Steven Alive Day
Steven D.’s Story
It all started when we were driving down a poorly maintained road in western Iraq. I was the A driver, the front passenger, in an unarmored humvee. Not all our humvees were like that—just this one, because the armor weighed us down too much. We were the lead truck in the convoy and drove at a pretty fast pace. Marines call the lead truck the suicide truck because usually during an ambush the first vehicle always gets hit, and since it’s unarmored, the chances of you making it out aren’t very good. I was listening to the radio and at the same time watching the road for any signs of Improvised Explosive Devices. Almost like a scene from a sci-fi movie, time froze. There was nothing. I couldn’t talk or see anything: Then slowly the only thing that came back was sound and some feeling. I touched my face that was covered with blood while hearing people yell and scream. The only thing I remember them saying was “Diaz! Diaz! Diaz is down. He needs help!” To this day, I don’t know exactly what happened to me and my friends don’t like it when I ask them to tell me the story, but I did get some things from them to help me remember.
After the explosion happened, my corporal, who was driving, tried to move the humvee off the road. His name was Corporal Jahala; he was short, dark skinned, and always felt like he had something to prove, but nobody ever knew how to say his name so we just called him Corporal J. We met up later on after the attack and he told me that when the bomb went off, pieces of shrapnel shot into the humvee and ricocheted inside. He said it looked like fireworks because of the sparks when the shrapnel hit something metal. But it was no show; the shrapnel that didn’t hit metal hit us. There was blood everywhere. Corporal J was struck in his arms and right leg. He’s not able to walk like he used to. In between J and myself was Lance Corporal Jordan, a tall white goofy guy from somewhere in middle America; Jordan was manning the machine gun that was on the humvee’s turret. Since only half his body was exposed in the humvee, he only took damage to his legs and the lower part of his arms. I took the majority of the blast, which was relieving because I knew that if I had it the worst, then nobody died. My body acted as a shield not only to the guys up front, but also to the other two Marines sitting behind us. Those Marines only got hurt from flying rocks and other debris. They got to stay and finish their time in Iraq.
The shrapnel that bounced around hit my head, arms, and legs. One piece entered my left eye and bounced from the bones in the eye socket into my right side of the brain. A large part of the right side of my head is made of plastic. Since the shrapnel was making my brain swell, the doctors had to remove a part of my skull and couldn’t put it back, so they made a replica of the skull with plastic. They let me keep the bone they took out and I basically carry it around with me wherever I go. My arms weren’t injured too severely. They just were peppered by the shrapnel, and to this day, there are still metal fragments coming out of my arms. My left leg had to have a fasciotomy done on it. I don’t know what that is, but I have a huge scar from it. My right foot took major damage. It required over ten surgeries, one bone graph, two skin grafts, and many other reconstructive procedures. I don’t remember what happened after the blast other than hearing it and touching my face, but I’ve put pieces of the story together with what little information I’ve gathered.
When the rest of the convoy saw what happened, word got passed down to our lieutenant, who was in charge of us. He gave the order to leave us where we were. Maybe he was scared of an ambush, or he thought we were all dead. One sergeant from our platoon disobeyed the order and went to help us. He then saw that we were still alive so he called from the corpsmen, or medics, to come help us. When the corpsmen got the call, they raced up the convoy to our rescue but somehow ran out of gas. I’ve been told that when they finally got to me, I was still conscious but suffering from shock, after which I fell into a coma for about a week or more. I was medevaced from the scene to a trauma center in Iraq, and from there I was flown to a military hospital in Germany; lastly, I was taken to the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.
NNMC is the place where I woke up. One second I’m in a scorching hot desert, and another I’m tied down to a hospital bed with tubes coming out of my mouth and arms. I was eventually released from the intensive care unit and spent a lot of time in the surgical wards. I spent a total of one year and eight months at the hospital. During that time I had to see many different doctors to assist me with all of my injuries. Since I had a traumatic brain injury, the doctors were all scared that I might have suffered from brain damage. They ran many tests on my head, and I had to be seen by several different neurologists. Once I was able to get out of bed, I had to learn how to walk again with the help of trainers who came to my room almost on a daily basis due to the fact that I spent three to four months stuck on a bed, and my muscles were getting weak. Even though I could walk, I still had to use crutches and a wheelchair at times to get around because of the foot surgeries I was having. Besides my brain and feet getting worked on, my eye was a different story. Since the damage I received to my eye was so intense, there wasn’t much the doctors could do for it; to this day I’m still waiting for the chance to regain vision.
I was truly scared. I never before felt so much fear like I did during my recovery. I finally realized I was given another chance at life, a clean slate. God didn’t want to take me yet because he had a plan for me. Ever since the accident, I’ve tried to live my life differently than the way I had before. I will never be the same again mentally or physically. For those of us who pulled through the brink of death from our injuries, we lived to die another day. We call it Alive Day. It’s our second birthday, another day we will never forget. My Alive Day is March 25, 2005, the day I lived again.