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Page 38
Download PDF of this full issue: v49n1.pdf (28 MB)

<< 37. Enduring Vietnam: An American Generation and Its War39. The Great Alone >>

My Path Through Paralysis

By Dale Hoefer (reviewer)

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My Path Through Paralysis
by Bruce Dunn

(Touchstone Communications, 2017)

In this short volume, Bruce Dunn lays it out there, telling us about the pain and growth to be experienced through a spinal cord injury. I wanted to review the book because I also had a spinal cord injury and have walked away from a spot that is permanent for so many. I had it easy compared to Mr. Dunn's travails.

He tells his story in such a readable, regular guy narrative style that it was finished in just two sessions and I felt like driving over and having a Sunday afternoon beer with the author.

He only mentions in passing that this is what it took for him to come home from the war in a full sense. One is left with the feeling that the scars of the war and PTSD combined with the way it was handled in America and in Vietnam all make up the back drop that lead Dunn down a country road with too much beer in the belly to his fateful encounter. The Vietnam connection could have been explored more, but it would have changed the central healing theme of the book.

His story is at times depressing, funny and shallow, and yet it conveys real life experience and soul growth of a depth that few ever have to probe. And despite the harrowing trials, he knows and the reader knows just how lucky he is. I am the luckiest spinal cord injury survivor still, but he is the second luckiest. In my case when I went to the VA Spinal Cord Injuries and Disorder Center in Palo Alto, CA. I was a kind of miracle. The walking quad, they called me.

I was still on active duty, but the Neurosurgeon at Oakland Naval Hospital pulled some strings to get me out of his hospital while they waited on my medical board review. It had the side benefit of getting me the rehabilitation specialists and equipment that I needed. Like Dunn says, every time you think you have it bad, there is always someone next to you who has it worse, so self-pity is not really an option.

I digress from the book review to my story to highlight my good experience in this VA Center. I don't like to think about what would have happened had I been thrust into just the Naval Hospital. This VA center is set up to deal with the special needs of veterans and service related injuries. I often wonder how my paraplegic buddies from those days are doing? The quadriplegic patients did not like me much. Like Dunn, most spinal cord injury patients come in either saying, "I'm going to walk out of here," or they have resigned early to a life of total dependency. Some do walk out. I walked in and they insisted that I be wheeled out. Such are the rules, but at least we got two beers a day since it is good for the urinary system of spinal cord injury patients.

I don't know what VA privatization looks like, but my experience and my father's experience was positive and should be there for all vets when it is needed.

In Dunn's case he was caught up in the insurance limits and practical issues that in effect become life and death. Had he been able to receive all of the care that he needed, his total recovery may have been shortened and possibly more complete. That is the nature of the spinal cord injury—time is of the essence, even if body time is somewhat slow. What happens in the first days, weeks, months is critical and recovery comes in ever decreasing increments, until one day you realize, this is all I'm going to get. What's more there is a certain sense of gratitude for what you have that others may not fully understand or appreciate.

It was well worth the read and may even give others an appreciation for what we do have. It renewed my thankfulness for a nearly complete recovery and a full life in the years since. Welcome home, Bruce Dunn.

Dale Hoefer is a Vietnam Era vet, joined the Navy when it was safe and he was 18. Discharged in 1976 due to spinal cord injury suffered while diving into and irrigation canal.

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