Monday, September 19, 2016

The Phantom Strikes Again

I am a human weather vein. Ever since I was injured I can feel a change in the weather the moment it arrives. It usually takes the form of phantom pain in my amputated leg and it usually feels like an ice pick stabbing my left "foot".

Today it was remarkably different, and a bit scary. The pins and needles started in my left arm and ran down to my leg. I thought it was a stroke or a blood clot.

I paced my apartment, doing at least 100 laps before I collapsed, exhausted.

The tingling never stopped. In fact, I could feel my left leg down to the toes. I could feel tendons, muscles working, all of the bones in my foot and each of my toes with every step. In my right foot, which is my own, I couldn't feel a thing. But its protected by layers of orthotics in my boot.

This sensation in my amputated leg was a first. And not particularly pleasant.

The Phantom Pain usually lasts minutes. It has now been two hours.

Now my own foot is aching from all of the walking.

Not the perfect way to start the week.

At the Pentagon you clock about 3 miles a day walking. And I'm already tired..

Saturday, September 10, 2016

About that book I've been meaning to write...

I am just back from two trips to Newfoundland.

A random ad popped up on my Facebook page in March. I followed the link to their tourism site. Once. Twice. Three times. And then I booked a trip. I had no idea what was in store.

The first trip was in July and filled with icebergs, whales, beautiful villages, magical people, a special boat captain and the occasional moose encounter. The second was to convince myself that I really saw what I did the first time around.

In August the icebergs were gone, but the whales were everywhere. Some days I stopped counting at 30. I dug a little deeper into the villages I’d found and discovered quirky, new villages even more remote. I got better acquainted with some Newfoundlander friends and met new characters.

And now I’m hooked.

There’s something special about waking up in a place, having no idea what the day holds, but sure it will be filled with adventures.

These are not the kind of adventures I’m used to but I’ve changed. I didn’t once miss the fact that no one was shooting at me, or trying to blow me up. Still, I managed a few scrapes, including driving my rental car off a cliff and out-running a wolf who came racing out of the woods towards me.

The trips have inspired me to finally start “the book”. The one I’ve been meaning to write my entire middle-aged life. I always thought it would revolve around wars, and my encounters with history, and my injuries.

Now, as central as all of that is to my life, I’ve think I’ve found a new lead character.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Dear Old Fool-- I'm told you are no longer with us. But I will never forget you. Your responses to my crazy (and sometimes dark) posts were always blunt, honest, witty and real. They say if you make an impact on anyone's life in your own lifetime then you've truly accomplished something on this Earth. I didn't know you. And now, sadly, I never will. But I will never forget you. Not for one minute. RIP. Moonpie

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Hi all, I don't know how many of you are still with me. But I am back. It's been a slog. I've traveled more than 20 countries, had my prosthetic leg taken from me on my return to Afghanistan, traveled back to Iraq, climbed a mountain, flew to the Persian Gulf, and hiked through Newfoundland and the Arctic. I even visited Havana. Through it all, I've missed you all. I'm ready to continue. I stopped writing when someone posted something about me "stealing" parts from veterans. It hurt like hell. I was part of the experiment. And I loved my wounded warriors. That cut me to the bone and it was written by a "full bird" (Colonel), which was even more upsetting. But now I'm okay. I'm more confident. And with my 7th "Alive Day" approaching, I wanted to reach out to all of you who meant so much to me in my darkest days. I am blessed. And you are the reason. Reading back on my blog after all of these years made me laugh and cry. Thank you for staying with me on the journey. George, my beloved assist dog, passed last year. That was heartbreaking. Many of my beloved surgeons and physical therapists have moved on. But I'm happy for them. Its been a brutal decade. And Old Fool, if you're still out there, your wisdom and humor meant the world to me...

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Sadly another...


KABUL, Afghanistan — A British photographer on a foot patrol with Afghan and American soldiers in southern Afghanistan was gravely wounded this week when he stepped on a makeshift bomb, military officials and his family said.

The photographer, Giles Duley, was working on Monday beside soldiers from the First Squadron, 75th Cavalry Regiment, near the village of Sangsar in rural Kandahar Province when he stepped on a pressure plate that detonated a hidden explosive charge, according to the United States military.

Mr. Duley, 39, lost one leg below the knee, the other leg above the knee and his left arm was severed above the elbow, according to his brother, David Duley. A finger on his right hand was fractured, and he had other superficial wounds. He was the second photographer to suffer multiple amputations while covering the military campaign in Kandahar since last fall.

But he did not suffer internal injuries or a head wound, his brother said by telephone, and he has been conscious and lucid while undergoing treatment in the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, England. No one else was wounded in the blast.

A freelancer associated with the Camera Press agency in London, Mr. Duley was formerly a fashion and music photographer, shooting for GQ, Esquire and other magazines. He had in recent years shifted his focus to humanitarian causes.

He has worked in Africa, Asia, Ukraine and elsewhere, documenting suffering and seeking “inspiring stories of the human spirit, stories that would otherwise remain untold in an era of commercialized media and news,” according to a written statement from his family and agency.

One his photographs, of a woman in southern Sudan delivering a stillborn child, was a 2010 prize winner in the Prix de la Photographie Paris.

Mr. Duley had been in Afghanistan less than two weeks when he was wounded, and he was covering military operations for the first time. The statement said that he had traveled to Afghanistan in late January intending “to cover the plight of bomb victims, but an opportunity presented itself to join front-line action with the U.S. Army; an offer that the true photojournalist within him couldn’t resist.”

His brother said he had a clear view of the risks. “He was fully aware of where he was going and what he was getting himself into,” he said.

Sangsar, the village where the Taliban reorganized in the 1990s and began their spread through much of Afghanistan, lies in an impoverished agricultural zone along the Arghandab River basin.

Since last year, the area has been the focus of a large United States-led offensive to subdue the insurgency and develop an Afghan government presence in one of the regions where the Taliban have been strongest.

The American and Afghan patrol was clearing a compound when Mr. Duley stepped on the pressure plate, according to Lt. Col. Michael D. Wirt, an Army doctor at Patrol Base Wilson, an American outpost near Sangsar.

Soldiers applied three tourniquets to his wounds and stabilized him, Colonel Wirt said. He was evacuated by a Black Hawk medevac helicopter and flown to the NATO military hospital at Kandahar Air Field.

David Bowering, a Canadian photographer traveling with the medevac crew, said that Mr. Duley, though in terrible physical condition when the helicopter arrived, “put up a good battle.”

“He was coherent most of the way,” he said. “He answered questions.”

In late October, Joao Silva, a photographer working for The New York Times, stepped on an antipersonnel land mine in another village near the Arghandab River. He lost both legs and suffered other wounds.

This week, after being fitted with prosthetic legs, Mr. Silva took his first steps.

David Duley said that his brother, consistent with his demeanor on the helicopter flight, was “surprising everyone with his resilience and humor.” He was awake on Thursday, and had been talking, joking and flirting with a nurse.

Mr. Duley had planned to start his own quarterly journal, tentatively titled Document, his brother said, and added that Mr. Duley, like Mr. Silva, has already said he will resume his work.

“Giles is a triple amputee, but he is still a photographer,” he said. “He still intends to do what he does. This is not going to stop him.”

Saturday, February 5, 2011

A few words about George (with his toy Rudolph)

George is an "assist" dog at Bethesda (he worked at Walter Reed when I was there) and came to stay with me recently for a weekend. He is probably the best therapist I know. He is loving, kind, knows to wait for you on stairs, and doesn't snore. He also keeps his toys in a neat pile on his sleeping bag.

I love him more than anything.

I hope to have him come live with me.

This, by the way, is George smiling. He has a permanent look of sadness until you ask him for help. And then he lights up like a Christmas tree. Good doggie.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Can I just say...?

After having lived with Wounded Warriors for more than a year, crying, struggling, suffering and laughing with them, I have become a surrogate mother to more than a few. I have also become one of their greatest defenders. There's not a lawmaker or VIP I encounter who I don't grill about what they'll do to help injured troops. More than one soldier has asked me to write a book about my experience so people will know what THEY'RE going through.

Even those troops who normally don't think much of the press took me in as one of their own. I have seen more combat than most of them. I have covered wars for longer than most of them have been alive. I have tried my best to tell their stories, and the dangers they face in combat. I got blown up doing my job. And as one General said to me "that makes you as much an American as any of us".

The only positive thing to come out of my recent experience has been the opportunity to live with and love the greatest Americans there are.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Still working on walking

I am being fitted for a new Super Brace, developed in San Antonio. Hopefully it will take some of the pressure off my right foot and not only elminate much of my pain but allow me to put off surgery for some time. There are skeptics, including one man who joked, 'why put off the inevitable'? Meaning amputation, which most eventually opt for.

I don't want to lose my other leg. And I think, as fast as they're developing new technologies they may come up with something in the future (ankle replacement).

The iWalk

I was fitted for the new power foot this week. It was a long process...and I walk so slowly I threw off the software. My therapist says I'm driving a Ferrari like a Honda Accord. So I'm not yet getting the full benefit, which is an ankle. I walked ramps and stairs and hills and it did start to kick in. Its noisy, tho. So I won't be coming up behind anyone and yelling 'surprise'!

Unfortunately its also battery-powered and its run out of juice. And we can't get the battery back off the back to the old Mod3...two steps forward, one step back.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A special thanks...

I don't think I could every properly thank the people who saved my life. From FOB Shank in Afghanistan, to the trauma teams at Bagram, to the air ambulance crews and the staff at WR. I have been blessed to meet some of the most amazing people on Earth.

Sucks that I had to get blown to bits to do so. But there you have it.

My chief therapist at WR appropriately helped me move my last "load" from the hospital grounds to my new apartment. Our last item? The wheelchair. A piece of furniture now in my new apartment.

My favorite prosthesist is moving back to New Orleans to private practise where he promises to serve me gumbo.

Monday, January 10, 2011

The "think" tanks

Today I went to a press conference at a well-known think tank, where some of the brightest minds available discussed why winning in Afghanistan is possible. The current strategy is working, major headway has been made and the turnaround in the South is un-precedented. But hold on...

We'll have to wait until next "fighting season" and even the NEXT "fighting season" to know for sure.

Really? And that means how many more lives and body parts lost?

If our strategy is working, then how the hell do we allow the Taliban and Al Qaeda to enjoy a "next" fighting season? Either we win. Or we don't. Either we crush their balls or we don't. But we don't take a winter hiatus (ala Congress) and agree to meet again in the Spring and see where things are...

The new life

It's really tough out here! I wake up at 4a still and there are no squirrels to feed. I am back to urban living. I miss Ed, Walter, Itchy, Twitchy and Fatty.

I miss the guys even more. My team of amputees (the guys I lived on Ward 57 with) have evacuated Mologne House and they're all doing well. One is teaching at West Point, one is an EOD expert in Pensacola, one has enrolled in college here in DC and is making straight A's despite some recent health setbacks, and one is working on IED research at the Pentagon.

I'm so proud of my boys. They still inspire me. They are rock stars.

But its tough. The days are long, the pain is pounding and I never seem to feel rested. Everything I do requires every ounce of energy I can muster. But hopefully it will get better.

Monday, December 20, 2010

I'm moving on up...

I have finally found an apartment in Washington. It is wheelchair accessible and in a luxury building I cannot afford. But this first year away from Walter Reed is all about convenience.

I am stressed about the "move", even though I have no furniture to speak of, no cooking ware, no fork or spoon. I am starting from scratch in every aspect of my life.

I am terrified. And excited. Hopeful. But worried.

And I will miss my squirrels.

Real Stories

Today's random meeting involved a soldier who has 450 stitches from a suicide bomber. He was stationed near the Pakistan border, in an area I know well. The one Afghan they completely trusted was a soldier who had just the day before taken out two enemy fighters. The very next day he wore a suicide belt and blew up several Americans at an outpost. My soldier--we'll call him Miracle Man--was standing closest to him. Luckily for him he went airborne when the Afghan blew himself up. That saved him, though he later died twice on the operating table. His friends were not so fortunate. They died in the spot where they stood, smoking cigarettes. One was Miracle's best friend.

Many operations later, Miracle survived. His legs were blasted to bits and have been rebuilt. His face and skull were shattered. He is now legally blind. He's lost hearing completely in one ear and struggles to hear with the other.

Our hero is a true miracle who told me this morning...the war in Afghanistan needs to end. Under the current rules of engagement there is no way they can fight to win.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Today's quote

Amputee soldier, injured in Afghanistan: "I'm running out of lives, bro!"

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving at MH

Quiet. The squirrels cleaned me out of nuts, the birds pecked away all of my seeds...there's only one soldier around and he has TBI. So he's a bit chatty.

Its dark and gloomy outside. A veterans group is giving away stuff downstairs, and for once I thought I wouldn't have to fight over a pair of sweatpants but remarkably they ran out of them. I'll know who got them when the hotel staff arrives in their new sweats.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Not really....

Raleigh at "work"

Friday, November 19, 2010

It's scary out there

Raleigh, the dog, in his Halloween costume. We dressed him up as a panhandler with a sandwich board that said "will work for food". We hung a cup from his neck. Shortly after this photo was taken, he ate it.

One soldier used his prosthetic leg to offer the kiddies candy on Halloween.

Another Amputee Soldier said he didn't need to dress up: "I AM a Halloween costume"

They finally labeled boxes of boots someone left for us at the hospital with signs that read "single boots only". Someone really thought it would be helpful to donate only single boots? What are we supposed to wear on the other "foot"? Real or fake it still needs a boot!

I went home hunting today. I can't afford anything. And even more frustrating...all of the homes here seem to have basements and attics. Space I'm not ever likely to use. Why climb flights of stairs? It's going to be a painful search. In more ways than one.

Yes we have no hats

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Walter Reed

It's been a long time

Walter (Reed), our pet squirrel, has been moved to rehab. We rescued him after his mother died. He would sit in the palm of our hands and eat peanuts. When it was clear he wouldn't survive the winter (and was very clearly going through his "terrible twos"), two soldiers delivered him to an animal rescue organization. They were eyed suspiciously and asked how long they'd kept him....

Three days. Really.

More amputees have joined us. Dozens have arrived in just the past few weeks at Bethesda and Walter Reed, the hospital. I worry about them. One new quad amputee's girlfriend broke all of the dishes in his California apartment, ripped his uniforms to shreds and the apartment complex management is evicting him. It's not like he can fly out West to fight them as he is missing both arms and both legs. Don't worry, I'm on it...

I have gone through more surgery. I have been advised on whether I will keep my "other" leg (chances, 50-50). I am in line, I hope, for the new "power foot", which by all accounts is awesome. Tested in Texas, rumor has it the amputees wouldn't give them back at the end of the trials.

I am learning to drive again. Well, my right foot is. My teacher is concerned about my stops since I'm hesitant to slam on the brakes with my tender foot.

Another journalist has joined us here. I won't give out his private details but a quick Google search should tell you who it is. I get sick to my stomach when I think about what's ahead for him. But I am thankful he's alive.

I have celebrated another birthday.

I am looking for a new home.

I feed the birds and squirrels every day. They recognize me and surround my wheelchair when I roll out back. I'm a f*cking Disney movie.

I love the Fall but missed most of the color because I was laid up after surgery. Luckily I had company.

I go back and forth between looking forward to my new life and worrying obsessively about it.

Veterans Day has come and gone. I am grateful I got stories on the radio about the number of wounded coming back from Afghanistan and Iraq.

My nephew has just graduated from Ranger school. I worry sick about what is coming for him but am so very proud.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Another anniversary

I have ventured away from Walter Reed for my first story on the road. I have a wonderful assistant who is helping with the driving, the producing, the running around.

I was so nervous before leaving I thought I would vomit but I made it down to New Orleans for the 5th anniversary of Katrina. We spent all afternoon in Plaquemines Parish talking to people and it reminded me why I have always loved this place. You walk with a cane? So what. The people here are so unique no one notices something like that.

They've also reminded me that everyone has challenges. But being a part of New Orleans is like belonging to a special club of misfits. Funny, wacky, fatalistic but life-loving misfits.

We have a poll today on whether New Orleans will ever recover from Katrina. It will recover like I will. Missing some parts, mourning that loss, but moving on...with a tad more character.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Alive Day

My "alive day" is coming up. That's the happy term the people here at Walter Reed give the day you got blown to smithereens. I prefer "bomb day".

And while "alive day" sounds so much more like a celebration I don't want to celebrate. Why would I want to make happy on the day a bomb impaled the soldier next to me and changed my life forever?

But as much as I would like to forget the whole thing my body is intent on reminding me. Last night I had the first nightmare I can remember since the bombing a year ago. I dreamed I watched as a humvee got hit by a rocket or RPG. There was a loud, odd sound. It suddenly occured to me that I recognized that sound. I'd heard it somewhere. That's when I shot out of bed with my heart pounding.

It was the sound that MY bomb made as it turned our ASV to mush. While I don't remember my bombing I know my body does.

My therapists and docs also say my body will likely mark the anniversary, whether I want it to or not. They are a little worried I suspect. So am I.

Friday, August 20, 2010


I have such mixed feelings about the departure of the last combat brigade. I spent so much time in the country, from the days just after the invasion through 2009. I saw so much violence. So much craziness. I always figured I would die there. I traveled to Diyala, Mosul, the Syrian border, the "belts of Baghdad" and the border with Iran. I traveled in Humvees, Strykers, MRAPs, Helos and Ospreys.

Now because I was blown up in Afghanistan I've missed the Big Story. I think that will make it hard to ever have any closure on Iraq.

The guys here, and some of them were injured in Iraq, have barely mentioned the developments.

I was having brain tests as the Strykers were rolling across the border in to Kuwait. And oddly had a headache all day.

Wish I'd been there instead of here...

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Defense Secretary Robert Gates talked this week about the number of useless studies being conducted and how they're costing taxpayers millions. And lo and behold, I saw this poster (above) at the hospital yesterday. Why do servicemembers get tattoos? Really? How much is this study costing?

I, on the other hand, am taking part in another USEFUL study that is looking into why some of us with perfect vision are having the blurries. They think its the trauma from bomb blasts shaking loose connections between our brains and our eyes. Friday I go in for extensive testing.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Man, can we sweat...

Our legs/stumps/itty bittys get so hot under liners and carbon fiber sockets they DRIP when you let them out for air. Some of the guys are trying Botox. I tried laser hair removal. We're not allowed to shave or wax, so aside from the sweat issue I was having real body image problems.

It would have gone off without hitch had it not been for my own clumsiness. You have to shave before they do the laser so they handed me a little specimen jar with water and a safety razor. While I worked on one side of my stump, a sweet male resident carefully shaved the other. He did beautifully. I, on the other hand, cut a hole on the top of my leg and then managed to open an incision. With a safety razor! As blood covered every surface of the room they went ahead with the laser anyway. Thankfully.

Hopefully it works.