This afternoon, I had the privilege of listening to one of our country’s wounded warriors speak about the importance of employing people with disabilities. He was filled with energy and enthusiasm, and he approached his topic with a sense of humor. And even though the speech was about the benefits of hiring disabled veterans, I found myself listening for clues to his remarkable joy.
Staff Sergeant Shilo Harris was wounded in 2007 in an IED attack that killed most of his team. He suffered deep burns over 35% of his body. He lost both of his ears and most of his hearing. He suffered facial disfigurement and lost several fingers. His spine and collar bone were broken. He was ultimately evacuated to a large military medical facility in the United States. There, he spent 48 days in a coma, and then three years in treatment and recovery. He was medically retired in 2010. Somewhere along the line, there must have been some very dark days.
Extraordinary and courageous medical care providers are responsible for his physical survival and recovery. What accounts for his mental, emotional and spiritual recovery?
During his speech, and during the question-and-answer period that followed, he mentioned several things that I think might have helped.
- Looking Beyond Himself – He became involved with projects to help other wounded warriors work through their own recoveries and adjust to life after injury.
- Maturity – He came into the Army at the age of 27 and quickly rose to the rank of staff sergeant. He said that maturity and experience gave him the perspective and patience he needed to work through the military medical care system.
- Purpose – He believed that what he did as a Soldier mattered. He loved his country, and he saw value in the military service that led to his wounds.
- Family – The support of his wife and family was critical to his recovery. (He also noted that, in a way, the whole family was wounded. The whole family had to recover from the effects of his injuries).
- Optimism – He saw himself as a naturally optimistic person. He said that his father taught him to be optimistic by encouraging him to read motivational books when he was growing up.
- Progress – He could see himself getting better as his treatment went on, and the signs of progress encouraged him.
- Self-Awareness – He became aware of his triggers associated with post traumatic stress symptoms and learned to avoid them.
- Gratitude – He recognized that the IED blast did not take away everything good in his life. He was grateful for the good things that remained, that his capabilities still exceeded his disabilities and that he was finding ways to deal with his new limitations.
- Faith – Looking back on his survival, he believed that God was with him.
Let me emphasize that this summary is my list, not his. He wasn’t giving a speech about how he recovered emotionally and spiritually. Rather, these are the themes that I heard emerging during the course of his presentation, and the sequence simply represents the order in which they occur in my notes.
After the presentation, his wife also told me that during the 48 days of his coma, a military chaplain came to his room every day. You could set your clock by the appearance of the chaplain at the door. With the wife’s permission, the chaplain read a brief portion of scripture and prayed for the comatose warrior. After the Soldier awoke from the coma, the chaplain continued to visit and the two developed a strong bond. As a chaplain – and a Christian – I’d like to believe that this ministry also had something to do with the Soldier’s improvement, although I also know that some of those for whom we pray do not recover quite so completely, if at all. By the grace of God, we see previews of the coming kingdom in this age, but the kingdom has yet to come in all its fullness.