Iraqi Army Capt. Furat surveys the therapy gym as he stands erect for the first time in nearly four months, every inch as tall as he was before insurgents’ bullets left his legs lifeless on Christmas Day.
All around him, paralyzed patients are toiling, striving for their own personal victories.
“Where are you traveling to right now in your mind?” asks Basle Roberts, a therapy technician at the Shepherd Center.
“I wish that I could stand without this equipment,” Capt. Furat says, resting on a frame used in physical therapy. The rigid metal device is a relief from sitting or lying down, restful positions that aren’t always relaxing anymore.
Every 30 minutes, he must shift positions to prevent potentially fatal pressure sores from developing on his paralyzed lower body, one of the many daily battles the former platoon leader is learning to deal with solo.
“It is just me on this mission,” says Capt. Furat, 28, whose family is 7,000 miles away and still at risk from insurgents for his decision to fight in the nascent Iraqi army.
On some days, it’s nearly too much to bear.
“All this room is dark, and I can’t sleep,” he says after a particularly bad night. “I have pain and bad dreams. I see the sun in the sky, and the sun is dark. Last night, I told myself I am dead.”
The pain and depression are so overwhelming at times that Capt. Furat shuts down.
He doesn’t speak.
He doesn’t get out of bed.
He grips the bedrails to resist going to physical therapy.
In a bedside notebook, the former member of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s elite military makes hash marks counting the days since his spine was severely damaged by a shower of bullets.
“Just like a man in prison, I count the days since my legs stopped working,” says Capt. Furat, who was ambushed outside his family’s home in Muqdadiyah, a city northeast of Baghdad by gunmen dressed in the same new Iraqi army uniform he wore.