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The official website of Paul Franklin: a father, veteran, activist, motivational speaker, and proud Canadian.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Walrus Magazine article

This is an article that I submitted to the Walrus magazine a few years ago and tells the story of my trip to Walter Reed Army Medical Centre in Washington DC.  It seems poignant on this day that we celebrate the inclusion of people with disabilities.

Walrus Magazine Article
Paul Franklin MCpl (ret)
Torch Bearer for the Vancouver 2010 Paralympics

My team in the Canadian Embassy, Washington D.C.

Walter Reed Army Medical Centre (WRAMC) has a long and proud history of helping soldiers in need.  It was something that I never thought of…. my journey to these hallowed halls.  One year and 4 months ago while driving Diplomat Glyn Berry in a four-vehicle convoy in Kandahar Afghanistan.  I want to say that it was a dry and dusty day but in fact it was one of those few days that were cloudy and rainy.  The convoy approached the entrance into the now booming metropolis of Kanadahar and a suicide bomber hits my vehicle…. even though I was driving fast (68 km/hr).  The principle I was to protect dies instantly Jeff Bailey suffers brain damage, Will Salikin is inside the vehicle and all the contents land on him, body parts, unexploded grenades broken rockets, unfired bullets.  I was thrown out into the streets tossed on the ground helmet scraped and then thrown against a wall.  Face and hair burning I toss the helmet and curse the world. My left leg is ripped off and my right leg destroyed.  I stop the burning of my hands and face and they smolder in the cool air.

I have been thrown up right and sit against the wall like I’m at home watching TV.  As the others of my patrol come to my rescue they do their jobs.  A tourniquet replaces my grip on my left thigh; my right leg flops around, as I get loaded on truck.  I talk to my friend and he holds onto the femoral artery and I lay on my back in the truck.  Jeff is pulled from the sewer he landed in and Will is pulled out of the vehicle.  We all make it back to the provincial reconstruction team location and await a helicopter ride to the Kandahar airfield.

Our medics work on us and as I watch Jeff’s head being drilled I look down and see what my future holds.  My fellow medic Amy talks to me amazed not in my recovery or my incredible luck in it all…but she is amazed in my sense of humour in such a rotten place of death.  I laugh and show her my stump on my left leg and even then I explained that my right leg will probably be lost. 

 The meat, the bones are destroyed.  What everyone finds amazing is that I have a pulse with my complete and intact right foot, a strong pulse and good movement.  The doctors, medics and nurses look at the damage and try to picture how the leg works; they try and figure out the why of it all.  It doesn’t matter to me.  I’m alive I made it.  I often ask of my colleagues and even though I know Glyn didn’t make it everyone is too nervous to tell me.  Talk is always of Jeff and Will and how well they are doing.

There is talk of sending me to Walter Reed Army Medical Centre, the golden ticket.  As a medic I have studied the American medical system and even on this ground not yet out of Afghanistan I know that this wouldn’t be for me.  I want to go home and see my family, I know the Canadian Medical system has its rough spots but overall it’s not a bad piece of work.  I had fought hard in Afghanistan and I didn’t want to leave my crew I wanted to be with them and recover with them.

Now one year 4 months later here I am on my way to Walter Reed.  My conflict over, now the hard part, my recovery, my rehabilitation and reintegration into what I thought would be my old life.  Yet that man who loved his wife and son are gone, there are parts there, parts that hold onto the past, parts that hope the future has a place for me.  Will I be the same person will I be me again?  The months and the recovery happen, the rehab is tough…. too tough at times.  My stated goal was to run and yet now when given the offer. My running legs here.  

My physiotherapist here, my tech here, my physiatrist here, what do I do?

They hold a running clinic.  I don’t go, I decide to see some of the Washington monuments.  These monuments represent death and yet they also show the future and hope of the dead.  I find solace in the Vietnam memorial I seem to fit in; it’s the closest to my war.  I look to see my future.  I look inside.  
The concept of physio and rehab has always been not just to have legs and use them.  I know it sounds stupid but yet that’s it.  How does the legs fit in my life, the wheel chair, my car; how can these tools be used to make my life better.  Originally it was to be the same person I was. But he is gone.  I would look around the physio and see men half my age working on the one piece not the holistic big piece.
My happiness comes in small doses but when it does occur that’s when it’s most poignant it’s that perfect moment.  Most people don’t know when they are happy or sad…..when you wear your emotions for the public too see that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

I watch a young man who weighs no more than a 130 pounds.  He is a double above the knee amputee as I am.  He has running legs on, the same ones I have tried back here back in the gym at the Glenrose.  I did it with safety precautions with belts on and two physios on either side..an old man knowledge of what its like to fall and then to have to recover. Life skills.  I watch this kid he goes in the same harness I will use to walk without canes.he runs but its short to short to get any speed.  They say tomorrow you go to the track.  He nods and trusts implicitly, he gets ready for the next day.
He goes to this uneven walking path, they call it their running trail.  He gets into his legs, prepares himself, the physio points down the trail, he says run.  This young soldier does what he is told, he runs. Unfortunately he was never taught how to stop so he tumbles as the legs trip him to the little stone path.  My body cringes at the thought at the fall.   

The young double amputee gets up shaken the physio yells out, “you have been through worse scrapes than that.”  We laugh at the fact we could never say that in Canada, our soldiers’ cringe at this kids obedience as he stands up and runs back.  I am amazed.  Some day he will be the next gold medal winner in the Paralympics.  But I also know that this may not be worth it.  The end result is too tough.  I wont be in the next Paralympics.  Maybe to watch, I do enjoy a cold beer as I watch a good race.
Walter Reed is unique in the world, a place that was designed to take in 30 amputees a year and now since 2003 has taken in 579 amputees.  People criticize the hospital and the program but its one of the best in the world.  The soldiers and amputees that have recovered from this place are doing amazing things.  Things I could never even dream of.  It’s a beautiful window into an organization that cares so much that it’s shocking.  The physio clinic feels like a sports gym, the pool has kayak lessons, in the garage there is a weapons training range, horse back riding on the weekends.  Our trip was to see how they do business.  What we discovered is that they have something we could never hope to copy, but within it all we saw things, equipment, small techniques that we can bring back.  Things we can change, things we can do.

We don’t do a tour our group immerses itself in the ideals of what Walter Reed is.  The amputees work with American amputees, the physios work with their colleagues, our surgeon scrubs in, our physiatrist does rounds.  The Canadian contingent has made their mark on our friends down south.  The ideal will be done in a formal paper given out to anyone who can or is willing to look at changes in our methods of health care delivery.  Change comes in small steps and takes committed folks to take things to the next step.

As an amputee I had many decisions.  One was if I should try running and with the weight of my 39 years on my shoulders I decided that to walk without canes.  What does that mean?  Is the walking without canes more important than running?  The energy expenditure would be too much.  I need to do other things.  Day to day tasks.  Its not sexy but it’s a revelation.  Maybe one day I can carry a tray of food and use one cane?  

Someday carry my own food to a table.  Wow the immensity of the menial is overpowering.

In the end walking without a cane becomes the hallmark of my trip.  I do a speech at the embassy and as I stand on the stage preparing my power-point I fall.  I fall hard. I hit my head. I’m laying crumpled on the stage in front of the audience…40 people look in shock.   My team rushes to my aid but I’m struck by an amazing fact.
How can I ever run if I cannot stand?

Handicap parking at 3 PPCLI

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