WALTER REED NATIONAL MILITARY MEDICAL CENTER, D.C. — When Army Sgt. Patrick Smith woke up in a hospital bed battered, bruised, and disoriented, he didn’t remember the explosion in Iraq that got him there.
His wife arrived to hold his mangled hand, part of the entire right side of his body that had been badly damaged by the explosion that killed three of his squadmates, while the doctors explained his “new normal” to him: He would never stand on his own again.
But at that moment, Smith vowed to himself and his family that not only would he stand again — through the determination he learned in the army, the love of his wife, and his unshakeable faith in God — he would walk and run again, which was an unreasonable expectation, because the doctors were right.
“Turns out doctors don’t tell you that you’ll never be able to walk again just to fuck with you,” Smith told reporters.
“He’s a soldier, not a starfish,” said Navy Capt. Seamus Nielson, the lead surgeon on Smith’s case. “He’s not going to grow a limb back through determination, loving support, prayer, mega-vitamins or 18,000 Facebook likes."
Telling people that they’ll never walk again is the hardest part of the job, Nielson said.
"I go see a therapist once a week because it tears me up so much, and I never delegate that duty. If there’s even the smallest glimmer of hope, I want the patient to hold onto it. Mental state is important in healing. Even trying to put Sgt. Smith in a prosthetic would be like duct taping a chop stick to a wet sponge. He’s lucky to even be alive.”
“I’m not the kind of man you can keep down,” said Smith, maneuvering his electric wheel chair with his last working hand. “When the doctors told me that I’d never be able to walk again, I knew that was just Him challenging me, relighting the fire within my soul to motivate me. I’m not a victim. Okay, I’m a victim of that explosion, but not the bad kind of victim.”
Smith is a delight in the physical therapy waiting room at Walter Reed, cheering up the patients who surround him with his relentlessly positive attitude, passion for supporting and listening to his fellow patients, beautiful singing voice, and his natural leadership ability, none of which are going to make him walk again.
“We read about blind soldiers returning to active duty, amputees becoming Olympians, and Marines overcoming tremendous odds to walk again,” said Sgt. Smith’s wife, Meghan, taking a long drag off the e-cigarette she’s been told repeatedly not to use in the room after another long night of painful screams and a failed attempt to get a bed pan in time kept the inspirational Smith family awake.
“Fucking front row kids. It’s cruel to even give Patrick hope that he could walk again. These stories just make him think he's a failure for not keeping up with someone who got injured in a completely different set of circumstances. I’m going to be wiping drool off his face for the next 20 years. He’s not going to become a fucking CrossFitter in a ‘what’s your excuse’ #FitSpiration meme.”
At press time, Smith was asking to have his physical therapy goal changed from “independently putting on socks” to “masturbating to completion,” a task Nielson has also assessed as unreasonable.
Walter Reed Alum The Wolfman contributed to this article.