Dead And Reborn

           The first 10 seconds after waking up, all I could hear were my screams.  All I could see was a blurry tunnel looking up into the sky.  The weird thing about the screams was that my brain wasn’t telling my body to produce them.  It was almost as if my mind was no longer present, and my body was just reacting.  More like panicking.  They were the kind of screams that are emitted from a person regardless of the consideration of personal pride that the person has.  No matter how much their pride makes them resist crying out, they don’t have a choice in the matter.  They inhale two lungfuls of air, open their mouth as wide as it will go, and expel that air with full force, producing a scream that pierces the air and changes pitch with no control.  As the seconds clicked away, my mind started to come back online, and my body calmed down.  I stopped screaming, and my other senses returned.  I smelled dust, and the unique, chemical smell of a recent explosion.  I tasted it on my tongue and in my throat.  After that my feeling came back.  It wasn’t so much pain as one would imagine it, but more like my lower legs had fallen asleep for so long that it hurt.  Except magnified by 50 times.  I knew they were gone, but how much?  I had decided before I left on this deployment that I could live with below the knee amputations, but anything higher than that, no thanks, I’d rather bleed out.  I could hear Keith Johnson telling me they were coming for me, and soon he and Shane Otwell were over me, applying tourniquets to the bleeding stumps that used to be legs.  I mustered up the courage to look at my hands, intact.  I moved them downward to check on something vastly more important.  The numbness I felt down there left me unsure of its status.

              “Just kill me,” I croaked out.  They ignored me, of course, and kept telling me how everything was going to be okay.  They were holding my hands as the corpsman knelt over me and delivered the sweet, sweet morphine that made it all better.

              “Kill me, man,” I said again.  “I don’t want to live like this.  I think my dick is gone.”

              “Your dick is still there, man, you want me to touch it?”  Johnson asked.

              I chuckled with relief as I replied, “no.”  I asked whether the legs were gone above or below the knee.  I was reassured to hear that both were a few inches below.  By this time I was high from the morphine, and was saying everything that crossed my mind.  As the corpsman continued his work, and we waited for the 10-line CASEVAC to be called in, I thought about all of the things that I wouldn’t be doing anymore.  I thought about playing racquetball, I thought about working out in the gym.  I thought about being in a wheelchair for the next 50 years.  I never thought about how I was bleeding profusely from two major arteries, and I could die.  I never once thought I would die, which may seem unusual for a person in my position.  Naturally optimistic, I suppose.  Although it is hard to claim that I was being optimistic considering I wanted to cash out permanently.  In my defense, I had no idea what life was like as an amputee, and if I had back then, I wouldn’t have made that request.  Either way, I am glad I stuck around.

                Around this time I decided to sit up and take a look at the damage.  I took a deep breath, and gulped.  I slowly started sitting up, but when I got to the point where going further would reveal my shredded legs, I had a change of heart.  I didn’t see the blood soaked dirt.  I didn’t see the disjointed lower parts of my calves and shins along with my feet.  Or the jagged edge of my remaining limbs, the skin roughly burned and shorn, the bone sticking out, and the ripped muscle dangling along the ground.  I didn’t want that image to be inside of my head, because I knew it would be one that I would never be able to forget.  I deeply regret the fact that there are those that I consider friends that were forced to have that image in their mind, and will have it with them for their entire life.  Secondly, I was afraid that seeing the wound would make it hurt even more, much like a scraped knee as a child.  I laid back down, and let the morphine keep doing its job.

                I started getting sleepy.  I just wanted to close my eyes.  I thought maybe if I closed my eyes, I would pass away easily.  SLAP!  Otwell’s hand slapped my cheek as he yelled at me to stay awake.

                “Just let me sleep.  Let me sleep,” I mumbled, closing my eyes again.  Another slap.  That was the last time I did that.  Finally the stretcher that was going to carry me out of there arrived.  Four strong men lifted me onto it, grabbed each one of the handles, and started carrying me to an assault breacher vehicle.  They were carrying me away from the war I volunteered to participate in, and the Marines that I was supposed to be leading, and protecting.  They would have to go on without me, all because I had failed in my job, failed to find the IED that I knew was somewhere around us.  That failure was a hard pill to swallow then, and it remains so to this day.  I didn’t feel good at all about leaving them behind, but I knew they would understand.  I knew that they would be OK without me.

               We got to the ABV, and I asked Jimmy Goodwin one last time to put me out of my misery.  After his refusal, that was the last time I ever contemplated accepting that avenue.  They slid me into the back of the vehicle, with some Marines I had never met, whose faces I can remember seeing, but don’t remember any of the features.  The corpsman said he was going to give me something to put me to sleep, and I finally got to close my eyes as everything went black.