Posts Tagged ‘combat stress’

Counting My Blessings In No Particular Order – 5

November 5, 2010


  1. art deco
  2. felted wool
  3. anticipation
  4. camping on Lake Michigan
  5. The Grand Canyon
  6. Texas Canyon
  7. oreos
  8. bank balances that keep going up
  9. pale green
  10. moonlight
  11. the number 7
  12. narrowboats in England
  13. intricate mosaics
  14. velvety black
  15. matte glazes
  16. fire dancers
  17. huge animal sculptures atop buildings in small towns
  18. finger puppets
  19. pit fires
  20. gentle loveliness

Heartbreak 01

August 9, 2010

March-April 2007

One of the nurses who took good care of me while I was laid out on the fifth floor for a month has recognized me. She sits down to share a smoke.

 I’m perched on a park bench on the quad in front of Walter Reed. I’m between my three appointments for the day, killing time. A tree shades me from the weak spring sun, which I would do something about but I’m still poling along on a cane. I’d like to stand in the sun, but my balance is poor and my wrist, shoulder and ankle are stiff. With only one working eye, I never feel as if I’m seeing all there is to see. I’m anxious moving about in the world, though no longer fearful. So here I sit, cautious in the shade on the bench nearest the door, tentatively enjoying the small speckles of sun passing through new leaves.

 “I’m having a bad week,” my nurse admits heavily when her cigarette is lit. “A lot of kids have come in. We’re full.”

 A lot of kids from Iraq and Afghanistan. Soldiers. Wounded young men and women. I know what she’s talking about. The wounded are the only ones who “come in” to our world. I came in four months ago. I make a neutral sound, remember lying in my room studying the ceiling with one eye wondering if one eye was the shape of my world to come.

 “A boy came in yesterday,” the nurse tells me. She pauses for a puff off the cigarette, her other hand lying dead on her lap, looking abandoned and exhausted. “He’s blind. They didn’t tell him. They kept him drugged until he got here, so he didn’t know it.”

 I suck in my breath with fear. I hold it, paralyzed with horror. I want her to stop talking now. Now. I stare at air in front of my face, willing her to stop talking.

 “When he woke up in the ward and realized he was blind,” she tells me, ignoring my mental plea, “he went crazy. He was throwing everything he could get his hands on, beating on walls … “

Overwhelmed with the horror of the moment that boy discovered he was blind, I want to scream. On the bench in front of Walter Reed, I hold my breath. I can see the ward the boy is in, the shape of the room, the placement of bed, the color of the chair, the wood grain on the cupboards, the metal trays, the plastic bag drips, the colors and feel the shape of every detail of every loose object that boy can’t see and so is throwing around the room in his unfathomable fear.

I sit still as a stone to keep from disintegrating, while my mind screams, Don’t tell me this. Don’t! Don’t tell me this right now! Oh someone, help that boy!

 I want to disappear. If I could, I would die to avoid this boy’s fear. If I could, I would die right now in trade for this boy to have his sight back. 

I’m still raw. I’m still new at this, still avoiding thinking about the possibilities of somehow losing sight in my other eye. I’m still raw, still worrying about the driver of our truck, whom I haven’t seen since the air evac and don’t know … I don’t know if he’s alright. I’m still raw, still melting with sadness – what is the word strong enough for gut-dissolving grief and frustration? I’m still disintegrating with grief for the handsome, angry boy in a wheelchair in physical therapy, for the boy in the bed in the elevator whose jaw was missing. Now I’m disintegrating with grief for this boy who woke blind.

I’m still raw, pumped full of Percocet, emotions flowing like spring water, no wellhead, no catchment, no filter. Oh please, don’t tell me this right now, this strong boy who is blind and all his friends are in the desert and all he can stand to do is throw things around his room. I don’t know what to do with this terrible love and horror that I feel for this boy! Stop talking to me!

 I look up at the sky, out onto the quad that I can’t see at all for the tears standing in my one good eye, my one blessed eye, refusing to fall. “I can’t stand it …” I whisper, frightened to death for this boy, this poor boy, oh god … my body bends forward, hands holding my stomach. Sit up! I scream to myself. Don’t think! I sit up, try to breathe.

 The nurse puts her cigarette out and forces a smile for me. “I’m so glad to see you walking around, honey,” she says to me as she stands to leave. She pats my arm.

 All I can do is shake my head and whisper, “Thank you.”

 I mean, thank you for taking care of the boy. Please take care of that boy. Please. Please take care of that boy.

I don’t know how to help these people. I don’t know how to help, and it feels shameful and shoddy and mean.

Post-Surgery & Exhaustion

December 13, 2009

I haven’t posted anything to this blog for a couple of weeks for two reasons. One is that I had my final (knock on wood) eye surgery last week. Aside from the usual week-long anesthesia hangover, it was a success. Instead of really cattywompus double vision, I now have a blurry image closely overlapping the left eye’s normal image. This is good! The change in perception is confusing to my brain though, so I have dizzy spells and a constant low-level nausea from the disorientation. I expect that to last a month or two.

That’s one reason that I haven’t been telling stories here on my blog. The other reason is that I found, in telling my stories from Iraq, that I was vividly re-living them. Sometimes that was great fun, but just as often it brought back – in full force – difficult emotions that I experienced at the time: intense frustration, rage, sorrow, and a bone-deep exhaustion. After a couple of weeks of working on the stories that I’ve posted here to date, it became difficult to climb out of bed in the morning. The simplest tasks seemed to require herculean effort: take out the trash, wash the dishes, sweep the floor… just the thought of moving off the couch was too much. I slept fourteen hours a day, and would have slept more but I put some effort toward avoiding alarming my boyfriend by doing that.

By the time I was blown up in Iraq, that bone deep exhaustion was a constant state that I overcame by sheer force of will. I refused to bow to it. I kept moving, one task at a time, concentrating my energy and will to keep moving: there were things that needed to be done. Only at odd moments would I surrender to it. One day at Alamo Road I stood still and stared out at the desert for a full ten minutes, disappearing into the beautiful space of sand and sky and the vast empty space of my exhaustion, my mind a blessedly profound and total blank. This ten minutes felt like the deepest soul rest, like a coma.

Those moments were too few. When I was flown out through Kuwait for my every-six-months R&R breaks, I spent the first twenty-four hours asleep, waking only to go scrounge a little food, then back to bed. On one passage through Kuwait I was stuck there for three or four days, and I slept through it all. And after those days of sleep, I was still longing for more when I stepped off the plane at Dulles.

That profound exhaustion is what infected me again while I wrote stories to post on this blog. Is this a form of PTSD? I don’t know. I do know that I need to heal what the writing of these stories has uncovered before I go on writing. I’m lucky – I know how to do this. I’ve slid off the road before. Ninety-seven percent of people say “Oh shit!” when they feel the car slide off a snowy road into the ditch. In Wyoming we said, “Hold my beer – watch this.”

Hold my beer – watch this.

I’ll be back in awhile …

— Seren


Combat Stress Team

November 7, 2009

February 2007

A Combat Stress Team (CST) has shown up in camp. The three individuals (some say four, but it could just have been a change of clothing) exude an aura of benign uselessness. While we’re hunkered down at desks solving one convoluted construction problem after another via slow email transmissions and broken phone conversations, we overhear the CST team chatting cheerfully about how totally stressed out they are with all the travel, jumping from one base to the next each week. While Crowsie puts in a sixteen hour day trying to catch up on paperwork after having spent a tense week running around hairy-scary Maysan in an unarmored Brit Mil snatch, the Combat Stress Team sprawls on the couches in the entry, drinking Coke and moaning about how hot it is here in the south. While we attempt to parry LTC Slasher’s latest micro-managing stupidities on the run without actually dipping into the never-never land of insubordination, the Combat Stress Team disappears into the MWR for a few games of pool. While we’ve been ducking multiple rocket attacks daily for three months, they chatter excitedly after two rockets land, recounting exactly where they were, exactly what they thought, exactly what they felt, and the precise count of their elevated heartbeats.

We’re all duly impressed and feel so much better knowing they’re on the job, putting forth some real effort toward alleviating their own worrisome and potentially dangerous load of combat stress…

(Who hires these people?)