Tag Archives: Army

How to Have Hip Surgery

I recently had hip surgery. To be precise, I am nine weeks post-op and I am tired and sore all the time. (I also no longer think in terms of months. My hip has become like an infant to me. It is nine weeks post-op. Not two-ish months since I had surgery. Nine weeks post-op. The damn thing is basically still in diapers, breastfeeding, and not sleeping through the night, okay?)

“What happened?!” people will ask when they see me crutching around.

“I had hip surgery,” I will reply.

For some, that’s enough. Others want more detail: “But what did you do to yourself?”

The short version is I got hurt doing a lot of hooah-hooah Army training that isn’t well-suited to someone with my body type (i.e. Hips Don’t Lie). I was subsequently misdiagnosed, ignored, and sort of half-treated by a stream of doctors, physical therapists, and technicians for three years, and I finally had surgery to repair the issue, which was that the bones in my hip joint were rubbing on each other and tearing up the cartilage. They shaved down the bone to make the femur rotate properly in the socket and repaired the torn labrum.

Ta-da! Good as new!

If your curiosity has been sated, then my story is over. If you would like to learn more about the broken Army healthcare system and the anatomy of the human hip, this is the long version:

Step One: Keep Up

I. Hate. Running.

I am considering having this put on a t-shirt that I will wear every time I conduct fitness:

I think this about sums up what I'd rather be doing.

I think this about sums up what I’d rather be doing.

I’m also thinking about putting this on the back of my car. I’m actually very anti putting-stickers-on-the-back-of-my-car because I don’t think my car should be an extension of my Pinterest boards, but for this I might make an exception:


Like anybody really cares anyway, people.

I can kind of joke about it now, but I’ve had some not-so-funny moments when it comes to athleticism in the Army, particularly with running. I was told I wasn’t good enough to be in the Army, that I didn’t deserve to be at West Point, that I was wasting people’s time and valuable resources. So I learned to shut up and suck it up and not to complain. I know there’s a difference between being sore after a tough workout and being in pain because you’re injured, but I also learned that nobody really seemed to care to make the distinction if you were the kind of person who struggled to keep up, so when my hips started to hurt during ruck marches and after runs, I simply figured it was a symptom of not being a good runner, and didn’t say anything.

Step Two: Almost Die

I decided to do the 2011 New Cadet March Back with my younger sister (a.k.a. Sister #3, author of the outstanding guest entry featured earlier this year).


Sisters in our Army Finery

Our oldest sister was coming from Fort Carson, CO to march with us as well. She had graduated two years earlier and recently returned home from her first deployment to Afghanistan, and because they didn’t really like people who weren’t part of the direct chain of command marching with the New Cadets, I figured I’d better wear a ruck to blend in.

“Just pack it light,” my sister told me. “Don’t put anything in it.”

Easy for the combat veteran to say–I didn’t want to look like a dirt bag, carrying an empty ruck sack while everyone else hauled their own packs plus rifles after a long summer of training. My compromise was wearing a soft cap instead of a helmet. Good enough.

Sister #3 and me ready to ruck'n'roll.

Sister #3 and me ready to ruck’n’roll.

It was not good enough. I was fine for the first eleven or so miles of the ruck, but the last two miles were absolute agony. I’m not sure what changed, but I was limping along, pain splintering through my feet and radiating out of my hip.

My older sister, on the other hand, was like freaking Tigger, bouncing around and running back and forth in the formation, up and down the mountains, no issues whatsoever.

I reasoned that I must be out of shape. That had to be it. I just hadn’t trained properly for the ruck and I was just stupid enough to think that being excited about it would be good enough to get me through it. I’d be fine.

Step Three: Don’t Complain

After the March Back, we had a company run. My roommate (who had also completed the ruck the day before) and I fell back from the rest of the company after they set between a 7:30-8:00 minute/mile pace and finished the route on our own, limping up the stairs to our third-floor barracks room afterwards. I was angry that they had decided to run so fast (the Army standard for females on the PT test is two consecutive 9-minute miles) after they had promised that it would be a “slow, easy, espirit-de-corps, team-building, no-fallouts” kind of run. Instead I was exhausted, humiliated, and in legitimate physical pain. But if you blame your inability to keep up on being hurt, you get called a shammer or worse, so I didn’t say I was hurt or tired, I just kept my mouth shut and went on with my day. I wasn’t actually angry about the pace; I was angry about my inability to keep up.

The next day, however, there was a brigade run planned. It is one thing to fall back on a smaller, less organized cadet-led company run at West Point, and another thing entirely to fall out of a brigade run. The latter is a much higher visibility event, and you can land yourself in an actual disciplinary situation if you don’t stay with the group.

Feeling a little like a coward, I reported to sick call with the swollen, the broken, the fakers, and the blister-ridden New Cadets (accompanied by their Team Leaders) in the cavernous hallway of Arvin Gymnasium at 0530 while the rest of the able-bodied Corps formed up to run slinky-style up and down the mountains of West Point.

Step Four: Get Diagnosed With a Proximal Femoral Stress Fracture

“It’s probably nothing,” the polo-wearing guy told me after he finished checking out my hip. “But for females of your age and your build, sometimes there are bigger issues, so I’m ordering an x-ray and an MRI.”

So, that afternoon, I had my very first x-ray and MRI. I remember lying on my back looking up at the ceiling where someone had thought to paint the ceiling tiles with whimsical butterflies and flowers, presumably to help children with broken arms feel less frightened while they had pictures taken of their mangled bones. I was frankly pretty freaked out, considering I had made it to the ripe old age of 21 without ever having had a major surgery or scan or procedure or anything and my mommy was definitely not there to hold my hand. The x-ray was all right, but that MRI was a bitch.

It is, as my father says, “like being inside a coffin with a jackhammer.” They ask if you if you’re claustrophobic before they put you inside. Like if I say yes, do you have a half-size MRI machine that you can put me in so you don’t have to put my face in it? That’d be super. Also I’d like a quiet one. And a room that is warmer than Antarctica. Thank you. (I have developed a lot of opinions about MRIs over the last three years since this inaugural experience, having had many MRIs at several different facilities.)

Anyway, Mr. Polo Man from 0530 in Arvin that morning was Wrong-O.

“Proximal femoral stress fracture” was the radiologist’s call, which I think we can all agree is not “probably nothing.”

(Additionally, this was not the only problem hiding in my hip at the time, but they totally missed it, but I’m also getting ahead of myself. Moving on.)

Step Five: Crutches

Okay so here you go, here are your crutches, no weight bearing for a month, have a good life.

I won’t go into extreme detail, except to say that this SUCKED. If you’ve been on crutches you know how much they suck. If you’ve been a cadet you know how much that sucks. Imagine combining the two. In August. Welcome to Hell.

People used to ask me all kinds of obnoxious questions:


Those things almost became weapons at inappropriate moments so, so many times. I also wish very badly I had a dollar for every time the following happened:

– Someone let a door close on me

– Someone told me I couldn’t use the elevator unless I showed them a copy of my profile — no I don’t care if your class is on the sixth floor

— Someone said I was shamming

— Someone asked why I was sweaty

— A group of male cadets walked past talked about trou who use crutches to get out of stuff

— Someone said I should be grateful it wasn’t winter because at least the ground wasn’t icy

— Someone asked if I was lifting a lot instead since I couldn’t run (uh, yeah dude. My body. ALL FREAKING DAY.)

I would have several dollars. More dollars than I have now.

Step Six: All Better!

So then I got off the crutches and went to town on the elliptical and started a walk-to-run progression program. My follow-up x-ray and MRI were reportedly clear of signs of stress fracture, so I was healed!

Step Seven: Oh Wait, No I’m Not

…except that my hip still hurt. Running sucked, and at night I’d sit in my room studying while my stupid hip throbbed. (I also now lived on the fourth floor of the barracks instead of the third floor, so I had an extra floor of torture to climb to get to my room.)

I should alert a medical professional, right?


Step Eight: Fake It

Problem was that I reallyreallyreally wanted to graduate on time. And, due to the combination of my injury and my extreme suckitude at all things physical during my time at West Point, I was very behind on the physical requirements necessary to meet that goal. I needed to pass the Indoor Obstacle Course Test (a.k.a. the IOCT, otherwise known as How To Get Asbestos in Your Lungs Forever and Feel Like You’re Going to Die in Four Minutes or Less), and complete three Army Physical Fitness Tests (APFTs) in less than three months.

Let’s just say it was rough. Manfriend actually ran one of my two-miles with me — not so much to pace me for time, but just to stay beside me the whole time to say, “keep going, it’s okay, it’s okay, you just have to finish it and you can graduate” while I was practically in tears because I felt like my hip was exploding and the joint was going to collapse.

So, once all that was over and I was cleared for a May 2012 graduation and commission, I went back to physical therapy: hey Mr. Polo Dude. We have an issue.

Step Nine: Physical Therapy (including bonus torture!)

Physical therapy decided that my problem was just that my left leg had gotten very weak from not using it over the past few months, so all I needed were some good ol’ strengthening exercises and I’d be hot to trot.

They also thought I should try a round of acupuncture.

This was not one of my better decisions.

I have had real acupuncture here at Fort Hood since this experience from an actual physician (a.k.a. someone who knows what he’s doing) so I can say from experience that acupuncture isn’t bad. It wasn’t ever going to fix the tears in my hip or anything, but it did relieve some of the muscle tension.

I don’t know what they’re doing over there in Arvin Gym Physical Therapy at West Point, but they called it “deep needling” and it was HORRIBLE. First I signed a release form (we all make mistakes). Then I put on a pair of the big, super flattering shorts (of which I have worn many pairs over the years while dealing with my hip injury) and they stuck needles into my hip. Big ones.

The concept was that they would put them down into the deep muscles to release tension. Once they got waaaay down in there with the needles, they electrocuted the needles. I’m not even being dramatic. Another Mr. Polo Man put some kind of device on the ends of the needles and made them vibrate inside my muscles. I was really not okay with it. But. You know. Release form.

Then I acquired some nice second-degree burns by lying there under a heating pack for fifteen minutes afterwards and I was on my merry way. I was supposed to be sore for a day or two afterward then feel much, much better. Instead I was miserable for three days afterward and slightly more sore from then on out.

I stopped seeking medical treatment from the facilities at school, staggered through another PT test, miraculously graduated on time, and got the hell out of dodge.

I did some physical therapy at a clinic in my hometown during graduation leave, but I didn’t have much time there. They sent me off with some exercises and well-wishes. Whee.

Step Ten: Series of Scans

From there I was off to my basic officer course in Virginia, but the doctor there said since they weren’t my owning unit, I couldn’t do physical therapy. He recommended a bone scan once I got to Fort Hood.

The first doctor I saw at Fort Hood essentially told me I was a shammer (he was a former Infantry officer). Obviously if I was having trouble running I just wasn’t running enough, or with proper form. I did not go see him again.

I had a three-phase bone scan, which was positive in the blood pool phase for a soft tissue injury. The radiologist said that the area where the scan lit up was close to my uterus (you know…like…my…hip…joint…) and determined that all the scan showed was that I was menstruating. Which I was not. Not trying to be gross and freak out all the guys here, but I was rather distressed that a female radiologist tried to dismiss my hip injury by saying that the scan revealed I was merely having my period. (Which, again…I wasn’t.) Also: Get real, lady.

Then I had another regular x-ray and MRI. No evidence of stress fracture. (At this point it’s like, NO FREAKING KIDDING PEOPLE THE STRESS FRACTURE IS HEALED CAN WE JUST MOVE PAST THE STRESS FRACTURE THING ALREADY.)

Then I had an MRI with contrast. That’s where they inject the hip with a dye and then get the image instead of just a regular MRI. They’re like MRIs for royalty, clearly, instead of all those peasant MRIs I’d been having up that point.

Ha ha.

Unfortunately none of the peasant medical personnel could figure out what the dealio was from looking at my bone scan, x-rays, peasant MRIs and royal MRIs, so:

Step Eleven: You Must Need More Physical Therapy

And it was back to leg raises and resistance bands. Three sets of ten, please.

I expressed my concerns about not being able to do PT with my unit. After all, I was a new second lieutenant in my first unit. I had just taken over a platoon and I couldn’t run or ruck or do anything truly competitive with my Soldiers because my hip was all jacked up and nobody seemed to know how to fix it. Also I didn’t want to get fat, and my ability to do cardio was really starting to take a hit. A girl can only do so much biking and elliptical with a bum hip before she goes gym-rat-crazy.

No problem, they said:

Step Twelve: Let’s Try Pool PT

So, in the summer of 2013, I spent an hour and a half two or three times each week swimming laps and doing pool calisthenics in one of the pools on post with a sort of bored instructor who never spelled our names correctly on his sign-in roster and just wanted to make sure no one was in physical therapy to get out of an upcoming deployment.

Most of my fellow workout buddies didn’t seem too happy to be there. A few of them were chronic complainers (“You mean we have to go down and back?”) and some of them were outright afraid of the water. One guy thought he was going to get out of participating in pool PT altogether by pretending like the water was too cold.

My sisters and I had a pair of dachshunds that tried that trick too. In the winter they’d stand outside by the window and shiver until someone noticed them and say, “oh no, the dogs are cold!” and then insist they be brought inside so they’d be warm. This technique was extremely effective on multiple occasions, but then the little wieners blew it by trying it in July, effectively shutting down their act for good.

This guy was basically the same way. Come on, guy. It’s June. In Texas. At noon. The water is not cold. You’re a grown-ass man. Stop shivering. No one believes you right now.

Anyway, following these sessions I returned to physical therapy and reported that while exercising in the pool was all fine and dandy, there was no marked improvement in my hip. In fact, it hurt just as much as it had before we began pool PT.

“Hmm,” the therapist said. He made me demonstrate the at-home exercises he had given me.

I showed him three or four of them. He wanted to see more. I probably had about a dozen. By the time I got to the eighth one or so, I realized he wasn’t just reviewing them with me for my benefit; he was quizzing me. He essentially accused me of either not doing the exercises or doing them incorrectly, and that was why my hip wasn’t getting any better.

pitch perfect - aca-scuse me
Right. Because I love not being able to run. Because I love my hip hurting all the time. Because I love the embarrassment of being twenty-three years old and on a permanent walking profile because they told me I had to quit going from temporary-to-temporary profile and should just be a walker until they figured out what was going on with my hip.

It is fan-freaking-tastic.

You think that if getting well was as simple as some exercises at home every night with a stupid resistance band that I wouldn’t be living in a warehouse of resistance bands? I’d be doing those exercises in front of the stove, the washing machine, the television, and in the damn bathtub if that was what they said I should be doing. I’d get up in the middle of the night and do leg raises by the light of a full moon in a field of daisies.

Like come on, guy. Of course I’m doing the exercises.

It took a lot not to lose my temper at that point (and I don’t often lose my temper). I calmly requested that I be allowed to explore other options for treatment. This led to the next clinic:

Step Thirteen: Physical Medicine

A very magical thing happened in physical medicine. They injected my hip with cortisone.

It. Was. Amazing.

Well, at first it was really crappy. Any time there is fluid in your joint it hurts (also, shots, but I’ve had so many at this point I am sort of developing a needle immunity), but once the swelling goes down, the steroids made my hip feel GREAT. I ran again. Technically, I jogged, but still. It was spectacular. We had found a cure!

The steroid injections are supposed to give relief for at least 90 days, and up to a year. Some people have one injection every year, and they are good to hook. Other people have them twice a year. The catch is that you can’t have them more than four times annually (i.e. every three months/90 days).

Well. My magic shot only lasted a little over a month. Once three months had passed, I had another. That one lasted even less time. I told the doctor that it wasn’t really working out, but he just recommended that we do acupuncture more frequently. At this point, the acupuncture released tension in my low back for an afternoon and then I was back to the same level of pain with no relief in my hip.

This brings us to:

Step Fourteen: Almost Die Again

In June of this year I started falling down.

For no reason whatsoever (as far as I could tell) my hip would give out and I would fall down. It was incredibly painful, incredibly scary, and leave me breathless and tearful. But, as a doctor told me when I went to be evaluated (because it didn’t happen just once or twice, but multiple times) I was a “perfectly healthy twenty-four year old female” so it was “probably a bad idea to be looking at surgical options this early in life” and he “wasn’t really comfortable giving a referral to ortho” but he’d do it to get me out of his triage room, essentially.

I was pretty tired of doctors telling me I didn’t need surgery.

I get it. I’m not a doctor. I’m not a medical professional. I have a bachelor’s degree in English. I get it.

BUT, at the same time, we’ve done rest, anti-inflammatory medication, physical therapy, acupuncture, steroid injections into the hip, and every freaking scan known to modern medicine. I think we need to talk about surgery. For some reason, however, all these doctors considered that “the nuclear option” and “you don’t want hip surgery” and “you’re too young for a hip replacement.” DID I SAY HIP REPLACEMENT, BUDDY?! I had actually gone to a civilian hip specialist in Austin several months before and been diagnosed with femoral acetabular hip impingement, or FAI. This guy, who specialized in sports medicine and frequently took care of University of Texas athletes who went on to compete in the Olympics, said it was very possible that I had a tear in my labrum, but that my hip was definitely impinged, and that’s why it was popping and hurting all the time and keeping me from running or squatting correctly.

The Army was like, uhhh, femoral ace-what? No, no. That’s silly. You need to do physical therapy.

Step Fifteen: More Scans

I had an emergency cortisone injection that allowed me to limp around for the next month or so, which is how long it took to get the appointments for my next x-ray, MRI with contrast, and bone scan (which is what they wanted to see before I could see an orthopedic surgeon).


I’d like to highly recommend you bring your own fuzzy Christmas socks along if you’re an MRI acolyte. Your toes will freeze. #protips

When the results of the scans came back, they were thus:

* X-ray: Nothing. Because I don’t have a stress fracture. This is my surprised face.

* Bone scan: My right side is getting all messed up because I always walk/stand/lean on it because the left side no worky. Otherwise “unremarkable.” (I actually hate that term. I also hate “well-nourished.” Read your doctor’s notes some time, people. They’ll make you sound fat.)

* MRI: Anterior labral tear (a.k.a. my bones hath rent the front of my hip). Again. This is my surprised face. It is also the reason I was falling down.

Okay, said the Army. I guess you can have surgery.

Step Sixteen: Break Down on the Phone to Clueless and Uncaring Receptionists

It is hard to schedule surgery. My referral got lost, passed around, and kicked between offices like a hacky sack for weeks. I would try to schedule things with different people and got some lessons in the school of hard knocks. People are mean. People do not care. I actually started crying on the phone one day with this one heinous lady who worked in a certain orthopedics clinic and I’m pretty sure the only reason she didn’t hang up on me is because her customer satisfaction rating would go down if she had done so.

Step Seventeen: Schedule Surgery

I also had a nerve conduction study while we were effing around and doing nothing and I was tearing up the inside of my hip by just being alive and ambulating from place to place because they wanted to make sure I didn’t have any nerve damage. When you walk in the room it looks like some kind of vintage torture chamber.

We saved the squishy chair of torment especially for you!

We saved the squishy chair of torment especially for you!

Then they electrocute you with this little buddy up and down your leg, using increasing levels of electromagnetic shocks to determine if your nerves are reacting correctly and recruiting the right way.


Looks so friendly!

My nerves. All normally, apparently. I am somewhat suspicious of this.

My nerves. All normal apparently. I am somewhat suspicious of this.

Clearly black magic was at play.

But, good news, taxpayers of America! The Army has decided that I don’t have any nerve damage that has resulted from my hip injury, and therefore will not be footing an additional medical bill.

It was a fun morning. Back to the office!

It was a fun morning. Back to the office!

Step Eighteen: Have Surgery

Eventually I did manage to schedule my surgery. Fort Hood doesn’t have a hip guy, and Tricare refused to pay for any civilian providers in the area, so heigh-ho heigh-ho, it was off to San Antonio we’d go. But I was ready to go. I’d been thinking I was on the road to recovery since the fall of 2011 and here it was the fall of 2014 and I was only getting worse.

When I finally met them, I unintentionally tormented my surgical team.

I really didn’t mean to do it, but I have this binder that I have built over the years that contains all the documentation related to my hip injury. I bring it with me to all my appointments so I can get the latest doctor spun up on my old problems. So when I finally met my surgical team, I think I broke their bright, shiny intern hearts with my intense amount of documentation (“Is that binder just for your hip?”), cold medical terminology, and cynicism in their ability to treat me.

Their eyebrows went up when I described the different methods I’d had for the cortisone injections, and explained that I was encountering diminishing efficacy with that treatment. This is apparently not normal patient jargon. I am not a normal patient. I MEAN BIZNAZZ.

I also didn’t really have any interest in talking to them. I wanted to see the real surgeon. The man of the hour. The guy who does the sawing. So I didn’t cut them much slack.

SURGICAL TEAM: So what are your goals for surgery?

ME: I’m getting married in December. Am I going to be able to walk by then?

SURGICAL TEAM: You should be off crutches after about four or five weeks.

ME: I need you to be a little more exact. Like, can I go ahead and buy the heels I want for my wedding, or should I just invest in some of those shoes with the pop-out wheels and have my dad wheel me down the aisle?

One of the interns had a coughing attack at the back of the room.


SURGICAL TEAM: One potential method of anesthetic for your surgery would be a nerve block on your leg. So your whole leg would be numb. Also your leg would be put into traction for the surgery to isolate your hip joint during surgery. There is a risk with both of these things that the numbness is permanent.

ME: Do what?

SURGICAL TEAM: It’s extremely rare. Feeling nearly always returns to the leg within a day or two and nerve damage from the surgery is even more rare.

ME: Yeah, but like…how far up does the numbness go?


ME: Like…mid-thigh? Top of the thigh? Higher? I don’t really use this part of my leg, but I mean, if it goes super high…I have a honeymoon to attend.

I have never seen three grown men turn red so fast in all my life.

Luckily once my actual surgeon showed up he seemed a little older (barely) than them and less easy to intimidate. My mom spent an extensive amount of time stalking his qualifications and publications prior to my surgery, so we were feeling pretty good about it by the time the fateful morning at last arrived.

I was the first case. They called me back, where I had to talk to yet another random resident in scrubs who had probably never seen any of my case history until right at that moment.

“Good morning,” he said kindly, looking down at a stack of papers in a folder with my name on it. “Can you tell me what you’re here for today?”

I knew this game. This game was “you have to tell us what you’re here for so you can’t sue us for doing the wrong thing.”

“Yes sir,” I said. “I have femoral acetabular hip impingement and an anterior labral tear on the left side. Dr. Burns will be doing my surgery. They’re going to do a nerve block. I don’t have any allergies. Except cats. Will there be cats in the operating room?”

Somehow people don’t know to respond to this. Sheesh guy, lighten up. I’m the one who’s about to have my leg pulled out of its socket, not you. (Incidentally, the right answer was “I’m having surgery on my left hip.” I got bonus points for jargon and then lost them for the weird cat joke at 6 a.m.)

I actually couldn’t wait to get into the OR. I wanted to see all the things and remember all the things so I could write about it later in a snarky fashion. But you know what they do to you right before you go into the operating room? They take away your glasses, and I am basically blind. I had to get a Department of Defense waiver to get into the Army because I am THAT nearsighted, so guess what I could see in the OR? Nothing. I was extremely annoyed.

I laid on my bed and stared at all the people moving around me all blurry for a while. There was a guy behind a curtain across from me who was apparently getting knee surgery that morning, and he was a real whiner. Frankly I didn’t think he deserved it if he was going to complain so much. I made sure to let everyone know that I wanted to be there. Then I got bored and started reading my chart because they just left it on my belly. They were slowly pumping drugs into my catheter, so I was getting quite warm and comfortable.

“Why do all these say ‘well-nourished’?” I demanded.

“It just means you’re healthy,” a nice Asian lady assured me. “As opposed to malnourished.”

“Why doesn’t it say ‘slender and beautiful’ or something? I find this vaguely insulting. Can I file a complaint?”

They were laughing at me at this point but they were also slipping drugs into my bloodstream so I wasn’t exactly in the correct frame of mind to cut back on the sassy talk. Sometimes I am a nervous talker, and I was a little anxious about not being able to see and ready to have the surgery over with.

“What about ‘reasonably nourished’? I really think they should re-think this system.” In between all this I had to keep removing the chart from my nose (I am so nearsighted that I was holding it about two inches from my face to be able to read it) to recite my name and date of birth and which hip they were operating on. I could also hear the name, DOB, and ailment of Whiny Knee Guy across from me, which you would think would be some kind of HIPAA violation, except that I was way too doped up at that point to retain any information about him except that he was annoying me.

Finally they put even more drugs into my arm (the anesthetist team called it my margarita cocktail) and the nice Asian lady asked if she could have my chart back, so I consented.

The next thing I knew, I was waking up, and I could not find my mother.

“Where’s Mom?” I asked the blurry person.

“You’re in Recovery One,” she said. “You can see her in Recovery Two.”

“Actually I can’t see anything until you give me my glasses back,” I informed Miss Sassy Blurry Pants.

I didn’t know it at the time, but my mother was making the same inquiries in her own holding area. “She needs her glasses! Her engagement ring! Her bear! Her Snow White blanket!” (Mothers understand priorities in a way that hospitals do not.)

Soon I was reunited with both my mother and my vision. I insisted on taking selfies and demanded to be discharged at once so I could visit my bunny. I ate three popsicles and spent some time poking my leg, which had become like a long, fleshy brick on my body.

You almost can

I was too excited about that popsicle to realize that it wasn’t going to keep me from coughing for four days after surgery because they stuck a tube down my throat.

Step Nineteen: Convalesce

I spent the month of October doped up on Percocet, unable to walk, while my parents took care of me. I was extremely fortunate in this regard since Army healthcare has been so negligent that my mom is a nurse and my dad is a doctor, so I had top-of-the-line in-home healthcare.

I had a lot of lofty ambitions and plans for my thirty days of convalescent leave. I would do all the things I dream of doing while I’m not doing Army Things. I’d bake and sew and scrapbook and be domestic. I’d binge-watch Netflix. I’d write a blog entry every week. I’d finish all the books I had read half or three-quarters or one-seventeenth or other sad fractions of up to that point. Yes, people. I had plans.

Instead I spent my time sleeping more than half the day and trying to remember what time I was supposed to take my pills. My parents fed me and made me wear compression stockings and propped me up on a bike every day and made me move my legs in sad circles so I wouldn’t get a blood clot and die. Bathing was an adventure every single day. I have an immense amount of respect for handicapped people and those who assist them, because if I were permanently unable to use my lower limbs I’d just give up and quit leaving the house. Seriously not worth the effort. Do you have any idea how heavy your leg is when it doesn’t move by itself? It’s obscene. That thing needs to go on a diet. Not me. My leg.

Step Twenty: Crutches

Oh, my old friends. I named them this time: Leonidas and Jane Austen. My dad nicknamed me the Duchess of Crutches. I have killer triceps. I am basically an orangutan at this point.

Upper body strength for days.

Upper body strength for days.

I even have a comparable gut now that my abdominal strength has deteriorated at an alarming rate.

I even have a comparable gut now that my abdominal strength has deteriorated at an alarming rate.

Actually I am weaning off them; I only have to use one now. My older sister has taken to calling me Tiny Tim. ‘Tis the Season. I’m not telling you whether I’m using Jane Austen or Leonidas because I’m not playing favorites.

Step Twenty-One: Physical Therapy

So now I’m sore and tired all the time and waiting to not be sore and tired anymore.

The hip was basically bone-on-bone, grinding away in there. They shaved down the pelvis and femur so that it should now rotate properly in the socket. They also sewed up the labrum and reattached it where it had gotten ground off.

Heres some science on it. Thanks, Internet!

Here’s some science on it. Thanks, Internet!

I have real pictures of the inside of my hip but Manfriend says they’re gross so I won’t put them on the Internet. Basically:


Exhibit A

Exhibit B

Exhibit B

The doctors told me at my six-week follow-up that I couldn’t expect to begin to see benefit from the surgery until I was at least three months out. And I was just sitting there on the crinkly paper (May I just say that I have grown quite weary of sitting on the crinkly paper and talking to strange men about my hips at this juncture in my young life?) trying to figure out the least insubordinate way to tell a captain and a major that was an unsatisfactory answer to me. Like, I’m sure you two are very nice young men are you probably worked very hard in medical school. However, comma, I have goals in life. I have dreams. One of those dreams is not letting my life revolve around my damn hip anymore. Can we stop riding the hip train and get the hip on the Kelley train? Can we do that?

But noooo, it’s all, we shaved down bone in your hip, it has to regrow, it’s not a particularly vascular area so the healing process is slower, labral tears heal differently in every body, blah, blah, BLAH. Just shenanigans. Let’s get a move on, people. Let’s get some vascularity going, hip.


I haven’t gotten to this step quite yet, but I will in just twenty-five short days. I am rehabbing my hardest to ensure that there is no thug limp walk, only an ethereal gliding on my wedding day, but I suppose a little swagger never hurt anyone.

That, dear friends, is the tale of how I had hip surgery.



Filed under Lists

Five Things I’m Over This Week

Labor Day Weekend was delightful. Then I had to go back to work. And it was a looooong four-day week. I would like to briefly update you on the top five things I am quite finished with this week.

o People Who Have Deleted the Facebook Messenger App…AND WANT TO MAKE SURE EVERYONE KNOWS IT

I know a lot of people were up in arms about having two separate apps on their phone for Facebook when they first came out with the new messenger app. I actually didn’t mind it at first, because I thought maybe it would make the original app run more efficiently, cut down on glitches, solve world hunger, improve my vocabulary, and help me lose 30 pounds in 30 days! (Essentially, I really didn’t care.) But as I continued to use it, the messenger app became a digital thorn in my side.

I couldn’t figure out how to permanently turn off the notifications, so every day I’d go into the app and choose the “disable notifications until 8 am” choice, or whatever the option was that was furthest away. I looked in the Facebook Help section and searched online and couldn’t figure out how to permanently disable it, which leads me to believe that there is not a way to do it at all…and I do not appreciate that, Mark Zuckerberg. Tell your people.

So because I was tired of the app binging at me and putting my friends’ face bubbles in the corner of my phone, I finally just uninstalled it. And when I want to use FB messenger on my phone, I log in to Facebook on a mobile browser and go from there. Problem solved. Unfortunately, this does not seem to be a good enough solution for several of my friends.





Obviously I’m paraphrasing, but really. Some people have been pretty dramatic about it. And I say this as a child who grew up in a household where my father made us put tape over the built-in camera on our laptops because he was convinced someone was going to randomly hack into our computers and track our every dull-eyed facial expression while we built an unimpressive Neopets empire and waited for Backstreet Boys music videos to buffer.


o The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

Let me immediately clarify: I am not over the giving of money to charitable organizations. I do it occasionally and really should keep better records, because then I could take it off my taxes. I think all of us should give more frequently to organizations that we think are worthwhile

In fact, here’s a quick plug for an app that will allow you to give to a few great charities–and it won’t cost you a cent:

Install CharityMiles on your phone (they have it for both you iPhone zombies and for us Droid believers of the world), sign up within the app, then pick a charity. Enable the GPS for your workout, keep your phone on you, and go. Bikers earn 10¢ per mile and walkers and runners earn 25¢ a mile. I choose the Wounded Warrior Project every time, but they also have Habitat for Humanity, Autism Speaks, ASPCA, Alzheimer’s Association, and more.

charity miles

But I am tired of watching people dump buckets of ice water over their heads. Just donate money to a great cause. Nobody cares if you’re cold and wet any more. The Internet is over it. We have moved on. Kermit the Frog has now participated in the ice bucket challenge so you really can’t top it at this point. Just give money to make someone’s life better instead of wasting 15-75 seconds of our lives watching your video, since at this point we’ve all seen so many of them that we know about ALS. And if you don’t, you didn’t bother to look it up when your news feed was awash in an icy torrent of activism, in which case, you probably kind of suck.

o Taylor Swift

Her freaking ridiculous new song has apparently topped the charts for the second week in a row. I was hoping when we hadn’t heard from her in a while that she was going to slow fade away, as is proper, praise be to Allah, thank Thor, Alleluia He is Risen Indeed, etc. But apparently her silence just meant that she was plugging away in the studio at an album of defamation to my poor, innocent birth year.

Every night I say my prayers and end with, “And please God let the world stop worshiping at the altar of Taylor Swift, and may she never appear in the news, or the tabloids, or the fashion magazines, or the Twitter, or the Internet, ever again, and also please let her not put out any more albums because everyone will realize that she is overrated and we are tired of her because her country-girl-ingénue persona has got to give out eventually, right?”  I don’t think she’s bad or evil. Just overrated and annoying and I am ready for her to go away. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

#genuflectforTaylor #gagme (Side note: if you’re not following Feminist Taylor Swift on Twitter, you are seriously missing out.)

Feminist Taylor Swift

o 40% Sales

I love Hobby Lobby. It’s my happy place. But for the last two weeks, they have been irksome to me. They have all their fall items and Christmas items marked 40%. Great. Super. Yay. Wow.


JUST MARK IT 50% ALREADY LIKE I KNOW YOU ARE EVENTUALLY GOING TO DO. Better yet, just make me really happy and mark it all 66% and then I’ll go in there and blow all my money and you’ll be happy too. 40% is a stupid percentage to put things on sale. Either go half-off, because that makes sense, or go higher, because then everyone feels like they are getting a steal (not a deal, a steal, because then you’re like an extreme couponer except you didn’t have to ruin your life by becoming an extreme couponer).

hobby lobby

o Unrelenting Summer Heat While Everyone Loses Their Damn Minds Over Pumpkin Spice-Flavored Everything

It’s not even like it’s really cooling off up New England either. The weather at West Point as of Friday afternoon was “87, feels like 92.”

Wow. Brr. Put on a sweater. Where are my gloves? Chilly. Can you see my breath?

No. You cannot. Because it is basically still summer, but because everybody is sweating their butts off in classrooms and cubicles around America, we are all apparently in denial about the fact that it is simply not fall yet. Today I tried to pretend it was fall by turning the heat on my feet in my car because my toes were too cold in my flip-flops due to my relentless air conditioning blasting. (Betty was riding in the front seat and she likes it pretty cool. When she gets hot she goes into full Dragon Bunny mode and starts breathing fire.) The smell of the heater being turned on after so many months of disuse was comforting and smelled so wonderful and autumnal…for about thirty seconds. Then it got really stuffy and disgusting in the car and I immediately swapped back to A/C and just let my toes enter into early stage frostbite.

Don’t get me wrong; I’d love to make some acorn and pumpkin-shaped muffins using a banana bread or pumpkin spice recipe or something that conjures up similarly cozy feelings, then build a fire and jump in a pile of leaves and wear a scarf and a pea coat. But just because the calendar says September doesn’t mean the weather has caught on yet. It is summer outside. Sorry.

I blame you for this, Starbucks.

Pumpkin Spice

Bonus item:

People bringing their screaming children to work

I already have to deal with people of underdeveloped intelligence sending me a constant barrage of e-mails and sticking their heads into their office and forcing me to attend meetings that slowly erode my already questionable attention span. Adding someone who is not potty trained into this menagerie is really just not helping. Do not bring an infant into the office unless it is perfectly groomed and wants to be held and gurgle and wave hello and be adorable and give me baby envy. Any other type of baby in the office is just not acceptable. It is doubly unacceptable for you to play Pharrell Williams’s “Happy” on repeat on your phone because you think it will make said wailing child happy. It is not making that baby happy. It is not making me happy. YOU ARE MAKING EVERYONE UNHAPPY.

T. G. I. F.

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My Favorite Squids


You all may have noticed a distinct upturn in readership as a result of my last post (I certainly did. I had to turn the Word Press notifications off on my phone after the torrent of Navy haters, Navy good sports, and Army supporters leaving comments woke me up in the middle of the night. And two hours before I had to get up for PT, too; somebody call the waaaambulance for me, please.)

But letting a few rude middies ruin it for the rest of them is like letting a couple of burnt kernels ruin an otherwise delicious bag of popcorn (I don’t know why the popcorn analogy. Probably because we’re fresh out of the Christmas movie season but I could still go for some theater-popped goodness covered in butter) and we can’t have that.

Several people lamented the way I poked fun at Navy’s mascot, uniforms, traditions, etc. blah blah blah. Aren’t we all supposed to be on the same team??? How can we defeat the terrorists if an Army officer makes fun of the Navy football team??? How dare you drink at a football game as a 24-year-old officer off duty! I’m a former Naval officer and graduate of the Naval Academy – but I can’t go to bed now, honey; someone on the Internet is WRONG!

I get it. We are all on the same team when it comes to being proud members of America’s armed forces. But unless we strike up a friendly game of football with Team Bin Laden or the Saddam Squad and Navy is playing them, I am going to root against Navy football. I just am. I want Navy to lose frequently, and to Army, always. Forever and ever, the end.

But, having said that, there are several former midshipmen and current members of the Navy of whom I am rather fond. Here are the ones topping the charts:


This lovely woman is Lyzzy, USNA Class of 2010. The Lord gave her a beautiful singing voice, luscious blonde locks, and the good sense to cross-commission into the Army. She actually did it since HUMINT wasn’t open to females in the Marine Corps at the time and that was what she wanted to pursue. She spent her first deployment as a source analyst working solely with human intelligence personnel.

Lyzzy was in Glee Club at West Point her first semester of her junior year while I was a plebe (freshman). She lived in the same building I did, and if I ever ran into her in the hallways she’d talk to me like a real person instead of the pond scum that plebes really are at West Point, and for that I adored her.

Did I mention she’s amazing?

And, per her request: “Ok! I hate to say it, but please include that I still love my Navy roots and will always cheer for Navy…no matter how sad it makes my husband and friends.” (Lyzzy married a West Point grad. Smart lady.)


Matt was an semester exchange from Navy who was in my company when we were both first semester juniors. He lived one floor below me and was actually Manfriend’s squad leader that semester. Manfriend benefitted from Matt’s leadership skillz, and I benefitted from his friendship. We sat at the same lunch and dinner table and he made life more bearable on crappy days.

Matt is currently being a badass as the Anti Submarine Warfare officer on a destroyer based out of Japan. He also told me he was a boarding officer onboard, which was “semi-interesting.” Actually, it’s really interesting. I had to look it up because he didn’t explain what it meant but one definition I found said it was “a naval officer detailed to board an incoming ship to provide local information (as to the ceremonies or honors expected, uniforms required, or facilities available).” Basically an ambassador of land to those at sea/pretty freaking cool.

Matt’s pretty easy to get along with. He even told me he did “not mind one bit to be one of your favorite squids,” which I thought was quite generous.


Melanie was another semester exchange middie that I met when she was in Glee Club the first semester of my sophomore year. Sometimes she gets these really adorably uncontrollable hiccups, which were only minorly disruptive when we were singing warm-up scales, but infinitely entertaining nonetheless. Last year Melly was the accompanist for the Naval Academy Glee Club when they sang for George Bush Senior.

She gets some pretty sweet close-up action in THIS video at 1:14 of the Glee Club singing at West Point on Veteran’s Day a few years ago.

Aaaand this is her with Patrick Stewart. (That sound was me collapsing into a heap of jealousy on the floor.)


I knew Brandon in high school, when we did Civil War reenacting together (yes, that is a real thing; yes, I participated; see, it happened:

Get over it). We had super big crushes on each other, but I went to West Point and he enlisted in the Navy and now he’s married and I’m engaged and so that ship has sailed (ha, ha). When I asked if I could include him in my blog entry he said of course, and as for the hate mail, well: “See Kelley? That’s what happens when Army loses and you all don’t let it go right away, hah!”

Brandon is now a Navy Corpsman, Petty Officer 3rd Class. Apparently in the Navy, they use their jobs as ranks, so he’s actually a Hospitalman 3rd Class (HM3). This means he deals with anything medical. They work in hospitals, on ships, and can be attached to the Marine Corps as medical attaches. Brandon currently works as a Navy Psychiatric Technician. When I asked for more details he told me to look up Navy Corpsman on Wikipedia. So much for interviewing and going straight to the source.

This is him and his wife, who’s also in the Navy:

Brandon is actually Canadian, born and bred, but he’s a smart Canadian, which is why he lives in America. He asked me to mention that he is “extraordinarily proud to be serving in the United States Armed Forces and to be serving her people.” Happy to have him aboard, eh?


I love this picture because this is how we all felt at graduation but only a few people actually showed it so clearly.

Hunter was a semester exchange student from Navy in the second semester of his junior year and my senior year. He was in the elective I took with a bunch of my friends, Film and Film Theory.

That class was delightful. We were a bunch of burnt out seniors ready to get the hell out of West Point with our undergrad degrees and commissions in hand, so we thought we’d watch a few movies and overwhelm the class with our senioritis superiority.

We were mistaken. The focus of the class turned out to be foreign films, so instead of just analyzing and discussing cinematography, camera angles, and soundtracks, we had to read the whole movie in the subtitles. I was a very attentive student; during one film “lab” when we watched the Kurdish war film “Turtles Can Fly” (no they can’t, and spoiler alert: everyone dies) I took some notes, read the movie synopsis online, rearranged my kingdom in Castleville, and filed my taxes. (Sorry, COL Nelson. I really did learn things, I promise.)

Anyway, Hunter was one of the few males in a predominantly female class (a definite rarity at the service academies). He later admitted to us when we were celebrating our end-of-the-semester project in a local bar that we had contradicted what he had heard about West Point girls (i.e., we’re all ugly). He then proceeded to accurately classify each of us as not-a-bitch, a bitch, and sometimes-a-bitch. (I was sometimes-a-bitch, in case you were wondering, and mostly due to my pretentious use of academic jargon in class.) His honesty about our personalities, his admittance that there were actually five attractive West Point female cadets in a single class hour, and his excellent sense of humor has won him a place on this list.

Hunter studied English (literature and poetry) at Annapolis and completed his senior thesis on Irish poet W.B. Yeats. He branched into the Marine Corps out of the Naval Academy instead of opting for a specific branch in the Navy. He’s currently attending The Basic School (TBS), which is similar to the Army’s basic officer leader course for the Infantry (IBOLC). “All officers go because every Marine is grounded in basic infantry skills,” Hunter explained. His course at Quantico, VA lasts six months. While at TBS, Marines compete for their specific job within the Marines. Hunter was just assigned as a Comptroller (Finance) and will report to his unit after he completes his finance-specific training.

Hunter loves America and the ladies of COL Nelson’s Film and Film Theory Class in Spring 2012 love Hunter.


Honorable mentions go to Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra as sailors:

‘Cause yay.

Happy 2014, everyone! Stay tuned for the story of how I recently became affianced to Manfriend and also read 100 books in 2013. Adventures abound.


January 8, 2014 · 6:36 pm

Ten Ways Army Won

Here’s the thing about the Army football team: it’s reallyreally bad. As far as the score goes, Army has lost to Navy in one of the biggest rivalries in college football for the twelfth consecutive year. But if you look a little more closely, you’ll see that there are a few ways Army actually did win the game this past Saturday.

10. We didn’t wear flair on our uniforms

Navy flair...?

What is this garbage? This is not Applebee’s.

We don’t want to see your personality, Navy; we already know that it sucks.

9. We didn’t look like drunk toddlers during march-on

This happens every year. Everyone always says that Army wins the march-on, but it is so true. I’m honestly not expecting the midshipmen to look as sharp as the cadets; West Point has the Corps marching for a couple of hours each night (regardless of rain, wind or snow) the week leading up to the game to make sure they look good for the main event.

Based on Navy’s march-on performance, I’d say they prepare by giving everyone a shot of whiskey, injecting their legs with a numbing solution so they can’t walk in a straight line, then making them spin in circles for a few minutes before they get into formation.



Compared to this:

Sloppy, Navy. Sloppy.

8. We didn’t look like sullen teenagers in the stands

To be fair, would you really be interested in hanging out in Lincoln Financial Field for nine hours straight in the snow when you knew you were going to win anyway? Probably not. But I’m not here to be fair. I’m here to talk about how much better Army is than Navy (at everything but football).

An anaology:

Army fans

Navy fans

It was pretty pitiful how much they didn’t care.

7. This

This didn’t happen at the game. But these guys are in the Navy.

I’m glad I’m not in the Navy.

6. Goats

The Army mascot isn’t something majestic, like a bald eagle. Or even something super exciting and exotic, like a dinosaur (this raises the point about why aren’t more mascots big, scary dinosaurs? but that’s another question for another post). But it does look pretty good at games nonetheless.

This demon-animal is Navy’s mascot:


This is a cringe-worthy animal if ever I saw one. In fact, I’m pretty sure every time they showed the Navy goat onscreen at the game, there was a collective cringe from everyone inside Lincoln Financial Field unfortunate enough to see that scraggly, nasty thing blown up to the size of a barn.

Actually, there’s a long history of Navy mascots looking stupid next to Army’s mascots at the Army-Navy Game. Observe:

Sweet pants, Navy.

5. We weren’t bad sports.

If nothing else, losing has certainly taught us sportsmanship. Winning twelve years in a row has apparently only taught the midshipmen how to act like (pardon me) ass clowns on national television.

At the end of the game, when we sang our Alma Mater, despite the freezing rain coming down on their heavy, soaked overcoats, the cadets I saw all stood ramrod straight and sang along. Then, after it was over and we had to listen to the mids sing “Navy Blue and Gold” AGAIN, the cadets remained at attention and gave the appropriate respect to the other service academy.

Stay classy, West Point. Navy, you keep up your traditions; you don’t look at all ridiculous.

(For the record, “Navy Blue and Gold” is my least favorite song. Hearing it sung is more painful than listening to Taylor Swift songs on repeat while someone runs their nails down a chalkboard and a thousand microphones screech with feedback simultaneously.)

4. COL Ragsdale

Colonel Ragsdale loves Army football about as much as I love chocolate chip cookies, naptime, and Oxford commas…which is a lot.

You always win for high spirits when COL Ragsdale is at an Army game.

I plan on making faces like this someday when I’m in labor.

3. General Odierno

Another BAMF that Army gets to claim for their own. General Odierno was at the game on Saturday too, making everyone else on the field look like puny mortals (all football players included) and just generally being awesome. I think what I like best about General Odierno is that he takes the time to meet and speak with Soldiers, officers, cadets, and families and listen to their concerns and suggestions, but he could also turn around and kick a terrorist in the face. That’s what I want to be when I grow up: a well-groomed, friendly, badass motherfucker. I’ll have to settle for being a miniature version though, because I don’t think I’m going to grow another two or three feet in this lifetime.

Happy Ray

Happy Ray

Intellectual Ray

Intellectual Ray

Ray don't care

Ray don’t care

This is how I know he’s a good dude, because he rocks his ACU fleece with all his stars. I don’t have any stars, but I likewise enjoy wearing my ACU fleece in Arctic temperatures, such as may be found in my office at work.

Ray <3's his snuggy

Ray <3’s his snuggy

2. Former Army football players

Another thing that happened at the game that was special (and due entirely to Army being classy and full of badassery) was when these guys stood out on the field and GEN Odierno and SGM Chandler shook their hands while the announcers told the spectators who they were and what they had done. Each one was a combat veteran, and the fewest number of Bronze Stars any one of them had was three. One guy had SIX, and one for valor. Oh yeah, and they were all former Army football players.

General Odierno is a BAMF

Their stories (however brief) made me proud to be a West Pointer, an Army officer, and an American. Also I was glad (again and forever) that I’m not in the Navy.

1. Hot chocolate plus

Technically this point does not apply to Army, but since I’m in the Army and it applies to me, I’m including it, because this was my biggest win of the day (other than not being in the Navy, but that’s a win every day, hallelujah, praise the Lord).

Two years ago, when the game was in D.C., they sold hot chocolate with Bailey’s in the stadium. This year, in Philly, they did not.

But I came prepared.

Always ready

The only real upside that I found to wearing enough clothing to last me a week at one time just to stay warm was that there was plenty of space to hide miniature bottles of alcohol. Great success.

I alternated the whole game between this:

And this:

(click for animation)


Bonus point:

This hat.

Just no.

Just no.

I saw four of these at the game on Saturday. I don’t know why the Navy fans think it’s a good idea to wear this horrifying thing on their heads, but I was certainly relieved not to see any mules bobbing through the crowd on the heads of Army fans.

Manfriend summed it up pretty well: “That’s one of those things where you can’t decide if you should put a picture of it online so everyone can see it and know how not-okay it is…or we should burn them all, so no one ever has to see that hat again.”

The really bad news is that this is not a niche item. If it was one of those things that someone had made so there were only two or three of these monstrosities in the world, it might not be so bad. Tragically, however, these little horrors are available for only twenty bucks: it’s true!

We won just by not having any of our fans wear anything this horrendous.


Don’t get me wrong: I hate Navy. I hate their team. I hate their songs. I hate the way they whoop at us. I hate their ugly goats. I really really really want to hurry up and start winning. Not just winning either, but destroying them in the Army-Navy game while still being a bunch of classy ladies and gents.

Admittedly, losing sucks. I’m not here to offer excuses for Army’s poor performance against Navy for a gajillion years in a row. I just want to remind everyone that there are worse things in life…like being in the Navy. Beat ’em.


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Today, on the Springer Show

Full disclosure: I love trashy TV.

That is not to say that I want to watch a marathon of Jersey Shore any time soon (I’ve actually never seen a full episode but the fifteen minutes I did see was confusing. I did not understand their dialect of English…) but from time to time I can really get into some Toddlers and Tiaras or Celebrity Wife Swap, or even, yes, Jerry Springer.

Last summer Manfriend and I saw this really delightful episode of Springer where this one chick was angry because her boyfriend was cheating on her (but he may have been her husband, I’m not sure. He was at least the baby daddy) with her sister. Then they bring out the sister and she is just as obese and aggressive as her sibling and she says she don’t gotta justificate herself to nobody, etc. etc. Then she kind of lunges at the boyfriend/husband/baby daddy and tries to throw a chair at him and the burly guys in black t-shirts have to hold them apart. I think at some point the sisters teamed up on their two-timing boyfriend/husband/baby daddy. When he tried to defend himself against the two of them one of the dysfunctional sisters kept yelling, “Who is you? I’m her sister! You is nothin’!”

Manfriend and I were rolling with laughter. I wish I could have recorded it.

But here’s the catch: what makes these kinds of things funny to me is that they are so far removed from my life, so outrageous and unbelievable, so completely implausible – that I just have to laugh.

Last week, however, I fear that my entertainment at others’ expense (even if they did agree to be filmed) returned to torment me and I spent Friday trapped in an episode of The Jerry Springer Show. It was NOT. FUNNY.

My company had its morning formation at the Fort Hood blood donation center instead of our PT field. A couple of units had to cancel their blood drives at the last minute, which meant that units down range weren’t going to be getting the blood they were counting on, so we were one of the companies who came to fill the slots and send some extra blood to Afghanistan. A good finish to the week, right? So as we’re standing around in the parking lot at o-dark-thirty waiting for formation, my commander comes up to me and informs me that one of my NCOs has been shot and he’s in the hospital but he’s stable.

Okay, I’m sorry, but what?

We are not in Afghanistan.

We are not in Iraq.

We are not even in Kuwait.

We are in garrison. People don’t get shot in garrison!

Here’s what happened:

He was traveling back to Texas from temporary duty to attend a military school in Virginia. On the way home, he stopped in Georgia to visit his mom. His mom and her boyfriend got into some kind of argument, and so he stepped in, and his mother’s boyfriend shot him in the abdomen.

I’m sorry, but what?

He visited his mother. His mother has a boyfriend. The boyfriend shot him.

This is not a Looney Toons short, people! You can’t just go around dropping anvils on coyotes or shooting ducks and expecting them to turn their bills around to make their faces look right again. That is not how this works!

Luckily he’s going to be all right (he texted me that he was KCCO late Friday afternoon and his wife flew out to Georgia to take care of him), but still. It was a rather disturbing start to the morning. If anything it actually made me want to give blood even more and do something positive for someone somewhere. The company crowded into the blood donation center and began signing in and filling out paperwork to prepare.

Once I pass the initial questions I go into a small, hyper-air conditioned room to conduct my interview to determine my eligibility to donate blood. Since I dropped out of that prostitution ring a couple years back and haven’t been playing with dirty needles recently I figured I’d be good to go.

I listed all the times I’d been out of the country with vague accuracy: “Um, well I was in Italy in 2008.”

“When?” asked my interviewer. She was a youngish Hispanic lady with nice eyebrows and neat handwriting.


“What month?” she clarified.

“Oh. March. For about a week.”

She copied the information.

“Then I was in France in 2010. March. Again about a week.”

She kept writing.

“Then I was back in June of the same year. Rome and Paris, then London and Edinburgh.”

“How long? Two days?”

Sure lady. Two days. It was three to five days in each city but whatever. Close enough.

“Yes,” I said. “Two days for Italy, then France, then the UK and Scotland.”

“Okay. What else?”

“March 2011, Rome and Paris again. Four days each.” I thought about it for a minute. “That’s all.”


Then the room was quiet for a while as she flipped through a gigantic white binder. I zoned out briefly. When I looked back over she was still consulting her binder, looking between her notes and the typed page in its crinkly plastic page protector. I got curious about what she was looking up, but just as I leaned over to creep, she looked up and asked, “Rome. Now… is that…in…Romania?”

I blinked rapidly several times. “Um. Italy.”

“Oh.” She crossed something out on my form and wrote “Italy.”

She looked up at me again. “And Paris. Where is that?”

I looked around. This had to be a trick. “…France,” I said.

“Okay,” she said. “Well I don’t see any issues. You can go get your vitals taken now.”

Um. I see an issue. The people who are in charge of determining whether or not it is safe for blood to be transfused do not know where the hub of Western Civilization lies.

But because I am shallow and materialistic, I quickly forgot my reticence because they were like “and YOU get a car! and YOU get a car!” Well, not exactly. But there was a counter where they gave you small snacks before donating blood, and I got to pick out a t-shirt (there were five designs to choose from! oh the consumerism!) and they gave me a free tumbler and stuff, which I thought was pretty exciting.

Finally it was time for me to give blood. The medical professional (I use this term generously. You’ll see.) asks me which arm I prefer. I tell him it doesn’t matter. He puts the band around my arm and sort of thumps the skin experimentally.

Now, I’m not a medical professional. But I do know that you’re supposed to put that band on pretty tightly because then the veins will stand up and you can figure out the best spot to stick the needle to start the IV. Not the scientific explanation, but that’s pretty much what happens. Not with this guy. He thumps around for a moment, then switches the band to the other arm and repeats the procedure. Now I get it that I don’t have huge veins, but I’ve given blood a couple of times before and I’ve never had issues getting my blood drawn. You should have seen the look on this guy’s face as he studied my arms. You’d think there was some kind of equation on my arm and he couldn’t solve for the third variable.

But then he began to very confidently swab my left arm with iodine. Swab swab swab. And he kept swabbing. And swabbed some more. Then he threw away the first iodine cotton ball and opened another so he could swab again. My arm was definitely sanitized at this point. Looking down, however, it was my untrained medically professional opinion that I had no freaking idea where he was going to stick that needle.

Apparently he wasn’t sure either, because he JABBED IT INTO MY ARM LIKE HE WAS TRYING TO POP A BALLOON AND HOLY CRAP DID IT HURT. And you know what happened? Nothing. Of course. Because he’d missed. So what does he do? No, gentle reader, he did not remove the needle and try again. HE STARTED JIGGLING THE NEEDLE AROUND INSIDE MY ARM. LIKE HE WAS GOING TO GET LUCKY AND HIT A VEIN.

Excuse me, sir, but my arm is not the Yukon Trail. STOP PANNING FOR GOLD INSIDE MY ARM.

After unsuccessfully drawing blood from my now ravaged left arm, he wraps it up and says,

“Well, I won’t put you through anything else today.” Then he turned away and began writing on my form.

I looked down at the hot pink wrapping on my left arm, then looked at my unmarked right arm.

“Um,” I began articulately. “Would you like me to change chairs so you can try the right arm?”

“No,” he said. “That’s all.”


“That’s all.”

So now that the not-so-professional medical professional had turned into Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada, I realized that I was not going to be allowed to give blood after all. I ate their free cookies and drank their free juice for breakfast and ranted to my NCOs who were also enjoying a balanced breakfast of juice and cookies. No wonder they were short on blood! They’ve got blind guys mining for gold in the Yukon! Because no joke, my blood type is O-positive, which is basically blood gold, and I can’t believe those fools turned me down.

Let me tell you what my day in the life of a Springer guest taught me: you is nothing, Rome is in Romania, and I am feeling pretty grateful that Friday was a frightening anomaly and not the norm.


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How to Defend the Dream (To the USMA Class of 2013)

Dear Class of 2013,

CONGRATU-FREAKIN’-LATIONS. After 47 months of literal blood, sweat and tears you have finally made it. (I know the blood, sweat and tears thing is a cliche’, but I think we also all recognize that all three are involved to different extents throughout a cadet career. Gross but true.) It seems like only yesterday you were stinky little new cadets marching your way into the Corps and now you are stinky little lieutenants in the United States Army (just kidding. It really is exciting). You were at the top of the heap and the top of your game at West Point (even if you struggled—because we all did in our own way—you at least figured it out enough to graduate) and now you are back to the bottom of the totem pole in the Big Army.

There was a great article floating around a few weeks ago about effective leadership as a lieutenant, with the most memorable lesson being, “don’t be a douche.” But seriously. (You can read it HERE if you missed it.) Just as none of us would have graduated without working together (cooperate and graduate is no joke if you ask me), I firmly believe that we butter bars should stick together instead of trying so hard to outdo one another. This isn’t actually an entry about how to defend the dream, but in the spirit of cooperate-and-defeat-the-negative-LT-stereotypes, I give you a few of the lessons I have learned in my first year as an officer.


You are going to move a lot in the next year. You’ll leave West Point and go wherever it is you’ll go for grad leave, and then you’ll leave there and go to BOLC, and then you might go to a follow-on school, and then finally you’ll end up at your first duty station. That is a lot of moving.

Last year I moved in May, then in July, then in December, then again in January this year, and now in May. One thing that made it easier was having a lot of suitcases and tubs and trunks to pack stuff in. AND I used several of the boxes that I labeled and shipped off last May because they were still in good enough shape to help me move stuff from one place to another. Packing materials can get expensive if you go through enough of them, so help yourself out and salvage what is salvageable and reuse it while you move three-plus times over the next year.

Also keep your receipts for gas and weigh your car heavy and packed to the brim and also empty as can be, because the travel office at your gaining unit will use them to defray the cost of a DITY (formerly the do it yourself move, now a PPM, or personally procured move) since they tax it at about a bazillion percent.


When I first got to my unit, the 1LT XO was the acting commander. I had this stupid internal crisis where I was like, “Do I need to salute him? Do I have to call him sir?” Because I thought maybe it was a thing where you saluted him and used rank because he was the commander. But there’s not. So luckily I did not salute him and we call each other by our first names and it’s not a big deal and nobody in my unit ever figured out that I was naïve enough to even wonder if I needed to salute my XO.

There is another 1LT in my unit, however, who makes a big fuss about differentiating between first and second lieutenants. Wrong-o, Miss Thang. Granted, I respect that she’s been commissioned for two years longer than me, deployed for eight months, and has more experience. But am I going to call you “first lieutenant?” Am I going to appreciate it when you emphasize that I am a “second lieutenant?” No. I am not.

Just be aware that there are some first lieutenants out there with a chip on their shoulder. Don’t let the bastards get you down; they’ll get promoted soon enough and go away to career course or to rot on staff somewhere as junior captains.


I know it’s about more than ratings and OERs and other stupid stuff, but sometimes in order to take care of your job and your Soldiers, you have to put on a face for certain individuals. For instance, when your rater or your senior rater asks how it’s going, they really mean, “Are you ruining the maintenance in this brigade? Are you totally lost? Are your NCOs helping you? Are you as clueless as you look?” and not, “I’d really like to hear about your goals and dreams and help you find the perfect job in the Army.” Granted, some commanders honestly do want to know about your major and your academic and personal goals. Other commanders consider you a collected set of statistics that they can gather from your ORB and don’t really care about your grad school aspirations or if/when you plan to start a family. I know West Point jammed it into our heads that leaving out any information is lying by omission, but seriously – some people just don’t want to know the truth, especially if the truth about your aspirations involves opera and novel-writing instead of Airborne School and battalion command (oh wait, that’s me, isn’t it?). Sometimes it sucks, but parts of the job are a game, and you’ve got to know when to play along.

Seek mentorship in other places if you end up with someone in charge of you who is like this. Some of the best help I’ve gotten has been from people in the ’09 year group who are starting to get the hang of this whole Army thing and are willing to point you in the right direction for grad school options and duty assignments that won’t show up in your normal career progression unless you seek them out yourself.


In normal society it is considered impolite to ask people their age or weight. In the Army, people want to know your stats. I am considering making a trading card for myself so I can just hand it out when people start asking me if I’m married/if I have kids/how fast I can run/when I was born/where I grew up/my shoe size/if I’ve had all my shots. I also had this idea that if I kept a low profile and didn’t wear my class ring, people wouldn’t think I was a douche. Unfortunately, “what is your commissioning source?” has been demanded of me more times than I can remember. The reactions have varied, and I have rarely correctly predicted what they will be.

For a while I was distressed by all the stereotypes and preconceived notions. But you can’t let it bother you; it’s a waste of time. Some people don’t like women/men/white people/black people/short people/tall people/West Pointers/officers and that’s just the way they are. Some of the best advice I ever got was from one of my former sponsors who retired as a colonel last year after over thirty years of service.

Be part of the solution.

That got its own line because I think it’s that important. My sponsor told me her TAC had told her this after she came back to West Point after CTLT at the beginning of her cow year wanting to resign. He said she could quit, or she could be an instrument of cure. Eventually she recognized that she would have opportunities to make the Army better. The higher you go, the more you control. That control gives you even more opportunities to demonstrate wise leadership as you grow into a competent, mature, level-headed officer. Don’t throw up your hands in despair too soon. Which leads into my next point…


This is sort of a “don’t forget the little people” kind of thing. Being a lieutenant is this weird in-between stage where you don’t feel like you have any real authority, but you actually have an impact on people’s lives. I have learned a lot in the last year about both my technical field and the Army as a whole from both formal schooling and independent research, but some of the most valuable lessons have come from just listening to people. And I’m not just talking about OPDs with sergeants major or generals, but from hearing the stories of other officers, civilians, NCOs and Soldiers who have been around the Army a lot longer than me.

Remember how badly it feels when you are shat on by someone with more rank or influence than you and never treat anyone the same way. When you are on the other side of the desk you will remember how it feels to be powerless, poorly treated, and disenfranchised, and will have the opportunity to do better than your predecessors. There is a lot of poor leadership out there—not just in the Army, but everywhere—so don’t let yourself get caught in the trap of punishing people for the crappy leadership of those who came before you.

People are desperate for someone to listen to them. I have seen people’s demeanors change from tired, frustrated and defeatist to if not upbeat, determined and ready to work—all because I stopped what I was doing for five minutes and listened to what they had to say. My sponsor reminded me that every Soldier you touch in a positive way will have a ripple effect. Just remember that you might not always see the ripples. As one wise old sergeant major once told me, “Being a jerk doesn’t make you a hard ass; it just makes you an asshole.”


This is your one time to ask really, incredibly naïve questions and get away with it. People don’t expect lieutenants to know much of anything, so if you have burning questions, ask them. Or if you get really lost, ask for help. Lieutenants are usually lost anyway. I saw this most clearly during inprocessing.

At Fort Hood, you do most of your inprocessing at this hideous three-story building on main post called the Copeland Center. They give you a long checklist of places to go and things to do and paperwork to turn in to places that you didn’t know exist and send you on your merry way. The privates, who are pretty much as new to the Army as you are, are herded around New Cadet-style by an NCO who tells them exactly where to go and what to do. I was a little jealous of them at first, but then I realized that nobody cared about how quickly or slowly I inprocessed as long as I was finished within the designated time period. I also realized that nobody minded giving me directions or telling me to get lost when I was in the wrong place. In fact, most people saw so many ACU-clad bodies moving around their work space that they all blended together after a while. I asked the same woman three separate, stupid questions and she never seemed to realize that I was the same lieutenant. I know this because the third time she sighed and said, “Man, they really don’t tell you new officers anything, do they? You are the second person to ask me this today.” Either someone else who looks like me had the same question or she was just really confused. So if you’re worried about looking stupid while you’re still figuring things out, don’t be. I asked a lot of stupid questions for the next couple of days, finished inprocessing a day and a half early, and had the extra time free to do as I pleased.

Being a second lieutenant is basically a license to fumble through the Army for a few months. Having said that, I think it is also important to bear in mind that sometimes you must simply –


Most people are willing to assume the best about you unless you prove them wrong. Granted, they may tease you a little (one of my NCOs and I have a running joke about a silver spoon because he said that I was probably spoiled rotten as a kid and then at West Point…HA) and make some stereotypical LT jokes, but generally speaking, people have been receptive to my leadership when I am equally receptive to learning from their experience.

When I first arrived at my unit I felt totally lost and wasn’t really sure what I was supposed to be doing for much of the day. So I spent a lot of time just trying to look busy, because I didn’t want to build resentment against me for everyone else being busy while I was standing around empty-handed. And you know what? It worked out just fine. Another lieutenant told me not to sweat it because I’d be busy soon enough. He was right. Sometimes the transition time is awkward while you’re figuring out what you’re supposed to be doing, and before you know it you’ll have plenty on your plate. So when you’re not sure, ask around (even if you’re just asking the Google) and give it some time; you’ll figure it out. People will assume you’re busy and you’ll prove them right sooner than you think.


I don’t know how many of you will see this since you’re all off frolicking in your adolescence in various corners of the great, wide world (as you should be!) but hopefully these short lessons will make your transition from cadet to butter bar a little easier. Maybe some of it seems obvious to you, but a few of these things I’ve learned in difficult or awkward ways and hopefully sharing them will help you to avoid the mistakes I have made.

I must extend congratulations to 2012 – we are no longer the most junior lieutenants in the Army! (If anyone else has any other helpful information or good anecdotes, please feel free to share them in the comments or send them to me and I’ll do another entry as a compilation.) And congratulations again to the Class of 2013 on making it through those 47 months in gray. Welcome to the green, now get out there and defend the dream.

You’re welcome for the rhyme.

Very Respectfully,

Kelley, Butter Bar

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