I’m Free! Oh Wait…

Filed under: — lana @ 11:43 pm

This morning, in an effort to find out why the medical system here can only access my records from five years ago and not my present records, I found out that for the past few weeks I have tasted freedom and been unaware. Unfortunately, they fixed it.

I wandered by DEERS, which does enrollments for family members, ID cards for everyone, and so on. The theory was that the local folks never updated to my married name and that was the problem with the medical system. So I signed in, waited the usual half an hour or so for my name to be called, and within five minutes they determined that the error was not in their system because they had me in their system as my married name. Since this is the base where I made the name change, that made sense, so it was unexpected that it turned up properly as few things that make sense in the Army ever come to fruition. Regardless, they then pondered why I was having trouble accessing systems using my card, why the medical system had bumped me out, and so on. So they scanned my card to get some more information.

It turns out that no one ever updated my extension last October. Nor had my reenlistment processed yet. According to the information in the system, I should have left the Army on 14 May, the second of many potential escape dates, but not accurate for about seven months now. As a result of this, various systems had simply booted me, to include medical insurance, DEERS, and a few other related systems of which I am still mucking through. Technically, I could have wandered off about two weeks ago and few people would have actually noticed.

The main problem with this is that I didn’t know, particularly since my pay appears to have made it through unscathed somehow so I could have gotten two weeks paid vacation. I know the course I am in would have noticed, but the Army would have been hard pressed to do anything given their lack of knowledge that I was still a member of the uniformed services. Not like it would have worked, but a girl’s gotta dream.

The nice people at DEERS fixed what they could on their end of the system, which should fix most of it, and printed me off another ID card so I can try to function and do things like sign documents, a function critical to my unit. Unfortunately that also closed any slight crack in the door for the next three years… all views to freedom now blocked, so back to work I go.


Technology Strikes

Filed under: — lana @ 9:21 pm

The wide world of technology sometimes seems to cause more harm than good. The Army, in its habit of never making anything easy, has naturally keyed in on the challenges and amplified them.

Once upon a time, in a land not so far away but at least several years ago, it was a simple matter to complete and sign various documents. Well, Army simple. For instance, a non-commissioned officer evaluation report, or NCOER. The supervisor writes the report. The report gets sent to the supervisor’s supervisor, maybe the first sergeant, maybe whomever, for some review. That person sends it back with corrections, then sends it higher for still more corrections. The report goes back and forth, gets lost, found, recycled, reviewed, trashed, rewritten, changed back to the original, and lost again, and eventually makes its way back to the original supervisor for a signature. Now none of that has changed. That was the simple part.

When I first started writing these reports for my Soldiers I would get the report, print it out, sign it, scan it back into the computer, and send it to the next signature authority. They do the same, and on it goes. Quite easy.

Now, with technology, the Army is using a program which can use a digital signature which is stored on the Army Common Access Card, a card which everyone in the Army is required to possess. This saves the printing and scanning and such, so one would think this would make life much easier.

Or maybe not.

This weekend I wanted to sign an award for my Soldier. I am in the United States, nine hours behind where my command is lounging with their beers and schnitzels, and so everything has to be done electronically with about a day lag between communication. I was told the award has been reviewed and is ready for signing, so I found a kind soul with the card reader and programs installed on his computer. I wandered by his place and went to sign the computer.

The computer, in a technical fashion, basically told me to pound sand. His system was configured so it could not read my card.

Today, back at class, I asked if I could use one of the school computers. Not a problem. Or maybe it was. I attempt to put my card in the slot and the little computer gnomes giggled a little and spit my request back in my general direction. Because I am in the European domain and not in the domain for anything in the United States, I could not get into the system, much less sign anything.

Hemming, hawing, and general cursing ensues.

After several other attempts and various ideas tried to bypass the system, the course manager and senior instructor get involved. Eventually, it is determined that no one knows what to do. They make a few phone calls on my behalf. An hour or so later, they get in touch with the computer gurus in the joint command center, who agrees to meet me at lunch tomorrow to try signing the document at his office, where he has multiple card readers and hopefully more know-how than our addled brains could come up with.

My command no longer accepts, at least with any form of pleasantry, documents signed the old way. Too time consuming and unclear. Instead, it has taken me roughly a week and counting to find a way to sign this document digitally.

But it’s much easier this way. Surely it must be…


Medication for the Medication

Filed under: — lana @ 4:01 pm

Every time I step into an Army clinic I seem to only increase my need for medication. This is largely because every time I wander through the doors I seem to get a headache, and one that has nothing to do with my alien egg.

We have settled for now on the name Xenu for the little mishap wandering around in my brain, named after the intergalactic battlelord of Scientology. Mostly because it’s completely absurd.

Moving along, I went today to try and get some medication for the headaches that come along with the spawn of an alien race kicking around in the center of the brain. The large amount of PowerPoint every day, plus several hours of talking to people in small rooms when those people are paid to be difficult has been rather trying on the concentration when your brain is trying to escape through your temple.

The first problem came up in making the appointment. I called to get a telephonic consult because as far as I could figure that would be faster than going in, and since they weren’t going to crack my head open and take a look anyway I may as well just do it over the phone.

Well, apparently logic failed, as I was told that the doctors were too booked to make a phone consult, but could I come in for an appointment at 1100? I asked if it wouldn’t make more sense for the doctor to just call me at 1100, but that only confused them more and set the whole conversation back again so I just agreed to come in instead.

Then came the confusion that I am in the system on this base as my maiden name, despite having changed it numerous times in various Army systems. If I went to another, random base it would be fine, but because I was here about five years ago it threw off the whole program and mass confusion ensued.

Once the doctor finally figured it all out, she realized several important things. First, that the doctor in Germany put into her notes that I had her email address. Not quite accurate. I think she has my address, but I certainly don’t have hers. Though it is possible that I simply forgot. She also determined that she had no idea how to get in touch with the doctor in Germany, because apparently the system wasn’t linked the way she thought it was. Then the doctor here poked into my lab results and realized she could only read about half of them, because the other ones were for tests of which she had never heard.

The good news was that the labs she could read said that the grape has yet to poke into the pituitary gland or affect the thyroid. The downside to that is that means any goals I might have of reaching 350 pounds in the next two months lays squarely on my shoulders and those of the local steakhouses. If the Germans would only learn how to make a good steak, the temptation would subside a little.

So the end result was a mix of medication to try and make the headaches bearable, and to just move along until I get back to Germany and become Someone Else’s Problem once again. Since here they barely even know who I am, that should actually be a fairly easy task for everyone involved. Not to mention the less time I spend in an Army clinic, the fewer headaches should be induced by silliness and confusion. So solutions, however temporary, are abound.

I think Xenu and I will go celebrate with a steak.


Joys of Tombstone

Filed under: — lana @ 5:28 pm

What I like about the town of Tombstone is not the above-average number of staged gunfights in the streets, the overwhelming number of tourists crammed into about eight square blocks, or the perpetual smell of horse feces. While all of those things certainly add to the general character of the town, they are not the reason I continue to go back.

What attracts me to the town is just how genuinely nice the people are. The people that work in the shops are nice. The people you meet in the bars are nice. The people that serve you dinner are nice. Everyone checks both guns and attitudes at the door. They don’t look askance at those dressed in the high fashions of the late 1800’s, nor do they give you the evil eye for going for dinner, drinks, and dancing in jeans.

And speaking of which, it is impossible not to be put in good spirits when a woman who has been dancing for half an hour turns to you and reminds you that she is 77 and has no intention of sitting down anytime soon, or when an 80 year old man insists that you learn the two-step or he will have to find another dance partner.

I think everyone could stand a trip to the town, a trip that includes that time after most of the tourists have gone home for the day. If only to be reminded that there are still places in the world where it doesnt really matter what you wear or what you drink or where you are from, only that you have a good time and are willing to at least try and learn the two-step.


A Slow Death

Filed under: — lana @ 8:20 pm

Someone better start writing my obituary, and they shouldn’t feel the need to include anything about the grape in my brain or a tragic alcohol-related incident.

No, the cause of death will be much simpler: that of Death By PowerPoint.

Many are familiar with this tragedy, but today it was actually combined with a monotone, slow speaker who may very well have been giving the first brief ever in his lifetime. If we hadn’t happened upon lunchtime several of us were considering trying the theory that by putting a pencil in your nose and banging your head to the desk you wouldn’t feel the pain of death. Also, none of us had a pencil handy, the course requiring pens.

The week, being the first week of a long course, has been all slideshows and chitchat, and the natives are starting to get restless in the classroom. This is a common pattern in most Army courses, so it was to be expected, and luckily most of the instructors seem to understand. Except this morning. Even when one of the contractors let out a whimper and a loud sigh when he realized we had at least one more section to plod through, the poor guy just kept going. Even the practical exercise was PowerPoint for the block of instruction. 147 pages of PowerPoint, to be exact, with quiz formatting. One of the questions actually asked if you were enjoying the test or if you were bored. The Master Sergeant sitting next to me opted to select “bored” and was promptly mapped back to the beginning of the PowerPoint. So much for honesty.

At least I have finally recovered from the weekend. Overall it was productive. We succeeded in getting the one private silly enough to go drinking with the big kids to throw up in the middle of a strip club, we saw some random American on the streets of Prague get hit in the face with a train and then ask for a pack of cigarettes while using his cell phone on the injured side to call for assistance, my first sergeant argued maps with the alien in my brain and won, we had a Flashdance-style dance-off with some Canadians in what might well have been a gay club, and hung around with a bunch of British folks in homemade superhero outfits. Sunday we supported the few sober enough to run the marathon and headed back in time for me to realize that I barely had time to pack. Oh, and my battalion commander was kind enough to rope me into three more years of my life supporting the Army just before he took off to run 26 miles, leaving me to figure out the puzzle of which of us might be crazier.

So in retrospect, I suppose that after a weekend like that it is nice to sit back and not have to use my brain this week. My hope is that at least some of the cells might regenerate before the course starts getting difficult towards the end of next week, or at least enough to support perhaps a Vegas trip over the upcoming four day weekend without total neurological failure. We all must have our priorities…


Last Day

Filed under: — lana @ 2:20 pm

So it appears in retrospect that yesterday was my last day of real work for about the next ten weeks or so. The doctors decided, after sending me to have half of my blood removed from my body, that at least I can wait for the lab results in Arizona starting my class. They don’t intend to pull me back from the class, regardless of the results, as they can make treatment arrangements somewhere within a three-state radius for the duration, so off I head on Monday.

First I have to get through the weekend, however.

My first sergeant, in his infinite wisdom, has convinced me to head east for the weekend with him and a few other higher ranking non-commissioned officers for debauchery and a marathon. I am not crazy enough - yet - to run, but I thought the first bit sounded rather entertaining. We added the new warrant to the party, and will be joined on day two by other runners, the battalion element, and who knows who else, but we don’t intend to be sober enough to remember outside of pictures. I mentioned that perhaps this was a dumb idea for me to head out for a weekend when I have yet to fully pack for a ten week course, but my first sergeant pointed out it was in the best interest of my health. He reasoned, possibly with some medical backing though I much doubt it, that the more brain cells we can kill off the less likely the growth sprouting in my head will be able to latch onto living cells and therefore slow the spread. It seemed fully logical, so tomorrow off we go.

My husband and I have had some discussion as to what the thing in my head might be, since I will be in Arizona during the time someone would normally take a biopsy. We came up with several possibilities.

1) An alien egg to sprout and take over the world
2) A malignant virus which will fester in my brain and cause me to crave the souls of the living
3) An unborn twin now acting as another personality

However someone recently pointed out that Athena sprouted from the head of Zeus, so I am going with your standard War Goddess, which are really something of a hot commodity these days and I should be able to sell it on the black market for a decent sum later on.

Further evidence of my deteriorating mind is my reenlistment. Finally finding the retention NCO, we mentioned the trip to Prague and the NCO said we could just do the ceremony in Prague. So on Sunday my battalion commander, whom is running and so I expect will be in running shorts and a tee-shirt, will sign me up for another three years. We are having trouble getting our hands on an American flag, but figure we can find enough beer coasters on Friday and Saturday to make something of a semblance of one. My battalion commander, whom I have been under the assumption either didn’t know I existed or rather wished I didn’t exist at all, apparently likes me enough to spend 13,000 dollars on me for a course, so he gets to be the one to hold a straight face while I grumble through the reenlistment.

I might not have that many brain cells to spare after all.


In the Name of Science

Filed under: — lana @ 2:39 pm

In the midst of having plenty to do and not enough time to do it, my new warrant and I nevertheless came up with an experiment today.

Having found some Pop Rocks candies in a basket of treats in one of the private’s vehicles, I mentioned that we should test the exploding head myth that has been around for years about eating the candy while drinking a can of soda.

And that was how it began.

We brought the find upstairs and I summoned the other NCO into the office as well as the young Soldiers. I handed a packet of candy to the NCO and said he could take the opportunity to take one for his Soldiers, and mentioned I would put him in for a Certificate of Achievement at least should his head explode. I even let him choose the flavor between the three, to which he responded that if he was going to go, he’d best go with watermelon. He then pointed out that isn’t this what privates are for, at which point two of the privates began arguing about who ranked lower, so I stopped the quarrel handing each of them a packet and reminding them it was all in the name of science. The NCO still tried to escape his doom by passing his off to a specialist, but I pointed out that an NCO should never expect his Soldiers to do that of which he was unwilling. He clammed up at that, having just graduated from his first NCO academy. And so the science began.

Three packets, in their entirety, into the three mouths.

One glass of warm soda each to wash it down.

Zero exploding heads.

Despite the initial disappointment, success was deemed about a half an hour later when I received an email from one of the privates who was in the process of completing a report I had assigned her, and upon sending the report she included a status update which detailed that she felt a bit lightheaded and thought something was moving around in her stomach. The other private reported similar, and the NCO wasn’t looking entirely well. I called them all in and mentioned that I felt fine. I asked the warrant, who happily noted that he felt just peachy, and asked the specialist who said he felt well but that we hadn’t used a placebo so could we really be an effective control group. The warrant was momentarily unhappy, saying that the results could just be psychosematic. To this, however, I noted that to assume such would be to assume that, for instance, the private who until very recently thought that pouring coffee out the third story window was an acceptable alternative to going down a flight of steps to a sink actually had a brain. Since we have come to assume that he in fact does not, we therefore concluded that psycotic symptoms could not possibly be at fault and therefore the entire experiement was deemed a success.

Score one for science in the midst of an office and with low budget experimentation. I will be waiting for my letter from the Nobel committee.


Major Malfunction

Filed under: — lana @ 3:40 am

Well at least now when I am asked what exactly is my major malfunction I have somewhat of a suitable answer.

The MRI, during which the neurologist expected to find some pinched nerves and some easy to allieviate scar tissue, did not turn up pinched nerves and some easy to allieviate scar tissue. So she has no idea why when I do certain exercises with my left arm and shoulders it makes a popping sound in the back of my head and my shoulder gets painful and then my arm goes numb. Unfortunate, because that means more doctors fiddling about. Eventually, at least, as I tend to avoid digging for new explanations for problems when I already have one or two to deal with. Hence how I know gangrene smells like rotting almonds, but I digress.

Instead, the MRI turned up something about the size of a grape somewhere that there is not supposed to be a grape. That somewhere happens to be in the center of my head, puttering about neatly atop my pituitary gland. I was suspicious that something was up when I got the call from the neurologist the same day I had the MRI, because usually it takes days, even weeks to get results.

I rather wish it had taken the usual days or weeks, because now everyone is all mucking about wondering if I should head to Arizona for ten weeks with my new little brain companion. I pointed out that it isn’t exactly new, so how about we try something non-invasive like either medication or my traditional standby of ignoring it until I get back in August? The neurologist was not too keen on the latter, but has to check with the endochronologist about the former. The general opinion is that it isn’t cancerous, because it hasn’t piddled onto the brain cells it is snuggling up to, but it is in a rather inconvenient spot largely because it is putting pressure on my occular nerve which makes my vision go funny and shoving the rest of my brain into my skull, making me a bit addled and forgetful and having to deal with headaches that don’t seem to go away.

And here I thought the headaches were just the privates running around my office, one of whom cleverly dumped coffee out the office window yesterday. This wouldn’t have bothered me if we didn’t have a third floor office, and if a viable sink option for coffee disposal wasn’t located on his way out of the office anyway. Him doing his push-ups in exchange for his other punishment option which was that I toss him out the window to clean up the coffee was complicated by the fact that the other private, who saw him do it, opened her mouth with “Did you just dump that out the window?” which gave me the clue that something was amiss in the other room. So instead of him learning his lesson of not to dump things out the window, he at least learned the valuable lesson of if you are going to do something dumb, just don’t get caught, whch actually had been part of the safety briefing I had given them just a few minutes prior. He also pointed out that he learned that the other private was a narc, but I informed him that was all part of the bigger picture. Our new warrant officer, who watched the whole exchange unfold, was most amused. I then pointed out to him that they were all about to become his problem, as I still have every intention of running off to Arizona in a week. He stopped his giggling at that point.

So I still intend to convince the doctors and everyone else to allow me to head to Arizona for ten weeks, if only for the general safety of my Soldiers. I also believe that the grape in my head isn’t the only cause for my deteriorating sanity, given the coffee stains on the roof, and therefore it might actually be healthier for me to disappear for ten weeks instead of trying to get my melon fixed while dealing with my daily circus at the same time.

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