In 2010, I experienced a vascular occulusion in my left hand due to a medical procedure gone wrong. My husband was active military, so I spent 2 months working with a hand specialist at the San Diego Naval Hospital receiving the best care possible. However, it required me to be among the other patients in the orthopedic unit. For weeks, I sat with injured veterans. Most of them lost more than one limb, experienced facial deformities from burns, or had multiple deep and prominent scars. Day in and day out, I saw so many military personnel, mostly Marines and soldiers, coming to the unit for physical therapy, being fitted with multiple prosthetics, and having to re-learn how to walk, talk, or move their bodies in some way.
At the end of my treatment, I was having five stitches removed from my wrist in a room that appeared to be more of a sports athletic room than a hospital. It had four long tables and each was shared by multiple patients. There were no curtains that separated the tables, so privacy was not granted. I was surrounded by soldiers and Marines. The Marine on my left had the majority of his right hand removed and one technician was removing his stitches, gloating over how wonderfully stitched what was left of his hand was and how proud she was of it. The soldier on my right lost his left leg and his left arm, and his right arm was severely damaged. He was stitched from his wrist to his shoulder, and a large abscess infected his forearm. His wife held their young son in her arms as she struggled to understand all the directions the doctor was providing. The soldier behind me had so much of his right thigh removed, and the scar that was left appeared as though a great white shark had almost bitten him into two. As I sat, the potent smell of betadine filled the air and I felt faint. Although I’m not sure if the medicine was the only thing that made me feel faint.
It was when another Marine entered the room in a wheelchair with a long scar along his neck, was trying to move his left hand with all of his might and unable to do so, that I realized how easy it is to take for granted human faculties and good health. I sat, looking at my husband, feeling ridiculous for having such a minor injury, and continuing to appreciate those that serve and I was never so humbled.
—Kristin Wilkinson, Navy Spouse (personal communication, 2010)
For 2–3 hours in one day, alter your physical appearance (e.g., use crutches, use one hand or one leg, wear a blindfold or earmuffs/ear plugs, dishevel your appearance, or do not talk) to get a sense of what active duty military personnel who have been wounded by a physical injury or disfigurement might experience. If you currently have a disability, please share an insight you might have about the experience of physical trauma for active duty military personnel. Include in your report what the experience was like for you. Did you experience frustration. If so, why? Explain any insights you might have gained about what the experience might be like for a returning veteran and how it might impact his or her family.
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