Story of My Experiance
By Robert Opekun, Navy
Writing Type: Prose
By Robert Opekum
I walked in (to the VA Medical Center in West Haven, Conn.) and was directed to a bed. I took off my clothes and put on a hospital gown. I don’t know how or when I got to the operating table.
A surgeon did the operation and removed an infected section from my leg. With her expertise and guidance, she put me on the road of recovery. When I woke up and realized where I was, I was told that I died twice on the table. They did not think I would last the night. I did survive and later was told that I did not die, but I had an out-of-body experience. This I remember clearly. I was floating through the air toward a black square. As I came closer, I could see that it was a wall. I heard a voice say that I could not get over or around the wall. It told me to go back, and I did. This happened twice.
My son Matt and his wife Robin sat with me all that first night. Nobody knew which way the pendulum would swing. As Matt and Robin watched me, it was slow going but I did improve. The nurses and doctors were watching me every moment, day and night. They fed me intravenously and cared for me the best that they knew how. They did it right because I lived.
Matt said that I had visitors. Unfortunately, I didn’t remember who they were. I would like to say that I appreciated the time they took to visit. I often wondered if I did any good when I visited those that could not get around. Now, being on the side, I guess that I did do some good.
I don’t know how long I was in the intensive care unit, but then I was transferred to the step-down unit. I was still watched carefully, and all that was possib1e was done to and with me. Time was not considered, and I never turned on the TV. All this happened in Building One.
At the end of November or maybe the start of December, I was transferred to Building Two. I was put in a room in the so-called Heroes Living Quarters. There were North, South, East and West sections. I was in the South section. The doctors and nurses took care of me day and night. They gave me the medicine that I needed. They kept me comfortable. I guess that they thought I was near the end of life. I learned that I was in hospice.
As time went by, I got stronger. I began to move myself in the bed, and the nurses took me to physical therapy. There the therapist put me on a machine that helped me pump my legs. Each day I improved and began to walk with walker and a nurse next to me for security. As time went on, I walked farther and better.
I began to walk in the unit with a nurse. Soon I started to walk without guidance but still with the walker. I began to care for myself and went to the recreation hall for lunch and dinner with other veterans who could get around. I also joined in with other therapy groups for activities such as bingo and music. I was getting less help from the nurses, but they were there every second to make sure that I was all right.
Christmas was just around the corner. I asked if I could get a pass to visit Matt and Robin. I was granted the pass. On Dec. 24, the kids picked me up at 2 p.m. I went with them to their house and enjoyed my time there. I had a Sombrero to drink and spaghetti smothered with sautéed clam sauce. I ate enough for two people. It was a short visit and soon came time to say goodbye. I went back to the VA at 8 p.m. Everybody was happy.
The next morning, I woke up hungry. I began to eat better and finished most of the meals that were served. In January and February, I gained about 20 pounds. The outlook for my future changed. At first, I was slated to be carried out, but now I was a survivor and was being prepared to walk out of the hospital and go home.
The nurses gave me a nick name Mr. O. Everybody knew me as Mr. O as I walked through the halls to therapy, music and other activities. Someone always said hello--doctors, nurses, workmen. This was to all patients, not only to me. I was taught to care for my ostomy bag and to get dressed. They gave me gadgets to help me put on my socks and shoes. I have seen these items on TV. Everybody said that they would miss me as a patient but were happy when I was walking out to go home. Going to the VA in West Haven was the best choice ever. In my opinion, if I went somewhere else I don’t think that I would be here today.
I walked out on March 24, 2018, to go home. Since then, many good things have happened to me. The VA gave me a hospital bed, which is very comfortable. They also gave me a stair glide so that I did not have to climb the stairs in my home.
It also approved two home aides who helped me adapt and live comfortably at home.
One aide was Melva. She helped me and guided me while taking a shower so I would not have a mishap. The second aide was Sue. She came two times a week. Sue vacuumed and dusted the rooms, cleaned the bathroom, did the laundry, helped me shop for groceries and cooked wonderful meals so that I had meals on the days she was not here. I felt fortunate to have these aides.
Now let me take you back to November 2018. This was when I got a few surprises.
It was about the second or third week of October when I received a notice in the mail that I was scheduled for an appointment with the therapy nurse. I could not think why after all this time the therapist wanted to see me. Maybe they just wanted to see how I was progressing. A few days later my son Matt came over and invited me out to dinner at an exclusive restaurant for which he had a gift certificate. I told him about appointment, and he said I should get dressed up and he would pick me up after the appointment.
It was Nov. 7, 2018, when I arrived at the therapist’s room at the proper time. One of the girls greeted me and was glad to see me. After a few minutes of conversation, another girl brought out a walking cane and explained that it had a prong on the tip for ice spots. I considered the offer for a while and then declined. I felt that I was walking and getting about very well. I decided that it was time to leave. The girls suggested that I might be interested in something going on in the recreation room and that I should stop in to take a look. I did that. When I reached the entrance of the room, I looked in. I saw two workmen putting a plaque on the wall, and some chairs were lined up, but that was all. I decided that I didn’t want to stay, so I turned around and left. I walked to my car and went home. When I got home, I called Matt and asked where to meet him. His reply: “What the heck are you doing home? You are supposed to be here at the VA. Get over here. We are waiting.” A nurse got on the phone and also said to get there right away.
I got into my car and drove directly to the VA. In the parking lot the attendant pointed to a space in the first row. Little did I know that this was prearranged. I parked the car and walked into the VA entrance, where I looked for Matt.
Before I could think, two nurses grabbed my arms and said they knew where my son was. They rushed me into an elevator, up to the third floor and into the recreation room. I could see maybe a hundred people. Nurses, doctors, patients, members of the VFW post that I belong to, and family. I also saw U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro. I was escorted to a chair labeled “Courage Award Recipient.”
Once I was seated, Congresswoman DeLauro gave me a Certificate of Special Congressional Acknowledgment. As she ended her presentation, I saw two girls stand up and motion to me to join them. As I walked across the room, they opened up a blanket. They explained that it was the Quilt of Valor. It was made in Plantsville, Conn., and partly in Branford, Conn. The girls wrapped the blanket around me. After receiving the quilt, I discovered a large cake on a side table. I was led to the table and cut the first piece. After that all the other people joined in and had a piece of-cake.
As I walked around the room, I saw the plaque the workers were putting up earlier that day. On the plaque was attached a brass plate. That plate listed my name and the year 2018. This was placed along with other names in a section called Courage Award Recipients. It will stay there forever.
After enjoying party and talking to many people, we left and went to that nice restaurant for a meal.
Sone time has passed, and I have talked to many people about my experience as an inpatient and also an outpatient at the VA. A few times I’ve said I missed the funeral and was late for my party. Its’s my honest opinion that I was given a second chance for life.
I was told that some of the reasons I received the award were because of my attitude and visiting other patients who were not able to get up and around and also the selling of poppies. My reply was and always will be that I will continue to do those activities as long as I am able.
Other awards that I have received were a plaque for being Grand Marshal in the Seymour parade, where I also received a plaque for my service in the Korean War.
Finally, I would like to take you back a few years and tell you about something that happened at the VA. I saw a spirit. And so did others.
Actually, this started back in 2016. I often visited patients at the West Haven VA hospital. I usually started in the veterans’ community living center. On one visit I walked into a patient’s room and asked him how he was doing. He did not answer me but moved his head from side to side. A nurse walked in and told me that they named this patient the Candy Man and that he needed to write everything he wanted to say because he could not talk. After a few minutes, I left and went on my way.
About three weeks later I was at the VA again. When I got to that section, I was told that the Candy Man died. At that time I learned that this was the hospice section. The Candy Man was in his mid-thirties. The nurses had put a picture of him on a bulletin board.
Time passed, and I became a patient. As I wrote earlier, I was put in this hospice section and in a room across the hall from the Candy Man’s former room. As I lay in my bed, I could see into that room. It was empty. As evening approached, I thought that I saw an image in that room. I fell asleep. The days and nights came and went, but every night about 9:30 I saw that image. I finally told a nurse about seeing the image. She said yes, she had seen him once in a while. We thought that he was the spirit of the Candy Man.
As time went on, I thought of him as my friendly spirit. I watched him move about. The mattress moved, and the curtain waved. I talked to the spirit and asked who he was and what was he looking to find out. He did not answer me. The fact that he did not talk made me believe that because the Candy Man did not talk, the spirit could not talk. As time went on, I still could not get up and about, so I asked the spirit to come over to my room and visit me. He did not come to my room. Soon I began to get up and around, so I decided to visit the spirit in his room. That night when he appeared, I got up and began to walk with my walker across to his room. Keeping my eyes on him as I approached, I reached the doorway and stepped into the room. He vanished. I walked farther into the room and looked around. The room was empty. I went back to my room and got into bed. Once again I looked across, and there he was moving about. I fell asleep.
Time came for me to be discharged. I asked the spirit if he would come with me. He did not answer. I have not seen him at home. After a couple of months, I went over to the VA. I asked how my friendly spirit was doing. The nurses told me that they had not seen him. The nurse Diane said that he was there to watch over me, and now that I was discharged, he probably had gone to someone else who needed to be watched.