I would like to thank those in attendance & those tuning in on Facebook Live. In regards to my accident, they say go big or go home, I definitely didn’t make it home that night so I must have went big! I want to thank my family, especially my Mom for access to this laptop for this presentation, and for school, amongst many, many other things. I want to thank my Dad and my Uncle Kenny for being there for me from the U of Iowa all the through my time at the Minneapolis VA. Thank you to Juli Ulrich for making the donation box, a special thank you to Jennifer Husmann for helping me with this presentation and for advertising ‘A Tale to Tell”. I want to thank Deputy Tim Smith for being here; he was the Deputy on-scene at my crash site. To all of you who came and visited me while in the hospital at the U of Iowa and/ or the IC VA &/ or the Minneapolis VA. I believe that having each and every one of you there with me played a role in my recovery. I want to say thank Sam Moore for finding me that night. Absolutely none of this would be possible without his actions that night. I don’t have to wonder where I’d be right now if he hadn’t found me and taken the necessary actions. I want to thank the Olin EMT for keeping me alive in the bitter cold. It was -4 with wind chill that night. To the flight crew, the U of Iowa doctors, nurses, and anyone who has helped me to get to this point, thank you, as well as the Iowa City VA and the Minneapolis VA. Thank you to Erin Allen, & Maggie and Ethan Weirather for being with me and for me. Thank you to Katie Bassett for being there with and for me and for playing ‘Till I Collapse’ by Eminem when I was in a coma. She told me that the doctors made her turn it off as my legs started to kick and my pulse began to rise, they were unsure if I would go into shock. Even in a non-coma state, that song can cause shock for me! To start things off I will talk about my Army experiences. I believe that everything I have done has led me to this point in my life. Currently I have a 3.6 GPA at Argosy University in pursuit of psychology degree, I’ve served this country abroad twice, and I took the 2% chance the doctors gave me to survive and ran with it!; I think that that 2% was 1.9% more than I needed!
I’ll start a few years before my accident, all the way back to 2006; I found out in October of 2006 that I was being deployed to Iraq. Within the same week, while I was attempting my 2nd try at UD (the first was cut short by me joining the Army; I missed what would have been my sophomore year to complete Basic Training and AIT [Advanced Individual Training], the military loves acronyms); I decided I was going to be a medic, for no real reason other than it had a $10,000 enlistment bonus. Where do I sign? In October of ’06 I got word that I was deploying to Iraq, in the same week as that was also Homecoming and Halloween. To say I was a little full of myself at that time would be an understatement. I liked the positive attention I was getting because of my upcoming deployment. I wasn’t scared to go, maybe anxious. I felt like nobody would ‘fire truck’ with me, like I had a ‘free pass’; but you don’t get a ‘free pass’ for being deployed. The imaginary ‘free pass’ I thought I had was short lived, that Saturday I was arrested for my 2nd OWI. I had 2 OWI’s before I could legally drink. I had a problem but I didn’t think that I did; at least I wouldn’t admit to myself that I did. I somehow managed to get to Drill for the Iowa National Guard in Des Moines every month, without a driver’s license. Going to court for my 2nd OWI while at the same time gearing up for my upcoming deployment to Iraq, well, well that sucked.
First, I would like to thank all men and women, past and present who have joined the Armed Forces. I was in the Iowa National Guard and proud of it. Before getting to Iraq, I had to go to Camp Shelby, MS for pre-mobilization or pre-mob, training. This is required for all National Guard units before deploying. Pre-mob takes 2-3 months for a battalion to complete. Camp Shelby is located 60 miles north of the Gulf of Mexico; some call it the ‘arm pit of America’. I was there from June through August…summer…in what I refer to as; the ‘‘Brass’-hole of America’. Temperature wise it wasn’t as hot as Iraq, but I don’t know if there is anywhere on Earth that can compete with that humidity. I sweat a lot in Iowa during the summer when I’m not doing Army things, in Camp Shelby, MS; it looked like I was constantly playing in a sprinkler; I was dripping in sweat…constantly dripping in sweat. One night I made the mistake of shaving after showering, I was sweating so much once I applied the shaving cream that it was dripping off me. When I got to Iraq the temperature was 115 but with no humidity, I thought the weather was nice; hot and windy, sure, but with little to no humidity. The dessert heat in Iraq was nice, some of the people in Iraq however, they weren’t as nice.
I was in Iraq from Aug. of 2007 through the end of April ‘08, about 9 months. From August, fast-forward to Easter of that year, a Christian holiday in a non-Christian region. I’ll never forget that Easter fell on the last day of March in 2008. We only had a month to go until we were home. Lieutenant Speicher and I were walking to check-in early for our convoy when all of sudden we heard a loud whistle, it sounded like a plane almost but we looked up and neither of us saw any aircraft above. Approximately 10 seconds after hearing that whistle that we heard a BOOM; it wasn’t a plane that we heard but a rocket or a mortar, we stared at one another then rapidly ran to a bunker. Rockets and mortars are very deadly, packed with shrapnel, nuts & bolts, anything they can pack them with to cause injuries/fatalities. The bunker we found was full, ‘nut to butt’ as we refer to it in the military. We were inside the bunker for about 30 seconds when I heard two Marines about 75 yards from me yell ‘Coreman! Coreman!’ Coreman is Navy and Marine talk for medic. With me being a medic, I looked at Lt. Speicher and told him I have to go. Bravely and courageously, he followed. I got to the Marines and we began clearing housing trailers to ensure there was no body trapped inside of one. We got to one trailer and heard what sounded like a shower running. I thought “What a weird time to take a shower.” The shrapnel from of the mortars and/or rockets severed the plumbing, we found a man who was in the process of taking a shower when the mortars/rockets had impacted. His skull was severed from his ears on back. There was no time to mourn, we had to bag him and move on fore we were still getting mortared and rocketed. Lt. Speicher and I had split up by this point and I was near a large, metal generator. While I was near the generator a mortar or rocket impacted and I hit the ground and rolled underneath the generator. There were a few people near me who were stuck in the same predicament asking me what to do. There is no safe place when under a rocket and/or mortar attack, there are dangerous and less dangerous spots to be, and we were in a spot that was somewhere in-between, it could have been worse but it could have been A LOT better. After a few seconds had passed, when the ‘booms’ stopped, I yelled ‘Run! Now!’ And we ran. Thankfully there was a bunker within 50 yards of our location. We all ran to that and as luck would have it, Lt. Speicher was in there. I remember us repeatedly high fiving, grinning so much from the fact we had survived, almost laughing, as both of us were thankful that neither of us had been wounded, or worse, fatally wounded. The convoy that we were early for would not be leaving that day.
Upon getting home from Iraq, from the last day of April in 2008 through late-July of 2010, I was home in Iowa. I worked a construction job installing hardwood floors for a year or so, then went to Kirkwood College to give college a 3rd try. My 3rd attempt was much like my 2nd attempt. In October of 2009 I got the phone call that I would be deploying to Afghanistan. It turns out the Army; the military in general, doesn’t care what you are doing or what you will be doing; when they need you they need you, it’s not up for debate. I spent the next 9 months mostly drunk, from that Oct. through July of 2010. I drank because I needed to, I knew my time in America was coming to a temporary end again so why not… Before I deployed Iraq we got a week with paid/leave and we were only an hour and 45 minutes from New Orleans. Awesome! While in New Orleans I was thinking, “Tonight I’m going to drink like this is the last time I will ever drink, because it might be.” That thought stayed with me.
I only was arrested once in that time frame for a public intox in Iowa City. When I think of the number of times I drank in those 9 mos. and only getting arrested once, that would be considered a ‘hot streak’ for me. I have been arrested for alcohol related offenses 11 times (I think); 1 minor-in-possession, 8 public intoxications, and 2 of my 3 OWIs. Later I’ll discuss my 3rd OWI & why I wasn’t arrested for it.
In preparation for Afghanistan we had pre-mob, again my pre-mob was in Camp Shelby. Again I was there in summer; again it was so ‘fire trucking’, INCREDDD-ABLY hot. I was at Camp Shelby for 3 months, from mid-July of 2010 through the end of October. My deployment to Afghanistan was around 9 months, from November of 2010 to the end of July in 2011. My experience with war is that it is around 98-99% boring. During that time I watched movies, played video games, ate, and went to the gym…and that explains much of my time in Afghanistan. But that 1-2% that was not boring is what I’m going to tell you about. I was a member of 334 BSB (Battle Support Battalion); we medics were given away to whoever needed us, we didn’t have ONE Company that we served with; we had MANY Companies that we served with. It was mid-June and I had been given to an Engineering unit to serve as their medic for a few weeks for route clearance missions. I told myself at that time, “Get through this month, get home, and experience Eminem in concert at Lollapalooza in Chicago.” I had gone on a few missions with the Engineers and so far, so good. Not much had happened. June 12th, 2011 is a day I will never forget. We were going through a small village with the road forming an “S” curve. I was in a 7-8 vehicle convoy and I was the 2nd or 3rd vehicle from the front, nearly making it through the “S” till we heard a loud BOOM. We looked back and the trail vehicle in the convoy had been hit by an IED (Improvised Explosive Device). My vehicle was about 75 yards from that vehicle, the road was hard to maneuver and the vehicles in-between us weren’t making it easy to get around. We got around 50 yards from the hit vehicle and crept to a stop. At this point I said “fire truck it” and chose to run the distance in-between myself and the down vehicle. Around the 20 yard mark the vehicle that was hit came into clearer view. I thought I was going to be walking up on fatalities; remarkably there were only 2 people in the truck. The 2 that would have been in there were doing a dismounted patrol. The two people in the vehicle, the driver and gunner, were still breathing, a sigh of relief came over me. The driver just had a concussion and the gunner had two broken ankles, nothing that I couldn’t handle or so I thought. We carried the soldier approximately 50-60 yards away from the impact site to protect us from a secondary IED, which there wasn’t. If there was, it didn’t detonate. The injured soldier was coherent and was aware of what was happening. I got him splinted up and started the I.V. process. I got the I.V. bag started and had liquid flowing and my other drugs on stand-by to counter the morphine I was about to give. I started looking for the auto-inject morphine, similar to Epi-pen’s, but I didn’t have any. I had the morphine that’s in the vial form; primarily meant for use in a clinical setting. I attempted to use the vial-type morphine, but I couldn’t get it to work. The soldier said there was no pain relief. I told him I’m sorry a hundred times or so, then I remembered I had some personal Tylenol in my bug-out bag; only thing was my bug-out bag was in my truck …about 100 yards away. Again I said “fire truck-it” and ran to my vehicle. I got the Tylenol and made my way back. The Tylenol didn’t do much for his ankles but that was the best I could do. Shortly after getting back, the Medevac Blackhawk arrived. It was a long distance and we were on a hill, I don’t remember how far it was because we had to carry him in a litter down a hill. Carrying a 200lb. man plus his equipment downhill is probably harder than carrying him uphill. Downhill, momentum plays a role, trying to keep his equipment from sliding off was a challenge too. Once I loaded him up and told the flight medics the situation, they were gone. After that I started to walk back with everyone who had carried him but I had sea-legs, I simply couldn’t walk due to exhaustion. I fell to a knee and one of the men who helped carry him ran and got me a Gatorade from his truck. That was the best-damn Gatorade I have ever had in my life.
We got back in late-July of 2011. I don’t know what day of the week it was exactly, I’ll call it a Tuesday, but that Friday I would be in Chicago at Lollapalooza, my first time experiencing Eminem! I saw him one other time at Lollapalooza ’13. Eminem was with me nearly every day from 1999 on, through high school, college, both deployments; I was probably listening to Eminem when I got in my accident, nearly every day. I say I experienced him rather than just heard him because I don’t just hear the words, I feel the words. About 2 months after being home, late September/ early October of 2011, I developed an addiction to Spice, synthetic marijuana. That addiction lasted for about 1.5 years. I hated it but loved it at the time. I was pulled over by the Marion PD after just taking a drag in my car. The cop had me do a field-sobriety test and didn’t believe me when I told it was Spice, not marijuana. He had the K9’s come and neither dog found anything. I can still picture the Spice bag falling out of my driver side door and the cop finding it as I was in his car with his back-up. He couldn’t believe that I was telling him the truth. At that time there was nothing legally he could do. He confiscated my pipe and what was left in my bag of Spice and told me that I really need to try and quit using Spice. I told him that I know, took my ticket, told him stay warm (it was winter), and drove away to go get another bag of Spice. I was hook-line-and sinker addicted. I went to work just so I’d have money for it, it was more important than eating, I would buy a bag of Spice before I’d buy bread. The only thing I placed above Spice was cigarettes, those are not good for me I know, but that’s how it was. I quit using Spice around February of 2013 and haven’t picked it up since. The two and half years that followed up until my accident were pretty laid back. I still drank heavily, but no major events. Everything seemed like it was going okay from February of ’13 through December 31st, 2014. Everything was going okay until it wasn’t. This brings me to my accident.
I was drinking more than I ever had at that time, around 4-5 times a week I’d say, usually ‘road tripping’. That is drinking by myself, driving around the gravel roads around CR. I had recently bought a white 2007 Ford F-150 and wanted to show it off. I had just turned 29 on Christmas of ‘14. Dec. 25th is my birthday. My sister, Katie, and her soon to be husband Marshall, rented a party bus for their party to the surrounding bars in Jones County. They were having their bachelor/ bachelorette party that night on NYE. I went to my good friend’s house to celebrate the end of another year before arriving at then Greg’s Pit Stop, or Greg’s as it was commonly called, is where the party bus would be departing from and arriving to. The night is somewhat fuzzy to me, on account of me drinking… and getting into that accident. There are things I can remember and things I can’t from that night. This I don’t remember, we got back to Greg’s and me and another friend stayed on the bus to help clean up, pick up beer cans and what not. He went inside to use the bathroom and in typical fashion of me at that time, I made my escape. I hopped in my truck with every intention of making to CR but only made it a couple miles west of Olin on E-45. I cannot remember what caused that accident; I have spent many of sleepless nights trying to recall the events that led up to it. It’s not for lack of effort or that I simply don’t want to remember them, I just can’t. I don’t know when Sam found me, when the Olin EMT arrived, or when the helicopter arrived. For those EMT personnel that were there, remember that this was in 4 below zero weather plus wind chill, I thank you for putting up with me and the weather that night. Everything they did and all the effort that was put in by those persons, especially Sam and the Olin EMT was done 36 degrees below freezing. Back to my memories, or lack thereof, of that night, it’s sort of like a double-edge sword in a sense, I want to remember but at the same time, I’m glad that I can’t remember. My truck rolled and slid about 100 yards off the highway. During that time is when I shattered my left hand (show scar), broke 2 vertebrae in my neck, my C4 & C5, and fractured my. I was in a coma for 4 weeks and fed by a stomach tube for 5. I can still remember vividly what is was like to eat a meal for the first time once the stomach tube was taken out, I had hospital fillet o’ fish and vegetables, and it tasted AMAZING. I couldn’t ask for seconds, but had I been able to I would have. I’ve heard some say that their guess is I laid in my truck in that field for about an hour, again I don’t know. I was at the U of I for a week where they did surgery on my hand and removed the broken fragments from my skull. From the U of Iowa I was transferred to the Iowa City VA for approximately 3 additional weeks. Then from Iowa City I was transferred to the Minneapolis VA for 2.5 months.
Once I was at the Minneapolis VA & I felt like I was out of the coma, my memory started to come back. However, during that transfer, the ambulance allowed my Dad to ride with me; there was also a paramedic in the back with me. I must’ve been dreaming or the morphine was playing tricks on me, or both, because I thought that the ambulance stopped at a Casey’s where I got up and casually walked inside and bought two 20oz. Pepsi’s, Pepsi is my favorite soda. Then at some point the paramedic in back stole one of my Pepsi’s, but as it turns out he didn’t and we never went there. I believed this for a couple of weeks and told my Dad about the Pepsi that was stolen from me, he looked at me and said “No…Philip we never went to a Casey’s or any convenience station for that matter.” I was dumbfounded, I swore that happened! But it turns out it didn’t happen.
Once the transfer was completed and I got over the paramedic stealing my Pepsi, it was time for work, A LOT OF WORK. Once I was able to fully look at myself in the mirror I can remember seeing my skull, or lack thereof, and saying to my Mom “What happened to my fire trucking skull? And where is my fire trucking truck?!” I had no idea what I had gone through or what my truck had gone through. My truck went from this to this to this is, what was left; Ford F-150’s are some tough trucks!
I can remember my Mom telling me what happened and still being in disbelief. For whatever reason I thought that my truck was at the Coralville Wal-Mart and that I had just put my wallet and phone in the center counsel. I didn’t think I totaled it in an accident. I felt like, “Okay, I get I was in a truck accident but what people are telling me CAN’T all be true. I feel fine; I definitely don’t feel like I went through all that.” As I started to see the x-rays from my hand, neck, and skull, I then began believing that it was true. I still have the scar on my stomach from where the feeding tube was. I called the 4th floor of the Minneapolis VA home for a while. I was in the Poly-trauma Unit ward. I had two physical therapists, a social worker, a psychologist and a few other members of the Poly-trauma team to help me, I owe those at the Minneapolis VA Poly-trauma ward a lot for helping me get where I am today. I still had one surgery to go, the cranial-plasti surgery to complete my skull. Going into that surgery, I was terrified, for the 2 months leading up to that I wasn’t scared of much. I remember grabbing my Mom and Dad’s hand and sobbing. I grabbed them and tried to curl around them like a baby. Everything went according to plan though. I came home to Iowa in early April of 2015, once the crainal-plasti surgery for my new skull was completed. I had 47 staples in my head to keep my skin intact and to let my new skull get settled in. The staples remained for 2 weeks upon getting home. I felt uncomfortable being ‘that guy with 47 staples in his head’. (Show where they were). I hated when I had to go in public for two reasons, 1 because I didn’t want people to see them and secondly because if anything touched them, it hurt. I wore a hat to conceal the staples but had to be careful when putting it on to avoid it touching one or more of the staples. I was beyond happy to get them removed. I was home for about a month and realized there were things that I still needed help with, ranging from my balance & coordination to my writing. Being that the right side of your brain controls your left extremities and the left side of your brain controls the right side, my right hand and leg are affected. From time to time my right hand will experience tremors, making the way I write slower and at times impossible. My walk has also permanently changed.
Around Thanksgiving of 2015 I started to get intense headaches. A headache can come on if I cough or bend my head below my heart. My body must deal with pain by sweating as I will begin sweating if they are intense. I remember one time last winter while I was outside a headache came on; once it passed I began sweating profusely. My pores were wide open from sweating; they were getting all of the Iowa winter they can handle. Their intensity can vary; the most intense is when I have something go down the wrong tube when swallowing. They are also the reason I have to have glasses now, they affect my vision. They can be debilitating at times.
I took a Greyhound bus from Iowa City to Minneapolis as I was allowed to attend a wedding. We went from Iowa City to Des Moines to Minneapolis; they must’ve wanted to take the scenic route. I was told by a Greyhound bus driver in Des Moines that he wasn’t going to let me ride the bus because he thought that I was drunk. He told me that he watched me pace outside while smoking a cigarette and he could see me stumbling and that my words were slurring together. I knew that I walked and talked a little different post-accident, but it never occurred to me that it looked like I was drunk. I took of my hat and showed him my scar and told him that’s why I appear and sound like that, I’m not drunk. I told him that I would blow zeroes. Eventually he let me on the bus.
A week later I was questioned by the Minneapolis VA police for being drunk. I told them that being drunk is why I’m here to begin with! I was referring to my accident. The officer didn’t believe me until they called my ward and got confirmation that I was who I said I was and that I was an in-patient under their care. At the time I was angry beyond belief, I didn’t sleep that night. Looking back now I’m glad that happened; it let me know that I do at times give the perception that I am drunk to those who don’t know me and it taught me how to handle that situation if it should occur again. That is part of the reason for my sobriety; I wanted to take that perception away from people. I didn’t want to give anyone the thought that I could be; I didn’t want people to think that my walk or speech is altered due to me being drunk. That was just the beginning of me thinking that, as I still drank from that point to August 22nd, 2015; my last drink of alcohol. I was referred to the alcohol & drug rehabilitation program at the St. Cloud VA in Minnesota. I was referred to go there because it would benefit me in court. I had to appear in court for my 3rd OWI in February of 2016. I thought that if by me going to St. Cloud, I’d reduce my jail time then okay, I’ll do it. I ended up not serving any jail time which was a bonus. It definitely wasn’t to clean myself of alcohol. But that’s what happened. A part of me is forever in their debt. Alcohol is so powerful that it took my accident, which should have been enough ‘alcohol rehabilitation’ in itself to make me give it up; it took that plus me going to St. Cloud for me to realize that alcohol and I have a love/hate relationship. I loved getting drunk but at times, I hated what it could make me do. My addiction to alcohol is why I got into my accident that night, when I weigh-out the pros and cons of me getting drunk, the cons win in a landslide.
My message isn’t to asking anyone quit drinking; my message is to evaluate one’s self while drinking and adjust if need-be. Some people handle it responsibly, I did not. It will be difficult to cut-back but please trust me, it’ll be worth it. To those that drink and drive, no matter where you are going and no matter the reason, it is not that important. Get to where ever you are going when you are sober. No matter the reason, if it’s important it will be there the next day to accomplish.
When referring to life in general, to quote Jimmy Valvano, “Never give up, don’t ever give up.” Know that whatever the obstacle or challenge is, you are strong enough to handle it. Know that what may seem as impossible to do, is possible and can be done.
I’ll finish with a quote from Eminem,
‘Cause sometimes you just feel tired, feel weak
And when you feel weak, you feel like you wanna just give up
But you gotta search within you
And gotta find that inner strength
And just pull that shit out of you
And get that motivation to not give up
And not be a quitter, no matter how bad you wanna just fall flat on your face, and collapse…”
Are there any questions?
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Thank you for listening.