By Jarrad Turner
Former Client, Shepherd Center’s SHARE Military Initiative
Writing this blog is one of the hardest things I have ever done. When you serve in the military, you learn quickly how to be selfless. As a family man, I also rarely focus on myself; I am always doing things for my family. So when I was asked to write a blog about my experiences as a former client in Shepherd Center's SHARE Military Initiative, I was very hesitant and had no idea where to start.
I was admitted to the SHARE Military Initiative after I was medically discharged from the U.S. Army in 2010. Before my injury I was like any other Army combat medic. I was focused on taking care of the soldiers in my unit, as well as making sure all of my subordinates had all the training along with tools they needed to make it to the next level in their Army careers. As a non-commissioned officer, it was my job and honor to train my medics to be better than me.
During my second tour of duty in Iraq, I was injured during an attack. As a result of the attack, I had to have shrapnel removed from my head, and I underwent four shoulder surgeries and two elbow surgeries. I was diagnosed with double vision, light sensitivity, neuropathy, migraine headaches, traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). After I recovered from the physical injuries, I thought I was fine. I thought I was going to be able to continue with my Army career, but unfortunately I was wrong. I had completely dismissed my non-visible injury. I felt like it was all in my head and that it would all go away if I just pushed my mind and my body harder.
Pushing harder is what I was taught, and pushing harder is what I instructed my soldiers to do. As a staff sergeant, it was my job to get my soldiers to give me the best they had to offer. To be a good leader, I had to push myself harder and harder. I had to make sure I set the tone everyday; good leaders always lead from the front. Unfortunately, I pushed so hard until my body and mind almost broke. The SHARE Military Initiative is where I healed my mind, my body and my spirit.
When I was admitted to SHARE, I didn't think I had a problem. I would not and could not believe there was anything wrong with me. I felt that if I admitted there was a problem that I was weak. I felt like I was weak, but in hindsight, I was actually stronger for going to SHARE. TBI and PTSD, along with being in pain on a regular basis, were slowly destroying me from inside out. The scars from my surgeries hurt, but they paled in comparison to the pain I endured from TBI and PTSD.
As a former Army medic, I knew how to treat physical injuries, but I had no clue on how to recognize or treat non-visible injuries. SHARE not only treated my injuries, but they educated me about my injuries and continuously encouraged me through my healing process. The team of providers and clinicians provided my family and me with tools and resources that allowed us to have a deeper understanding of the look of my “new normal.”
As we celebrate Veterans Day, I have a newfound strength and understanding about my TBI. I am not ashamed anymore about having TBI. I am no longer apprehensive about seeking help for myself. Those who experience TBI often say, “TBI is the gift that keeps on giving.” I have learned to accept that I will never get back to who I was, but everyday I have the opportunity to become a more improved man. When I was discharged from the Army, not only did I lose my identity, but I also lost my family. At that time, I believed I had let down my family and my brothers and sisters in arms.
Today, I am no longer Staff Sergeant Turner; I am retired Staff Sergeant Turner. I am a former Army medic, but I am still held to the same oath I took when I enlisted. Instead of wearing a uniform, I now wear button-down shirts with slacks. I still continue to triage my fellow brothers and sisters in arms. In the past, I used my medic bag, but now I use Department of Veteran Affairs rules and regulations. In the past, I only took care of service members, but now I work with veterans and their families. As I said earlier, “Once An Army Medic, Always An Army Medic.”
Information on the SHARE Military Initiative is available here.
JARRAD TURNER served in the U.S. Army from 2001 to 2010. During his 10 years of service, he held the Military Occupational Skill (MOS) of 68W Health Care Specialist/Combat Medic. Jarrad was deployed twice in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). He was injured on his second deployment. As a result of his injuries, he had four shoulder surgeries, two elbow surgeries and shrapnel removed from his head. He has been diagnosed with traumatic brain injury (TBI), migraine headaches, vestibular issues, vertigo, neuropathy and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He continues to serve his fellow brothers and sisters in arms as a veterans advocate. Learn more about his efforts at www.epicveteranride.org
Shepherd Center, located in Atlanta, Ga., is a private, not-for-profit hospital specializing in medical treatment, research and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injury or brain injury. Founded in 1975, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the top 10 rehabilitation hospitals in the nation and is a 152-bed facility. Last year Shepherd Center had 965 admissions to its inpatient programs and 571 to its day patient programs. In addition, Shepherd Center sees more than 6,600 people annually on an outpatient basis. For more information, visit Shepherd Center online at www.shepherd.org