes or for future care in case they get worse.  And they always get worse….

3.  Go into your initial final physical appointment with your notes and with your complete medical record.  You will get out of it what you put into it.  If you blow it off then you will get a rubber stamp with nothing behind it, and possibly lose out on medical benefits or monetary compensation in the future.  The time to be the big tough Marine ends at the hatch to the aid station!

4.  Take notes as you go.  This is important, because you will ultimately have a second set of physicals with the Veteran’s Administration to determine your disability rating.  If you forget what the doctors tell you during their examination you can’t pass that information to the VA, which will weaken your claim for benefits.

Running, sanity, and a worthy cause

Everybody has their Achilles heel, that thing in their life that they dislike, dread, or fear. Some people fear the towering podium of public speaking and for others it is the terror of tall buildings.  We all have them, those real or imagined bumps that show up on the road that is life.  Even the man of steel fears Kryptonite and for me, that thing has been running.

I have never really been a good runner.  As a youngster I was not particularly athletic, and my exposure to running long distances, clapping my hands, and counting to four as a Marine recruit was positively terrifying.  I dreaded falling into formations for physical training because I knew that I just wasn’t good at it.  I would be huffing and puffing, my burning lungs gasping for air as the spectre of falling out and incurring the wrath of the Drill Instructors loomed large over me.  It was even worse when I went to Officer Candidate School because physical fitness was next to (and seemingly slightly more important than) Godliness in the grand scheme of things.  It was particularly petrifying because I was a bit older than the rest of my class due to my time as an enlisted Marine, and it showed.  Where some of my classmates pushed the sound barrier, including one collegiate runner who routinely ran three miles in about fourteen minutes, I was usually threatening the terminal velocity of flowing molasses as I crossed the line almost ten minutes behind him.  My instructors somberly informed me that I was too slow to lead Marines, and unless I get better I would be kicked out of OCS.  I strained and trained and strained some more, and on the big day of our final physical fitness test fate smiled upon me and I made it- but literally by the skin of my teeth.  Every candidate who was followed me across the finish line was dropped from the program and didn’t graduate.  I was the anchor on the chain, but I made it.

My fear and dread of running followed me throughout my career.  I chose to meet my nemesis head on and ran at every chance I could find.  Over years of being running, jogging, and walking long distances I fell into a routine and found myself actually beginning to enjoy it.  With running comes fitness, and with fitness comes the ability to fit in a well fitting uniform while still eating pizza and drinking beer.  Not a bad tradeoff, really.

I also found that running was my personal escape from all the petty and little annoyances in life.  Nobody could call me because I don’t carry my cellphone, and unless they had on their running shoes it was unlikely that they could catch me and bring me down.  I did, and still do, my best thinking as I pound the pavement and trails on my morning run.  In running I have found a balance in life, even though I continue to not be particularly good at it.

I think about life, family, transition, the universe, stock prices, Christmas shopping, you name it.  When I return home I have solved many of the world’s problems, well, at least some of my own.  I am in a good mood, and it starts the day off right.  Over a couple of decades I have mastered my nemesis and embraced it.  That said, I am still pretty slow, but I get out there almost every day to keep from solidifying into a couch potato.

So running has become my road to maintaining my sanity.  I ran whenever I could in combat zones and whenever I could when I was home.  It has become a consistent part of my life, and continues to be so even though I am leaving the Marine Corps and its requirement for top levels of physical fitness.  Retirement is indeed a stark transition from one life to another, and running has provided me with a serene path over the bridge that takes me into what’s next.

So if you are transitioning, make sure to embrace something that will provide consistency through the process.  I have found that running is that thing for me; you needn’t necessarily take up skydiving if you are afraid of heights, but do something.  Read War and Peace.  Write the Great American Novel.  Lift weights.  Tie flies and go fishing.  Do something!  Change is overwhelming at times, and you can be crushed by the forces of uncertainty or carve a piece of yourself out of the rat race and use it to maintain your balance.  It will keep you sane when it seems that everything has gone completely and utterly crazy.

I have learned to enjoy running to the point that have run in several marathons and even more half-marathons.  Despite the pain associated with a career that has been hard on my feet, knees, and back, I find it cathartic to get out and run with thousands of people like me.  To that end, I have decided to couple my running with raising money for charity.

Here is the worthy cause bit; feel free to stop reading if you would like – I promise not to hold it against you!  I have volunteered to raise money for a very good cause: the Lymphoma and Leukemia Society.  I have joined their Team In Training, which essentially is a bunch of runners/joggers/walkers like myself who pledge to raise money and awareness for the society and the impact of those devastating diseases.  I have kids, and am grateful beyond measure because they are healthy.  Not all families are so fortunate, and Leukemia and Lymphoma are devastating diseases that are truly heartwrending in their effects on kids and adults alike.  I am doing my own little part to help them out as I go out and do something that I enjoy- running.  Anyhow, I will be running the Carlsbad Half Marathon in January, and if you would like to support the Lymphoma and Leukemia society with a donation, please follow this link to my donation site:  http://sdhi.lls.llsevent.org/gricemcarlsbadhalf.  The Team in Training and I would be very appreciative!!!

Closure

Closure can mean a lot of things depending on your circumstance, but it mostly means the end of a relationship.  For me, I had a date with closure at about one o’clock in the morning this past Saturday.  That was when over a hundred of my closest friends came home from Afghanistan, and I was able to be standing in the parking lot as they got off the buses and reunited with their families and friends.  It is one of the rarest things in existence: a timeless moment of pure and unadulterated joy.

It was tremendously emotional as these post-deployment reunions always are.  Fathers met their infant children for the first time.  Lovers embraced after hundreds of days apart and children jumped up and down in exuberant delight as the first sight of their father.  Parents and grandparents hugged their sons and grandsons, thinking of the little boys within who grew up to be the Marines and Sailors who traded their boyhood clothes for the cloth of the nation.  Mothers wiped eyes grown damp with joy.  Hundreds of faces lit up in the darkness of that cold morning with delight in that moment; the blissful radiance of pure happiness erased the months of separation, the sleepless nights, and the loneliness that only those separated by wartime can understand.

The jocundity engulfed everyone there, and for me it held an even more special meaning.  As I wrote a few paragraphs back, the chilly morning held for me the last bit of closure that I needed before truly closing the door on my military career.

It was closure because not long ago the busloads of Marines and Sailors who returned from combat had all been under my charge and their training and preparation for their trip to fight the Taliban was my responsibility.  I had been their Commanding Officer for the two years or so leading up to their deployment, and had led them in Afghanistan the year before.  Although the leaders of the unit worked together to make sure that every Marine and Sailor was ready to fight, it was my duty as the CO to ensure that they were ready.  It was also my burden each and every day that they were in harm’s way: even though I was no longer a member of the command, their ability to fight and their readiness to survive the rigors of combat was my final duty.

We had trained together, and we trained hard.  From the bleak and blistering Mojave desert to the the windy plains of Oklahoma to the frigid tip of northern Scotland we had run through the gamut of challenges that prepare a man to fight.  We ran countless miles and hiked under staggering loads.  We practiced airstrikes, artillery fire missions, and hand to hand combat.  We planned and executed missions aboard attack helicopters and prepared to put tourniquets on shattered limbs.  Month after month of aggressive training made the unit keenly ready to fight, and three weeks before they left I handed the mantle of command to my successor.

It wasn’t because of anything more than my time in command was up.  My successor, appointed as I was by the Commandant of the Marine Corps, eagerly took hold of the reins of command with a level of enthusiasm that countered my reticence to hand them over.  All good things come to an end, and in my case it was the demise of the best job that I had ever been fortunate to have.

The change of command and my subsequent transition did not bring my emotional tie to the unit to an end, however.  The seven months that they were in combat were seven long months for me as I checked the news every day to see what was going on in Afghanistan, read casualty lists hoping not to see a familiar name, and listened in on conversations to hear how thing were going “in Theater”.

This past Saturday morning untied the knot that had been lying in the pit of my gut since they left in the summertime.  Although not everyone made it to the reunion in the parking lot, they all came home alive- and with their return my duty was complete.  For each Marine and Sailor and for every father, mother, wife, child, and friend their home brought closure to their absence.  As for me, it brought an immense feeling of satisfaction, relief, and closure too- closure for the time I was honored to stand with them as their leader and closure for my career as well.

Saturday, December 10th marked the end of 1st Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company’s deployment.  December 10th is particularly significant for me personally as well because 27 years before on that very day I enlisted in the Marine Corps.  I had no inkling on 10 December 1984 that I would be standing on a cold parking lot watching such a joyous reunion exactly 27 years later, but I am glad that I was there.  It brought me something priceless: a satisfying sense of closure to my life as a Marine.

Why I write

Today’s post is a little different.  It really doesn’t have much to do with transition but rather with something else, namely why I write.  Writing has become a significant part of my life even though I never really intended it to become so important.  Oddly, I have found writing to be a metaphor of sorts for life in general and it has become interwoven with my shift from one life to another, so I take it back.  This post is about transition after all.

I am often asked why I write.  It is a good question, because I had never really considered myself to be a “writer”.  Instead, I considered writing as an adjunct to whatever I happen to be doing; writing efficiency reports on subordinates, preparing awards to recognize the deserving, or as a necessary evil that is part and parcel of staff work.  Writing was part of being an officer of Marines.

All officers, by their very status, are required to write.  The Marine Corps’ system of performance evaluation centers around the concept that officers write reports about their subordinates, with those reports requiring a concise articulation of what is expected of them as well as how they perform.  The rules for writing such reports are stringent in an effort to limit excessive hyperbole or damnation by faint praise.  It is a pretty good system, which a decade ago replaced a longstanding Fitness Reporting scheme that had become hopelessly inflated and largely useless.

A key component of writing reports and awards and such is the ability to do the simple things that my elementary school-aged kids are learning now; things like grammar, spelling, and format.  As a junior officer I never really paid much attention to my writing; it was a necessary evil and part of my profession.  I did the best I could to produce something good enough to get the job done and survive the red-penned review of the XO (the unit’s second in command — usually a crotchety senior officer with a perennially bad attitude whose sole joy in life is torturing young officers who would rather guess at the spelling of an arcane word than actually consult a dictionary).

After many pointed and painful one sided conversations in which the XO pithily acquainted me with spell check and a thesaurus I learned to write reasonably well.  Good thing, too, because I wrote a lot.  Between the administration of leadership (fitness reports, or “fitreps”, awards, formal counseling statements and the like) and the military orders compiled for training exercises I often wondered if I had joined the Marine Corps or a typing pool.  I produced reams of paper with which I suppose I could bury the enemy if I met him in battle, and if it came to hand-to-hand combat I could inflict the agonizing death of a thousand paper cuts.  Maybe I could drown him in printer ink or blind him with a cloud of toner?  Dunno.

Anyhow, I learned to write.  Over time I learned the importance of good writing and the impact it can have on a Marine’s career.  A well written evaluation may well mean a promotion for a subordinate, and a poorly scribed eval may likewise cost him or her a chance at advancement.  Better writing also meant less work in the long run as quality documents require a lot less editing and painful revision at the behest of the angry XO.

So I became pretty good at the administrivia of the Marine Corps; my fitreps and awards would stack up with the best of them.  It wasn’t until I attended Amphibious Warfare School (“AWS”-a year long Marine Professional Military Education school) that I was introduced to writing beyond the requirements of my job.

As a student in AWS we were required, among other things, to write.  Not just operational orders, but essays and research papers as well.  It was in many ways like being back in college, except that we occasionally got to go the field and blow things up.  We became ardent students of our craft, and a big part of our studies was to write about it.

My Faculty Advisor (the den daddy for a dozen or so of us know-it-all captains) was then Major Bryan P. McCoy, who was one of the most professional and knowledgeable officers I have ever known.  He was a taskmaster and accepted nothing that wasn’t done to the fullest extent, and that included the papers that we wrote.  He was a good writer to boot, and he mentored us all on how to become better.  By the end of the year we had written and submitted countless revisions of numerous papers, and with each transaction I learned more and more about writing.  By the end of the school year I had produced a half-dozen or so academic writings, and to my surprise Major McCoy and other members of the school staff recommended that I try to get a few of them published in our professional military journals.

That was pretty heady stuff!  I was (and still am) an avid reader of military periodicals such as the Marine Corps Gazette and the Naval Institute’s Proceedings, but I always considered those articles to be written by intellectuals who lived in an ivory tower who were somehow anointed with the privilege of publication.  How wrong I was.  I submitted an article about logistics to the Gazette and another about the organization of the Marine Corps to Proceedings.  Lo and behold — a month or so later I received letters from both journals accepting my submissions for publication.  I couldn’t believe it!  A few months later my first article appeared, and with the first sight of my name in the byline I became a writer.  (I also became more acquainted with the process that is publication, as  one of those first articles was accepted for publication but never actually went to press.)

Fast forward over a decade and I have been published in a half dozen magazines and journals and even churned out a book.  I found that I enjoy writing, and it has become a part of my life.  What began as a part of my job has fully transcended my occupation to become not just a hobby that I enjoy doing but also a big part of my life.  I find myself pondering work and life and family and then writing about it.  The best part is that I enjoy writing immensely, and the fact that so many people read what I have written is very rewarding.

So that’s why I write.  It helps to have something to say, and fortunately I do.  Thanks for reading!

Final (?) Physical Exam. Or is it?

My most recent string of posts delved into the adventure that is checking out of the Marine Corps.  It was a search for pirate treasure and Easter Egg hunt all rolled into one, although not quite as thrilling.   After all, there were no Captain Jack Sparrows or Blackbeards, and the lack of candy filled plastic eggs was sadly evident.  Getting the final signature, however, made every line I queued in and every frustrating hunt for the holder of the magic checkout stamp well worth it.

One of the enchanted stamps I picked up along the way was held by the Medical Officer, whose duty it was to ensure that I was poked, prodded, specimined, and examined from the tips of my toes to the hairs on my head.  To that end my quest led me to the Regimental Surgeon’s office to endure the last physical examination I would be subjected to as a Marine.

I had heard many stories about the mysteries that surround the “final physical”- ranging from friends who said that it was no big deal to others who opined that it was far worse than they could possibly have foreseen.  Personally, I was hoping for an experience more on the “no big deal” side of the scale.  Just like everything else, however, it turned out to be not quite what I expected. I have been subject to myriad physicals throughout my career, ranging from halfhearted glances from bored medical technicians to the exams in which modesty plays no role whatsoever.  A big part of being a Marine (or a Soldier, Sailor, or Airman for that matter) is being physically fit and ready to fight, and our medical folks do a great job of ensuring that we are ready to go at a moment’s notice.

Before you are ready to fight, though, you have to be examined to ensure you are fit enough to serve.  Your relationship with physical exams begins with a battery of tests that begin before you ship to recruit or officer training (to make sure you are healthy and strong enough to make it through the rigors of bootcamp or Officer Candidate School) and continues once you get there.  Wanna be a pilot?  Special exam for you!  Paratrooper?  Exam for that, too.  Been a year since your last exam?  Time for another one!  Been deployed?  Step up to the counter and say “ahhhh…”  It seemingly never ends.

Until your final physical, that is.  My next few posts are going to bring you, my faithful reader, along for the ride to the aid station, hospital, and various clinics I had to visit to get that single stamp from the Medical Officer.  It was good, it was bad, it was funny, and it was sad, but most of all it was thorough.  Just how thorough you will see in my upcoming posts!