Double Whammy

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: War and Military  |  House: Booksie Classic
A tale of a disabled war vet....learning that life after battle may be more frightening than the war itself...

Submitted: July 01, 2010

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Submitted: July 01, 2010

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Double Whammy
It was my own decision to enlist in the Army. I was eighteen, not interested in school and had no particular hobbies or good friends. The called me Billy;  Billy Hicks – a loner and a loser. My decision was made easier by my parents, with whom I didn’t get along. My friend Jimmy Tate had been in and out of trouble and had enlisted the week before. “I’m gonna see the world” he said. “Let’s go kick some middle-eastern ass,” he continued.
 
With nothing better to do, I consented.
 
After boot camp, I was immediately deployed to Iraq. That was August 2007. By October, I had been relocated to Afganistan. I was what they call “general infantry” and that meant I was in essence, the army’s army man. My primary activities included troop escort between base camps, usually under cover of darkness, and mortar patrol. Looking back, I’m not sure which task was more dangerous. 
 
The troop escort involved loading fifteen to thirty newly deployed troops in armored vehicles and relocating them to another site. We served as escorts for the “newbies” because we knew the roads, the location of our bases, and knew the communications protocols. That didn’t mean we were safe. Probably one in five trips involved casualties. 
 
The escort trip incidents usually involved roadside bombs or ambushes. I remember my first ambush. We were tightly caravanning six armored vehicles when a VW bus stopped in the middle of a cross street right in front of us. I was in the second vehicle. The side door of the bus opened and a Muslim with a rocket launcher blew the first armored vehicle to pieces.
 
Jimmy died in the blast that day. Mercifully, our radio request elicited immediate fighter jet support and within two minutes, the VW and it’s inhabitants were no longer an issue. Seven men in all, my army brethren, died in that ambush. 
 
We experienced similar atrocities on mortar patrol. Every day it seemed we lost good men to roadside bombs with intricate triggering mechanisms. I remember vividly the one that got me. I’d been on patrol for two months and thought I knew what to look for. It was ten in the morning and we’d been in the sun for an hour, almost the end of a shift. We were within two hundred yards of our stopping point when I spotted a crumpled up dollar bill. When I picked it up, it detonated twenty pounds of explosives about three feet to my right. That was the end of my combat duty. 
 
I was rushed immediately to the army hospital, a temporary Quonset hut building in the middle of the base. Upon arrival, they said I was in shock and had lost seven units of blood. My right lung was collapsed, I had lost complete hearing in my right ear, and I had shrapnel imbedded throughout the left side of my body. I found out later that I’d also lost my legs, literally. Two weeks after the incident, shortly after I was coherent, the doctor told me about my legs.
 
“Couldn’t you have reattached them doc?” I asked. 
 
“There was nothing left to be saved. They were shredded by the blast. I’m sorry Hicks.”
 
I was allowed to recover physically for eleven weeks in the Gaynor Rehab center next to the base hospital. It was during those eleven weeks that my worst maladies came to light. I was depressed and despondent. I couldn’t sleep at night. I had waking nightmares of ambushes and death, and felt that I was to blame for the outcome of many of the horrific incidents around me. I wanted to die more than anything, but couldn’t bring myself to do anything but lie there in my world of fear and anxiety – double amputee that I was.
 
The doctors said my situation was due to the loss of my legs. I would never walk again and there was nothing they or I could do about that. The fact was, I didn’t care particularly about walking. Hell, I didn’t care about living.
 
For my entire stay in Gaynor, they pumped me full of drugs to offset the excruciating pain in my phantom legs. Oxycontin and Demerol were my cocktails of choice. I found out later that these two medications, primarily used for serious pain, are highly addictive. I was jacked up higher than a kite most days, not caring what was going on around me. The more I complained the more junk they gave me.
 
After eight and a half months at war, I was sent home to “recover”. By now, I was a full-blown junkie. My parents met me and my wheelchair at the airport, and I think my mom was crying. They couldn’t believe their eyes. I had left as an eighteen year old kid with no plans for life and returned as a paraplegic junkie with no life left to live. I was slumped in my wheelchair, drooling all over myself. My eyes were bloodshot from dope mixed with a lack of sleep and I was not able to string a sentence together.
 
Mom and Dad immediately enrolled me in the Betty Ford Clinic for drug detox and rehab. The difficulty was that I still had real physical pain, so the withdrawal took longer than anyone expected. Over the course of four months, I was able to come to grips with my pain and was able to come clean from the pain killers. 
 
I came home and became a psychotic recluse at my parents’ house. Luckily, the master suite (now my bedroom) was on the ground floor and had an adjoining bathroom. I didn’t leave that room for eight weeks, and by the time I did, I was a physical and psychological wreck. When I got home, I weighed a hearty one forty-five (without legs). 
 
Eight weeks after my return, I was down to an anorexic ninety-five and dropping fast. My Dad took me directly to the VA hospital where I was diagnosed by a psychiatrist to have severe post traumatic stress disorder – not from the loss of my legs, but from the brutal deaths of my peers and enemies and my participation in such horrid war activities.
 
The doctor asked a lot of questions and made me relive a lot of events that kept me awake most nights. My anxiety, stress, and fear came through loud and clear and at our first meeting, the Doc prescribed fast-acting tranquilizers to help. Looking back on it, I was a recovering addict who was given a license to use a whole new set of junk.
 
That first prescription was for Alprazolam (Xanax) which I was to take twice daily.  The first pills didn’t cure my ills, but it did reduce my concerns for my surroundings and make my dreadful memories a bit fuzzy. The second meeting with the doctor resulted in an additional prescription for Clonazepam (Klonopin) which again prescribed daily usage.
 
Between the two benzodiazepine (benzo) drugs, I lost total track of my life. I was lethargic or asleep most of the day, and moody, even violent when awake. My parents watched my drug-induced downward spiral for six months and by that time, I was again a full-blown raging addict, with a first class ticket to the morgue.
 
As before, they sent my feeble emaciated core of a body back to the Betty Ford Clinic for my second detox. I was now a professional addict; Admitted twice, for two totally different types of drugs, and neither addiction my fault initially. Talk about a double whammy. I’d lost my legs and now I was the sorriest kind of prescription drug abuser you’d ever heard of.
 
This second detox was way worse than the first. The experts explained the addictive nature of “benzos” like Xanax and Klonopin and what would happen if I kept taking them. The withdrawal was so fierce, it almost killed me. The experts explained that in order to “kick the habit”, I would have to endure anxiety, stress and fear that would be far greater than the original symptoms I was being treated for. 
 
The second detox took six months and cost my parents most of their retirement savings. Without going into the details, I will say that I should have died during the detox, if only there was a way I could have made it happen. Looking back, it was the most horrific six months I’ve ever experienced, and made my actual war time horrors pale by comparison. I endured every day expecting and hoping it would be my last, but slowly I started to get better.
 
Today, I am not cured, but I am continuing my recovery. I am as healthy as a paraplegic can hope to be after what I’ve been through. I still live with my parents, eat reasonably well, sleep ok, and am able to take care of myself. I am fortunate to have secured a job as a counselor at the VA hospital for veterans with PTSD. I’m far from perfect health mentally and physically, but it helps to talk about it daily. I truly understand the atrocities of war. My mission is to stress that the road to recovery, with or without the drugs will be a long one for many veterans, and that the drugs can be more dangerous than the initial symptoms….


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