Will I Ever Be O.K. Again?

Home Fires: Five Iraq War Veterans on Their Return to American Life

June 11, 2007, 12:23 am

By Michael Jernigan
Like I said before, I was at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda. Md., when I first returned. This was an interesting time; I was on enough pain medicine to tranquilize a small militia. I had some very creative hallucinations. When I was still in bad shape my nurse left on Univision while I was sleeping. The next morning I woke up speaking Spanish.

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Published in: on June 13, 2007 at 11:21 pm  Comments (1)  

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  1. Like I said before, I was at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda. Md., when I first returned. This was an interesting time; I was on enough pain medicine to tranquilize a small militia. I had some very creative hallucinations. When I was still in bad shape my nurse left on Univision while I was sleeping. The next morning I woke up speaking Spanish. One night the N.B.A. draft was left on T.V. for the evening. When I awoke the next morning, I hired my brother J.P. as my agent. When you are drafted in the second round by the Dallas Mavericks you need an agent. My first instructions to him were to get me a Rolex. I had to fire him, as it has been almost three years and he has not gotten me signed and I still do not have my Rolex.

    There was a trip I took to the Senate dining hall with some of the other wounded marines to have lunch as a guest of Sen. Ted Stevens from the great state of Alaska. On the van ride there I was convinced that to our left there was a river and traveling down that river was an aircraft carrier following us launching jets as air security. I remember thinking to myself that that was awfully nice of the Secretary of the Navy to take my safety so seriously. While I was at lunch I kept seeing large beautiful staircases that were crowded with antique brass candlesticks.

    Within a few days of this trip I asked the anesthesiologist to take me off all that stuff because I could no longer handle the cloudy head. As my head got clearer, I was able to start concentrating on my rehabilitation. Just as a piece of advice, if you are ever hallucinating on pain medication, do not talk to Ted Kennedy — the man can be a buzz kill.
    After recovering at the National Naval Medical Center I was transferred to the V.A. hospital in Tampa, Fla. There I was evaluated and treated for my traumatic brain injury. I was only there for a few weeks and then I was released. I was able to go on convalescent leave in St. Petersburg, which is my hometown. During this time I was doing occupational therapy for my injured hand at the V.A. in Tampa. This is when I noticed that things were not as good as I thought they were.

    I was having trouble sleeping; I would sleep until late afternoon but would stay awake all night. I did not realize it but this is when I started to drop into a severe depression. It did not help that I had started drinking while taking all of my medication. I was having a very hard time trying to figure out what would happen to me now. Just a few months earlier I was a United States Marine serving in a war. I was a very physically fit and independent person but now I was dependent on my wife and family for everything that I needed to do. This was one of the hardest things that I had to deal with.

    I went back to the naval hospital for more surgeries on two separate occasions. The second trip is when I had my acrylic plate put in my forehead. It is always a good feeling when you can get your dome back. Before this surgery I walked around with an enormous dent in my skull. It made sneezing a very traumatic event. During this trip I had an opportunity to meet the president of the United States. Unfortunately I was still suffering from depression and would not get out of bed to walk across the street to meet my Commander in Chief. Contributing to my depression was the fact that as I was going under anesthetic, my wife left to fly to Florida for a job interview. She was not there when I woke up and did not return until the next day. The life threatening seriousness of this surgery had brought my mom, stepdad, and dad, as well as good friends from Oklahoma, to be at my side for support.

    The good news is it was also during this trip that I had decided to get counseling for all the problems I had. This was a large step in my life because before this time I felt there was nothing wrong. It takes a strong man to realize when there is something wrong with him; it takes an even stronger man to do something about the problems he has. Seeking out counseling and accepting the fact that I would never see again were two of the best things to happen to me at that time in my life.

    After recovering from this surgery, I returned home to St. Pete to convalesce for a few weeks prior to going to the Blind Rehabilitation Program at the V.A. Hospital in Augusta, Ga. I’ll talk some more about what followed in my next post.

    –>

    39 comments so far…

    *

    1.

    June 11th,
    2007
    8:08 am

    I found the description of the side effects of the pain killers fascinating – and good to know that if you’re on them Ted Kennedy is a buzz kill. You have not lost your sense of humor which is a very good thing. The visual of sneezing and blowing your top adds something to the theory that every time you sneeze you break the sound barrier. I’m a midwife, but reading the short blog makes me want to be a nurse so I can help.

    — Posted by alison e price
    *

    2.

    June 11th,
    2007
    10:26 am

    You are so right about the strength and courage it takes to seek help with distress and depression – so much more, in most cases, than it takes to seek help for physical ailments. I am so proud and happy for you that you had the strength and courage to do this – and thank you from the bottom of my heart for being an example to others. Bless you.

    — Posted by MCC
    *

    3.

    June 11th,
    2007
    12:19 pm

    In your quest for counseling make sure you check out the methods EMDR (eye movement desensitization reprocessing), SE (somatic expeeriencing, RSM (Rubenfeld Synergy) I work with people with PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) and have found that those methods help people the most. Good luck. My thoughts are with you. Betta

    — Posted by Elisabeth vanderKolk
    *

    4.

    June 11th,
    2007
    12:22 pm

    Sounds like Percodan at work. My grandmother had very similar hallucinations when she was combining Percodan with hot beer, which she spent most of the last decade of her life doing.

    — Posted by Edward
    *

    5.

    June 11th,
    2007
    12:28 pm

    Please add to earlier post.

    Anyway, it sounds incredibly hard, and you are right about your manhood. My hat is off to you, and we are lucky to have people like you in our country. I hope you get the support you deserve.

    — Posted by Edward
    *

    6.

    June 11th,
    2007
    12:34 pm

    As a professional in the brain injury field, I was very moved by Michael Jernigan’s narrative. I will be very interested to learn about the type of brain injury rehabilitation he is receiving and how well he and his family were prepared for the changes the brain injury has had on his personality and his life functioning. Brain injury is a devastating disorder which has profound inpact on the survivor and the family. It is my fervent hope that our wounded warriors and their families are receiving state of the art care both in the acute care seting and for as long as it takes back in their home communities.

    Marylin Copeland, MSW
    Brain Injury Asociation of Virginia

    — Posted by Marylin Copeland, MSW
    *

    7.

    June 11th,
    2007
    12:36 pm

    I started hallucinating during a hospital stay for pneumonia. I was on IV Cipro. I was convinced that I was secretly being taped for an episode of ‘Seinfeld’! It was very scary — hallucinating, I mean, not ‘Seinfeld’. I can’t begin to imagine what you’ve been through but can relate in this smallest of ways. Best always, & thanks for going out there & coming back home.

    — Posted by Arlene
    *

    8.

    June 11th,
    2007
    1:01 pm

    I want to wish you all the best please keep us posted on how you are getting on. msh

    — Posted by lisa
    *

    9.

    June 11th,
    2007
    1:59 pm

    When my husband was in the hospital convalescing from serious surgery – his second within a month – he spent about two hours one evening telling me about the party he wanted to give for his Aunt Mary, who had always been so good to him. He just wanted to show her how much she meant, introduce her to all our friends, and treat her to a great time. Totally lucid conversation, except that his Aunt Mary had died more than twenty years ago.
    Oh, yeah, you can have some strange fun with all that stuff they give you… Glad you got some help and yes, it takes a strong man to admit he can use it. I’m looking forward to hearing more from you; hope you keep writing after this series, you seem to have a gift for it.

    — Posted by JoAnn G
    *

    10.

    June 11th,
    2007
    2:00 pm

    Dear Corporal Jernigan

    I know I speak for others too when I say you’re in my thoughts and prayers and I look forward to reading your blog to see how you’re getting along. Thanks for the funny stories and for your courage in seeing the humor in these challenges wherever you can. I’d better get back to work now! All the best to you.

    — Posted by Caroline
    *

    11.

    June 11th,
    2007
    2:11 pm

    Well– it is sobering and traumatizing to read of your battle– no longer against the enemy but against the physical, emotional and mental demands of rehabilitation from your wounds of war. May you someday emerge from your depression and enjoy life to the fullest despite your disabilities. God bless you and guide you.

    You are a very strong inspiration for those of us who have fought the scourge of depression despite the lack of physical trauma. My own episode of depression was situational, and it subsided after I was divorced nearly six years ago. Actually, it got worse again about four mnonths after the divorce but then I received more talk therapy and medication and the depression went away and hasn’t returned. Permanently, I can only hope and pray. And I can tell you from my experience that depression feels worse in the morning with the day ahead of you. Late at night it seems to subside, but it’s waiting to hit you the next day when you awake [”diurnia”]. Don’t give up. It took about six different alternative meds and two therapists for me to get “right” again.

    And now I get up early and want to face the day. That’s the state you must attain.

    You are correct that most men, especially the military, will rarely admit to being depressed, and even rarer will they get the help they need. You are on the right path.

    –Mcleary

    — Posted by MIKE MCLEARY
    *

    12.

    June 11th,
    2007
    2:26 pm

    Michael,
    I enjoy your wonderful sense of humor. My Dad was a marine in WWII and Korea. He didn’t talk about his experiences very much – which I can certainly understand. I recall vividly when he was in the hospital having some surgery when he was much older talking about how a truck pulled up in the middle of the night and took everyone, except him, to a party. Similarly he noted to me that water flowed out of all of the pictures. He knew that the comment was silly, but said it was as real to him as anything.
    I enjoy your stories . . . harrowing as they often sound to this old timer . . . I marvel at your courage and spirit.

    — Posted by Bruce Vieweg
    *

    13.

    June 11th,
    2007
    2:26 pm

    _So many pills, so many pills. When in this life of ours will America accept the blessing of Homeopatics? The health industries due so well, thanks to the stress gained thru chemistry over the human body.

    — Posted by Alicia B.Saler – Limeres
    *

    14.

    June 11th,
    2007
    2:32 pm

    Not knowing if writing was a major portion of your life prior to your injuries, I suggest that you keep it up. You have a talent which may direct you in ways you have never thought of. Plus, it can be a very theraputic.

    — Posted by Jerry Bozeman
    *

    15.

    June 11th,
    2007
    2:44 pm

    I was in the Medical Corps in the Army and worked with pschologically troubled soldiers. Your article makes me proud to be an American even at this terrible time in our history. My only regret is that I don’t have enough money to buy you that Rolex and some ticketts to the Mavericks games.

    — Posted by Patrick L. Gogerty
    *

    16.

    June 11th,
    2007
    2:53 pm

    Yep, I think it was one of those Percodan-o-visions at work. My elderly mother had surgery about a year ago and was so completely convinced that the people in the hospital had given a party, for the whole hospital, (with dancing girls in green plastic raincoats) – in her tiny little hospital room, we had trouble convincing her otherwise. There was more, but ’nuff said.

    What a wonderful sense of humor you have! In my opinion that’s one of your survival skills that will serve you well. I’m a firm believer (first hand experience) that smiling/laughing when you don’t really feel like it can actually make you feel a bit better.

    With no political agenda on my part, you have my personal appreciation for serving all of us so well. Thank you so much!!! I’m hoping and praying that your military resources continue to help you. Can’t wait for the continued installment.

    — Posted by Kathy
    *

    17.

    June 11th,
    2007
    3:16 pm

    Michael — You should write more about this. You’re a good fresh clear writer with a unique sense of humor that reads well and movingly. Thank you for serving and having the courage to describe your experience for all of us.

    — Posted by kate
    *

    18.

    June 11th,
    2007
    3:34 pm

    I applaud you for your blog, your ‘guts’ in discussing what you are up against, what you have faced, and what is to come. We need to know more about our returning soldiers. Drugs can make your worlk a different place- good for you in recognizing that. It sounds though like you could use assistance in managing the ’systems’ you might be up against. Anyone to help you with this?

    — Posted by pris
    *

    19.

    June 11th,
    2007
    3:54 pm

    BLESS YOUR HEART!!! Obviously your sense of humor is still intact and thriving. Considering what you’ve been through, that makes you one heck of a very special and strong guy. Thank you for what you have done for all of us. You are a hero in every sense of the word. I’m thankful you’re home. Please keep us posted.

    — Posted by Barbara
    *

    20.

    June 11th,
    2007
    4:03 pm

    You are a true soldier–strong, courageous, never a quitter.
    I was in a (non-war) accident a couple years ago and am now a quadriplegic. I can relate to much of what you’re saying. Asking for help and being needy after a life of being independent is very tough. You’ll get back there, it just takes time. As someone else mentioned, your sense of humor is terrific and, in my opinion, a lifesaver. I have a wonderful and supportive wife and kids; laughing about this condition with them and not taking myself too seriously has lifted me through many otherwise self-pitying times. I have to say though, your hallucinations sound much more topical and entertaining than mine, which mostly involved dark figures from the underground.
    Stay strong, never give up — and keep us posted. You’re a great writer.

    Thank you for your service to our country,
    Dan L
    Springfield, Illinois

    — Posted by Dan L
    *

    21.

    June 11th,
    2007
    4:08 pm

    Only someone who’s been through it can add the little details that are so telling — like the sneezing. But it takes something special to see the funny side in a situation like this. What can I say? I hope Michael Jernigan keeps writing.

    Thank you.

    — Posted by Raj Iype
    *

    22.

    June 11th,
    2007
    4:23 pm

    My praise to you for sharing your story. Prayers for you are being sent. Thank you for the courage to seek help when needed. Too many of the people are afraid they will be called a “girlie-man”! How absurd to think such a thing. God Bless you in your recovery. DH

    — Posted by Doris
    *

    23.

    June 11th,
    2007
    4:33 pm

    God Bless you Michael!! I cannot imagine how hard things must be for you and your family. I hope that your postings offer some kind of therapy for you. I wish you and your family the very best. Hang in there!! Life will get better soon. Thank you for the extraordinary things you’ve done for this country.

    — Posted by Sean
    *

    24.

    June 11th,
    2007
    4:48 pm

    Michael, you are a heck of a guy. You’re the person that we all hope our children will be or we will be when undergoing trials and tribulations. I love that you have kept your sense of humour, I laughed out loud at Ted kennedy as a buzz kill. ted will probably laugh at that I imagine. You and your fellow soldiers inspire us all. I had 4 heart procedures in the last year, and fractured an ankle in the idst of all that. One day when I was feeling sorry for myself. i saw a feature on the evening news about wounded service men and women. At that point, you can only look at some of suffering and pain you folks have undergone and tell yourself, suck it up Denise, put on your big girl pants and stop feeling sorry for yourself.

    — Posted by Denise
    *

    25.

    June 11th,
    2007
    6:23 pm

    I find myself looking forward to your writing each week. You definitely have the gift; keep it up. And please let us all know if this ever becomes a book or a movie.

    In the meantime, hey, is there anyone out there from the Dallas Mavericks organization who can get Michael a Rolex and an honorary place on the team? He’s earned it, and something tells me he’d be just the writer to share such an adventure with the rest of us.

    — Posted by Peter
    *

    26.

    June 11th,
    2007
    6:42 pm

    I am hooked on reading your blog. Please keep it up and consider going further with it. You have a true talent. I will buy your book!
    I am in awe of you and all of our veterans…my husband dove under the bed for years everytime a car backfired. He was a Vietnam vet and never got the help that he needed. We ask you folks to into harm’s way but sometimes fail you when you come home.
    Enough of “serious”. Please keep blogging and keep us posted on how you are doing (and don’t forget about that book idea!).

    Betsy

    — Posted by Betsy Bunce
    *

    27.

    June 11th,
    2007
    7:55 pm

    Michael,
    Please keep on writing. That you can look at (your) life with such a humorous twist and write so clearly is truly a gift. You made me laugh outloud. Know that for every comment you receive, there are probably hundreds that are also cheering you on. And thank you for your service to our country.
    Donna

    — Posted by donna kavanagh
    *

    28.

    June 11th,
    2007
    10:00 pm

    I can empathize with your refusal to get out of bed to see the president. I was in a depression for 2 1/2 years, and during that time often could not get out of bed or off the sofa.

    Certainly your injuries caused the depression; and your courage to do all you can to overcome the results of your injuries, including your depression, is inspiring. I wish you the best of luck and hope to read future blogs about your recovery.

    — Posted by Jane
    *

    29.

    June 11th,
    2007
    10:30 pm

    Mike –
    Good to hear from you again. After reading your first post, I found myself asking how you could possibly have come through all that WITHOUT seeming to become depressed! Thanks for acknowledging and sharing all sides of this long, strange trip you’ve been on. It takes a strong man to do that. And your writing is wonderful. Keep it up. We all want to go down the road with you now.
    My vote for the Rolex and the team membership!

    — Posted by Ann
    *

    30.

    June 11th,
    2007
    10:31 pm

    Wow ! I just can’t get the window open quick enough when I see you are writing. Man, thank you so much, not only for your service but for the joy you are spreading.

    — Posted by rejenia
    *

    31.

    June 12th,
    2007
    1:46 am

    I need to laugh when my heart hurts. Your writing style has just the right mix. Aloha to your family; thank you for sharing your self, and please try to feel safe with us, ok? We’ll read you and be uplifted. Mahalo! Tammara

    — Posted by Tammara Lee
    *

    32.

    June 12th,
    2007
    2:38 am

    Michael,

    Thank you for sharing your experiences. Occasionally, I hear about some level of neglect by our government for troops returning from war. Perhaps you don’t wish for your postings to head in this direction, but I am curious to hear about if, when and where you discover shortcomings or other problems within the system. Best wishes throughout your recovery. Stay strong.

    — Posted by Chris Yurko
    *

    33.

    June 12th,
    2007
    8:58 am

    You have served us all
    and now you bless us
    with your humor and courage.
    I would never have a Mavericks
    cap on my head, but will
    doff my Pistons one to you!
    May you be blessed.

    Just don’t expect me to root for the Mavericks,
    if they become a threat to the Pistons!

    BR,Ken

    — Posted by Ken
    *

    34.

    June 12th,
    2007
    9:58 am

    As others have said here, this column is quickly becoming my morning “must-read.” Your writing is personal and flowing and I hope you keep up with it even after your column ends here. I hope you blog, then compile everything into a book. Your audience awaits.

    Do you know the author Barbara Kingsolver, author of Prodigal Summer? It was said that she wrote her first novel in the dark of a closet…she said, “If the Furies should take my freedom or my sight — I’ll go back to writing in the dark.”

    Awaiting your next entry…. = )

    — Posted by CarolynUpstate
    *

    35.

    June 12th,
    2007
    11:06 am

    You make me humble and proud at the same time. You are a true hero.

    — Posted by Marissa
    *

    36.

    June 12th,
    2007
    12:32 pm

    I admire your sense of humor, and the beginning just made me laugh out loud. I’m looking forward to your next post. Thank you for your service!

    — Posted by Kevin
    *

    37.

    June 12th,
    2007
    8:28 pm

    Michael,
    Thank you for your bravery and good spirit in this trying time. I am an occupational therapy student and hearing about what you have gone through makes me more passionate about what I am going to be doing. It would be an honor to work with you and other courageous individuals who have suffered while serving our country (no matter the political opinion, the suffering and courage is still the same) thank you again, and i enjoyed reading your blog, i just came upon it today.

    — Posted by Julia S
    *

    38.

    June 13th,
    2007
    1:34 pm

    Michael,

    I enjoyed the surreal humor in this post and how you use it to bring us things of great importance, things we can learn from.

    Looking forward to the next chapter.

    — Posted by Brian Turner
    *

    39.

    June 13th,
    2007
    3:18 pm

    Michael, besides being a great window into life after war, your entry was hilarious and entertaining. A great joy to read, thanks.

    — Posted by Chethan


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