March 6th, 2009 - J. Scott Price
I was 39 and pretty much just existing solely on my living room couch —not living in any sense of the word, other than breathing. My wife-at-the-time and two young sons surrounded me, but I was beginning my drift towards the period of my life I’ve come to refer to as “The Haze.”
I was an Army National Guard Soldier, an infantryman, on active duty following a couple of deployments overseas, but my duty station, for what was to have been a short recuperative period, was my home.
I had recently undergone a back surgery at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in DC to repair damages in my lower spine. The pain prior to surgery was immobilizing.
The surgery actually went well, but very quickly something started going wrong—the pain returned, my mobility disappeared, and despite my protests, my wife finally took me back to the hospital. I was readmitted for a week or so while they ran test after test before discovering I had a bloodstream infection.
Once the medical team knew what was wrong, they immediately inserted a PICC line into a vein through my right bicep to drip one of the strongest antibiotics, vancomycin, directly onto my heart twice a day for the next 45 days. With that up and running, and bed space at a premium at Walter Reed, they sent me home to heal and let the drug work its magic.
I enlisted a month after my 17th birthday and somewhere doing the early years of my enlistment I was able to get an additional ID tag (“dog tag”) made that I wore the remainder of my career: “Shit Happens.” That mantra served me well during my time in uniform, and it provided a touchstone for my current situation, but as I was about to learn, it couldn’t save me.
During this period of pain and limited mobility, I was pretty much couch-bound. After about 40 days of the treatment my entire body revolted, and I had to go back to the hospital to stop the treatment. But my body was crumpled, locked up and unable to straighten, defeated. It was back to the couch for me.
This is when I began to realize that I’d never be pain free, never walk normally again, that I would lose the career I so loved. Of course, life on a couch surrounded by a loving family was far better than many people had it, but I couldn’t see it. I could only see what I’d lost through the lenses of constant pain and self-pity.
Despite being in a beautiful home on a cozy couch, my world began to disintegrate. I had no value anymore; I was broken, irreparable. I had only endless days of nothing better ahead of me.
I wasn’t going to ask for any help for this, or any of the other problems I was facing. I was a professionally trained problem solver. I was a rock.
These were the lies I told myself on the couch. These were the lies that sped me toward “The Haze.” If you could have seen me then you’d have clearly seen me dying, but like those around me at the time, there was nothing you could have done to stop it.
The redemption and renewed mind, body, and spirit that’s occurred between that couch (and the inaccurate world-view I saw from it) and today is another story—but it centers around being willing to ask for help and tasting hope; accepting unearned grace from other humans who knew far more than me, and being willing to realize there are just some problems we can’t solve alone.
I’m glad my sons were very young when all this was happening, because it let me hope maybe they didn’t remember much of this time when I was at my worst. But not too long ago we were walking up a small mountain and out of the blue my youngest son said, “Dad, remember when you use to live on the couch?”
“Yes, son,” I replied, unsure and a bit scared to face what would come next.
“Well, I’m glad you don’t anymore.”
I began tearing up. “Me, too, son. Me too.”
J. Scott Price will graduate in July 2019 from the Vermont College of Fine Arts with an MFA in Writing. Scott has seen firsthand the healing power of the creative arts in the lives of those in search of something better, and knows there are many such paths—we just need to be willing to take the first step onto one or more.