The headline in the paper catches me by surprise. “Iraq War Officially Ends.” With all the speculation leading up to the Invasion 10 years ago, the debate over weapons of mass destruction, then the shock and awe invasion, the fall of Bagdad, the Mission Accomplished banner, the resulting urban combat, the ICDs, flags flying at half mast. The Jessica Lynch story, the Iraqi prison scandal, the capture of Saddam, more urban combat and ICDs, more flags flying at half mast, it seems odd that the war is over just like that. There are no celebrations I know of, no couples kissing on Main Street, nothing seems to have changed. It is on the front page right there, but it has all the impact of a story buried deep in the paper. It is over? Was there a big battle we won or did we just decide enough is enough?
We get dispatched to the VA for a patient seeking detox. There are Christmas decorations in the lobby. A staff member wears a Santa hat. The doctor fills us in on our patient. The man admits to drinking a fifth of vodka a day. He apparently drinks nonstop. He is seeking detox. A nice man, the doctor says.
The patient, wearing brown fatigues, is sitting in a chair in the exam room. He is a giant – I’m guessing six six, two forty – but he struggles to get up from the chair. His body is stiff and his face contorts with pain as he moves. He hasn’t had a drink for three hours now, and already I can see the shakes in his big hands. We help him on the stretcher and try to get him comfortable. He says laying flat is best. He seems tense. I can see scars along his head and neck. He tells me has four purple hearts. He points out where shrapnel is still in his body. I ask him questions about the war. He was in both Afghanistan and Iraq. He was says he was part of an elite team that was there even before the invasion. He talks about dressing up like a sheik, wearing his beard long, gathering information. He tells funny stories about giving suitcases of heroin and bottles of Viagra to war lords for information. He had been in the army since he was he was 18. Almost twenty-five years.
For him he says it was all about his men. He has no interest in politics. Whether Washington or the chieftains he bribed for information and support, he says the nature of politicians is to change with circumstances to ensure their own survival. His loyalty was to his men, but with his injuries, he says he is of no use to them anymore. He is out now on 100% disability. “I haven’t been home but for two days since I got out,” he says. “I couldn’t stay there and let them see me like this. I live on the road now. I’ve got pain constantly and I can’t close my eyes without nightmares. I never drank till I got out. Now I can’t stop. I need help bad.”
I give him some fluid to ease the dehydration and 2 milligrams of Ativan to help with the withdrawal symptoms.
At the hospital, he thanks me, and I quickly thank him.
The paper can say what it wants. War doesn’t end.