I’ve been through a lot in my life. So much so that I’m worn out mentally and physically. I’ve had long talks with God about why bad thing happen to me and he’s taught me a few things that I want to share.
Chronic pain has always been a major thorn in my side since coming home from the Iraq war in 2005. Over the past thirteen years the pain has only gotten worse, not better. It started out with the occasional pain in my mid- back and then my knees. Over time it’s progressed and after extensive tests the VA Hospital diagnosed me with deteriorating disc disease with mild scoliosis in my lower spin as well as osteoarthritis in my knees.
For the past few months my knees have hurt so bad that I can only take the stairs one at a time because of the crunching pain that shoots through my knees when I bend them.
I’m thirty-four with the knees of a 60 year old.
I can’t run or work out anymore. The less I move throughout the day, the less burning I have to deal with inside my knee. It feels like an itchy, burning scab over a wound. I can barely walk. I wear knee braces every time I leave the house or I’ll end up having to take baby steps from the agonizing pain.
Last night, after a very active day, I had to crawl up and down the stairs. After doing this twice I started to feel depressed. I gave in to the pain and sat down on the stair in defeat. I started having memories of me at my best running and lifting weights. I used to be able to march, jump and bound while carrying 100+ pounds of gear easily.
“How did I get here?” I asked silently, tears from defeat and pain swelled up within my eyes.
After a few minutes of being in darkness, a scripture from the old testament in The Bible came to mind that helped snap me back to reality. In Genesis 32 verses 22-29 after Jacob wrestles with God all night, God touched Jacobs hip, permanently crippling him.
That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two female servants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok.23 After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions.24 So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak.25 When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man.26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”
But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
27 The man asked him, “What is your name?”
“Jacob,” he answered.
28 Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel,[a] because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”
29 Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.”
But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there.
Even after all his fighting with God, God still blessed him because Jacob had all faith in God even after he crippled him. God even gave Jacob the name Israel because he was an overcomer of Gods and humans.
I began to realize that the pain I have came from my unwillingness to give up on what I wanted in life and not doing what I was created to do. I’ve fought God my whole life, the enemy has constantly attacked me since I was born.
“Maybe going into the military wasn’t what God wanted for me and my fight with him was being on the front line. All of my ailments stem from the war in Iraq.”
I still have faith in God that life will get better. Even through all the pain, he has systematically surrounded me with love so that I won’t lose my faith in him and that love pushes me to be my best at all times just as he did for Jacob.
I might not be able to walk right because of painful knees, but I know that God has blessed me because of the calm in my life. He is literally polishing me, making me better so that I can shine to be a guiding light for others.
You don’t understand the change that happens inside a soldier after war.
Everyone comes back changed, whether they admit it or not, some worst than others.
I was the worst.
Not a day goes by in the past 13 years I haven’t thought about Iraq, the Fuck’d up things I saw and did.
I’ve just recently started moving on with my life with the intent to show civilians what it’s like to be on the battle front, fighting for our country and our lives, only to come home to a never-ending battle.
This scene from my book Combat Medic takes place at the precipice of my PTSD, the worst moment of my life.
” Slamming the door, I locked it and rested my head against the wood frame, trying to regain my thoughts. You’re home…you’re safe.
Sunlight is beaming in through the blinds, making it hard to see. Leaning against the marble counter in the kitchen, I set my keys down before wiping the sweat that wasn’t there from my brow. I wondered, Does it ever stop? My angst was making me feel cold. No…it never will. I stared at the floor. What if I was dead? Would anybody really care? I wouldn’t have to deal with this pain anymore. The thoughts; the nightmares…
My lower back throbbed. I pushed myself up on my hands, thrusting my hips back and forth, waiting for the pain to go away. I closed my eyes, put my head down, and started taking deep breaths, trying to calm down.
Standing up I grabbed a glass of water when a loud bang shook the room. My heart started racing; a chill ran through my body. The hearing in my right ear fell out, leaving a high-pitched ringing in the background. My heart jumped then started beating faster. I closed my eyes and saw flashing lights and heard gunfire – echoes and bangs.
I squatted to the ground behind the counter with my eyes wide open staring at the door. A chill ran through my back, into my heart. My jaw started shaking; teeth chattering like I was stark naked in a blizzard.
Someone kicked down the door dressed in battered, torn clothes with dirty rags covering his face. He ran towards me with an AK-47 rifle pointed at my face, shouting gibberish. I felt a rifle in my hand, the weight of the barrel upon my fingers; but it wasn’t there. I felt naked without a weapon, cold and unsafe.
My heart felt like it was being pulled in four different directions. It thumped, pumping me full of cold blood and adrenaline. My mind raced. What should I do? I smelled gunfire and smoke, but I could see that I was in my apartment. Is this real? The back of my throat was sore; there was a bad, acidic taste in my mouth.
I took in a couple of shallow breaths then jumped up and ran over to the kitchen. I grabbed the handle of my 8-inch chef knife and pulled it from the drawer figuring it would be better to have a weapon in case it wasn’t my imagination. I turned toward the door crouched down, waiting for anything that came through.
A minute slowly passed. “This isn’t real.” I thought out loud, “What am I doing? This is crazy.” At that moment excruciating pain shot from my mid-back down to my left foot. It was like someone had sliced my back in half with a searing hot knife. I tried taking a deep breath in, but stopped short when pain wrapped around my lung.
I dropped the knife. Feeling dizzy and nauseated, I slowly walked over to the bathroom, flipped the light on, and stood over the toilet, holding my stomach and head. I was sweating hard now. The room started spinning as an overwhelming smell of gunpowder filled it.
Images from war started shooting through my mind. In one, I was holding pressure on a wound, trying to stop the bleeding from a severed leg. In another, blood was splattered all over a sand-covered ground. Specialist B pointed to the blood, then over to a building. I raised my weapon as we went in for the kill. The last image was of eyes. A pair of glazed over, hauntingly sky blue eyes. They were staring directly into mine. I stared blankly into the toilet, engulfed in those eyes. The sight of death captivated me. I wanted it; it wanted me. It almost had me.
My focus shifted from his eyes to his head. I started to see blood running down his face as it came into focus. A green aid bandage was wrapped around it, attempting to hold his severed skull together. I looked down and saw blood covering my hands. I knew it wasn’t really there, but it all felt so real.
At that moment I felt numb, emptiness grew inside; my chest slowly became cold. Icy blood pumped through my veins. It felt like I was dying; like life was being drained out of me. I started shaking as a chill crept through me. Death enveloped me, clutching my soul with a wanton lust. My spirit quaked as my heart blackened.
Tears started falling down my cheeks as the visions slowly faded away. I felt like a hollow shell, void of any substance of life. Shaking my head I wiped the tears, but kept crying; unable to stop myself.
I walked to my bedroom, empty except for a small dresser. It’s been 7 months since I moved and still no furniture. Saddened, I closed the door and opened the window. A cool breeze blew through. The sun was bright, warm, and comforting. I took in a couple deep breaths; my jaw still jittered from the flashback as I let it out. My shirt was drenched in sweat.
I opened the drawer of the dresser and grabbed my pipe and weed. I ground some up, put it in the pipe and took a couple of long, slow hits. After about 15 minutes I was fully medicated, seeing everything in a haze. I stared out of the window and looked down at the courtyard. A young couple sat at a table drinking wine; talking… they looked happy. I could see smoke rising from the grill next to them and smelled the scent of barbeque.
Everything I was worrying about started to fade away. The pain in my back turned into a slight annoyance. I smiled a grin ear-to-ear and started beat boxing and singing; doing anything and everything to stop thinking about things – the nightmares from hell that still haunt me.
I poured a glass of cold water from the tap. After slamming a couple, the blue eyes started haunting me again. I felt myself sliding back into the other place when my phone snapped me out of the fall.
I looked at the screen and saw that it was Jessica; I answered annoyingly, “Hello.”
“Hi, what are you doing?”
“Just got home from work,” I said sharply. “Why, what’s up?”
“I don’t know; just seeing what you’re doing. You never call me just to talk,” she said, waiting silently for an answer.
I didn’t know what to say. “Sorry, I’ve just been busy.”
“Working. You know my hours at work.” I got upset. “Is there something you want?”
“Yeah, I was wondering if you would like to come over and eat dinner with me and Aleah tonight and this weekend? You know… have some family time.”
I was torn, feeling deep in my heart like I wanted to. But then I start thinking about what had just happened. The pain, the flashbacks, I was afraid to leave the house. I missed my daughter so much but I couldn’t drive like this. I lied, “I can’t, I have an appointment later today and I have to work this weekend.”
“Really? You told me you were off,” she said angrily.
“Well Mick asked me to work a couple extra shifts and I said yes.” I got upset again. “What do you want me to do about it? I can’t just say ‘No’ now; it’s work.”
“You never want to spend time with us. Aleah is always asking about you. What should I tell her?”
I felt awful. My heart started to burn.
“I’m sorry, Jessica, but I have to work.” I gave in a little, “I can come over after my shift is done. We can eat and play games. You can tell her I have to work and I’ll see her later.”
“Ok. Whatever,” she said.
Then it went silent for a minute.
“How come you don’t love me?”
“I never said I didn’t.”
“Then why did you leave?”
“Because we argue too much.”
“We argue because you don’t even try to listen to anything I have to say and you yell,” she said.
“You do too!” I quickly chimed in. “All you do is yell and I can’t take it. I don’t need people around me yelling all the time. I can’t handle it.”
“If you loved me you would try.”
My gut started hurting. “I do love you, Jessica; I just don’t know what to do.”
“Talk to me.”
Silence fell again, I felt so bad that we couldn’t get along. I do love her, but the arguments and fights, yelling in front of Aleah… it was too much. I don’t want her to think that is how relationships are. She should have a happy life.
“Ok, Sam! Bye!”
“Tell Aleah I’ll call her tonight. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Yep, bye.” She hung up, her tone saying all she needed to say.
The room fell quiet. I looked down at the phone and thought of all the good times I’ve had with them. The times I’ve curled over laughing when playing with Aleah. Hearing her laughs echoing throughout the house when I tickled her, I loved it… missed it.
How did I get here in this empty apartment, feeling sad and numb inside? I’ve tried my whole life to feel alive; to feel wanted, to be someone special. I joined the Army because it was where I belonged. Fighting for America, saving lives and making a difference, proving to myself that I could do anything, go anywhere.
Now I’m lost, stuck; sealed away in a cave at the center of a deserted world. I want to feel normal again; feel alive, not numb. My past keeps taking over my mind, flooding it with blood and explosions. I want it to end. I want everything to end.
How did I get here?
It was because of the war. Why did I ever sign up to go in? I don’t want to feel like this anymore; alone, struggling to hold onto reality day in and day out. I want a life worth living.”
In the 1-5 Cavalry Infantry, gunfights were a daily activity for our squad. Our mission was simple, hunt down and kill any insurgents inside the Wadi-Us-Saalam cemetery.
It was an experience I’ll never forget. I came close to death several times a day for a month straight. I don’t know if I was extremely luckyor extremely blessed, all I know is that I survived.
The chapter begins after my sergeant takes a sniper bullet to the shoulder and falls off the ledge of the building we were engaging from. We came under heavy weapons fire that pinned us down onto of the roof. I’m the medic so I had to get over to patch his wounds up and evacuate him.
Chapter 17: Danger
Bullets rattled the wall behind me, spraying chunks of rock and dust into the air. B was trying to stick his head up and look out but kept falling back flat on the ground when the rounds went pinging off the cement around us. The only thing I could do was picture the sergeant bleeding out to death.
Shit! I thought, I’ve gotta get over to him, what the fuck.
I slapped B on the shoulder.
“I’m climbing over to Hunter! Give me cover fire.” I handed him the SAW and crawled across the floor. B planted the SAW on the roof and fired down range swearing and screaming. I was pinned down again when I came to the drop off; bullets ripped through the air above my head.
“Fuck!” I yelled, and then threw myself over the edge, landing hard on my side; knocking the wind out of me. I pushed myself up, and ran over to Sergeant Hunter, who was lying on the ground twisting and moaning. Blood was seeping out of his right shoulder. He was covered in dust.
I radioed to Martinez on my way over to him, “I need my bag and a Medivac. Sergeant is down. We’re by the blue door near the street.”
“On my way” Martinez radioed back.
I fell onto my knees next to Hunter, “I’m here Sergeant; let me take a look at you.”
He moved his hands off his shoulder; I tore open vest and blouse. “You feel hurt anywhere else?”
He shook his head, “No, just my shoulder.” I looked him up and down to see if he got hit anywhere else like I was trained.
“Here!” I heard Martinez yell from behind the door. I looked up to see the bag fly up and over the door, landing on the ground. I ran over and grabbed it then ran back to the sergeant.
I took the scissors from my bag and cut his shirt open; a bullet hole the size of a quarter was blown into his shoulder. Blood was slowly running out from the sides. I broke open a field bandage and pressed it on top of the wound. Martinez was trying to kick down the door without any luck.
“Here hold this tight and don’t let go,” I said, placing his hand on the bandage. The door had a metal chain looped through it and was padlocked. Martinez and I both tried kicking it open but it wouldn’t budge. We would need bolt cutters to get through the lock. Mortars started landing, scaring the piss out of me.
“How the fuck are we going to get out of here? Does the Bradley have a chain to tear the fucker off?” I yelled at Martinez.
“No!” he screamed. “There’s nothing!”
“Fuck!” I shouted, kicking the door. The ground shook underneath me over and over again; the explosions sounded close. I couldn’t think of anything but going back up top and jumping off.
“We’re going back over!” I yelled, “Give us cover while we jump off the other side!”
Martinez gave me a nod, “Shit, ok!” He radioed the lieutenant to help give us cover.
I ran back over to the sergeant, radioing B, “I need you to help me with Hunter!”
“Roger that!” he replied.
“We’re going to have to go back up!” I yelled to the sergeant. “There’s no other way out!”
He looked pale and frightened, “You ok?”
“Yeah, man. Fuck,” he tiredly replied. I tied his bandage the best I could and closed his vest. After I got him to his feet B yelled down to us, “Ok!” holding his hand over the edge. I handed B the sergeant’s rifle then lodged my pack up top. Next, I crouched against the wall with my hands clasped together and boosted Hunter up. He grabbed B’s hand and I pushed him until he was over the edge.
After a moment B reached down for me. I got a running start and scaled the wall grabbing his hand. With his help I pulled myself up; bullets zipped past as I dragged my body over the edge. All three of us were now up top hugging the floor.
With the mortars landing closer I knew it was only a matter of time before they started hitting the building. Rounds were bouncing off the wall, blocking the way we originally came up. We figured the only way down was to walk across the top of the wall we just climbed and jump off; like walking across a balance beam in clear view of the enemy. There wasn’t a floor on either side of us so we would take the chance of getting shot and ending up back were we started, trapped. But there weren’t any other options.
“Ok,” B said, “I’ll help Hunter while you lay down cover fire.”
“Ok! Let me know when you’re ready!” I grabbed the SAW then crawled over to the edge of the building. B strapped the rifle on his back and grabbed the ammo. On the count of three I started relentlessly firing downrange.
Once Hunter and B made it to the edge and jumped off, I strapped my bag on then shot a couple more rounds downrange. After slinging the SAW over my shoulder I took a second to pray:
Please don’t let me die; I don’t want to get shot. After a count of three I jumped up and started across. “Shit. Fuck this shit,” was the only thing I was thinking and said as rounds zipped past me. I tried my best not to fall off as mortars shook the wall. My heart sank when I almost slipped off, causing me to stop for a second. I felt like one of those ducks in a carnival game, running in clear view, hoping to not get shot.
“Shi-i-t!” I yelled as I jumped off the side of the building, landing hard on my legs next to a grave. My right knee popped, causing me to collapse in pain. I looked up to see a grave only yards away blow up from a mortar; another one exploded close by a second after. I forced myself up and ran over to B and Hunter. On the way a mortar hit the ground a couple feet from me and didn’t go off.
“Shit!” I screamed, jumping to the side. When I got to Hunter I threw his arm over my shoulder and started running. Rodriguez came around the corner of the building firing downrange then waved us over to him. We ran to the front of the building and jumped inside through a doorway inside a small room. Each of us hugged the walls in the shadows on either side. I watched as bullets zipped through the doorway and rattled the brick wall, shooting clouds of dust into the beam of light shining in.
Mortar rounds landed all around; the blasts shook the building, engulfing the room with dust and smoke. I thought the building was going to fall in on us as they came pounding in. Bullets kept hitting the wall between us, making Rodriguez and me jump back. We were trapped; there was no place to go.
Rodriguez was terrified; his face scrunched up as if fear was causing him pain. My body shook harder with every explosion; it felt like my brain was shaking against my skull. I closed my eyes and saw flickering lights. Suddenly a warm vibrating sensation ran through my body; I started reciting the Lord’s Prayer in my mind. Our father in heaven…
My grandma appeared in front of me, her face an array of different colors: Purple, white, blue and orange. We were engulfed in darkness. She rocked in her chair moving back and forth praying. A bright orange light shone on me as we prayed together, eliminating the darkness we were in. It was warm and peaceful, wrapping me with comfort. All my fear and pain were taken away, filling me with nothing but joy and love.
I heard explosions and felt the ground shake, but it was in a separate place. It was almost as if I were in both places at once. The thought crossed my mind that I died. My whole life was in front of me; it seemed like time was non-existent. I stood next to my grandma waiting, not knowing what was going to happen next. I didn’t care. Everything was going to be ok. It felt like I was there for hours, maybe days.
I heard tracks slamming against the pavement outside, its engine getting louder as it moved up the street outside. The Bradley’s gun got louder as they got closer. Martinez was muffled as he spoke, “Come on; let’s go!”
Everything disappeared. I was pulled back into the building as my eyes opened. Martinez popped two smoke grenades out the doorway for cover; thick red and yellow smoke filled the air. The medical track stopped and dropped its back hatch. Rodriguez and I lifted Hunter and ran him over to the track. Bullets came zipping by as we moved. We handed him off to the medic and threw his gear on the floor.
Martinez gave us cover fire while we ran back through the smoke, into the room. It sounded like our Bradley dozed over graves as it pulled up on the side of the building. I could hear bullets bouncing off its armor as it fired down range. We ran outside and jumped into the back.
The door slammed shut while the Bradley moved away; we watched the screen as white bodies darted away.
“Fuck!” Martinez kicked the metal seat before sitting down. We were all panting hard; I was worn out.
“Drink water.” I said, tiredly lifting my canteen up to drink. As we sat I finished closing up my pack, making sure all the medical supplies were in the right spot. I made a mental note to pick up an aid-bandage when we got back to base. When I went to close the pouch it was in, there were two small holes punched through it. I stuck my finger through them; it went clean through.
“Shit,” I said, tapping Rodriguez. He opened his eyes and looked at me.
“Look at this shit man; I can’t believe I got that close to getting hit.”
“Shit bro. I think we all got lucky. That shit was close.”
“Yeah man, I know.”
I sat back and closed my eyes, wanting so badly to go to sleep, but my mind kept racing. Thoughts about the guy I shot, how close I came to getting shot and the bright lights. What was that? It felt like I had died back in that room. How do I know I didn’t? I was going to say something about it before the lieutenant’s voice came blasting over the radio.
“Alright boys! Gotta go back out in 5.”
“Fuck man I’m tired!” Rodriguez shouted back. There was no response. I didn’t want to go back out, especially with a man short. B was lying back with his eyes closed shaking his head. We sat in silence for a minute; the only sound was the motor of the main gun moving around looking for targets. When I thought about Sergeant Hunter again I remembered something funny and started giggling.
“What’s so funny?” said B. “I’d like to hear something funny right about now in this shit hole.”
“Did you guys hear Sergeant’s voice?” I asked; “he sounded like a little girl.”
I squeaked in a high-pitched voice, “I’m hit.” Everyone laughed. That opened up a doorway for more shits and giggles; it was like everyone needed to joke around to keep our minds off of going back out. Martinez took charge of the team since he had seniority. We were one man short and no one else was coming out to replace Hunter. We had enough firepower to keep going, so we filled our water and restocked ammo. The back door dropped open.
I’m so grateful with everything that God is doing with my life right now. It hasn’t been a year since I’ve published my book Combat Medic and I’ve already started making an impact within my community. It is my goal to inform the nation on the signs and symptoms of PTSD to hopefully cut the rate of veteran suicide, which is at an all time high of over 22 a day.