March 22, 2007
Name: SPC J.R. Salzman
Posting date: 3/22/07
Returned from: Iraq
Milblog url: Lumberjack in a Desert
I’m doing the best that I can, considering. I spend a lot of time really pissed off or really upset. I know I am getting better at a pretty good rate, but still. In Iraq I was the go-to guy for anything that could go wrong with my CET’s (convoy escort team) Humvees. I was the guy that could build or fix anything. Heck, I even built the door and a bench for the building our company stages in for convoys, simply because I was bored and had a little extra time before I went on R&R in November. There was nothing I couldn’t fix, build, or do.
Now I’m struggling with the mentality that I’m just a one-armed, four-fingered gimp. I have sharp memories of the accident that haunt me every day; the sudden explosion, the taste of blood in my mouth, realizing the bottom half of my arm was missing with nothing left but a couple of fingers and part of my hand hanging off by some skin and tendons, and then realizing how much pain I was in. All I could do was hold the end of my blown-off right arm with my shrapnel-filled left hand and wait for the medic to arrive and put a tourniquet on. The most terrifying part of the memories is constantly remembering my gunner screaming and then looking down and realizing my arm was nothing more than some ragged meat and two bones sticking out.
I realize there are a lot of other people out there who are worse off than me. I am not asking for sympathy here. All I am trying to do is let you know what it is like to experience this. I have constant phantom pain in my arm where it feels like my hand is still there, and someone is sawing on it with a knife. The nerves are still trying to tell my brain that something is wrong. The phantom pain is there every moment of the day and hurts like hell. My left hand is barely functional since the surgery. What really pisses me off the most is that my left hand feels like it isn’t put together right. The doctors removed my ring finger all the way down into my hand, and then pulled my pinky next to my middle finger and tied the tendons together. When I bend my fingers it feels like the bones are at different lengths and just don't line up right. I was really hoping I would at least have one completely functioning hand since I lost an arm. Unfortunately because of my wedding ring stripping the skin down to the bone, and multiple pieces of shrapnel that entered my hand and severed my nerves, and the shrapnel that completely shattered my ring finger’s knuckle, this wasn't to be.
I am happy that I am finally rid of all the tubes, IVs, nerve blocks, and catheters sticking out of my body. Today is the first time in over a month I haven't had an IV or some other tube sticking out of my body. I am finally to the point where I can go to the bathroom by myself without any help. What is really sad to me when I think about it is how lucky I am compared to a lot of the other people here at Walter Reed. I think of the pain and frustration I am experiencing and I realize how it is multiplied for them. My pain is always there and I'm told will be for months to come. I can only imagine what it is like for the others here. There are soldiers here with injuries that I cannot even describe. Some are missing both legs. Some are missing both legs and both arms. When I think of this I can't help but feel a little selfish for my own grief.
I spend a lot of time crying and I don't know why. Sometimes I look at my hand or I look at my arm and I just start crying. I think of when my hand used to be there, or when my arm used to be there, and what it was like. The arm that was there for the last 27 years is suddenly gone. All the little blemishes, all the little battle wounds, all the little scars from being a carpenter, everything is gone. The ring finger that held my wedding ring that was put on by my loving wife is gone. The last time I saw my wedding ring it was being snipped off with a pair of bolt cutters at the hospital in the Green Zone in Baghdad. It was also in the Green Zone that I got to look at my arm and see that it had been sheared off by shrapnel. It was a gruesome sight, but I couldn't help but look. It's an image that will forever be burned in my mind. Sometimes the loss feels overwhelming for me and I just start crying. Other times I’m very positive and look forward to getting out of here and getting on with my life. Other times I just don't know what to think.
Please remember this when you think about freedom. This isn't a dream, this isn’t some fictional story about patriotism, this isn't some story I'm writing to be a hero. This is my life here at Walter Reed. I am the true cost of freedom. Welcome to my life.