Updated: Aug 31
by Jerry Marrs
Transitional coaching is used to help individuals suffering from chronic or serious health problems live life to its fullest despite the disease process. Transitional coaching does not cure any disease and should not be used in place of medical treatment.
One of the descriptors I carry in life is Disabled Veteran. This was bestowed on me in 1993 when I was retired from the U.S. Air Force. In 1992 I held an airborne position and routinely flew missions. I began returning from the missions disoriented, confused, and covered in little red dots. Trying to be the strong airman, I brushed the symptoms aside for several months. Eventually, I found that when I flew, I was also experiencing significant pain in my left shoulder. Having dealt with the situation long enough I visited the flight surgeon, who found nothing wrong with me. After listening to enough of my complaining he suggested the symptoms may be psychological and referred me to mental health. Before I could make a mental health appointment, I was forced to visit the clinic another time where I met with a new doctor. The tests he ran finally yielded the answers I had been searching for – my platelets were significantly low and I was hemorrhaging. I was also no longer allowed to fly.
This diagnosis explained everything. My body did not have enough platelets to stop the bleeding caused by micro tears which were occurring due to changes in altitude. Moreover, my spleen was the organ responsible for destruction of the platelets, which in turn was causing the referred pain in my left shoulder. Looking back over my records the doctor was able to see a pattern, each time a got a vaccine my platelets would drop. Apparently, the missions I was flying also triggered the destruction of platelets. I was elated to have an answer, followed by significant concern when told it may be caused by cancer. This led to a bone marrow aspirate, the doctor’s very first one, in which they plunge a needle deep into your ilium, sans anesthesia because you cannot anesthetize bone marrow, and try to pull out a plug so they may sample the bone marrow. Unless it is the doctors first time and he cannot do it correctly, in which case it apparently takes three tries to extract the needed marrow. Thankfully it was not cancer and I was diagnosed with idiopathic thrombocytopenia purpura (ITP).
Soon thereafter I picked up a case of salmonella from a restaurant on base. Having stomach issues and more dots on my arm, I again visited the clinic where I was examined by the new flight surgeon that first discovered the platelet problem. The flight surgeon ordered some blood work and asked me to wait in the waiting room for the results. I remember the lab tech returning with the results, walking past me on his way to find the doctor. As the tech was leaving, the doctor chased after him, “Are you sure this is right?” he asked. “We double checked and it is accurate,” came the reply. The doctor then invited me into an exam room, suggesting that I sit quietly and make no sudden movements, and informed me he was calling for an ambulance. My platelet count had dropped to 9,000. Normal is between 150,000 and 450,000. At 20,000 you can easily spontaneously bleed and drop dead.
This episode led to a week-long hospital stay, huge doses of prednisone, a 30-pound weight gain in 1 month, and eventually a medivac to Travis Air Force base where it was determined the best course of action was to remove my spleen. Back in the old days this was not done laparoscopically, but rather via a 10-inch incision. I was retired as a disabled veteran in 1993.
I was required to have more abdominal surgery in 2007 to install mesh over the original incision. In 2012, due in part to the splenectomy, I required additional surgery which led to a collapsed lung and pneumonia, followed by severe memory loss, trigeminal neuralgia (constant pain across the left side of my face), more surgical mesh repairs, significant scar tissue, episode of severe fatigue, and recurrent small bowel obstructions. The bottom line, it has had a severe impact on my life and frequently the most painful thing I experience is the act of breathing.
I want to emphatically point out that my story is nothing compared to the horrific injuries suffered by our military men and women in combat. The strength, perseverance and resolve so many of them have is far beyond what most of us are ever required to muster. If you want to hear a story of true heroism in the face of certain death, watch or read anything featuring Medal of Honor recipient Corporal Kyle Carpenter, who threw himself on a grenade to save his fellow soldiers. He is a true and amazing example of living through actual adversity and thriving despite pain and injuries.
In my life, I have chosen to view my pain and discomfort as a source of confirmation that I am actually living an amazing life. My Document (daily affirmations) literally states: “I feel great and recognize pain as evidence I am alive and living a fabulous life.” I view the pain as the ultimate “pinch me” to make sure I am not dreaming. This does not mean I do not recognize the pain nor that I refuse to make alterations to my life because of my body’s capabilities.
For example, I must now be much more careful about what I eat. I do not overdo to a point of exhaustion that will leave me struggling for days to recover. I say “no” when I am simply unable to meet an expectation. But I am living the life I am meant to live. I am living a life of love, patience and understanding. I strive daily to bring joy to those around me. Believe it or not, the more pain I am in the funnier I get! I am choosing to live a life that is true to my innate being and who I believe I am meant to be on this earth. By living this way, despite the discomfort I may experience from various ailments, I find joy simply in being Jerry, or as my kids like to call me, Jerald. I find joy when I love others. I find joy when others love me. Clearly it would be great to be in perfect health, to run miles a day, or to have a sexy six-pack, but even if I had those things, they are not going to make me love more. I am not my body. I am my soul, I am love, I am here to serve.
Thus, my challenge to those living with disease is to beat it! Not by curing the uncurbable or magically removing a malady, but by choosing to be the person you were placed on this earth to be despite the disease. This is accomplished by defining and deciding who you are at your core, believing in your core being, and not allowing yourself to be defined by your ailments. What I propose is not an easy task. It demands work and focus. However, over time, you will begin to reap the rewards of your efforts and begin to enjoy a much richer and fuller life.