After suffering incredible burns in Kandahar, this vet can only escape his pain by playing an experimental quasi-hypnotic video game.
Burn Victim Sam Brown Treated With Virtual-Reality Video Game SnowWorld: Newsmakers: GQ
At will and sometimes against his will, Sam Brown can return in his mind to that hour in the Kandahar desert when he knelt at the edge of a blast crater and raised his flaming arms to the Afghanistan sky. He'd already run through the macabre slapstick routine of a man on fire, trying to put himself out by rolling on the ground. He'd resorted to pelting his face with fistfuls of sand. That failing, he'd run in helpless circles. Finally he'd dropped to his knees, lifted his arms, and screamed Jesus, save me. Each scream drew fire deeper into his lungs. Behind him his Humvee was a twisted inferno. Bullets whizzed around him. His men were scattering, taking cover, moving dreamily in clouds of so-called moondust, that weird powdery talc, which hung in the air and gave the soldiers the appearance of snowmen. It was going on dusk, and in the fading light the enemy gunfire blazed behind the walls of the village.
Only the day before, Brown's brother, Daniel, had told him, in a phone call, You're invincible, they can't kill you. Best he could remember, he'd always felt invincible. Pretty much right up to the instant they rolled over the IED, he had remained the same man he'd been at West Point. That is, he was a man whose life still had meaning. Every action had been meant to hone him for the glory of battle. Even as varsity stroke, in command of a shell on the rowing team, out on the water every morning at dawn, the sun dripping off his oars, his arms burning as he counted off the strokes, welcoming the pain into his body, bronzed, sculpted, almost too good-looking, he sought hard perfection in himself and those around him.
A diligent cadet who would spend the whole of an afternoon in the library reading about ancient Greek wars in Herodotus, immersed in the virtual reality of history, yearning for his own chance to test his mettle—but that was before eight brain-dead weeks of providing security for the construction of a new FOB in the middle of nowhere, watching bulldozers push sand, anxious for anything to break up the tedium, anything. When he was told his platoon would have to help provide security for a convoy coming through his sector on its way to a hydroelectric dam out in Helmand—delivering turbines, on a hearts-and-minds mission—he was all for the diversion, almost ecstatic when the call came from First Platoon reporting they'd been ambushed and needed backup. Brown had responded immediately. He was on the radio to his lead vehicle when he saw the bright flash. His body went inert as the Humvee lifted into the air. How he escaped from the wreck he couldn't recall.
Kneeling there, on fire, he'd resigned himself to death. All he'd wanted to know was how long? How long would he have to burn? How many more torturous fractions of a second would he have to remain alive?
. . .