There are times, though, when Specialist [Brendan] Marrocco’s optimism and confidence are no match for his discomfort and fatigue. He rarely sleeps more than four hours a night and still suffers phantom pain in his right arm. He can be cranky and not keen on visitors; one of his pet peeves is people who talk too much. He jokingly calls his comrades with below-the-knee amputations “the paper cuts.”
Specialist Marrocco has an unwelcomed status in the GWOT – becoming the first quad-amputee (there is now another one). That Specialist Marrocco survived is beyond a miracle; he lost 80% of the blood in his body after hitting a pressure wire IED that shredded the vehicle he was driving. Of the 4 men in that vehicle, one died, another had serious injuries, another walked away and Specialist Marrocco endured the most horrific injuries of any warrior in the GWOT – ever.
The medic – Major Jason Aydelotte - who first responded when Specialist Marrocco was brought in still marvels at how he survived. The shrapnel clipped the young man’s carotid artery and yet the wound did not bleed as expected. Catching everyone by surprise it was assumed Marrocco would not survive. They couldn’t have been more wrong. Major Aydelotte believes that Specialist Marrocco was saved for something else:
One day a couple of months ago, Major Aydelotte happened to run into Specialist Marrocco at Walter Reed. “I didn’t tell him who I was,” said Major Aydelotte, who had quietly kept tabs on his patient’s progress. “I didn’t want any kind of accolades from him. His life was saved, but I didn’t do it. He was meant to be saved.”
It is clear by all accounts that Specialist Marrocco is a very unique member of the kind of club no one would ever want to join. Like calling his fellow amputees “paper cuts” – speaks to a spirit and resilience that defies all logic or definition. According to his mother he was always pushing the envelope and defying rules, even saying that he has taken being headstrong to “an art form”. It would seem that strength of mind is still intact.
Certainly injuries such as these put things in perspective for people who don’t even know Specialist Marrocco. The other wounded warriors at Walter Reed don’t tend to complain as much when Marrocco comes in for his daily therapy sessions. The affect on his immediate family has been profound. His long-estranged parents are now speaking again; his reserved brother quit his high-paying job at Citigroup to become his brother’s full-time caregiver – opening up and changing in response to the needs of his brother. His therapist - Luis Garcia - says this about his famous patient:
“I never catch him feeling sorry for himself. I’ve never heard him say, ‘I wish this had never happened.’ ”
In fact, Specialist Marrocco has a view of his situation that is – special:
It did not take long after the bombing for his wry, dark humor to break through. “Look at all the legroom I got!” he announced after boarding a first-class flight to Hawaii in November 2009, to reunite with his unit as it returned from Iraq. And, he explained, being able to feel your arms and legs when they are not actually there — which happens after traumatized nerves go awry — has its advantages. “I can move my hand around and give someone the finger,” he said. “I can do these things, and no one can see.”
I am reminded of a triple amputee from early in the GWOT – Bryan Anderson - who famously went to Las Vegas proudly wearing a t-shirt that said “75% off”.
These men are true inspirations – giving nearly their all for their country, never blaming anyone for their situation and indeed, finding the dark humor in it all. They refuse to allow their circumstances define them but rather they have chosen to define their circumstances on their terms.
We can all take lessons from their focus in the face of unfathomable circumstances.