On June 17th, 2007 I was shot in both of my legs by a sniper in an Ambush in Iraq. I was 19 years old at the time. I heard the loud crack of a rifle and fell to the ground. Before I hit the ground I blacked out. A couple of minutes went by and I woke up on my back with my dismount applying tourniquets to both my legs. I was shot in my femoral artery and the window to stop the bleeding was very small.
After the tourniquets were applied, I began to feel like I was going to die. Every time I took a breath, it felt like there wasn’t any air coming back into my lungs. People were talking to me, but I couldn’t hear what they were saying. It was all a blur of lips moving and hands waving back and forth in front of my face to keep me awake.
“If I go to sleep, all of this will go away” I thought to myself. My body felt really weak and all I wanted to do was go to sleep. I couldn’t catch my breath, I couldn’t stop crying, and I thought that I was going to die at any moment. Luckily due to our medical training my platoon was able to stabilize me, saving my life in the process.
After 14 surgeries, 3 months in the hospital, and 3 years of physical therapy, I made a recovery. After recovering such a gruesome injury I felt like I was invincible. I lived with this superman like mentality: I survived getting shot by a sniper, nothing can kill me. Well...fast forward to 2020.
This year the Coronavirus has devastated the entire world. Medical experts stated what we can do to protect ourselves: stay inside, wear a mask, maintain 6 feet of distance from others. I didn’t pay attention to any of it. I survived getting shot in Iraq, I wasn’t worried about a little virus. Even when I developed a cough in May I didn’t pay it any attention.
The month of June is always very emotional for me. I celebrate my “alive day”, which is me celebrating being alive after surviving my traumatic event in Iraq. It is a month filled with exaggerated PTSD symptoms for me. I know this isn’t true, but I can’t help but think that my sniper didn’t kill me in 2007 so that he or she could kill me later in my life. I feel haunted by someone who comes around every June not to do me harm, but to remind me of their presence and let me know they could finish the job at any time.
June 20th my cough was very severe. Previously, I was drinking cough syrup to make the cough go away. Throughout the day, my cough got worse. Every time I coughed, it felt like there wasn’t any air coming back into my lungs. Still thinking that I was Superman, I ignored these signs. I went to the gym to do cardio! No mask, no regard for others in the gym, no regard for my own health at all.
After about 20 minutes I had to stop working out. My cough had gotten worse and it felt like there was no air coming in at all. I scrambled to find the closest COVID testing site near me. It was 6pm and all of the rapid testing sites in my area closed at 7. Suddenly, Superman was becoming weaker and weaker. I didn’t want to, but I had to drive to the VA hospital which is a 40 minute drive away from where I live.
I drove on the shoulder of the road because it felt like I was going to pass out. After the 40 minute drive I made it to the VA. They took my temperature and asked me if I was experiencing any COVID symptoms. I had a temperature of 102.8 and I could barely talk. All I could do was shake my head yes or no. I was rushed to a section of the hospital where they triaged COVID patients. That’s when I had a meltdown…
I began to shake and I couldn’t stop crying. Suddenly, it was June 17th, 2007 all over again. There were people talking to me, but all I could see was their lips moving. My entire body was hot and I had the same sleepy feeling that I had after being shot in 2007. This was it, I was going to die right there in the hospital. The sniper had finished the job without even shooting me again. “I’M HAVING A PANIC ATTACK! HE’S GOING TO KILL ME” is all I could scream in the hospital room.
The doctors were confused. These weren’t symptoms of COVID. As I panicked, I thought of anything I could do to calm myself. It took some time, but I thought of the “Mindfullness Coach” app developed by the Department of Veteran Affairs. I downloaded the app earlier this year to help me deal with high stress situations. I pulled my phone out and just started taping until a calming voice played, giving me instructions to relax and control my breathing. After 10 minutes I was able to control my breathing and communicate with the nurses.
Nurses were finally able to take my blood and give me a COVID test. My results came back negative, but the doctors stated that many patients test negative the first time and positive after another test. I quarantined in my room and took some time to reflect on my “Superman” complex. Even during a pandemic Superman must adhere to the medical advice of experts to avoid getting sick and making others around him sick.
I’ve been lucky enough to connect on Twitter with some of the team who worked on the Mindfullness Coach app. I’d highly recommend it for any veteran who lives with PTSD and need help coping with their symptoms. I’d also highly recommend listening to the medical experts who work around the clock to keep us safe from Coronavirus.