VA Palo Alto Health Care System


"Reality": Defined by a Wounded Warrior


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SPC. Orlando Gonzalez

SPC. Orlando Gonzalez

Friday, June 17, 2011

By Specialist Orlando Gonzalez

Allow me to introduce myself -- my name is SPC Orlando Gonzalez and I am 23 years old. I am an active duty Army Soldier, injured in Afghanistan by a suicide bomber. After this type of injury, rehabilitation is difficult and the word "reality" takes on a new meaning. Here is my story...

I always think to myself what does the word "reality" mean. If you look it up in the dictionary, it will say: "The quality or state of being real." Sometimes, shortly after an injury, it is difficult to know what is real or not. After my injury, I had dreams when I got hurt that seemed so real. I woke up believing nothing was wrong with me until I saw what my head looked like. 

In one dream, I was upstairs in a house and ran outside. I felt like I lost my breath but it was my lung collapsing and my breathing had stopped. It was like I was seeing things, and it was so scary.  I thought something was biting my leg, and it scared the hell out of me. When my ex-girlfriend came, I remember the doctor telling me we were engaged, but I knew that wasn't real.  

I remember having a dream that three guys committed suicide, and I kept begging my brother to check the restroom in my hospital room where I thought it happened, but the reality was that it was nothing.   

I couldn't figure out what was going on, but the reality was that I was having terrible nightmares. Sometimes I think I am still dreaming because it is so hard to believe that I can't use my hand anymore like I used to. But I know it is real because it is hard to move it. This injury is real. 

The reality is my life has changed, but I have survived and will continue to survive. The reality is that there is a purpose for my life.  I can help others as well as myself achieve goals.

[SPC. Gonzalez has been receiving care at the VA Palo Alto Health Care System's Polytrauma Rehabilitation and the Polytrauma Transitional Unit Programs since December 2010. Writing has been a big part of his therapy and is something he hopes to continue even after he leaves VA.]