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 firstname.lastname@example.org