On June 1, 2010 I walked into a patient room with a very bad attitude.
JC was 26 years old and here as a new patient. My message on the schedule said “chronic pain—needs meds.” I groaned internally and had a dissertation in my brain about these “young drug seekers”. I was annoyed that this “one” was going to waste my precious time.
Like the overly important doctor I am not, I tore into the exam room white coat blazing behind me.
Without looking up from the paper I made a cursory introduction and put out my hand.
Something about his grip made me look up.
It was then that I met the eyes of a handsome, clean shaven young man. He shook my hand and said “Nice to meet you M’am.”
“M’am.” I knew at that moment I had him all wrong.
It turns out, JC is an Iraq War Veteran. In 2006, he was shot through the leg, abdomen, and rectum.
20 plus procedures later, he was alive but left with a scar that extended from his breast bone to his pubic bone. He has nerve damage in his foot. The colon resection, colostomy, and reversal have left him with chronic and unremitting abdominal pain.
Pain that would put you and I on the floor. For JC, he grudgingly takes the occasional pain pill. A pain pill my arrogance and bigotry would have withheld from him.
As JC told me his story, he was unremorseful and unflinching. Fighting back tears (how professional would my weeping have been,) I lifted his shirt. The visual impact of his scars cannot be translated using words. I have seen some horrific looking things in the 15 years since graduating med school. But, nothing, nothing sticks with me like the sight of JC’s twisted, scarred abdomen.
Answering my unspoken question he said “I did what I had to do.” He is not sorry for himself or bitter about being put in harms way.
Instead, he is grateful to be alive and home in the great country he risked his life protecting.
Now consider this, JC and I both celebrated birthdays on November 6. He turned 28 and I turned 41.
On November 6, 1983, I was celebrating becoming a teen and entering into what would be the most selfish years of my life. He was taking his first breath and entering into a life where selfless service would be given without hesitation.
On this Veteran’s Day, I thank JC and every other veteran for making the ultimate of sacrifices everyday.
Thanks for leaving home and family so that mine are secure. Thank you for looking death in the face so that we may sleep comfortably in our beds. And specifically to you JC, thank you for teaching me to look up.
Note: given the personal and identifying details in this story, I called JC to ask his permission before posting. Once again, without a spark of hesitation or selfishness he said “Yes M’am. No problem and thank you.” No, no JC, thank YOU.