Our journey series: seven of eight

Our journey

Read what happened following Doug's accident. These posts were originally published on Doug's CaringBridge site, https://www.caringbridge.org/visit/dougbichler.

Today is the first day of school for Linton Public. High school football games have already occurred. The nights are dipping in the 40s and 50s. Geese are flocking, corn on the cob is ready and cows are confirmed pregnant. Where did the summer go? Time seems to have slipped away from us this year; and it seems Regions Hospital and Sanford Health are the culprits. So, too, is our sweet daughter Amelia Clare. We start every day and before we know it the stars are out again. Doug's skin graft is almost completely healed shut. His donor site is healing, but he is having reoccurring blisters on the area; cumbersome and annoying but not painful. He still has moments of phantom pain. But, either they are more mild or he simply isn't telling me when they sprout their ugly head. Doug has also been able to slowly wean back on pain medication; an accomplishment he enjoys because an alcoholic drink is calling his name when he is free of medicine. He has physical therapy twice a week and is drastically improving in his range of motion. He is not back to where he was before the accident, but is making progress. Doug achieved 90 degrees in all directions last week. For the time being, he does not have to continue making trips to Bismarck for medical appointments. The skin graft needs to continue to heal, and his bicep needs to be shaped with compression socks. He also needs to become stronger and let his reattached muscle and bone heal before the word prosthetic can even begin to be spoken. We have a positive outlook on the prosthetic process after meeting with the team from Sanford in Bismarck. Doug has hope he will be able to find something which will allow him to continue working and ranching as he did before. With a three-week-old daughter at home with us, we can't think of a better time to heal. From the physical damage to the emotional hurdles, we are thankful for this time together. Time to be a mom and a dad. Time to take care of our little one. And, time to be grateful for another day together on our farm.

A note to say...

I love writing; journal making, list crafting, letter sending, blogging, article producing kind of writing. I appreciate the power of the written word. So much so, that I would not flounder in my determination to send personal, hand-written thank you cards for our wedding well wishes and gifts. I send thank you notes for Christmas gifts, for birthday greetings and for random acts of kindness. When donations, packages, cards – gifts in every size, shape and form – began arriving for Doug and Amelia following his June 26 farm accident, I was bound to reply to every kind heart on the other side of the offering. I bought thank you notes in the Regions Hospital gift shop. I thought, “I’ll start a list and this can be my project once we are home. Maybe it can help pass the time.” I am humbled to realize I simply cannot respond to everyone. The number of individuals who have helped us in any way is well approaching one thousand. Hundreds of friends, family members and complete strangers have supported us, prayed for us and aided in our recovery. For those of you who gave, and continue to give in your thoughts, prayers and Mass intentions, please know of our sincere gratitude and appreciation for all you did. You have helped more than any word could describe. And for that, we are forever thankful.

Where's Waldo?
Doug has been out and about these days. He drives himself to his ongoing physical therapy, he hops on the side by side to check our fall cow herd on his lonesome. He can dress himself, get food ready himself, take Amelia and calm her down, make her smile and can change her diaper. He can travel to Fargo without his worrying wife hovering over his shoulder. He can make ranch decisions, make coffee and make his wife proud. He can clean toilets, sweep floors, do laundry and make a bed. Some days, you'd almost think nothing is different. But, he still has battles, hurdles and tough days. Doug officially said goodbye to all his medications on Labor Day. A milestone we were eager to celebrate, but one that led to tough days ahead. Doug suffered from withdrawal and went weeks with little to no sleep among other symptoms. I am happy to report, in this aspect at least, he is back to normal. Another battle, feeling normal in his own skin. A lack of self confidence is inevitable following an accident such as his. While I can't relate, I can empathize. My brother has cerebral palsy and is confined to a wheelchair. When we were younger and were trailing Mom in the mall, I used to become bothered by the stares. He is a normal person, a normal kid. The pains of stranger's eyes made me feel bad for Matthew. I didn't want him to feel insecure. The same goes for Doug. People can't help but be curious, especially children. Becoming akin to wearing long sleeve shirts again and answering the many inquiries of what happened will take time. Lucky for Doug, he has just that. Somehow, the fact that his wife believes he looks A-OK in everything doesn't quite settle his mind. His skin graft is completely healed over, and his donor site is slowly returning to normal skin. Doug will continue to work on his shoulder's range of motion as well as his strength. Once his skin has softened and his arm and shoulder are healed, he will begin the journey to a prosthetic. This, however, is a few months away. For now, Doug just keeps on keeping on; blending in with the crowd just like Waldo.

Can I pray with you?
We do not have health insurance; a decision we made in December of 2016. Newly married and freshly (temporarily) unemployed, I needed to be insured or face the penalties. Doug's health insurance cost was rising, yet again, and we knew the cost of a policy for a married couple was going to be more than double his own. So, I began researching. After reading companies' pitches and weighing our options, Doug agreed to take the plunge with me. We began our membership with Samaritan Ministries. Based out of Illinois and serving those across the nation as well as Canada, Samaritan is a health care sharing ministry, which meets the government's requirement for having insurance. Don't fool yourself though; this is not insurance. Borrowing from their material, when a member has a health care need, he/she receives health care treatment from a provider of his/her choice, collects the bills and sends them to Samaritan Ministries. Samaritan verifies that the need meets the guidelines. Then, in the monthly newsletter mailing, Samaritan directs some members to send their shares to the member with the need. The member with the need receives the shares to pay the health care bills along with prayer and notes of encouragement. So, what does this mean? Doug has a medical need; his amputated right arm. I had a medical need; my pregnancy and labor and delivery care. What did we do? We tell the hospital we are not insured; instead we are self-pay patients and can be billed directly. We submit our health care bills to Samaritan upon receipt. Once approved, we receive checks from individuals and families to cover our costs. On the other end of the process, every month we send our monthly share to a person or family with a medical need. That's it. People helping people and families healing others through prayer. When Doug's accident happened, we were scared. Scared for his health, but scared how we were going to afford the astronomical cost of health care. We called Samaritan to make them aware of the circumstance and to see if we were covered under the guidelines. I put off the phone call for many days; afraid I was going to be greeted by bad news and a lofty bill to pay on my own. Instead, I was greeted with a reassuring voice who told me all medical costs - 100 percent - were eligible to be submitted and paid for. What's more? Because we were able to pay certain bills in full and up front, we received at least 20 percent discounts every time. We also consistently receive a 20 percent discount on health care costs simply because we are not insured. We save the hospital money by not making their employees work to process insurance submissions. What's more? Samaritan works with the the Karis Group to negotiate hefty health care bills. When faced with a bill well over $100,000; a representative from the Karis Group stepped in. As a result, we were given a 30 percent discount on this one bill. Granted we have many, many more medical bills to come and we won't know if the costs are covered. Doug is approaching the prosthetic process, which will be a lifelong process. But, what's more? Every time I have contacted Samaritan I have been replied to promptly and greeted politely. I have had representatives pray with Doug and I on the phone. I have communicated with people on the other side of the line who genuinely care about my family. We are covered, we are protected and we are prayed for. And, for that we are grateful.

Doing well
Doug is doing well; as well as anyone can be after losing an arm over three months ago. It is hard to believe a quarter of a year has passed. Oh, how much can change! Doug will be receiving a prosthetic before Christmas, and it is our hope that the learning curve is a smooth one. Amelia is growing like a weed and is over two months old already. She is also doing well and is still able to heal Dad bit by bit. Doug has been continuing with his twice weekly physical therapy and has made leaps and bounds of progress. His spirits seem to be up after admittedly plummeting during medication withdrawals and the realization of his new normal. Yesterday he worked with his nephew to clip sale cattle; today he drove himself to Bismarck for a board meeting; and the day before yesterday he successfully changed a full diaper. We're new parents and are easily cheered over Amelia's day-to-day surprises. I continue to be proud of all his has accomplished and all he carries with his cross every day. Doug may be doing well, but he still suffers day in and day out. He shared with me the other day that he wonders if others realize how lucky they are. We (most of us) go about our days pain-free. We don't think anything of how we are feeling because we genuinely feel well. Doug wishes for those days again; to feel normal in a shirt, to feel whole, to no longer feel the ache of pain. Lucky for him, the good days are starting to outweigh the bad days. But, the pain is always there. As I have read before, below is an excerpt from Mother Angelica. Thank God, Doug is doing well.

"We prove we are servants of God by great fortitude in times of suffering." (2 Cor. 6:4-10) To see joy on the face of a Christian beset with trials and problems, gives us a new concept of faith. To see sickness and pain patiently borne gives us courage. To see a friend who has suffered the loss of all things begin again with trust and love, gives us strength to continue on. To see forgiveness and mercy after friends quarrel, brings joy to our hearts ... No matter what kind or what degree of pain and sorrow we must endure, we are capable of witnessing to the love of Jesus.

"I love cleaning pomegranates." A statement said by no one ever. I despise the magenta seeds and their stainproducing juice. Doug has a love affair with the winter fruit, and it is just my luck this year as we enter pomegranate season that Doug is down one arm. He can do most things with his remaining limb, but cleaning pomegranates is not one of them. In this regard, he admits his defeat. Enter me, his wife, standing at the kitchen counter cleaning pomegranates for 30 minutes+ while he entertains our now 3-month-old daughter and I stain our countertops, cupboards, floor and my face. Doug won't be one-handed for long, however; because last week his prosthetic team took a mold of his arm. He has another appointment on the 21st and is well on his way to receiving his prosthetic. Being a rancher, he won't be purchasing the myoelectric arm and instead will be settling with a sturdy, more basic arm which will allow him to complete chores on the ranch and in the house. He has hopes to milk cows again, A.I. again and do all the things he loves so dearly. If I know Doug, he will use his prosthetic to test himself and see just how how much he can do. And, he'll realize the things he may never be able to do again. So sadly, I think I'll be cleaning his pomegranates for the rest of our God-given lives.


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