Alpha: Chapter 15

What happened the particular day was the worst day of the best time I ever had. I really can’t put a lot of it into words but I know there was a lot of bad in a mountain of good. If I stayed where I was I would be far below where I am now. Even if people might think my life is just normal, boring or average. I’m thankful for every bit of it. At least on the surface I seem normal for the most part. That’s more than some in my group ended up with.


This is not to say I was unharmed. There was a lot of rehabilitation and if it wasn’t for the support of my family I wouldn’t know what would have happened to me or the condition I would be in now. Things were really rough and a lot of what I had to deal with is tough to put into words to make me sound how I really felt. It might all come across badly even though I don’t mean to. A lot is just facts.


In some respects it would have been a lot easier to have lost a chunk from me or even lost a body part. It must sound like the weirdest thing and I probably don’t even truly mean it, but I would not have been going up such a steep hill or road. I was an unfortunate casualty of HTI.

HTI is a shortened from (abbreviation) for the phrase head trauma injury. It basically means literally getting messed up in the head. It can be a million things or different degrees but it’s all under the same big scope. It’s almost like saying a bruise. You may think it’s one thing but there’s really so much more. It’s a really frustrating thing to be a medic and on my way to being a doctor and now I can’t articulate things I studied so hard on. It’s actually getting me kind of… Well let’s say mad since I want to keep it clean.


The mind is still the most complicated thing in all of science and anatomy. It’s the most guessed about an least to be right about. What happens to one or how the brain is thought to think of working (I guess an ironic way to say it) doesn’t apply to every person. Things like that give me hope and an inkling that there just may be some way I will improve despite anything ever said.


Guys around me had similar issues. Some got better and some did not. It is a land of all shapes and sizes. There were a lot of really hopeful stories that came through. Some stuff I did get to witness with my own eyes but a lot were either legend or maybe even a tall tale in the scope or whatever. The best story ever was about a guy who was a complete mess. I did not witness it but the story was verified.


As the legend goes, when he was brought in from the battlefield originally things were really grim. First diagnosis was his brain was totally gone. Something was said to have rocked him right in the bucket and it hit just right on his temple or something. Blammo and he dropped like a rock. They told whoever in his family the guy was going to be a vegetable as a best case scenario. No if or maybe about it whatsoever. This person did what nobody thought could happen. Waking up, eye movement. Alertness. All of these things Cognitive. I would even say he ended up better than me. There is no real way to know or gauge it properly, but it was a hunch I had. The grass being greener on the other side and all that mumbo jumbo. I never saw all the progress beginning to end but I actually did see him and interact once. He came back in with a duffel bag and met a lot of the rehabilitation folks and thanked them. He had a bit of an assy sense of humor I guess which the staff enjoyed to an extent. Towards the end of the visit he took something out of the bag and tossed it to one of the doctors I think. It was a can of green beans. Then laughing, “I’m sorry to tell you, but it’s going to end up being a vegetable. I cracked up from it from eavesdropping across the room from them all. When he came in, everyone had this air about them as if he was a returning relative who was popping in for a holiday. It was one of those things I just picked up on and I knew he was special and most likely a success story.


That’s another thing that bothers me though. Not being me and he being him. I’m not that kind of a petty ass. It’s more the fact I can remember some things moment to moment but then other stuff which really should have been that much more important to me… I’d miss every little lick of it. Truly difficult to understand. Sometimes the stuff comes back to me after a while. I could be eating breakfast and then by lunch forget if I ever ate at all that day. But the funny thing is two weeks later what could pop into my head? Every detail of that breakfast I never remembered beforehand. If I am playing games I can pick it up and know it well after some failures along the road. I’m never perfect but that sort of thing doesn’t bother me since I have the knowledge I know I’ll get it down eventually and it will stick in my head after that. Sometimes other people I know will forget a map or sequence in a game if they don’t pick that controller up once a month. But not me. I can still do every old school Mario game all the way through with no need for any of the warping to win. The original trilogy. But the Mario All Star game for Super Nintendo? I can’t play the exact same game in the enhanced graphics. Same dang thing but I guess to my brain it’s just too different or something. There is also a bonus game on that cartridge of the Lost Levels or something like that. I have a really hard time in that also. Like I said, it’s just so odd what can click and what just won’t.


I know this stuff should be all about me and my experiences, but things like this do go through my mind. Yeah it is not a direct experience of course but things I sort of hold close to me. I always think I can get a little better when hearing those things. PMA for my HTI. Positive mental attitude.


My favorite story of the brain is something I saw on 60 Minutes. It was really a clip on Youtube I found when trying for random searches on the subject. There are some days I know it verbatim and times on the spot, much like this, I can’t remember so much when I am really trying to call it up. I guess someday I can figure out my inner workings and cheat or something to have a better chance at having a little more rein over my memory. All in due time.


Well anyway,

In the 60 Minutes interview I saw, it was about a woman with a brain disorder. Actually I think it was more an issue like epilepsy or something like that. It was neural. Anyway, she was getting to a breaking point and had to think about something drastic in order to curb this thing that was starting to ravish her. I think it was incredibly brave of her to think the way she did anyway. I mean, she had a choice and kind of faced the risk head on in a voluntary way. She did have an option even if it felt from a perspective she had no other alternatives. That is kind of like what the men go through when serving; but most of them don’t really have a choice so much as she did. But I was able to totally understand and feel relatable. Her decision was to undergo an operation to fix the issue she had with the tremors and all the other issues. It was actually in reality more of a lobotomy type situation.


Yeah that is a REALLY scary situation for anyone who is not a completely oblivious person. Getting a chunk taken out of your human computer; even the possibility should make anyone freak the heck out. All of those stories of frontal lobotomies and the results. It all makes me pleased for what I have in relation to my issues. At least I am not a drooling slob, no disrespect to any of my brothers who might have. Or sisters past the wire.


Back to the woman in question…

She made the decision to have a portion of her brain removed. Cut out and gone. All of these studies and experimental things have been leading to the conclusion the issues of the woman could be severely reduced or altogether ended- all the tremors or seizures or whatever else. Besides the obvious worry (having a person’s head cracked open and stuff being dug out of it), there was an additional aspect to the story. Kind of cinematic I suppose.


Making things a more difficult decision was the trade off at stake for this woman. She was a violinist and very accomplished. Maybe a part of a very established symphony set up but I can’t remember all of her achievements. But the portion she would need taken out is the half where all of the arts and that sort of memory is stored: music included as the news story explained. She had to trade living or being free of her unbearable condition by sacrificing her passion and talent just to have a normal life. It’s how I can sympathize too. I’d probably do the same to be normal, since I feel I’m living in such a similar situation. Not too much the same but stuff to make comparisons to.


The doctors went though with the operation in accordance to her wishes. As far as anything during this procedure it all went just as hoped. No side effects or anything besides whatever was supposed to have happened as a result of scraping out a piece of human melon. From what I remember she even had to be awake for the whole ordeal. That may be standard procedure I think. So they are sure they are messing with the right (or bad rather) part of the noodle. The mind is mysterious because it’s not like anything else. Seeing one organ is very similar to every other and all the parts are where they should. Just because a human brain looks just the same as every other, it does not mean every single one has the exact location of everything as far as whatever everyone else’s is doing. Someone tried explaining it to me as if it’s like looking at a road map and for every singe one which is the exact same state, but all of the cities are put in a different order. It’s really similar so a very accurate analogy. There are the hemispheres, medulla, cerebrum, cerebellum. So it’s like that state on the map. But the way the memories store or access by the cortex and all that good stuff… it’s like the cities to commute to and from. And that’s why people have to be awake for all that stuff as I recall it- when all the testing and prodding is concerned when dealing with the brain.


From what I remember, they heavily sedated her after the whole procedure. So she went into deep sleep while they stitched her back up and all of that post op stuff. She awoke a long while later in the room of the hospital. It was either a family member or her significant other beside her when waking up from the doped up sleep. Pretty sure it was her mom in the room thinking about it again. The woman who just endured the operation and still heavy on anesthesia… The first thing she spoke was to have her mom fetch her violin. It was already in her room and from whatever I recall she wanted to play it one last time before she went in for this dicey operation. Just in case the worst case is she loses all ability. I can’t remember if she did try playing before she went in. I assume she did but it made no difference. She got the violin and actually played. She remembered how, despite the fact of all she was told. In fact, she said it was the most difficult piece she knew and played it flawlessly, even under all of the meds! Her mind it seems already knew there was trouble and rerouted the way her memory and it was flawless. Stuff like that keeps me going.


Maybe I was beating around the bush since I really didn’t want to dive straight in and do my part to drudge everything up which became the catalyst for where I currently am. The real problem with all of this is all I know was basically from hearsay. All the people who were around me or family. Anything like that, Basically all I really know is just minute details or small feelings; emotions. That sort of thing. Yeah it can be frustrating but it’s all I have. Kind of like if I went to the beach and all I can remember from the day is a dozen various grains of sand.


There was sand where I was. Of course. Lots of it. That sort of stuff I won’t forget. What I did and many I treated I won’t forget, but I can’t remember how I did it. All the short term medical stuff I learned went poof


Funny as it was, I have been in tense situations before. A lot of them kind of just melt together like forgetting which bad guy was in which Death Wish movie. There was too many to keep track of. And it becomes some gelatin of evil doers stung together. The biggest thing I really remember may be more looking back than now. But it’s the fact I wasn’t able to help any of then. Which was my sole job. I think I was up and moving. But I was of no help at all. I don’t know if anyone was even around with what I considered my specialized, or superior in my mind, skill set.


From what I know, I was outside the vehicle when I was found. I was out of my mind, well sort of more ways than one. Not literal, but I didn’t even know who I was basically. From what others said, I was inside but then tried to get out. I have no idea if I was ever unconscious, but it’s very likely I was. I was in shock or something. I think it was maybe like an outer body experience. Only a guess of course. But I was supposed to have been wandering around and got into a fight in a lackadaisical way. They said I was trying to help my fellow men but I had no clue where I was or what was going on. In a way it was comforting to know I never stopped trying to help; useless as I really was at it at that point.


Things were really bad for me a while. I guess I went in and out of consciousness. Touch and go stuff at points. Maybe I wasn’t too far off from that green beans man after all. I think when I finally got up and knew something like my name and aware of my consciousness I was in a whole different place. It was Walter Reed. There was a lot of craziness. Actually I think I was in Germany even originally. It’s all totally hazy.


What happened was an IED blast; a roadside bomb or whatever other phase people want to use instead of “box that makes boom” I suppose. We lost guys. Not all of them I knew well and at least one I did. I should remember all of the men like the others do, but that’s my mind playing trick on me. I’m sure I do but it just didn’t bubble to the surface yet like an overflowing glass of pop or a fault line cracking open and exposing everything that stayed uncovered all that time. Being negative will only impede my progress. I saw so many football players return to the line or even walk again after doctors said their careers were permanently sidelined (well more for the injured players return next season than paralysis of course). I never heard of a resisting or negative person who improved. I owe it to my family friends and loved ones too – they all stuck with me and the least I can do is live my life without a shitty or self pitying attitude. Just doesn’t cut it. Even when I’m gaming I have the same attitude. I may get fracked trying to compete with people above me but I keep on going until I get it right. That’s my attitude and I think however I act while playing games either one on one or networked or just all on my very own; if I keep the good attitude even online then it can sink in elsewhere and make me better subconsciously. Better living through videogames.


This wasn’t the case to start out. There was so much I had to learn. And relearn, and so on. I never really understood some of that amnesia stuff like in movies or a tv show. I always thought it was bogus. Of course that double hit on the head to go back to normal doesn’t work. I never tried it myself but I have just enough smarts to decide against such a scientific experiment. I was really tempted just for the heck of it, but I figured coming out a dullard would be devastating to my family and all that. I already but them all through enough as is which wasn’t my own fault. Ramming my faltering melon into a wall and coming out a tard would be the last straw. I’d be a fool in more ways than one.


Like I said, my attitude coming out of all that was far from me being canonized as a saint. Maybe I could have handled it better (no, probably not really) but if you have your whole life change and go from being a strapping dude with a career path and surviving firefights, ambushes and a ton of otherwise tense situations- then coming out well, less than an ultimate specimen. Yeah most people I think would have their own version of that Frankenstein moment. Where he broke his chains and went all amok in the laboratory. Not that it was literal, but I think for me as a lot of people there’s a moment where it flashes to mind. It’s not usually an instantaneous thing like waking up and getting behind the wheel of the crazy bus. I lashed out but not at first, and in my own way. I guess it’s like when you have a little kid. That kid knows what he’s doing and he also knows not to pull any shenanigans when he knows he won’t get away with it. I didn’t really cause much issue until I was more going through civilian stuff. Maybe it was because I knew better than to give enlisted people any of my guff. Not that I was intimidated but I had too much respect. I was knowing when I was being an ass I guess but I also felt it was my right at a point. But I’m sure no soldier would have said anything to me with mal on their mind or to intentionally be dishonest to me. Maybe with the civies I felt they deserved it since I went through far more than they did. It was some sort of my own pity part I was hosting at that time.


I’m sure in those medical facilities where everyone else is sporting the pixels like I was, sure they saw it all and they knew whatever was going through. I put myself in their shoes: if I was MD-ing it inside or even as a nurse I’d be doing whatever it took to keep my soldiers alive. I had a go for broke attitude in that aspect. I think I brought some people back from the brink or even beyond. It all sort of blurs on me when I try to think of it to recall a scenario. But sometimes it can vividly come to mind when I am doing the most dull of things and my mind is totally elsewhere. Stuff like taking out trash or watching Sports Center. Even wiring up a piece of electronics to my system. Just totally unrelated stuff.


But anyway, I know I was a grade A ass to those in places I went like rehab and all that. Stuff like that are more like five second scenes in my head. Maybe like seeing an animated gif as a forum signature: where it’s just a few seconds with movement but some sort of story or indication is going on, for those who don’t travel to online forums anywhere. But I had pride causing drama in the early times of me getting a grip on my changed life. More than one person would take measures to never have to go back into my room or interaction in general. Even joking if I should get a stamper so I can mark a footlocker or something like the side of an aircraft for all the staff members I burned through. That was my kind of raging.


Wish I can say it was clever, but just a lot of sour grapes over it all. Tossing stuff. Yelling. Complaining about the therapy. Wish I could say I was being unique or creative, but I was just a run of the mill kind of moron I suppose. One day I had an epiphany and just straightened up in the “fly right” aspect I guess. Maybe it was all under the surface all that time but either I didn’t have access to it or I just wanted an outlet. The whole “spilled milk” thing. I had a bit of good reason. But not really that much. Maybe as they say… six of one, half dozen of another. Means it can be argued either way. I’m talking about my mindset back then. Looking back, I had no hell of a reason to be justified to be that awful. Sure there was some stuff I was going through but I lashed out at the wrong person. Maybe at the time I really should have been kind of teed off towards my employer, but I feel like a traitor even saying such a thing now. I’m past it all now, so I can assure. I just care about making it to bedtime, and then when I wake up the next morning. It just means I don’t care anymore- in the good way.


For the longest time before I shaped up, my family was worried about me. Come to think of it, it was probably a lot longer than that even. Just in a different aspect. I was a got no worry kind of kid and spent high school mostly smoking behind the nearest gas station when I was refraining from getting into some sort of trouble. Caught a bad case of “senioritis” and I had to make everything up in the last semester. A little summer school too, but that was sort of on the QT from my parents and all that. I was a crafty little kid. Then I had my little epiphany I wrote about and enlisted. Then, well, where I am no eventually. Maybe I snapped out of my meanie bo beenie attitude the same way to being the go get it guy for Uncle Sam. I am bouncing all over like a super bouncie ball tossed into a port o potty. But I’ll try to get more to the point.


Some of this stuff is really difficult to talk about. I don’t want to sound like a rat but I wanted to say some things to help with. At the time, yes I had some stuff going on. I guess first I wanted to just get better and make a return back to help my men. Well I KNEW that is what I wanted. Even if I had half an arm hanging off I’d still be thinking in that way. It’s loyalty and it spreads across all of us. Not just my group but everywhere.


A lot of people have a lot worse stuff than me. Bleed out and have a head wound. Surgery and a gonner. Or nill on mental activity or basically special needs stuff. Cerebral hemotoma, that’s it. Bleeding in the brain I think. Darn my poor brain. But some get drilled into. Alleviate the pain. But for me…


I did not have to be drilled in. I was an HTI patient as it was called. Head trauma injury. And then the slang was TBI I think. Traumatic Brain Injury. The dark secret is this is often known as the signature injury. That is not so much the dark secret, but actually the further aspect. Guys like me get swept under the rug. We are a dirty secret remainder of military calculations. Here is a scenario I suppose….


Well I was messed up of course and a just… I don’t want to say it really since it doesn’t feel right but I was a mess of a guy. A man really. It’s like taking an eskimo pie out of the wrapper and just sticking it in the sun. It may all still be there but not the way it was intended. All the pieces but the wrong order. How someone can say it was not affected… It’s beyond my feeble little mind.


But paperwork went in for me to get recognition for everything. Well just get whatever was coming due. I don’t know who even put in for it. Maybe someone on the medical staff, maybe my family. I really have no clue. Just know it happened and whatever. I guess I was questioned. Like I said, there is a lot of stuff I can’t recall while trying. All I know if for sure I was not the person chomping at the bit to fill anything out. Maybe if I didn’t make it out alive I’d want something in a trinket form. A ribbon, whatever. Not as much for me but my family to have something to see I made my mark in life somehow. Creepy and strange as it is to say, maybe I’d want something too if I died. Not that I would hold it or anything since I’d be passed on but just knowing there’s more than a pine box or tacky looking jar that is supposed to embody all I was for my possibly short life at that point.


The story for now is about the head trauma. Or also liked to be called “mild traumatic brain injuries” often also. Maybe as a euphemism I suppose. Maybe it’s “mild” in the grand scheme of things but I guess it’s the same thing as an arm being “mild” from torn apart but the bone seems to be unbroken. I don’t know. About the accolades though… Whoever it was sent it out. Most likely my mom since she probably wanted me to have some motivation or feel accomplished with what I did. I didn’t save a truck of orphans holding puppies or anything like that, but I get her intentions as much then as now. I mean, can’t fault dear ol’ mom since she looks out for the best interests. Bad enough I put her through sending me off to the great sandbox of the east. Now Coming back and her probably feeling helpless- yeah, she probably just wanted to show in her own way she was proud of me- or a way to lift my spirits. I was not a physically fit fun loving, ambitious pawnzersauce of a guy that she saw going into the fray. I was wounded and she wanted me to get some sort of acknowledgment for it. I totally get her drift. But while these events were going on I was totally and utterly unaware.


Eventually I found out. For what I can imagine or remember it was an accident. Either it was addressed to me so I opened it, or it had some military look or address to it so I assumed it was mine since there wasn’t really much reason for someone else to get anything mailed from y branch. So I opened it. I don’t think it was opened by anyone else first, but it just may have. I read it and have no clue what the words on the paper said. I don’t remember what a single sentence was, even though I’m sure I read the thing over and over again (I still don’t know where that letter could be today). All I know is it said I was denied from getting a purple heart.


Not that I care one inkling now, but at that time I. Well I was a sawed off jerkwater of a guy to receive such news. Maybe in lamence terms I was livid: seeing red. Think about it… I was a sufferer or what is commonly known as the SIGNATURE injury of the wars in OIF and OEF [Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom]. And this most distinct of injury is a turn of the phrase itself. Maybe if I put something into words it can make someone finally do things about it.


There are probably two reasons why things like what I suffered are the debris falling through the cracks of war or bureaucracy. This is a war where things are totally different. There is always some change in every conflict or military endeavor. I guess some people may look at these recent operations as a sequel to an original in the 20th century. Really it’s not. Like switching from catching passes as a wide receiver to ended up on the defensive line blitzing. Well I guess it’s the opposite for us. I’d like to think we went more proactive to make things safe if not obvious. More defensive in the Desert operations to keep from a full invasion. And nothing like the IED and it’s devastating wake.


Yeah times change, I get it. That aspect of it, yes. But not the dirty number crunching side of it. I think we have one of the best medical units out there whether a medical facility or treatment, or the most universally objectively helping group out there. That is part of what makes the U S of A the place everyone turns to when nobody else is there to help. We patch them all up to show we do. We have a flotilla of hospitals – well hospital ships. Goodwill and all of that stuff. But that is where it’s disappointing to see people who served sometimes looking lower than people getting helped out while calling us infidels in between every sentence.

Biggest problem for me is the shifty accounting. It’s like the corrupt folks you see on police shows with two sets of books. Bookies and embezzlers. Stuff like that, I suppose. Here’s why…

The denial of the purple heart. In a truly textbook definition, purple heart is awarded to anyone (I think) who required a surgeon for a wound – like a stitch or whatever. It’s how I heard it. So by the textbook, yes I did not meet the requirements for a purple heart. I get that. But here is the extra part…


Since there is no way to earn that medal for a head injury, it must not be an injury at all by that line of reasoning. That means anyone sustaining a head injury does not count as wounded on the official count kept by the government. Needless to say, very few of these men come out the same; just as me. I am one of the better case scenarios. I am still literate after it took some time and remedial efforts to jog my memory. (On the one bright side to that, videogames are kind of one component of my therapy regimen.) This all means whatever happens it doesn’t have the same aftercare as a more traditional injury. A lot of the people can’t handle it and they get drastic. They eat a gun or something much less poetic but it ends in the same results. These people do not count as fatalities, and they most certainly did not count as casualties.


It seems kind of strange I guess for a guy with all these memory issues to write down a memoir. But I was asked and I couldn’t say no to my buddies who wanted me to get out anything I remembered. I guess maybe it went all over the place and a lot further back than I was supposed to even, but it was all my steam of consciousness as I think it’s said.


If anything, I just hope something can come of this. These are our tales and it’s all that happened from a certain point to another. These head traumas are serious business and I hope things can change. There are estimates these “mild traumatic brain injuries” as called can climb past 100,000 soldiers before the end of OEF and OIF. Those are a lot of people falling through the cracks. It’s why I count the lucky starts I made it this far.


Up to this point, I was denied a second purple heart. It was not recently, but something I resubmitted for back in my angrier time and when I was clinging to things the old me could only explain. Probably I thought me submitting would have made it happen. All water under the purple bridge now.


Lastly I want to let my parents and family know I’m alright (just in case their reading this). I may have been a brat and a this and that which shouldn’t be mentioned. But that stuff has been behind me a long time. You guys don’t need to walk on eggshells I promise. I only bring that stuff up about the other people to show how I realize how well off I am, or rather how good I have it. Thanks for all the bad times you put up with me and I hope I can still try to return that all tenfold with good times if I haven’t already. Just don’t hate me too much for wanting to spend just a little bit extra time to learn any of my games.



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