Subject: Sgt. Paul Podhorn Military Career, Disability, and Injury Summary
Here is a story of the day I got shot.
I knew when I woke up on Friday, August 26th the day just felt strange. Like every day in Iraq, I started with calling my wife on Skype. The internet was in and out and we were never able to say good bye. I headed to the truck and prepped for our mission. My troop and I ate breakfast at the chow hall and then headed out for mission. I realized once I left I had forgotten my good luck charms. I always carried a letter from my wife, a good luck coin from the under secretary of the army, and several family pictures. My routine felt strange; in the back of my head I knew something was wrong. The mission began on time and everything seemed to be going well. The town we were in was so quiet. It was unnatural. We knew something was going to happen.
Then I heard a loud crack and honestly thought I had heat stroke. Little did I suspect, I was shot in the head by a sniper. I felt so hot and my vision began to tunnel. My environment began closing in on me. As I started to come back into consciousness, I saw my dismounts’ panicked eyes fixated on me. He was calm and collected but his sweat dripped on my forehead. The next thing I remember was the medic wrapping my head. I wasn’t sure what was happening and I didn’t understand why so many people crowded around me. The next thing I remember, I woke up at the field hospital at our FOB to a pounding headache and the medical staff moving furiously about me. I still didn’t understand what was happening to me, all I knew was my head felt like it was on fire and I wanted to get back to finish up the mission with the guys. When I woke up at Adder, the doctors were explaining what had happened but I couldn’t comprehend what they were saying. I just couldn’t accept it. They kept asking me to move my right leg and hand but I couldn’t move or feel either. I wanted to call my wife, I wanted to tell her I was ok. I knew she would be worried because we missed our evening call. When we finally got to talk she was so relieved to hear my voice, I knew a huge burden was lifted off her shoulders but I could still sense the worry in her tone.
Later I found out that she had been notified of my injury while driving home from school. She told me she knew that day that something was wrong. When she didn’t receive a call, she could only fear the worse. They told her to be prepared for the severity of the injury. That I was in critical condition and she may be flown to Germany at any minute.
After a 9 and half hour surgery at Adder, I was flown to Germany for further evaluation. There I was notified by the doctor that I had hemiparises or even hemipeligia, a paralysis to the right side of my body caused by my head injury and it could take as long as two years before I would walk again and I might never regain full use of my right hand. This took my breath away, I couldn’t believe this was happening. I always knew something like this was possible, but you just never imagine it happening to me. After the doctor left, my nurse came back to sit with me. I knew I had to be strong for my family, but it was still a shock. I called Karen and told her everything was going to be alright. Not to worry about me, that I would see her soon. The last few days are very hazy, but I do remember being so excited when one of the nurses brought me bite size Twix. He had to open the package for me, but I couldn’t wait for that little bit of joy. I was so lucky to have such great medical care.
After a long, slightly uncomfortable flight back to the States, I was wheeled on a bed into my room at BAMC. Karen was waiting for me, but before I even saw her, I could smell her perfume. I knew she was there for me and I was so overwhelmed with happiness knowing that everything was going to be okay. She was crying, but I was so happy I was with her. I can understand her concern and tears. From Karen’s point of view, I looked so weak. My head was bandaged with a drainage tube to relieve the pressure in under my skull with the collection bag resting on my chest. I had several IV’s and could only imagine how horrible it must be to see someone you love in such a devastating state. The first night at BAMC I was in the ICU. I was in decontamination still because my test had not come back yet. The next day I was moved to a regular room. They told me I would be at BAMC as an inpatient for about a month, then I would be moved to an inpatient rehab facility and later be back at BAMC for outpatient care. I probably wouldn’t be home for 6 months to a year. This was unacceptable to me. I was and still am determined and motivated to recover faster than anyone can predict.
The first week at BAMC was tough, but so rewarding. Within 4 days of my injury I forced myself to stand on my own two feet. I shuffled with the help of a cane to the restroom. I felt like the King of the World. Like I could do anything, with each step my confidence grew. I knew at that moment I could do this. I was invigorated. Everyday I pushed a little harder. I wanted to walk on my own, I wanted to use my hand, shave my face, brush my teeth, and dress myself. I knew I could do it, it was just going to take time. Karen supported me all the way. She helped bath me, dress me, and feed me. Everything. It was like I was a 200 pound infant that she had to take care over. After this, I am guessing we will be able to manage children just fine.
The whole time I was going through test after test, evaluation after evaluation. And every time, each exam was coming back with better and better results. Over and over I heard the doctors and nurses say it was a miracle.
I ended up being an inpatient at BAMC for 4 days before I was transferred to an inpatient rehab facility. I told them in the beginning I would be out of here in no time. At the rehab facility in Austin I gave myself a new goal. They told me I would be there for 2 months, I said 1 month. They said to get comfortable, because it would be a while before I got home. Everyday I would set new goals for myself. Today, I am going to give a thumbs up. Tomorrow, I am going to pick my favorite jelly beans out of my Jelly Belly cup, seems so simple, but it was so so hard. Everyday I pushed myself. Karen pushed me. We would lay in bed after a busy day of Occupational, Speech, Physical and Behavioral therapy working on my right hand motions. Karen would rub my hand and fingers and I would try to touch each finger to my thumb. Little exercises that were so exhausting, but so necessary for my recovery. Finally 12 days later they said I was finished at the rehab facility.
I was released to outpatient at BAMC. Once there they told me it would be another 6 months before I could go home. I said 3 months. I truly knew I could do this now. I was going to be home by Christmas. Through hard work and perseverance, with the help of all the doctors, nurses, therapists, my case manager at BAMC, my wife, my parents, my sisters, my army brothers, I met my goal and then some. My orders were cut to go home on December 13th. I got to spend Christmas with my family. I have never been this thankful to be home for Christmas with my family.
Every day is a challenge. Everyday I force myself to eat with my right hand, I slowly tie my shoes, and zippers have become my worst enemy. Buttons, my arch nemesis. It is all the little things that are so overwhelming. The minute details that everyday people execute without a thought in their heads. And then I wake up and I know how lucky I am. I see my wife’s face and euphoria sets in. She is always there for me and I will do everything I can to be back to 100% for my wife and family.
PLEASE HELP US WITH THIS EFFORT. WITH YOUR CONTRIBUTION YOU ARE HELPING THE PODHORN FAMILY GET INTO THEIR NEW HOME.
Participate in our 5-K run in Harker Heights, or donate directly to the Texas Sentinels Foundation (http://texassentinels.org/contribute/) To support this effort, please type “SGT Podhorn” into the comment box.