Several years ago, when I got back from my Iraq deployment, a helpful therapist told me I was suffering from a moral injury. I’m still not quite sure what that means or how it applies to me.
On Monday, April 4th, 2016 it will be 13 years since Specialist Rachel Lacy’s death. I could have prevented it. I could have done more than what I did. I could have tried harder. No amount of convincing by friends or family will change this now fundamental belief inside of me. I failed and somebody, someone close to me died. Every year on this date I remind myself of this fact and it never gets any easier.
This feeling is not unique to me though, and it’s not unique to war. What I have is the same timeless regret humans have felt throughout our millenia of history. We have all felt it and although some examples, like feeling you contributed to another persons death, are more extreme than others, each painful anniversary reminds us of our human inadequacies.
If I had only turned left instead of right… If I had called…If I hadn’t stopped so long… If only… What if…
Specialist Rachel Lacy died from a systemic autoimmune Lupus-like illness that caused massive injury to her heart and lungs. It spread rapidly and by the time the local hospital referred her to Mayo Clinic it was already too late to reverse the damage and save her life. The reaction began days after she received multiple vaccinations including smallpox and anthrax while at Fort McCoy, Wi in preparation for deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan. After years of research and advocacy on behalf of soldiers who became ill or died after vaccinations the Army changed it’s official vaccination policy for Army reservists. Vaccinations will be spaced out and certain combinations won’t be given at the same time.
That is the official news report written up in every article.
This is what I remember:
Specialist Rachel Lacy
You lit a fire
across the landscape
of your life.
Burning white hot
through your eyes
and your ear to ear smile.
Lava laughter bubbled up
igniting any group
you happen to be part of.
Radiant energy down your arms
transferred life back to soldiers outstretched arms,
fueled every lovers embrace.
The smothering vacuum of war
sucked at your inner flame
until it was only an ember.
“Am I going to die Ma’am?”
Eyes begging for the truth
but also for a lie.
“No, you are not going to die.”
Even when I could feel the cooling chill
down my arms wrapped around you.
By morning your landscape
turned to ice.
Numb, I was a frozen creature.
A permafrost that never melted
gripped my heart,
foregiveness took over.
I should have known because I had a similar, although much milder form of Lupus brought on from my series of vaccinations prior to Desert Storm. I could have been more aggressive in seeking help for her. After repeated pleas up the chain of command her friends and I hatched a plan to take her to the Unversity Hospital in Madison,WI, and we were waiting for leave on Friday so that we wouldn’t all be AWOL. By then it was too late.
The thing is I would never have expected you to know that on that one day you shuld have turned left, or waited 30 seconds longer at the stoplight.
You would never expect me to have forseen the life threatening sequence of events that occurred so rapidly after she first came to me telling me all her joints hurt and she felt like a real old woman.
So, we are left with a most fundamental human experience.
Until foregiveness takes over.
Rest in Peace Specialist Rachel Lacy
1981-April 4, 2003
Our Inner World
Up next: Iraq; what now?