|Posted on June 8, 2014 at 4:45 PM||comments (0)|
My school MIT Sloan has a program called the Yarn in which students have a chance to talk for 10 minutes and share a story. I shared my story of being wounded in AFG. Special thanks to my classmates that run the Yarn, I had a great time sharing my story. Here is the link to it.
|Posted on June 8, 2014 at 4:35 PM||comments (0)|
After I was wounded I nver thought that I would be able to ski again. I was so certain of this that I gave my skis away. After thousands of hours of phyiscal therapy and with help of numerous people I was finally able to ski again. This was all made by possible through God, family, friends, medical and physical terapy staff of the 1st Special Forces Group and Stride Adaptive Sports. My first day back on the mountain was captured in this documentary about adaptive sports. Below is the link for the documentary, I am feautured from 15:20 to 18:30.
|Posted on December 25, 2013 at 5:15 AM||comments (0)|
Below is a link to the video of my Veterans Day Speech at my alma mater, Union College. Enjoy and let me know what you think. I can be reached at email@example.com or via the Wounded by War Facebook page.
|Posted on November 8, 2013 at 9:05 PM||comments (0)|
Sorry for the radio silence as of lately, getting out of the army, moving across the country, starting school and having the new baby have not allowed me many oppurtunities to write. In December when the term ends, I will get back to writing. In the mean time I will be speaking at my alma mater Unio College in Schenectady, NY on Veterans Day at 7 PM. The talk will be held in Memorial Hall. Thank you for all of your continued support. Below is a link for the information about the talk
|Posted on September 25, 2013 at 7:05 PM||comments (0)|
For 55 minutes on September 25, 2011 I thought that each passing minute could be my last. In an instant everything changed, a promising life full off hope and optimism seemed like it would come to an end at a mere 27 years old. I thought that I would never see my wife, parents, brothers, or friends again. Then I realized that I would never have a family of my own and would never be able to right the wrongs of my past. 55 minutes was the amount of time that elapsed between getting shot and being on the operating table at a field hospital in NW Afghanistan. It was a transformative 55 minutes that has stayed with me since that fateful day.
Today marks two years since I was wounded and I still possess the same amazement that I am alive today as I did when I woke up from an induced coma in Germany three days after being shot. The road has been unbearable and heart wrenching at times, however, I have never forgotten the thoughts and feelings from those 55 minutes. The past two years have been shaped by those 55 minutes. What once seemed impossible two years ago is now my reality. My wife is pregnant with our first child (she is 5 days over due!), my health is improving daily and I am working towards my MBA at the MIT-Sloan School of Management. Every day is an amazing experience full of new opportunities and promise. Every morning when I wake up, feel like I am the luckiest man on the planet.
Live every day, hour, and moment like it is your last. Tell your family you love them, set yourself on a path to achieve your goals and right the wrongs of your past. Most importantly, remember how lucky you are to be alive. I could not have made it to this point without the help of so many people. Communities, organizations and people raised up to support my family and I in our time of need. I would like to thank God for giving me hope when I thought there was none, my wife for putting up with the pain and suffering, my mother, father, brothers and extended family, my friends, 1st Special Forces Group (specifically 1316 and A. Co. 3/1), the USSOCOM Care Coalition-Jim Adcock, the Green Beret Foundation, Special Operations Warrior Foundation, the Sentinels of Freedom Scholarship, the town of Stillwater, NY, Union College, La Salle Institute, and the crew at THOR 3-Jared, Grant, Hunter, Anja, LTC Jovag, Major Lesher, and others too numerous to count. God Bless
I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Do not forget to like Wounded by War of Facebook.
|Posted on August 19, 2013 at 7:30 PM||comments (0)|
After two weeks at Brooke Army Medical Center (BAMC) I was flown to Madigan Army Medical Center (MAMC) and stayed there for only three days. Even though getting shot was a terrible experience, there were (and still are) many positives. At each hospital there was an outpouring of support from visitors, mail, e-mail and Facebook messages. Friends, family and colleagues showed me that they were behind me in my recovery. My care was excellent at each hospital; however, I think that my nurses were always happy to see me go.
At Landstuhl Regional Medical Center (LRMC) I questioned my nurses at every turn. If they said I could not do something, I wanted to know why. This became so frustrating to one nurse that she decided to ask me a series of easy questions that she knew that I would get right. After answering all of the questions correctly she said, “so you seem to know everything, why don’t you take over your own care?” To which I replied, “well sweetheart I did go to Union College and you went to Quinnipiac, so of course I am going to question everything you say.” (Union College is a small college in upstate NY while Quinnipiac University is a small university located in CT. Both schools are rivals.). I also routinely told the nurses that “ I am a Green Beret and I am going to do whatever the fuck I want, whenever I want.” Surprisingly, this did not go over very well.
At BAMC I also informed my nurses that I was a Green Beret and therefore that meant that I was going to do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. The nurses nodded their heads to placate me because they knew there was nothing I could do. The nurses did however take me seriously when I threatened to pull my feeding tube out. It was dangling from my nose and irritating me to no end. I did not see any reason to still have it in and asked/demanded to have it taken out. When I was told no, I threatened to rip the tube out unless I was given a good reason why I still needed it. When the nurses explained to me why it was still in, I relaxed a bit. It was a painful experience when it was finally removed. I was also sad to see my catheter go. I am probably one of the only people in the world that actually enjoyed having a catheter. Never having to get up and go to the bathroom was great.
By the time I had arrived at MAMC I was more attuned to my surroundings and on a lower dosage of pain medicine. My fits of rage and snarky comments had mostly subsided and I enjoyed the steady stream of visitors from the 1st Special Forces Group. At this point I had been in different hospitals for over three weeks and could not stand being in a hospital any longer. In the three weeks, I lost 30 pounds. I had gone from a strapping Green Beret to an emaciated person that I could barely recognize in the mirror. I was not allowed to eat or drink foods due to the massive trauma to my stomach. After I was shot and my medics were working on me, I asked for some water and they said no. This started an excruciating period of my life in which I did not eat or drink for over 8 days. Not eating was easy, but not drinking was one of the worst feelings I experienced in my life. I was properly “hydrated” through IV fluids but it did not compare to actually drinking fluids. In my drug induced state I was worried that I was going to die of dehydration. I fantasized about being able to drink fluids and eat something. I will never forget the day that I was cleared to eat and drink again. I ordered a huge meal and a cold Gatorade, I emphasized that I wanted the Gatorade to be extra cold. When the lemon-lime Gatorade hit my lips I was practically euphoric. After downing the bottle I moved onto my large breakfast. I ordered an omelet with home fries, toast, bacon, yogurt and fruit. I ate the yogurt and nothing else; my eyes were bigger than my stomach. After the Gatorade and Yogurt, I felt like I ate a Thanksgiving dinner. This was the new norm for a long time. If I ate too much I became ill and would often regurgitate my meal.
MAMC was my last hospital stop for a few months. Leaving this place was a large step towards recovery but my challenges were only beginning. Please leave a comment below or on the Wounded by War Facebook page. In the next article I will talk about my first day of physical therapy. I can be reached at email@example.com
|Posted on July 17, 2013 at 7:20 PM||comments (0)|
If you have not been keeping up with the blog I recommend that you read these stories before this one. 1)“Take the First Step” 2)“Emotional Healing” 3)“Deciding to Overcome” Read. Enjoy (hopefully). Share. Comment.
Besides my occasional visits from Fred the Elf, I had many other interesting things happen to me while I was at Brooke Army Medical Center (BAMC). At one point I had to have my stomach dressing changed, allowing me to see inside of my stomach. Normally, this would have freaked me out (and been quite painful), but a healthy dose of Morphine made this a fun experience. There was also the problem of going to the bathroom, and I do not mean urinating. I went to the bathroom for the last time on September 24; I was shot on September 25 and finally went to the bathroom again about two weeks later on October 7. After having two weeks of waste build up inside me, I was practically euphoric when it all came out. When I finally relieved myself, it was one of the most relieving experiences of my life, no pun intended.
My wife and I were also faced with a big dilemma while I was at BAMC. My wife Kim is one the smartest and driven persons I know and also fanatically loyal to me. She gave up a lot of things in life to be with me. To make “us” work, she followed me around the country only to have me be gone the majority of the time. She is an incredibly strong women and a large reason why my recovery was so successful. The way Kim dealt with my deployments and time away from home was to make herself incredibly busy. When I was shot she did not intend for me to be home and packed her schedule accordingly. When we arrived at Fort Lewis in 2009, she started working on her second master’s degree (her first degree was in clinical research from Boston University and her second is in nursing from Pacific Lutheran University). Also, before I was shot, she applied for a full-time nursing job that she would be able to do while she finished up school full-time (I told you she likes to be busy, a full time job and a full time masters). She got the job and was supposed to start right after I had been shot. While at BAMC she stated that she was going to turn the job down to take care of me and be with me. My mother, father, my brothers and I tried to convince her to take the job. We said how great of an opportunity it was and how much it would help out the family. Then we laid out a care plan for me. My mother would stay in Texas and become my care advocate and when I was flown back to Fort Lewis, my brother Trevor would come live with us and help us out. After a month, my brother Nolan would switch out with Trevor and help out. It took a long time to convince her, but we finally did.
This left my mother as my care advocate and made for some funny situations. Right before Kim left she noticed a pressure ulcer on my tailbone. This required ointment to be applied on the spot every few hours. When Kim left, my mother inherited this job. Every night before bed she would say, “Kevin I have to put the ointment on your butt.” She also inherited the sponge bath job. One night I jokingly asked her if she thought that she would ever have to do this for her 27-year-old son.
Coincidentally, there were also two other soldiers from the 1st Special Forces Group at BAMC. These two soldiers had been injured almost a year before me and were doing rehabilitation at the Center for the Intrepid (CFI), located next door to BAMC. The two were severely wounded from an Improvised Explosive Device (IED). They visited my family and I daily, making sure that we had everything that we needed. Due to their experiences, they were well versed in the situation that I was in and advised me accordingly. These two men served as an inspiration for me during my recovery, not only because of how much they overcame, but also for how much they helped me. My family and I were touched by the kindness they displayed toward us. Their friendship and inspiration extended past the hospital and into rehabilitation. One day I said to one of them, “Thank you for everything you did for my family and I, I will never be able to re-pay you for what you did.” The soldier replied, “I was just helping out a fellow wounded soldier, I guarantee that you will have the same opportunity to help out a fellow wounded soldier.” I took these words to heart and decided that I not only wanted to rehabilitate myself but also help and inspire others in the process. Unfortunately, he was right, there was/is no shortage of wounded soldiers that need/needed help in their recovery. This decision served many purposes and was an integral part of my recovery. Little did I know, by helping out other soldiers, I was helping myself out also. As I delve deeper into my story, I will talk more and more about this topic.
In addition to this article, I have also started a “Tough Decisions, Humor, and Inspiration” discussion forum. Via the discussion forum, comments below, or Facebook page please talk about a time that you had to make a tough decision, the sacrifices you had to make and why you made the decision. Also, please talk about a time that you received inspiration/advice that you took to heart and changed your life. This is the link to the Wounded by War Facebook page. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
|Posted on July 3, 2013 at 6:30 PM||comments (0)|
Lying in the hospital bed at Brooke Army Medical Center (BAMC) in San Antonio, Texas I realized that this situation could go one of two ways; good or bad. I was terrified of becoming a cliché, a statistic, a guy who everyone said, “that Kevin Flike, he had everything in life going for him until he got shot.” I had seen other wounded soldiers and heard all of the stories; I knew what “bad” meant. I could become addicted to my pain meds, I could not do my physical therapy, I could feel sorry for myself, I could ruin my wife’s life, I could become the statistic/cliché that I so desperately did not want to become. I also knew what “good” meant. I could do my physical therapy, get off of my pain meds quickly, become a better person/husband/brother/son by overcoming all of the obstacles placed in front of me and inspire people in the process. This was the easiest choice I have ever made in my life. This was going to turn out good, no matter what happened, no matter how many obstacles had to be overcome, no matter what, this situation was going to turn out good. However, as soon as I made this decision, my resolve was tested.
Within two days of being at BAMC, the physical therapist wanted me to walk with the assistance of a walker. Our goal was to walk to the room’s door and back (a total of 20 feet). Keep in mind that the only physical activity that I had performed in a week’s time frame was sitting up in bed in Germany. I was haggard from the intense emotional experience, lack of sleep, jet lag, confusion, and pain. I still had my beard and long hair and had not bathed since I had been shot a week prior (Before I was shot I had been running around for over 10 hours in body armor and equipment that had not been cleaned in two years. The temperature was also around 100 degrees and I had been rolling around in animal pens and dirt. Needless to say, I was pretty ripe at this point). When I sat up in bed, I almost threw up. When I stood up I felt like I had 500 pounds on my back. The whole time the physical therapist held onto me in case I fell.
Every step that I took was arduous. I could not put any pressure on my left leg because of my hip fracture. Every foot felt like a mile. It took all of my energy and courage to muster up the strength to keep picking up the walker and inching forward. When I made it to the door I could not believe that I had to walk 10 feet back to my bed. During my recovery I was faced with this challenge many times; fight through the pain and exhaustion or quit. I knew that it was not going to get any easier and if I quit now then I would quit in the future. If I quit then I was not only letting myself down, but also my wife, family, fellow soldiers who gave their lives and everyone who believed in me. I took a few deep breaths, turned around and headed back to my bed. I was covered in sweat and breathing like I had just ran a marathon. The decision to walk the ten feet back to my bed set the tone for my recovery and how things were going to be.
That afternoon, I was so fed up with my beard that I shaved it off with a plastic, disposable razor. This was an incredibly in-effective way to shave a beard and for anyone looking to shave their beard, I do not recommend this way. After I shaved, my wife gave me my first bath in a week. It was the most amazing bathing experience of my life. As my wife wiped me down, I just knew that everything was going to be OK. Later that night I had a visit from a good friend, Fred the Elf. For a couple of nights I thought that an Elf named Fred was visiting me and keeping me company. He was a mischievous elf that advised me to not listen to my nurses because Fred told me that they did not know what they were talking about. Fred also told me that I needed to listen to a particular teammate of mine more often. Luckily or unluckily, depending on how you look at it, after lowering my pain meds a bit, Fred stopped visiting me.
The next day I walked 100 feet and the day after that 500. Within 4 days I progressed to three workouts a day. It did not matter how much pain I was in or how tired I was. Before breakfast, lunch and dinner I drank a cup of coffee and started my workout. My mother and/or father and/or wife would follow me around the halls of the hospital while I trudged along with my walker. They carried water for me and every so often I would stop to take a breath and drink some water. Sometimes I thought I was going to throw up or pass out. I made sure to look at all the soldiers during my rounds. There were some soldiers as young as 19 who were missing both legs. The last leg of my journey always brought me past the burn unit. Seeing soldiers whose injuries who were worse off than mine reminded me how lucky I was.
When I finished the walk around my floor, I would sit down for about ten minutes so that I could catch my breath. Then I would go to my bed, which also doubled as my gym. Occupational therapy tied thera-bands to my bed so I could work out my upper body. They also placed a contraption that looked like a jungle gym above my bed. The purpose of the contraption was to help me move around my bed. However, I mostly used it to do body weight rows. On more than one occasion I snapped the rubber thera-bands off of my bed and immediately got on the intercom and requested replacements. I only took one day off and that was because I had my fifth surgery to clean out my stomach and close my stomach cavity.
I am a firm believer that a battle is won or lost before anyone ever steps foot on the battlefield. The preparation and attitude of the participants determines the outcome before two opposing forces meet. I have applied this principal to all aspects of my life. When I played sports I knew that the game was won or lost before it was played. Football season was not until the fall, but in January I was winning games in the weight room. I approached my recovery in the same manner. The small steps taken at BAMC set the tone for my recovery. When I eventually get to play with my kids in the front yard it will be because I began and won the battle early and often. When doctors told me a prognosis I never accepted it because they did not know who I was. They did not know that they were dealing with the most determined patient that they had ever seen. If a doctor told me 10 I did 20, if they said 50% I said 75%.
I would be remiss to not mention the following. This determination to succeed no matter what was a gift from God that was fostered and developed by my parents, brothers, wife, extended family and community. Everyone is given innate abilities from God, but they truly burgeon with the help of those around you. If it were not for the influences in my life that helped to foster my work ethic, I would have failed at my recovery.
For further discussion on this topic I have started a “Deciding to Overcome” discussion forum. Please comment in the forum, below or on the Wounded by War Facebook page about a time when you “Decided to Overcome”, the challenges you faced and why you made the decision to overcome. I can be reached at email@example.com
|Posted on June 19, 2013 at 8:15 PM||comments (0)|
This is part 4 of “I Thought I Was Going to Die.” This is the final part in this four part series. I you have not read Part 1, Part 2 or Part 3 I encourage you to read them before you read Part 4.
On my first deployment, the thought of dying or being severely wounded never crossed my mind. I wanted to be in combat situations and never thought of the consequences. The 10-hour firefight that occurred two weeks before I came home from my first deployment put things in perspective for me. In between deployments and during my second deployment, I became keenly aware of the possible consequences of combat. There are some things in life that you just know are going to happen, you don’t know when or how they are going to happen, you just know that they are going to happen. When I went on my second Afghanistan deployment, I knew something was going to happen to me. I did not know how, when or what, but I knew something was going to happen.
In between deployments, one of my best friends was severely wounded in Afghanistan. He suffered shrapnel wounds from two grenades and was shot once. By the grace of God he survived these injuries and was back in the states within a week of being injured. My wife and I were the first people to see him when he arrived back in the states. For some reason, when I saw him being wheeled into the hospital room with bandages and tubes sticking out of him, I thought to myself, “that could be me on my next deployment.” I went and visited my friend in the hospital every day and one day he randomly said to me, “You are going to get shot on your next deployment.” Even though he was highly medicated, I knew he was right.
Our seven months “off” between Afghanistan deployments flew by. A short trip to Thailand and two separate pre-mission training events made me feel like I was in a constant state of deployment. When we boarded our transport plane back to Afghanistan, it seemed liked we had just left Afghanistan only a few days prior. Right after take off, I was talking to a friend and he said, “not everyone is coming back from this trip.” After he made this gloomy prophesy, we both went to sleep, but before I dozed off, I thought that he might be right (he was right, my company lost three great men on the deployment).
We were very fortunate that no one was wounded or killed on my first Afghan deployment, however, this made me feel that something was more likely to happen on the second deployment. I thought, “you can only go to so many gunfights until someone gets shot.” On my second deployment, with every passing mission that no one was hurt or killed, I felt that the odds of something bad happening on the next mission were increased. It became almost mind boggling to me that my team could continuously run combat operations and not sustain any American casualties. I kept asking myself not if something was going to happen, but when.
It is unusual for a Special Forces team to be on a deployment long enough to have mid tour leave. However, our second deployment was long enough and I decided to take my leave in August of 2011. Mid-tour leave was two of the best weeks that my wife and I spent together. Unfortunately, I could not fully enjoy it because I kept wondering, “how do we (my team) continue to be so lucky?” At the end of leave, my wife said to me, “what if you die when you go back?” Of course I said that I would not. She went on to say, “what if these last two weeks were a chance for us to say goodbye one last time?” I could not help but think that she might be right.
About four weeks after leave (three days before I was shot), our team went on a three-day mission. We were responsible for clearing and holding a village so that another unit could set up a base in the village. It was an arduous three days that involved a little shootout. A couple of hours before pick up; my intelligence sergeant and I were standing on top of a roof surveying the valley to the south of us. I pulled my Bennington Flag from my body armor and we took a picture, using the valley as our backdrop. After we took the picture, my intelligence sergeant pointed to the valley and told me that we were going there in three days. He also said that we should expect a gunfight.
When the mission’s task organization came out, I noticed a glaring flaw. I was not on it. I was supposed to have the night off and be in charge of our Quick Reaction Force, but the idea of a firefight occurring without me terrified me. After weaseling my way onto the mission, I went to the gym (the first time that I thought I was going die I was not on the original task organization either, but I begged my way onto it). Just before I started warming up, I went to take my Saint Michael Medal off and a sinking feeling set in. I checked and re-checked but realized that it had fallen off on the last mission. My mother-in-law bought the medal for me and gave it to me the day I graduated the Special Forces Course. I wore it everyday that I was in the Special Forces, until it fell off on that mission. In my mind, probability continued to mount against us (myself in general) and the signs were becoming apparent, something was going to happen soon. Before we left for the mission I e-mailed and called my wife, father, mother and two brothers. I knew something was going to happen and wanted to make sure that I talked to them.
When I was shot, the feelings and emotions that I experienced were different from the first time that I thought I was going to die. The first time I was racked with panic, regret and sadness. I was not expecting it and I was caught by surprise. Before the first time I thought I was going to die, I took so many things for granted in my life: relationships, friendships, faith etc… My first deployment taught me that in war bad things can happen, the time in between deployments and my second deployment taught me that in war bad things will happen. I think that realizing all of this changed the way I perceived things and lived my life and therefore affected the way that I felt when I was shot. After the first deployment I tried to make the most out of my relationships. I tried to tell people I loved them more and let them know how much they meant to me. I tried to not take my faith for granted and took opportunities to grow in my faith and share it with others. When I deployed back to Afghanistan I tried to make each phone call, e-mail and Facebook message count.
This is the reason why I think that the second time that I thought I was going to die was different from the first. I had told my wife how much she meant to me, how much I loved my parents and told my brothers that they were my best friends. I did not take my faith for granted and participated in our base’s group Bible study. I lived my life knowing that death was a great possibility. When I was on death’s doorstep, I did not experience the panic, terror and regret from the first time; because the second time around, I was ready to die. The second brush with death re-affirmed all the lessons that I learned the first time and showed me even more how precious life is. It is never to late to do the right thing. If you aren’t living your life the way you want to, change it right now. Live your life the way that you know you are supposed to so that when it is your time you can die peacefully with no regrets.
For further discussion on this topic please leave a comment below, in the “I Thought I Was Going to Die” discussion forum or on the Wounded by War Facebook page. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
|Posted on June 12, 2013 at 11:25 AM||comments (0)|
Everyone has a different perspective on the battlefield. The way I view something may be completely different from how another person views it. After I was wounded one of my favorite things was to have my teammates talk about the day from their perspective. This account is from "Tiberious", one of the medics on my team.
On 25 September 2011, our Team entered a long valley in Northwest Afghanistan to conduct a clearing operation with our Afghan counterparts. Just before the sun came up elements of our group came under intense enemy fire. On this mission I had been assigned to escort the Command group and the support personnel that accompanied them. From my vantage point I heard explosions and gunfire along with the radio chatter that comes with troops in contact. I scurried back and forth along my line of troops making sure there was security covering the areas we had already been to. I did not want the bad guys to come up behind us through the maze of twisty roads and trails that zigzagged through the village.
A few hours into the running gun battle we took our first casualty of the day. I heard over the radio that an Afghan Commando had been wounded. While my fellow medic was working to stop the bleeding and save the Commando’s life, teammates rushed to find a suitable place to land a helicopter amidst the gunfire a few hundred meters away. As I heard all of this over the radio the situation near me suddenly grew very tense as an Afghan male rounded the corner and approached the Commandos just in front of me. The Afghan soldiers shouted and used hand signals to tell the man to stop yet he kept walking towards us. The first thing on everyone’s mind was a suicide bomber. The Commando directly to my left, in a clear and definitive warning, raised his rifle just like we had trained him to do. I heard the safety click off as the rifle came up. He was giving the man one last chance before firing. It worked. The man stopped in his tracks and began following the instructions of the soldiers that approached in order to search him. As I processed the scene in front of me I realized I had heard the Commando’s rifle click off of safety but had never heard it click back on. Just before I turned to remind him to turn his safety back on I heard it.
My head swung left to see a cloud of dust erupting from around the Commando’s right foot. He immediately dropped his rifle and began hopping on one leg. He had shot himself in the foot. It would have been hilarious if we weren’t in the middle of a firefight. In my disgust and anger I made him wait as I called a Commando medic over to treat him. He was in no danger of dying but the bullet through the foot was definitely painful. This man was lucky we had already requested an evacuation because he would now get a ride out as well.
As the Commando medic treated the gunshot wound I called over the radio to let my Commander know we would be adding a patient to the helicopter that was already flying towards us for the more seriously wounded Commando the other medic’s group was carrying towards the pickup area. I ran over to our all-terrain vehicle to use it as an ambulance to bring my wounded Commando to their location. Here things got difficult. Because of the layout of the village, there was no direct route from where I was to the spot they had identified as the helicopter landing area. In order for me to drive the Commando who could not walk, I would have to leave the village and come back in closer to my teammates. I knew we had flooded the valley with our forces but they were all elsewhere as I drove my slap-happy patient out of the village towards where I could find a hole in the wall as close to the pickup zone as possible.
After what seemed like ten minutes of driving around all the while hearing gunshots snap overhead and crack on the other side of the village I saw the other group waiting for the helicopter to come in. I made contact with their security element and drove as close to them as I could get. I helped the Commando with the wounded foot hobble over to the group and linked up with the other medic to see if he needed any help. The other medic had blood up to both elbows and a patient wrapped up in a blanket that had been suspended between two sticks; with all the technology we possessed they had moved the wounded Commando in a Civil War era litter. He had started an IV and was in the process of telling his wounded Commando to not eat the oral pain medication as the wounded man had already received two shots of morphine and had chewed up a pain lozenge instead of letting it soak into his tongue and gums. I felt guilty seeing all the work he had done getting his patient stabilized and moved to where a helicopter could safely come pick up the wounded Commandos while I had simply yelled at my patient and given him a quick un-guided tour of the outskirts of the village on our drive over to meet the group.
We heard the helicopter was inbound and prepared to put both patients on the helicopter. At this point my Team Sergeant noticed my wounded Commando for the first time. He half asked/half yelled at me why he hadn’t been notified there was a second wounded Commando. My Captain had heard the call and added the second man to our request but in all the confusion and effort to move the first wounded man not everyone had heard my radio call. When I told the group the man had shot himself in the foot everyone took a deep breath and while not exactly breaking out into outright laughter there was a lightened mood with smirks popping up among the men, even the Commandos. The helicopter came in quickly thanks to a well-placed smoke grenade and we provided security all around the pickup area. Both patients were quickly loaded and we made a verbal handoff with the flight medics to let them know which patients had which injuries and what medications had been given. Once the helicopter took off we took a minute to regroup and reorganize. Our Team Sergeant then pushed us back to our positions to continue clearing the village.
Later in the afternoon our lead elements had begun to take accurate machine gun fire from a stand of trees to their front-left. I was approximately 300 meters behind our front with the command team ensuring our rear security. I had taken a couple Commandos ahead of the command team to clear a compound big enough for all our personnel to move to once the Captain decided to move closer to the fighting. We had cleared our second building when I heard what I thought sounded like, “garble, garble, I’ve been shot.” I literally stopped in my tracks and listened. This hadn’t happened yet on this trip and I was hoping I had heard wrong. A couple minutes later Kevin called out that yes, in fact, he had been shot and needed help. If hell breaking loose can be a semi-controlled process, this is what happened next. I told the other American I was with that I was headed forward. I ran to the ATV and bumped into the Captain who was already headed towards Kevin. We raced as far forward as the ATV could take us and then jumped off to make it all the way towards where my teammate lay on the ground with a gunshot wound.
Going through the medical course the first thing they preached to us about treating patients in the field was security, security, security. As we got near Kevin’s position I had to consciously slow down to take in a big picture view of what was happening. I could see him lying on the ground with an American over him. The Captain beat me to the scene and had already started the process of requesting a helicopter. Our Team’s first medic had run through an open field being fired at the whole way. Our communications specialist had come from his position and taken charge of pulling security to our front. Simply put, he started shooting back and telling others where to shoot.
I dropped my aid bag next to Kevin and demanded to see his wound. They pulled off the dressing they had begun to apply and I saw the perfectly round gunshot wound to his lower abdomen. I pulled an abdominal dressing from my bag and handed it to one of our support soldiers. The beauty of special operations medicine is that the medic is responsible for training his teammates. I was responsible for what they could and could not do medically. In this case, I simply handed a non-medic a dressing and said, “Put this on.” Because my team’s medics had trained these men I knew it would be done mostly correct even in a stressful situation. This left me free to talk to Kevin and confer with the Captain and the other medic about how we were going to move him to the helicopter while also updating them with a status report of his injury. I found out from asking Kevin that his hip was probably broken and that he had slight internal bleeding. I knew he had neurological deficits but didn’t believe it was in anyone’s best interests to explore beyond the initial question of, “can you feel this or wiggle your toes.” Kevin was hurt bad but I knew that as long as we could get him out quickly he would be okay.
Once they had started dressing his wounds Kevin began asking for pain medication. I knew from the location of his wound and how he held his leg that there were broken bones. I grabbed an opiate lozenge and taped it to his finger. Flashing back to earlier in the day I yelled at him, “Don’t bite it!” I grabbed a litter and instructed the guys to load Kevin into it as I prepared to give him a shot of antibiotics. While this was happening I kept overhearing parts of the radio traffic about our new helicopter landing area and where we were going to take Kevin after he was loaded into the litter. We were all fully loaded and would be carrying a large man who had been wounded. I wanted to minimize our movement for multiple reasons. From what I could gather from the radio traffic we were going to carry him forward because there was an area of low ground that would be shielded from enemy fire. As time went on I became increasingly frustrated because I knew that every piece of ground I had just crossed was free of enemy fighters; we had just cleared it by moving towards Kevin.
Eventually we packaged Kevin up and prepared to move. I confirmed that we would be moving a couple hundred meters to a known open area and would wait for the helicopter to come and pick up Kevin. I disagreed with the direction but had been focusing on making sure that Kevin was as comfortable as possible so I was not completely sure of the suitability of the area we were headed towards. The moment we picked Kevin up to move was a moment I had dreaded through two years of training. I picked up my teammate and prepared to carry him to safety; I failed from the first lift.
With all the shifting around while we prepared to move I assumed that one of the men standing near me would help lift Kevin in the litter. I was staying where Kevin could see me and thought there was someone lifting his head. When I gave the count to lift, “1-2-3 lift” Kevin was left hanging head-down and was actually the one to say, “Hey, someone might want to get my head.” I looked to my right and felt an instant pang of guilt as he hung uncomfortably low with his head in the dirt happily sucking his opiate lozenge. An interpreter quickly moved to grab the strap nearest Kevin’s head and we began what seemed like a mile of movement to get Kevin to an area clear enough to land a helicopter.
A Commando dragged Kevin behind the house he was standing next to when he was shot. We had received enemy fire throughout his treatment and preparation to move. As soon as we stepped off I called for covering fire. We were walking across open ground with a clear field of view to both enemy and friendly forces. The second time I called for covering fire my request was met with a cacophony of machine-gun and individual weapons fire. A Commando machine-gunner blindly fired his weapon towards the enemy. Our support personnel picked out targets and conserved ammunition while allowing us to cover the open ground. We hit our first obstacle and my heart dropped. We were going to have to carry Kevin, broken hip and all, over a dirt wall about five feet high. I pushed the men over as fast as I could while making sure that Kevin was as comfortable as possible and that his wound’s dressing was holding.
Due to the site selection of the helicopter pickup area we ended up carrying Kevin in a circuitous route laterally, towards, away from, laterally, and finally away from the enemy fire. After what seemed like twenty minutes we got onto level open ground that was shielded from enemy positions. I called a halt to movement and rechecked Kevin’s bandages. He had endured the movement and we simply had to wait for helicopter support to get him out. In the meantime I focused on what I had been taught, “Never stop improving.” I checked, rechecked, and thought of anything else I could do in the short time we had to wait. The antibiotics I had mixed up for Kevin were still in my pouch. We had 120 men on the ground and I had a limited supply of IV fluid. Kevin did not lose enough blood that I felt an IV to support blood loss was warranted. I had mixed his antibiotics in such a way that would give him a shot in the leg and arm by using a numbing agent to ease the pain of the injection. I did one last check before giving Kevin the shot and saw that in my haste to treat his wound while updating my Commander and directing the litter team I had grabbed the wrong vial of medicine. Had I given Kevin the antibiotics without that one last check I could have put him deep into a surgical plane of anesthesia without any respiratory support and he might have stopped breathing. I hated the minute training steps I was forced to endure during training but they had saved a man’s life on the battlefield. I leaned over Kevin and told him I wasn’t going to give him the antibiotics (to my chagrin this was one of the first thing he told the doctors upon landing at the hospital). We could hear the helicopter and I didn’t have time to mix up another batch.
As my teammates called in the helicopter and marked the pickup area I focused on getting Kevin ready to fly. Although it was over one hundred degrees I wrapped him in a thermal blanket commonly used for hypothermia. He had lost blood and we had stripped him of his body armor. What had been the sweat of hard work and heat had now turned to the sweat of pain and fear. A trauma patient in this situation can easily become hypothermic. I did one last check on Kevin before the helicopter landed. I knelt down to listen to him and reassure him that he was going to be okay. We were soon engulfed by the cloud of dust created anytime a helicopter lands in a dirt field. Visibility was limited to the ground directly to our front; verbal communication was limited to yelling into the man’s ear next to you. I urged the litter team towards the sound created by the helicopter and we ran up to a closed cargo door. In our urgency to get Kevin loaded as quickly as possible I had not heard the order from the pilots to load Kevin into the left side of the aircraft. The flight medic slid open the right door and we put him on board. I immediately found the other flight medic and passed on Kevin’s injuries and any treatments I had given.
Special Forces medical training had prepared me for any patient I may have come across. I could apply tourniquets, place needle thoracenteses to treat a pneumothorax and prescribe antibiotics to treat a tropical disease. Nothing can ever prepare someone to see a friend and teammate fly away in a helicopter while you remain on the battlefield. There is a sense of a mission unaccomplished; we had entered this valley as a team and would leave without one of our own. While I knew Kevin faced a long and difficult road to recovery I had to turn away from his fight and continue with my own. Immediately after watching the helicopter takeoff I called out on the radio that I would be replacing him as the element leader for his Afghan Commandos. I had been in charge of the security element for the command group all day but would now take Kevin’s assault element and continue their mission. I handed my responsibilities off to another team member and found Kevin’s Afghan counterpart. We had trained and rehearsed so well that I knew every team member’s role in the mission and fell into Kevin’s like I had been doing it all day. I transitioned from being a medic treating a wounded teammate to a combat leader, pushing the men to continue fighting through the difficulty of another day in Afghanistan.
I continued pushing the men forward through the setting sun, looking for Kevin’s attackers and only found a ghost town. The valley had been deserted. Soon after the sun set we received word that our ride out of the valley was headed to pick us up. We stopped, set up security, and prepared to move 117 men back home. We had taken three casualties. I had treated two of them yet hadn’t faced the toughest medical challenge of the day. Once we stopped moving I suddenly felt a huge urge to sleep. I had not had a good rest all day. I had been forced to transition from the relatively easy job of escorting our command element to carrying a wounded teammate under fire to leading a group of Commandos while clearing a remote Afghan village. The stress of the previous 24 hours suddenly forced my eyes closed. I tried to make a good show of telling the guys that Kevin would be okay. Based on his injuries and how stable he remained I knew he would live but I also knew he was seriously injured. I quietly told my leadership what I had seen and what I thought his injuries truly were. While waiting for our helicopters to come pick us up they congratulated us on the job we did to evacuate Kevin. We had endured a long hot day of fighting and everyone was tired.
As I lay on a dirt street surrounded by snoring men I went over my actions again and again. I knew, deep in my heart, that I could have done better. I was mad at myself for almost pushing the wrong drug but glad that I had done that last check even if it meant Kevin didn’t get antibiotics as soon as he could have. I was ashamed that I had left Kevin dangling head-down in my haste to carry him to safety. I knew I was better than that and Kevin deserved better. Above all that I felt guilty. I was still walking. I hadn’t needed to be carried anywhere that day. Kevin was physically the strongest member of our team. At home he ran our run routes twice a day for fun. He even set up a rowing machine in our office so he could exercise while we went about our daily tasks. I felt guilty that someone like that was now facing the task of overcoming a massive injury.
After returning to our camp everyone rushed to find out Kevin’s status. He was still in surgery but stable. It wasn’t until a couple days later that I finally managed to track him down in the hospital in Texas. I used Google to get the phone number to the hospital and played twenty questions trying to find out if he was in fact a patient there. I found out what floor he was on and called the nursing station. I didn’t have patient access (they had no way of confirming who I was) but I left a phone number for them to pass to Kevin. Not more than five minutes after hanging up with the hospital the phone in our office rang. Kevin happened to be awake in the early morning hours and had called me right back. It was great to hear his voice and I hope he was happy to hear from us as well. It would be another four months until I saw him face to face. Unfortunately that meeting took place as we prepared for the funeral of a fallen teammate.
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