My Curious and Chaotic Life With America’s Wounded Warriors
With more than a million Americans injured in Iraq and Afghanistan, a physical therapist reflects on a decade of deferred dreams and rousing recovery at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
Illustration by Ben Bertin
It was spring 2009 and I was a physical therapist in the most famous military hospital in the world: Walter Reed Army Medical Center. I’d been there for four years, and I’d go on to work there until its preplanned closing in 2011, part of a congressional budget base realignment. In the amputee section where I worked, there were ten physical therapists and, in the course of the day, more than a hundred patients. We were squeezed into a disproportionately small, glassed-in gym on the top floor of Walter Reed’s Military Advanced Training Center (MATC).
It was a strange idea, putting us under glass — on display for the rest of the world, but otherwise leaving us to our business. The glass wall allowed tour groups to walk by without disrupting the patients. Three to six groups came by every day, often with celebrities in tow. But nothing distracted a patient more than looking up to see Angelina Jolie or an openly weeping congressman staring through the glass. My co…