Mar 15, 2014
The Crucifixion of Tomas Young
Posted on Mar 10, 2013
By Chris Hedges
He was transferred from Kuwait to the U.S. military hospital at Landstuhl, Germany, and then to Walter Reed, in Washington, D.C. He asked if he could meet Ralph Nader, and Nader visited him in the hospital with Phil Donahue. Donahue, who had been fired by MSNBC a year earlier for speaking out against the war, would go on, with Ellen Spiro, to make the 2007 film “Body of War,” a brutally honest account of Young’s daily struggle with his physical and emotional scars of war. In the documentary, he suffers dizzy spells that force him to lower his head into his hands. He wears frozen gel inserts in a cooling jacket because he cannot control his body temperature. He struggles to find a solution to his erectile dysfunction. He downs fistfuls of medications—carbamazepine, for nerve pain; coumadin, a blood thinner; tizanidine, an anti-spasm medication; gabapentin, another nerve pain medication, bupropion, an antidepressant; omeprazole, for morning nausea; and morphine. His mother has to insert a catheter into his penis. He joins Cindy Sheehan at Camp Casey in Crawford, Texas, to protest with Iraq Veterans Against the War. His first wife leaves him.
“You know, you see a guy who’s paralyzed and in a wheelchair and you think he’s just in a wheelchair,” he says in “Body of War.” “You don’t think about the, you know, the stuff inside that’s paralyzed. I can’t cough because my stomach muscles are paralyzed, so I can’t work up the full coughing energy. I’m more susceptible to urinary tract infections, and there’s a great big erection sidebar to this whole story.”
In early March 2008 a blood clot in his right arm—the arm that bears a color tattoo of a character from Maurice Sendak’s “Where the Wild Things Are”—caused his arm to swell. He was taken to the Kansas City Veterans Affairs hospital, where he was given the blood thinner coumadin before being released. One month later, the VA took him off coumadin and soon afterward the clot migrated to one of his lungs. He suffered a massive pulmonary embolism and fell into a coma. When he awoke from the coma in the hospital he could barely speak. He had lost most of his upper-body mobility and short-term memory, and his speech was slurred significantly.
It was then that he began to experience debilitating pain in his abdomen. The hospital would not give him narcotics because such drugs slow digestion, making it harder for the bowels to function. Young could digest only soup and Jell-O. In November, in a desperate bid to halt the pain, he had his colon removed. He was fitted with a colostomy bag. The pain disappeared for a few days and then came roaring back. He could not hold down food, even pureed food, because his stomach opening had shrunk. The doctors dilated his stomach. He could eat only soup and oatmeal. Three weeks ago he had his stomach stretched again. And that was enough.
Young’s room is painted a midnight blue and has a large cutout of Batman on one wall. He loved the superhero as a child because “he was a regular person who had a horrible thing happen to him and wanted to save society.”
Young joined the Army immediately after 9/11 to go to Afghanistan and hunt down the people behind the attacks. He did not oppose the Afghanistan war. “In fact, if I had been injured in Afghanistan, there would be no ‘Body of War’ movie to begin with,” he said. But he never understood the call to invade Iraq. “When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor we didn’t invade China just because they looked the same,” he said.
He became increasingly depressed about his impending deployment to Iraq when he was in basic training at Fort Benning, Ga. He asked the battalion doctor for antidepressants. The doctor said he had to meet first with the unit’s chaplain, who told him, “I think you will be happier when you get over to Iraq and start killing Iraqis.”
“I was dumbstruck by his response,” Young said.
He has not decided what will be done with his ashes. He flirted with the idea of having them plowed into ground where marijuana would be planted but then wondered if anyone would want to smoke the crop. He knows there will be no clergy at the memorial service held after his death. “It will just be people reminiscing over my life,” he said.
“I spend a lot of time sitting here in my bedroom, watching TV or sleeping,” he said. “I have found—I don’t know if it is the result of my decision or not—[it is] equally hard to be alone or to be around people. This includes my wife. I am rarely happy. Maybe it is because when I am alone all I have with me are my thoughts, and my mind is a very hazardous place to go. When I am around people I feel as if I have to put on a facade of being the happy little soldier.”
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