Invisible Wounds

I deployed to Afghanistan in 2012. The time spent there forever changed me, forever changed my life. From the start of my deployment, all the way through the end, I can say that I had quite the deployment experience.

SSG Bales went on his famed “Killing Spree” just as my battalion entered theater. The night we got to Khandahar, I was informed that I was going to the Horn of Panja’wai the next morning. Honestly, I didn’t know why, I didn’t know for how long. I was just told to pack for mission, they needed medical support for a “top secret mission,” it had to be a female medic, I was the most experienced, this would be a “great opportunity,” “tough shit you’re going.” I cried. I didn’t want to go. I was scared. I had diarrhea. I couldn’t sleep. Gosh, I remember like it was yesterday… I remember going out to the flight line at 0330, and sitting, and waiting. The Chinook didn’t get to me until after 1200. It was a dizzying flight. We took fire. It was only small arms fire, but still scary at the time. “Welcome to war.” “Welcome to Afghanistan.” My travel companion, Rita Mcgrath, puked in her kevlar (helmet). Haha. I almost threw up. She was a laboratory technician. Went with me so I wasn’t the only female on the outpost. We land in Zanga-bad, and it feels like I stepped onto the set of M*A*S*H. This can’t be real. Tents everywhere. I have to live like this? It was one thing after another once I arrived in Zanga-bad. There were casualties. My first, I remember vividly. Luckily, it wasn’t outside of the wire, it was on the FOB. They said it was a female, IED casualty, but it wound up being a young kid, male. He was actually the one planting the IED, and for whatever reason, it blew up. He was a triple amputee. I was the lead medic. I had, up until that point, only worked on other medics, and goats – never a bleeding, dying human – let alone child. “I thought you said it was a woman?” I asked bewildered, when I saw the kid. My mind on my own kids when I saw his frail body laying on the table. “Get in there!” Someone yelled. All of a sudden, all of my training kicked in, and I worked to save that kid’s life. There was no real way to apply a tourniquet on the shredded meat that replaced his legs, but I did. I applied it to his arm that had bone exposed, you could see the fracture, it was barely hanging together by skin. His family was outside the door, I told someone to close the door, their staring was getting to me. They wanted so bad for me/us to save this kid’s life. I knew he was already a goner.

“He’s practically dead,” I said.

“We still have to try.”

“Why?” I needed to know. This kid was planting an IED for Christ’s sake. Better him than one of our guys.

“It’s our duty.”

Duty? Duty. What is duty? Duty is defined as a moral or legal obligation; a task or action that someone is required to perform. As medical professionals, in war, it is true, that it is our “duty” to provide medical attention to friendly and foe. This is a rule of war that I struggled with from the beginning. That boy died. I was happy he died. I wonder sometimes: Could I have put that tourniquet on tighter? Could I have tried harder? Probably. I didn’t want him to live. He didn’t deserve to live. After he died, I was ready to throw his sorry carcass out like a piece of trash in a garbage bag. However, they made me dress his body, return it to his family with dignity. Dignity. Hah! As if he deserved it. I was so angry. I was rough with his body. It didn’t matter, he was dead. I practiced intubation. I practiced, other techniques that I might not be able to do, or would not want to mess up on a live person, or at least, not on a friendly, before returning him to his family.

I learned early on, there, in Zanga-bad, that those people are corrupt. I began to hate them. They deserved to die. I knew SSG Bales before deployment, and I sympathized with him. I understood why he went on a killing spree. Dare I say, I agree with it. Those people deserve to die. To this day, I have a hatred for Muslims, one I try so hard to squelch… More on that later… The death of that little boy was the most iconic in setting the stage of my deployment. There began my hatred. I encountered many other casualties at Zanga-bad, even children, but none effected me like that little boy. Perhaps because he was the first. He was the first, and he died. The smell of blood remained in my nostrils long after he was gone, long after we bleached the room, long after I showered and changed my clothes. It didn’t leave. The coppery scent remained in my nostrils. To feel him take his last breaths in my hands… I never once felt like a murderer, although I willed him to die. I still don’t, I still think he got exactly what he deserved.

Fast forward to Khandahar, the Role 3. I worked in the Emergency Room. My first day was the most deadly day in Afghanistan since June 21, 2010. We had 31 KIAs that day. Some didn’t make it into the ER, they went directly to the morgue. It was such a busy day. I recall getting in trouble by the head doc. The Role 3 was run and operated by the Navy. I was already jaded, from being out at Zanga-bad, going out on mission with Infantry, and not being the best “medic” I could be… So, when I had to work on non-US, or non-friendly, I half-assed it, and basically had a “why waste supplies on this piece of shit, let him die” attitude. The Navy doesn’t like that, apparently. I had to adjust, what better day that the day everyone wants to die? Another hard day.

I remember walking in, and a SGT being wheeled in, he had flail-chest, three needles sticking out of his chest, they had tried needle-chest decompression, to no avail, three times. He was a multiple gun-shot wound to the chest casualty. I could only stare. I had heard about flail-chest, but never had I seen it! So cool!! This was like watching an episode of ER, military style! It started out cool… Then, they just kept coming. I got thrown on a couple Afghanie casualties. Kids, no less. One was a boy who was shot execution style by one of his own – animals. One was a girl, thrown in front of one of our vehicles, by her own father, he head was barely attached by her neck – beasts. All for a chance to ambush us – or stop our mission? Freaking beasts. Life means nothing to them, why should we preserve any of their lives? After the doc realized I hated them, and chewed me out at the table, I got put on the small, non-emergent cases, like picking shrapnel out of Soldier’s faces. I was pissed. But, one of those Soldiers, a year later came into my aid station, and actually remembered me. He was like, “I look a lot better without stuff sticking out of my face, huh?” In all honesty, I didn’t remember him at all. I remembered the shrapnel, but I don’t think I remembered the face. At least I made a difference in someone’s life – a positive difference. That was such a rough time. I couldn’t share any of it with anyone.

We had this detainee come into the ER. We had to remove all identifiers, and keep him separated from all of the other patients. Guess who was the lucky medic that was on docs shit-list that got to take care of him? Oh yeah, that be me! That idiot swallowed a spoon, probably to get out of containment. So, my task? Vitals, get him to drink the fizzy liquid for the x-ray. He came in with the blackout shades. We got him settled, restrained to the bed, removed the glasses. Asshole let me do his vitals just fine. I hated the way he smiled at me. Then, I explain that he has to drink the liquid, and why, blah blah… He says he understands. He starts to drink. He tells his guard that he needs “the nurse,” aka “me.” I go in, and this fool spits all over me. I see RED. I wanted to hit him. No, I wanted to take his guards gun and end his pathetic life. Why is he detained? Don’t care, kill him! I snatch the drink away, and leave. The guard is apologizing, everyone is like, “What happened? What’s wrong?” I want blood. I go back in and tell him, “You drink this now, or else.” He drinks, we do x-ray, he leaves.

Another impactful story I had at the ER was this John Doe, Air Force, no more than 20-years-old, dog walker. He was a beautiful kid. Reminded me of what Aiden would look like at like 19. His dog was a bomb-sniffer. I guess not a good one, because the poor boy stepped on an IED, lost both of his legs. He got to us, alert, telling us everything that happened. If only I got his name… He was so worried about his dog. His dog ran off as soon as they got to the flight line, he was spooked… “They’ll find your dog,” I assured him. In my head I was thinking, You’re in the fight for your life, and you’re worried about a damn dog? You need to live baby boy! He was so beautiful. He was biracial for sure. Curly, kinky hair, greenish-hazel eyes, like Jaide had when she was born. He was just beautiful. When I looked at him, I swore I was looking at Aiden in the future. I wanted to keep talking to him. It meant he was alive. I don’t know why I didn’t ask him his name. I wish I had. We had to get him into surgery though, he had lost both legs. We told him. He said “Okay.” We intubated him. He flatlined. We worked on him. And worked on him. And worked on him. I had to go. My ride had arrived, my shift was over. I was hesitant to leave, but I left. Knowing that he would either be in the ICU in the morning, or at least in Lundstuhl, they had to bring him back. It was a long night… The next morning, I looked for him. He wasn’t in the ICU. I asked the nurse where he was, she “didn’t know who I was talking about.” I went and checked to see if he went to Lundstuhl – there had been no flights. He died. It just dawned on my that I should have gone to the morgue, I could have gotten his name. Now, I’m searching the lists trying to find him… Hoping my memory of his face won’t fail me. His death was when it dawned on me: life here in the states goes on. While we were over there risking our lives, fighting, dying. Our families were living, oblivious to the fight. His mother, wife/girlfriend, had no idea, that his life had ended. While they may have been angry that John Doe didn’t call when he said he would. Contemplating cheating, or breaking up. He was already in eternity. While they were going about business as usual. That’s when it hit me. Civilians don’t know what it’s like to risk your life.

Every mission I went on, I never knew if I would return. It became monotonous. I enjoyed the thrill. In Zanga-bad, the few foot patrols I went on, not sure if this step would end my life, or that one, was a pure adrenaline rush. I made it back alive. By God’s grace? Or by sheer luck? The world may never know. Sometimes I wish I had died out there, because there Jessica the went to Afghanistan is not the Jessica that returned. I lost her somehow. I will never be who I once was. To take another human’s life, and to find some sort of pleasure in doing so – does that make me a bad person? I can justify it. It was war. I have never killed again. I have purposely not had a weapon. Although, I just purchased a .38 special. Beautiful little hand piece, lightweight, minimal recoil. Ignite the serial killer within. Just kidding. I’ll attack only if I feel threatened (I hope).

We were on a convoy, and I was sitting by a window, and we took fire, and the window by my head was hit, and the glass shattered. Now this was thick glass, it was supposedly impenetrable. Impenetrable my ass. That got me. We couldn’t get PID (positive identification) because there was a large crowd, so we couldn’t counterattack. I was pissed. Then, those damn children throwing rocks and shit at us… I manned the gun one day… I pointed the gun at a kid, and he pressed his body against a house, and tried to “hide” all the way around the house, hahaha! I followed him with the weapon until he was out of site. That little bastard didn’t mess with us again. Still makes me laugh when I think of the fear I must have put in that little kid. To have a .50 caliber weapon trained on you, and following you, must be pretty scary! Especially if you’re a kid. I hated those damn kids.

We were in some sticky situations on those convoys. I hated getting stuck places, but sometimes, it was a blessing. Back in 2012, they were blowing up our fuelers, and ambushing us. We had just switched over and started doing a different route, where we went to the Zabul Province: FOB Lagman and Apache, Wolverine and Viper. We were leaving Apache, making great timing. Another convoy was leaving as we pulled into Apache. We get unloaded, eat, load back up, and head out. The convoy before us was attacked. There fueler was caught on fire, many civilian casualties. Body parts all over the road. Hand here, leg there, foot over there. Body pieces every where. We are told to sit – hang tight. The road is blocked, fire still burning, we’re sitting ducks. It’s dark out. No street lights, because we’re in fucking Afghanistan. This truck filled with Afghanies drives through our convoy and they all hop out and flank our convoy. Hidden very well by bushes on one side, and the mountain on the other. Two, we see have RPGs.

“Shoot them!” my response.

“We can’t just shoot them.”

“Why not? They have RPGs, and they are aimed at us.” That’s intent!!

Everyone is hesitant. Not me… I’m trigger happy and ready. An RPG will go directly through one of our vehicles. And this is where I die. Time to make my peace with God. I can’t even pray. At that point, I was so engulfed in sin, I don’t even care. I wanted to die anyway. The convoy commander is like, “Uh… Let’s turn around and go back to Apache.” So, we turn around, go back to Apache, and stay there for 3 days. Mind you there had just been a shooting at Apache where the ANA (Afghanistan National Army) who share the FOB with friendlies, turned on US forces, and killed 7 of our troops, who happened to be in my unit. Do we really want to stay there for 3 days? Are we any safer there? HAH! Sure, OKAY!! In any case, it was a welcome break. I think I slept for those three days. I didn’t do anything at all. I don’t think I even went out of the tent to eat. I maybe showered once.

Maybe I’m too sensitive. Maybe I’m too whiny. I had a lot of fun times. I am not complaining about my time in Afghanistan. I have so many more stories to share, but I can’t without making myself look bad… Or worse than I already have… Ever since I returned from Afghanistan, I have had this sick compulsion to picture log the sick fucks that wear hijabs and thwabs. Here in the Seattle area, we are surrounded by Muslims. I hate it. Makes my heart pound just seeing them. I want to put a bullet in their skulls – even the kids. I am filled with hatred. They have meetings at a local rec center that we take the kids to swim at on Sundays with my job. You can just imagine the hatred that builds up inside of me. I saw a therapist at the VA for a while. I quit going… He suggested that I come up with “logical stories about what they are doing instead of assuming the worse.” Eh, NO! Haha… I simply cannot. They hate us, I hate them. I cannot compromise that. I hate the children most of all. With the terrorist attacks, and ISIS sympathizers, I simply cannot… I have stopped taking pictures… The only reason I stopped was because it was getting out of control. My compulsion was getting the better of me. I was on an outing with the kids at my job, and couldn’t help myself… We were at Value Village. One kid saw me, and he goes “What are you doing?”

“Coping.”

“You took a picture.”

“Yup.”

“You didn’t have their permission.”

I look at him for too long, because who cares, it’s like taking the picture of a dog, who asks a dog for permission. “Sorry if I offended you.”

I did think about what he said. I also didn’t really care, but when I went on vacation, and there were so many at Disney, and I realized my dad was hecka uncomfortable. I had to stop, haha.

All these years later, and I still hate. All these years later, and I still thirst to kill again. To shoot and kill, with the intent to kill is a feeling I cannot describe. I have wanted to become a cop for that very reason, to be able to kill. Is that bad? Cops are not supposed to kill, but that is why I want to be one… I will never become one. My motives are all wrong. At this point, I do not think I could even pass the psychological test… Nah, jk, I could. I don’t know if it is PTSD. That’s what they tell me. No one comes back from war the same. How can they expect me to come back from war, having been through everything that I have been through, never once having talked about it, and not having these feelings? I am fine most of the time. My battles are in my mind. My battles are in my dreams. Those dreams from which I cannot wake. They take me back to war. In those dreams I die. In those dreams, I cannot escape. In those dreams, I am stuck. Sometimes, I want to go back. If I go back, I don’t want to return. So many lost their lives. It isn’t fair. Why was I spared? I had close calls. Instead, I am stuck to battle my mind. I am stuck wondering why? I am stuck with these invisible wounds that show no signs of healing.

 

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