Noah Galloway is a real-life American hero. You may know him from Dancing With the Stars or John Cena's American Grit, but today his life story is published. Inkedmag.com has obtained the exclusive excerpt of Living With No Excuses: The Remarkable Rebirth of an American Soldier's first chapter. Read it below, and once you are as enthralled as we were on first reading, you can get the rest of the story here.
“These bombs are so hot that your bones will actually fuse together,” someone said. I couldn’t make out who said it, but I heard it clearly. I couldn’t open my mouth. Panic surged through my body, as I feared my jaw was fused shut from an explosion. I tried and tried to open my mouth. And then I felt someone place an object in my hand and I heard, “If you’re in pain, press this button.”
My eyes popped open. It was a nightmare. Just a bad dream. But as my eyes darted around the room I suddenly realized I didn’t know where I was. Gone was the hot desert sun, the swirling mix of dirt and sand, and comrades all around in camo. The sounds of war had been replaced with the faint sound of children’s voices singing Christmas carols. Suddenly I was aware of severe pain that pulsed throughout every inch of my body. I remembered the device in my hand—I assumed it was a morphine drip. I pressed the button over and over again, but there was no relief from the unbearable pain.
Then the door to the room swung open. In walked a man, a nurse, looking really annoyed.
“We’ve got kids out here singing Christmas carols for us because we’re away from our families and you’re being rude,” he said.
“Are you kidding me?” I thought. I couldn’t respond because I couldn’t open my mouth. He knew that as he stood there smugly. I glared back at him and saw his name on the plastic tag attached to the pocket on his scrubs. I can’t remember his name now, but at the time I repeated his name over and over again in my head. I let the pain engulf me as his name became a steady beat like a drum, and the angry rhythm in my head lulled me back to a deep, drugged sleep.
When I came to again the nurse was gone. My focus was hazy at best but in his place I saw a doctor and I heard him say, “I’ll take care of this one.” And he stayed with me until three male flight nurses arrived in Air Force uniforms. I remember the uniforms and I remember how nice they were to me. I was gingerly moved from my bed to a gurney and carefully wheeled outside and onto an ambulance truck. The frosty December air hit my body with a shock and I shivered. I remember the bitterness of the cold. It was December in Germany and my body hadn’t adjusted from the oppressive heat of the war zone. As the gurney was rolled toward the ambulance I heard another man shouting and ranting. He was a frail, elderly, black man and he was screaming words that didn’t make sense. I looked up to the flight nurses to ask with my eyes, “What is wrong with him?” One of the nurses answered me saying that he was a veteran who had remained in Germany after completing his service. He was dying. They were taking him home so he could die surrounded by his loved ones.. As I tried to make out what he was trying to say I found myself distracted, even just momentarily, from my pain and my confusion. I still didn’t really know why I was there or what had happened. But I looked up at the kind faces of the three nurses and felt comforted.
When the ambulance reached the end of the runway, both the dying man and I were transferred onto the plane. Instead of the small seats you’d find crammed together in a commercial plane, there were beds attached to the wall. I was carefully placed on one. The nurses did everything they could to make me comfortable. When I was settled in, ready to go home, I finally felt warmth—whether from the blankets or the compassion, it didn’t matter. I was cared for throughout the entire flight and then after a long time one of the nurses leaned down to me and said “We’ll be landing soon, so you’ll wake up in the hospital.” He gave me a shot and I was out.
I woke up in a tiny hospital room. I didn’t know where yet, but I saw the brightness of the florescent light streaming in from the hallway as the door opened slowly. I blinked as figures came into focus. I saw her first: Petite frame, curly white hair, and glasses. It was my mom! My mom and dad were in the room. I was somewhere safe. Finally.
They were smiling, but I could see they were scared. And my immediate thought was “Smile so they know you are okay.” I learned later that because my family missed one of their flights they arrived after midnight and there was no one to prepare them for what they would see or tell them about what kind of condition I was in.
The next few days are a painful, terrifying blur. One minute I would be sweating, the next freezing. I was either in pain or I was passed out. In the blink of an eye I had gone from a fearless, strong soldier fighting a war to feeling like a helpless child. I had no idea how to react to where I was or what was happening to me. One minute I was angry and the next I was overcome with emotion and crying. I cried a lot. I have never been so scared.
Those first few days in Walter Reed were more terrifying than anything I encountered in Iraq. Each time I was deployed I accepted that I could die. I prepared myself to die in Iraq. It never crossed my mind that I could wake up in a hospital bed severely injured. We had already lost some of the guys in my deployment. But they weren’t injured, they were killed. And we had all accepted that risk. It wasn’t supposed to go this way. I wasn’t supposed to be writhing in pain in a hospital room in Washington, D.C. I was supposed to be still in Iraq or dead. There was no in between. I didn’t know how to handle in between.
My fear was amplified each time I was taken out of that stiflingly small hospital room because every time they came to get me, I was wheeled into another painful surgery. I was heavily medicated but that only took the edge off of the pain and it only added to my confusion. I still didn’t really know what was going on or what had happened to me. And now I was in and out of consciousness, so I couldn’t get a firm grasp on reality. At one point on one of these trips to surgery I remember grabbing my mom’s arm. I clutched onto her and begged her, “Don’t let them take me, please don’t let them take me again.”
When there was a lull in the trips to the operating room my mom was the one who finally told me the extent of my injuries. My mom is a very sweet, unassuming person, but she’s also very direct. There would be no sugar coating here. She was working hard to be strong for me and I remember her walking into the room normally, as if everything was fine, and standing by my bed as she rattled off my injuries in a very matter of fact fashion—as if she was listing the ingredients in a recipe. “You lost your left arm above the elbow, your left leg above the knee, you have severe injuries to your right leg, your right hand also sustained some injuries, and your jaw is wired shut.”
My mom was far better at masking her emotions than my dad was. He was standing behind her as she told me but he never said a word. This was a lot for Dad to take in. He lost his arm at age 18. All I’d ever known was a dad with one arm. “Did you ever imagine one of your children would lose a limb like you did?” I asked him later. He said that it never crossed his mind that would happen but it terrified him that any of us would have to go through what he did. As I sat there stunned, processing all Mom had just told me, she filled the silence in the room with, “Look this is what it is and now let’s figure out what’s next.”
My next reaction was, “Who died?” Because if I was that bad off, then how was everyone else? It wasn’t until about a week later that I received a call from my platoon leader telling me that I took the worst of it. There were only three of us in the vehicle that night and I was the most severely injured. So with the knowledge that everyone else was going to be okay my attention turned to what I was going to do.
I had always been a very physically active person. And I loved my job. I got into the military because of September 11th, but I stumbled into a career that I absolutely loved. I was meant to be an infantry soldier. I thought, “I will never be physical again and my career in the military is over.” One tiny trip wire had taken everything away from me in one explosive moment.
I sank into a very dark place. I wallowed in both my physical pain and my mental anguish. One day my parents were sitting by my side in the hospital room—as they did every day—and I turned to my mom and blurted out, “How am I ever gonna be able to tie my shoes again?”
Mom rebutted my pity party with, “Well your father can tie his shoes with one hand. Andy! Show Noah how you can tie your shoes with one hand.” And as I started to protest Dad cut my whining off at the pass. “Oh my gosh, Noah, I can tie my shoes with one hand.” And he did, as I had seen him do so many times growing up. “I just need a little sympathy,” I said. To which Mom replied “Well you’re not getting it today.”
A few days after I’d had my shoelace meltdown, after many tears, I found myself drained of emotion, a hollowed out shell. My mother saw the blank expression on my face and she saw an opportunity to drag me out of the fog. She took it. She came up to my bed, leaned in close—but not so close that the other people in the room couldn’t hear her, and said “ You just had to out-do your dad and lose your arm and your leg.” She smiled, waiting for my reply, but all I could do was laugh. It was funny but it was also at that moment that I think I felt a little spark of excitement and anticipation again. It would take a while to fully ignite the flame but what she said definitely tapped into some important part of me. I have a very competitive side and Mom knew that. She knew just what to say to shake me up, so I could realize, “Okay, life will go on from here.” I thought to myself, “My dad could do a whole lot with just one hand. Imagine how much more impressive it’ll look with two missing limbs.” And I smiled the best I could through a wired jaw.