The Fight of my life...again.
Damn it! I half shouted through the pain. Damn it! It was all I could muster. I just sat down on the ground clutching the right side of my chest with my left hand, my M4 rifle across my lap. I looked up, sort of helplessly and said “I need a medic”.
I was in northern Iraq serving with the 101st Airborne 10 years ago today. We had invaded the country many months earlier and it had been one hell of a ride. For months we didn’t have enough food, we had to survive on 1 MRE a day for weeks at a time. We didn’t have enough water, we were rationed less than 3 liters per day and a shower; forget about it! I hadn’t had proper shower in weeks. But finally we had stopped somewhere just south of Mosul and had taken over an old Republican Guard Air Base. It had been bombed to hell and there were giant craters in the runways and most of the buildings were reduced to piles of rubble. But we finally had hot food and a warm shower and a tent so it was an improvement at least. We were living the good life. We were doing our job and all of our birds (I was in an aviation regiment as a turbine engine tech) were operational when and if we could get the supplies we needed to fix them. We would sit around and tell tales of back home, reminiscing about lovers and beer and the days of running water and air conditioning.
It was early in the morning and I was sitting at a small desk doing paperwork and thinking about chow when it happened. It wasn’t the first time so I knew immediately what it was. My right lung had just collapsed. It had happened once before on the opposite side 10 years prior. I just stood up, walked outside and plopped down on the ground. I felt slightly defeated and I was in a great deal of pain. For the next few minutes every breath seemed like an act of pure will. The air didn’t and wouldn’t come easily. It took thought and effort to try and fill my good lung. It hurt. I was tired. I just wanted to lie down and let God take me.
As my squad leader helped me to my feet I clutched my M4 tightly. I held onto it like a child does his Teddy Bear and I climbed into the truck. As we entered the medic station I walked straight up to this older man, a Colonel, and said “Excuse me, Sir. My right lung has just collapsed and I need help.” He looked at me, shocked that I was so specific and sat me on an exam table. The next thing I knew I was on a MEDEVAC Blackhawk on my way to Mosul, there was a hospital there.
I made my way into a tent that made up the hospital and I just lay there on the operating table awaiting the tube they would insert through my rib cage to inflate my lung. People were rushing by me. They were shouting and frantic. They carried a young Private in on a litter and I saw him bleeding from what seemed like every part of his body. The sedatives were taking over now and I was having a half lucid dream of them taking my M4 away back at that Medic Sation. As I slipped into the darkness of sedation I wondered, “Will I ever see that rifle again?”
That was then. Today I am here in NYC, sipping champagne and feasting on Lobster Mac and Cheese. There is a great view of Central Park from here and as I pose for yet another “impromptu” picture I am filled with the thoughts of that day.
Every moment of our life has the ability to shape us. Some are like the hands of sculptors molding soft clay and others; well they are like a construction worker from Brooklyn wielding a jack hammer. You’ll get scars in life. You will limp. You will move a little slower and maybe you’ll learn something. Just keep going. Stand up. Move forward. Carry on.