So today marks eight years since I was hit by shrapnel from an IED. Now most of the time, when you hear about someone who has been hit by a bomb you tend to think the worst; traumatic amputations, grossly deformitive injuries, TBI, and other things as well. However none of those really happened to me (except for a mild TBI). I was struck by a single ball bearing. Let that sink in…
One. Single. Ball bearing.
Pretty hard to believe. From what I understand, when I was examined as I moved through the higher echelons of care, some people couldn’t even figure out what was wrong with me. There was almost no blood, yet I wasn’t breathing. Obviously, the first thing that was addressed was my breathing. After that a thorough physical examination would have been completed, only then would they discover the small hole at the base of my skull.
That’s a pretty wild concept to grasp. What could have been so devastating (beyond the obvious of course) simply left me paralyzed. No TBI that could cause spontaneous instances of rage, short-term memory loss, or complete loss of my mental faculties. Half my face could be gone, or an arm could have been amputated. I’m not entirely sure how big the blast was, but I know IED’s, and I know they’re no good.
While I was at Walter Reed, we discussed removing the shrapnel. The large consensus among the doctors was that we should leave it in. They feared that removing it would potentially kill me. However, once I moved on to the Minneapolis VA we brought up the subject again. This time we talked to a very experienced neurosurgeon. He brought up the point that it may eventually corrode, and that that could cause more damage. We thought things over for quite a while and continued talking to the surgeon. The statement that he made to help finally make our decision was that if I were his son he would do it.
So we went ahead with the surgery.
The surgery went well, and they were able to remove the shrapnel and a piece of my vertebrae that got shot in as well. After surgery, I went through one of the most painful times my entire life. To make sure that I was stable enough for them to operate, they had to put my head in a halo. I’m sure you’ve all seen that kind of headgear on athletes, or others who have taken a pretty good spill. So to make sure the halo kept my head in place, they had to screw it into my skull. Waking up to that sucked, however it got even worse. While cutting in to the sheath that surrounds the spinal cord a little bubble of air slipped inside, and eventually worked its way up to the top of my brain.
I have never felt more pain in my entire life.
The bubble finally dissipated, and the next week was pretty much a blur. I was heavily medicated, and every time I seemed lucid, I only wanted to scream from the pain. We had made friends with many of the nurses and doctors and respiratory techs, and they couldn’t bear to be around me because of the pain I was in.
However, surgery was a great success. After recovering for a little while, we discovered that the range of motion in my neck had improved, and I was setting off the vent alarm frequently because the method of breathing the ventilator was set at needed to be changed. We discovered that I was now able to initiate a breath! This was huge. This meant that if I need an extra breath, I could take one before the next breath was scheduled to be delivered.
Nicole and I were once asked to speak at a caregiver support group. We didn’t know much beyond that walking into it, and when we sat down with the caregivers we realized that all of their spouses had suffered some form of TBI like I stated above. A couple caregivers talked about their spouses that had no short-term memory. They said that frequently they would get into a knockdown, drag out argument with their spouse and leave the room in tears. Shortly after that the caregiver would walk back into the room, still in tears. Their spouse would ask why they were crying, having absolutely no idea that they had just had a fight. To me that is utterly unimaginable. It might sound cold, but as Nicole and I left the meeting I mentioned to her that I would take my paralysis over that type of injury any day.
This year I have decided to share with you all the culprit that left me in the state I am. Some of you that have visited in the past have seen this, and every time someone new sees it their eyes grow wide, and they always say “wow!”
The piece right next to the quarter is the actual ball bearing, and the piece on the right is the piece of bone that was driven in by the bearing. That little thing put me in my chair. Damn.
Some people think it’s a little weird that I have held onto this, but there is no way I will ever let it go. Someone tried to kill me with this thing, but they failed. I am alive. I will keep living and loving, fighting and striving until the Valkyrie finally take me from this place.