You are walking along, laughing with your buddies. You feel the heat of the day soaking into your skin. The pack on your back feels heavy and stifling in the afternoon sun. You reach for your canteen and take a gulp of the warm water.
Then a flash. Pain. Nothing.
You awake to disjointed voices. Yelling. You try to open your eyes, but see nothing. You try to discern what the voices are saying, but all you hear is screaming. Is that you? All you can feel is pain. Intense, white hot pain. Then nothing.
The pain invades your subconscious. Strangers' voices are all around, pulling at you. You cannot make out what they are saying. You hear snippets of conversations but cannot understand the meaning of the words. Hip disarticulation? What does that mean? You try to move, to speak, but cannot. You fall under the cloud of unconsciousness again.
Loved ones' voices are just out of reach. You try to respond, but cannot. You struggle to say something, anything, but the words will not come. The pain engulfs you. You slip away again.
The fog starts to lift. You see your loved one's worried face looking down on you. She tries to smile. She tells you everything will be okay. You see the unshed tears behind the brave face. You hear the quiver in her voice. You struggle to respond. Is that a tube in your throat? Why is there a tube in your throat? You try to spit it out, bite it, but it won’t budge.
You try to move and cannot. Wires, tubes weigh heavily on you. The pain envelops you like a tornado cradling a mobile home into its arms. You try to yell out, but the scream won't come.
Strangers are all around you, tending to your every need. Soothing you, calmly telling you everything will be all right. You are disjointed and lost in a fog.
You finally awake enough to understand you are lying on a hospital bed. Your loved one sits beside you holding your hand. You try to move, but still cannot due to wires, tubes, bandages.
You are told your legs are gone. Where did they go? Is this a dream? You try to force yourself to wake up from this nightmare. You struggle against the tubes and wires, but the only relief is when your nurse injects something into one of the tubes and you sink into sweet oblivian once more.
When you awake again everything is clearer. You finally understand you are no longer on the battlefield. You are one of the wounded. Limbs are midding. Life is irrevocably changed.
You cannot feed yourself, dress yourself, even put on chapstick. You cannot recall what happened, what caused you to lie there, unable to move, unable to tend to yourself. The daily needs you used to take for granted, are now major milestones to be relearned - dressing, showering, brushing your teeth, going to the bathroom, putting on chapstick, . . . . . . walking. Will you even be able to walk again? Hold your child? Move without pain?
This is the life that awaits the 18 yr old, 19 yr old, 22 yr old, 29 yr old, etc. wounded warriors. It is heartbreaking, but it is also heart warming. They have such spirit and drive. Nothing keeps them down. I watched a kid who had been an inpatient for over 400 days wheel himself out of the hospital to the cheers of the staff and other patients. His mother beamed with pride. During a game last night when we were told to move another player's arms and legs to get the group to guess a word, we all laughed as an amazing young man who is a quadruple amputee waived his stumps in the air and said, "What arms and legs? There is only one whole person on our team!"
But it is not all fun and games. These young men work hard everyday and struggle to adjust to the changes in their lives - the wives who leave, the moms who no longer visit, the dads who cannot deal, the girlfriends who decide they want more and never call again.....
The life after the war must be told. The families torn apart, the PTSD, the nightmares, the struggles. The long road of rehabilitation. This is the true face of war.