Can Writers Suffer Career-Ending Injuries Like Pro Athletes Do?


By Jay Kirell

When I first started this blog I wrote about having been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder by the Veterans Administration.

A few articles later I passed along a story that Greg Oden had signed a veterans minimum contract with the defending NBA champion Miami Heat.

Oden is a well-know athlete for a few reasons. He was the high school player of the year in 2006. He was an All-American at Ohio State. He ended up being the first overall pick in the 2007 NBA draft.

Then he got injured. His right knee, which had been hurting before he entered the NBA, caused him to miss time with surgery. Then he injured his left knee. Then he injured it again.

And his once-promising career seemingly looked like it ended just five years after it was supposed to be on the road to the Hall of Fame.

Basketball players are the most fragile of athletes. Being that tall and that athletic, even if you look like LeBron James, you’re one unstable planting of your leg away from retirement.

Writers, thankfully, don’t have such worries.

A writer slips and falls, barring the breaking of his arms or hands or she can continue to write. And even if they broke every bone in their body, they would eventually heal. Their writing would continue unaffected.

But what happens when a writer suffers an injury to their brain?

How do you recover your writing skills when your mind won’t let you?

This is a question I’m currently struggling with. The quality of my writing is substandard. I realize this. It’s high school-level prose with awkward transitions and pacing.

It’s the writing equivalent of watching an NBA player hobble around on one leg.

Not to say my writing was ever the quality comparable to the level of the basketball you’d find in the NBA, just that I wasn’t – this.

I’m still debating whether or not it’s a comfort that, unlike a brain disorder such as dementia, I can actually pinpoint the event that caused it:

On tower guard one morning with another soldier in my platoon, while we were talking about life in general, a loud scream went out in the distance. We looked out, saw a red fireball heading straight towards us. About 200 feet from the tower it veered off to the left, zoomed past us and slammed into the Afghan National Army compound 200 meters behind us.

While still processing the first shot. The Taliban fired another round, this one more on target with our tower. At 200 feet it didn’t appear to be veering off like the first one did. This one kept coming and coming… until it finally veered off with less than 20 feet to spare. It missed our tower by less than 10 inches. I could feel the heat coming off of it as it slammed into a row of Hesco sand walls 10 feet behind us.

The Hesco sand walls are 4’x4′ blocks of burlap and wire that fill with sand. Very handy in stopping bullets.

The thing they fired at me completely obliterated two of them and still kept moving, landing somewhere in the brush behind our outpost. I had missed two brushes with death, one by 10 feet, one by 10 inches.

What they fired was this…. sds and these… dfd

An 82mm recoilless rifle. The Russians used them as anti-tank weapons. Ask any infantryman who served in Afghanistan and they’ll tell you that this weapon was the one that kept them up at night.

It kept those in my platoon up at night until the day we found that he recoilless rifle – which was also the day I point to as the day I might have suffered a career-ending injury. The day my hopes of a career as a writer got blown up.

My platoon was out on patrol through some marijuana fields. For those not aware, Afghanistan has marijuana fields that look like Christmas tree fields – the plants are 10 feet high as far as you can see.

Example: 217122_1668536762886_4960076_n

We had just come out of one of the smaller fields when we came under fire. I stood up to return fire, and as I did, an ANA soldier stepped two feet in front of me (first mistake); raised his rocket propelled grenade without looking behind him (second mistake); and fired his RPG at the enemy – with the back-blast hitting me in the face, pushing me over a grape wall, smacking my head on the ground.

I had been keeping a journal in Afghanistan up until this point. I never made another entry after.

Something happened to my brain, and while I’m not quite sure what it is, whether it was simply a concussion or something more – but unlike the NBA player who wants to strengthen his ailing knee, there are no teams of doctors or rehab programs for writers who want their brains to work better.

Only writing helps. Consider this my strength training.

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