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Doctors at Camp Bastion kept JJ ventilated and sedated until he was flown back to the UK.
JJ is a Marine reservist who normally works as a design technology teacher at Balerno High School, Edinburgh – a creative man who loved working with his hands.
And it was his hands, arms and one of his eyes that were most severely damaged by the bomb.
He has lost a couple of his fingers on his left hand and a huge chunk out of his right arm.
Since JJ arrived at Selly Oak, Rev Chalmers, his wife Liz, JJ’s girlfriend Kornelia and other family members have been constantly at his bedside but it is his father’s emails that have touched people around the world.
Without maudlin sentiment, they sketch out a landscape where none of us would ever want to go but which some of us are forced to cross.
Dear All, For the last five days we have been wired to a range of emotions but, in spite of living on the edge, we have seldom felt tired. It’s the kind of alert that keeps you "on edge" but never properly rested.
Tonight we are utterly exhausted, because so much of that tension has been discharged by the events of what has been an extraordinary day.
First thing this morning they removed the ventilator tube and JJ began to self-respirate. That means breathing on his own! That would have been enough to make us feel better, but when we went in to see him he knew exactly who we were and he was able to speak a little, in a very gruff whisper.
We cannot believe how far he has come in the last 24 hours and there is a real confidence around that. Barring the constant enemy of infection, he has left the foothills and begun the long climb to recovery. Now, however, he has a new range of challenges.
His first questions were about his mates – he still doesn’t know what happened to the rest of his patrol. Down here, they operate a "no lies" policy so, when he next asks, he will find out that two of his fellow Marines died in the same explosion.
Today’s first reflection is one of growing amazement at how far JJ’s story has spread. Over a period of 72 hours we have become aware of candles being lit around the world, today brought more than 50 cards to his hospital bed and we have lost count of the number of people who have commented on how this event has brought the conflict in Afghanistan so close to home. The reality, of course, is that this kind of pain has been stalking families since the so-called "war on terror" began after 9/11.
Of course, yesterday’s euphoria for us contrasted with the deep sorrow of the families of two of JJ’s mates who came home to Royal Wootton Bassett. We were cocooned in our little world, making hopeful plans for JJ’s progress, forgetting that while this is a trial for us it is a tragedy for others.
Our day began with an early morning meeting with the Maxillofacial Team. It was another one of those matter-of-fact exchanges – the kind you have with a Kwik Fit fitter when he tells you what is wrong with your car and what has to be done to fix it.
When we left JJ last night he was very sore (he described it as being in agony – and he’s not a wuss!) However, by midnight they had his pain under control and he slept like a baby.
Over the last 24 hours, JJ has enjoyed the peace and rest that we had hoped for. With a steady supply of morphine and antibiotics and 8000 calories a day through a feeding tube he is climbing his mountain.
In a couple of lucid spells, he spoke at greater length about what had happened to him. He is still trying to piece the bits together, but it’s a pretty harrowing tale. It is obvious that, even without this terrible accident, this tour of duty would have been a lifechanging experience.
He now knows better than any of us the ambiguity of Afghanistan and he is just beginning to realise the terrible cost. Today, he asked about his hands – wondering what might be revealed when the dressings come off. We need to be there when that happens.
Getting JJ’s hands to work again is one of the major challenges on the ascent of his mountain and, although I don’t doubt he’ll get there, it seems like an inaccessible peak. Inaccessible peaks are usually scaled with the help of others who are attached by rope. The team down here have the ropes.
JJ heads for theatre tomorrow for more wound cleaning and major facial reconstruction. His loving brother posted a comment on Facebook asking if anyone had any advice for the Maxillofacial surgeon on how, when they were at it, they might improve on JJ’s good looks.
Six hours in theatre has accomplished the reconstruction of JJ’s face. Tonight he looks a bit tender and sore, but the surgeon was delighted with the results and this is clear progress.
He is still bandaged on all four limbs. These bandages are closed off with what can only be described as cling film and each one has a tube inserted which in turn is connected to a vacuum canister which collect the discharge from the wounds.
To say he looks like an accessory for a Dyson would be an understatement, but it’s yet another amazing element of their careful attention to the business of fighting infection.
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