The Weight of War

The Weight of War

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Say Goodbye to Back Pain!

The Weight of War

It hurts so bad.

It started the day I was issued my body armor, which weighs 30 to 40 pounds alone. Include the rifle, pistol, additional ammo, water, and other assorted tools that the American soldier wears, and that gear can weigh anywhere from 60 to 100 pounds. Add in the fact that I only weigh 135 pounds and have a weaker-than-normal skeletal frame to begin with, and it’s no wonder I didn’t last a day before I crumpled to the ground under the weight of my gear.

It was fortunate that this happened at a training event; just a few months later, I’d be in Afghanistan, and collapsing in the middle of a mission would be disastrous. Instead, I was able to lie down until I could regain my strength.

A few days after my collapse, I was given improved armor that distributed the weight better over my whole body. But the damage was already done: my back would never be the same, ranging from bitter pain to utter numbness.

During my time in Afghanistan, my back became progressively worse. I had seen the military doctors a few times, but they weren’t able to offer much help other than specific stretches intended to release the tension in my spine and hip.

I woke up on Easter morning in the worst condition I’d ever been in, so I limped over to the Troop Medical Center. Specialist Chris Talbert was the medic in the TMC that day.

“Sergeant, where does it hurt?” he asked.

“I’m feeling pain at the bottom of my back,” I tried explaining, “and it shoots through my right hip and down the leg, stopping at the knee, but then striking again just below my ankle. But the ankle itself is numb.”

Spc. Talbert nodded his head and noted everything I had told him. It was a textbook case: I had a bulging disc, also known as a herniated disc, also known as a slipped disc, also known as a screwed-up back. By the end of my visit, I was given some painkillers to help me lie down at night.

Three months later, Spc. Talbert was dead. During a mission, his convoy rolled over an anti-tank mine. While several soldiers were there during the explosion, Spc. Talbert was the only one who didn’t walk away from the blast.

I survived the rest of my tour in Afghanistan, but I haven’t escaped its permanent effects on my body. At night, I’ll wake up and cry out in pain as my back will shoot tiny little bullets through my entire body, except for my left leg, which is spared because it is numb. When the pain is especially intense, I’ll get out of bed and stretch, just hoping that maybe some of the strain will be alleviated.

Once or twice, I’ve been tempted to feel sorry for myself. “If it weren’t for the Army, I’d be whole!” “Poor me. I’ll never be the same again.” Or, here’s my favorite: “Nobody understands how bad this hurts.”

But then I remember those soldiers who lost a lot more than I did. I remember Spc. Talbert who died while assisting others, just as he had assisted me. If at any time I am about to forget his legacy, I just whip out his handwritten medical assessment of my back and I am reminded of the greater sacrifices so many have given. What they would do to feel back pain again!

I still feel sore when I lie down at night. It still wakes me up, and I still cry out in pain. But you know what? If I can feel pain, then it means I’m still alive.

It hurts so good.

~ Sgt. Danger Geist ~

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