Wounded

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WARRIORS AND FAMILIES WE'VE HELPED

However, mortally injured ants flailed about, effectively preventing their own rescue. Lightly injured ants sometimes over-egged the pudding, over-emphasising their injuries when they were near their nest-mates.

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These injured ants moved slowly and kept on falling over when their comrades were nearby, possibly in hopes of being picked up. However, if nobody helped, they would quickly get back up and follow at a faster pace. Although primates are known to tend to their own wounds, this is the first time an animal other than a human has been shown to give medical care to others.

Matabele ants live in small colonies with low birth rates, and their taste for termites means each ant risks mortal injury every day. Slow, but steady recovery. On a bright spring day, a door to the Oval Office opened to reveal Cory, now retired from the military and dressed in a suit, standing on his own strength. As I watched from just outside the room, he stepped forward, his father guiding him from behind. Cory walked haltingly, in wide uneasy steps, at times teetering and nearly losing his balance. But each time, he regained his footing and threw a leg forward. The scene was captured in a White House video and viewed online more than a million times.

That same year, a video of Cory walking doggedly across a gym during rehab went viral and was viewed more than 5 million times. It seemed to be the kind of tidy, satisfying moment of closure we Americans so often long for. The wounded warrior we had clapped, cheered, and wept for was standing and walking again. Just as we had always hoped he would. Just as we wanted him to. Perhaps, on some collective, emotional level, just as we needed him to. We came from vastly different backgrounds — Cory, the hard-charging Ranger originally from Missouri who enlisted in the Army on his 18th birthday; me, a liberal from Massachusetts serving in a Democratic administration.

We never discussed politics or the war in which he had fought and that I had helped make the case for in presidential speeches. In late , Cory invited me to his high school, outside St. As the ceremony began and the lights dimmed, photographs and video clips appeared on a large screen—a montage of a life I had never known: a young boy with blue eyes, blond hair, and a wide smile; a percussionist, proud in his band uniform; before the explosion, with his fellow Rangers, unaware of the calamity to come; after the explosion, back home with his stepmother, Annie, as she helped him with tasks that were once small and now daunting — getting out of bed, putting on socks, lacing up sneakers.

Sitting in the darkened auditorium, I was suddenly getting a fuller picture of the soldier I had helped put up on a pedestal for the whole country to admire. This October 1 marked a decade since the explosion. Cory has now spent more years working to recover from his injuries than he did serving on active duty in the war zones — one of the approximately 5, veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq with penetrating head wounds who have returned home to live with their catastrophic injuries for decades to come.

In advance of this milestone, I asked Cory and his parents for permission to follow him for the year. I wanted to see the unvarnished reality of his life after the applause. In a deeper sense, I suppose I also felt an obligation. But my service in the White House had ended, and most Americans had moved on, rarely thinking about the wars that have been waged in our name for nearly two decades.

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Now, I had the chance to look squarely at the cost of war and, in a small way, try to better understand the fight that veterans like Cory wage every day. We sat down together for our first conversation in late in a guest suite at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland where he had just completed several days of tests as part of a neurological study of veterans with traumatic brain injuries.

Over the past year, I spoke with Cory and his parents about two dozen times, in person and by telephone, often for an hour or more. I soon learned, as his brother had warned me, how dark the journey could get. The day after Thanksgiving in — just months after millions of Americans had watched online as he walked again — Cory, his brother Chris and several friends visited a state park outside Phoenix.

In the parking lot, as Cory tried to maneuver himself into his large all-terrain wheelchair, he lost his footing and fell.

Ants care for wounded comrades by licking their wounds clean

His head slammed hard into the pavement. In the emergency room, Cory went into seizures. Overnight, doctors increased the anti-seizure medicine that Cory had been taking for years, and eventually the seizures stopped. Released the next day, he returned home with stitches across his forehead.


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He was disoriented, his balance was off, and he could barely stand. The fall had aggravated his brain injury — the equivalent of a new injury. Cory soon fell again — once in his bedroom while putting clothes in his dresser, another time on a road trip with Chris, when he lost his balance in a hotel bathroom and crashed into the toilet. They were worried, and I could see why. Listening to Cory talk, it seemed that his relentless drive — which had fueled him through years of hard-won progress — had come to verge on a form of denial.

Perhaps it was an inability to recognize his own limitations, a common effect of brain injury. Perhaps it was pride. Whatever the reason, in our early conversations Cory never mentioned his fall or how he had regressed. In fact, he had recently told his father about his plans to run a marathon and become a Secret Service agent.

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On some level, Cory seemed to agree. I had seen how difficult it was for him. One morning, I awoke to emails that he had sent to me in the middle of the night — old photographs of himself in full battle gear heading out on a mission.

At one point, he was watching a History Channel documentary about his final mission just about every day. He once showed Annie a picture of himself at the beach before the explosion, tanned and muscular. Meanwhile, Annie had noticed Cory on social media watching friends move ahead in their careers, get married and have children. Cory had turned down offers from several colleges, had no primary job, and spent chunks of his day at home on the couch watching TV.

He had struggled to find love as well. Prior to the blast, Cory had been something of a playboy. Since then, he has dated some women, whom he usually met online. In one case, Cory bought a ring and proposed to a girlfriend after spending just two weeks together. But brain injuries can result in a profound lack of impulse control, as well as hypersexuality, and the relationships fell apart when Cory struggled to commit or stay monogamous.

Cory, I learned, had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress. He was eating less and had lost weight. Annie believed that, despite several inconclusive sessions with therapists, he was also suffering from depression, rooted in the life and friends he lost to war. Although Cory has no memory of the explosion, he confided to me that he still thought about the incident every day.

The blast occurred as his patrol prepared to clear an area for a helicopter landing, wounding several teammates and killing one of his best friends, Sergeant Robert Sanchez, a gregarious soldier from Florida with a movie star smile. Cory admits that memories of Rob or his life before the blast can spark emotional outbursts.


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  5. At the same time, neither Craig nor Annie could recall Cory ever shedding a tear since his injuries — a lack of outward emotion, perhaps linked to his brain injury — that concerned them as much as his outbursts. According to his parents, Cory has never tried to hurt himself, but they refuse to take any chances.

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    But when I visited him for several days in late February, it was clear that he also had a more ambitious goal in mind — to regain the mobility he had lost since his fall. I was, admittedly, skeptical. The explosion in Afghanistan consisted of several deadly waves, according to Dr. On top of that, an explosive ordnance disposal technician on the mission told me that thousands of pieces of debris were hurtled at Cory and his teammates. Cory had shown me a photograph taken in the operating room of his skull partially removed and his brain spackled with muddy debris from the canal where he landed.

    Given all this, the fact that Cory was alive at all was astounding. But was it realistic to think that he could still improve ten years on? Sure enough, during my time in Tampa I witnessed undeniable, if incremental, gains. The gears whirled as his fingers clamped shut around a small plastic ball. He closed his eyes in concentration.

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    He leaned his body forward, as if to will his hand into action. Finally, his fingers popped open and the ball fell away. It had taken him nearly half a minute just to move his fingers, and he said he was exhausted. Still, in all the years that I had known him, it was the first time I had seen Cory move his left hand. Later that day, Cory seemed to take another step forward, literally and figuratively.


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    7. Watching him during physical therapy, I sensed that perhaps his definition of independence was beginning to evolve. Cory arrived in a wheelchair — pulling himself along with his good right leg — certainly not walking, but essentially independent. When two therapists helped him stand and shuffle down the hallway — catching him when he stumbled — he was arguably walking, but not independent.