John awoke to blinding light, and incredible pain everywhere. His eyes burned horrible from the light, so he shut them and groaned. He tried to open them, but it hurt too badly so he compromised, and opened them to slits, just barely keeping his vision. This didn’t hurt too badly, so he slowly opened his eyes until he could stand to see. Once he had his eyes open, he realized that it wasn’t really blinding light, but a white ceiling. He tried to speak words, but his throat was incredibly dry and he could barely speak.
He looked to his left and saw a cup of water with a straw. He tried to reach for it, but his arm felt as if it was being pinned down by a thousand pound weight. As he struggled to lift his arm, he heard a new voice.
“Careful there, you might hurt yourself” a voice he didn’t recognize said.
John looked to the sound and saw a man wearing the telltale coat of a doctor. Immediately he had hundreds of questions.
“Where am I? Who are you? What happened? Why can’t I move?”
He rattled of questions as quick as he could.
The doctor smiled grimly.
“You are at the Duke Raleigh hospital in North Carolina. I am the doctor who has been looking over you for the past week, and I have some bad news.” He replied.
“North Carolina? How did I get here? And what happened?” John asked.
“You were airlifted from Camp Bastion, where you were stationed after your last assignment. They didn’t have the medical equipment to deal with your injuries there, so they airlifted you here as soon as they could. I’m afraid you were shot in three places, and considering you’re alive, you are very lucky. You were struck in the back, and it missed your spine by inches. You were also struck in the left shoulder, and it ricocheted off your collarbone and out of your armpit. The last shot was in your left knee, and It blew out of the bone. We operated as fast as we could once you got here, and probably saved your knee and arm from permanent paralysis. As it is, you probably won’t be able to move your arm for a few weeks, and you won’t gain full control for at least two months. After that, it may take a year, or longer to gain some strength back.” The doctor explained.
John was shocked into silence. The last thing he remembered before blacking out was pain in his arm and knee, but it couldn’t be paralyzing. Finally he got the nerve to ask the final question, the one he’d been dreading since he woke up.
“What happened to my team?”
The doctor sighed and looked down.
“PFC Macdonald Griffin is alive. He is lucky to be alive, considering he took a bullet to the head. But it only grazed him. He’s going to have some serious scars, but he will live.”
John sighed in relief.
“But…” The doctor said, and John was suddenly scared again.
“I’m sorry to inform you that you and Mr. Griffin were the only survivors. The rest of your squad was killed in action, and most died from blood loss or gunshot wounds.
The words hit John harder than any bullet ever could have. His mind immediately started denying it.
“No, that’s not possible. The vest should have stopped it, this is some sick joke right? Please god, tell me it’s just some sick joke, and that they are all hiding somewhere.”
His brain knew they were dead, but his heart refused to accept it. He tried to fight it, but the tears started rolling down his face.
The doctor watched with sadness as his patient took the news.
“There is an Army representative here to speak with you” The doctor said, and left.
Soon after, when John had finally collected himself, the Colonel who had briefed him stepped into the room and looked at him.
“I’m sorry for your loss” was the first word he said.
John could barely understand the words the man was saying. He was completely ignorant of anything the man said until he heard something interesting.
“Can you repeat that last part?” John asked.
“I’m sorry to tell you this, but the psychological trauma you have no doubt endured, and the physical limitations have made you unfit for duty. You are being honorably discharged, as is PFC Griffin. He has already been diagnosed with a severe case of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and he won’t be eligible for reenlistment.”
John was shocked into silence. His squad was dead, and now he wasn’t allowed to go back? How would he go on?
“The funerals for your squad members are being held in one week at Arlington. They will be buried with full military honors. A hotel room is already being prepared for you, and your plane tickets are in the bag by your bedside. A nurse has already been called, and she will be taking care of you, and running errands.”
John was shocked by this. Did the man think that he was helpless, like some old man?
“Sir, with all due respect, I don’t need some old lady looking over me.” John said, outraged.
“Don’t worry son, she will only be there to take care of you, and go out shopping. As I said, everything is in the bag.” The Colonel replied, then turned and left.
John slowly leaned forward and picked up the bag with his right hand. At least he was glad that he could still do things with his right hand. The bag was unremarkable, just a simple military style duffel bag. Inside the bag was:
Three plain black t-shirts, two US Army t-shirts, 5 pairs of exercise shorts that looked as if they would reach his knees perfectly, a disposable razor and shaving gel, some shampoo, two sets of running shoes, and 10 pairs of socks.
He checked the inside side pocket and found $500 in twenty dollar bills, and plane tickets set three days head.
Once he had taken inventory, he zipped it up and set it under the hospital bed, then slowly drifted off to sleep.