(clockwise from top middle) deployed to Afghanistan in August 2006; at a Windsor restaurant after a rehab session, wearing a sheath
cover another wound; at a fitting with Brock Loewen, his prosthetist; back at the battalion headquarters in Petawawa on Feb. 16
MONDAYS ARE MIKE Loewen’s busiest. He reports to the Edmonton Garrison at 8 a.m. sharp, only to walk back outside and into a waiting van. The doctors still don’t like the idea of him driving around alone, so it is up to a fellow soldier to make sure he arrives at his appointments on time. “I’m pretty stubborn,” says Loewen, rolling up his sleeve to reveal his mangled right arm. “I want to stay in the infantry, so right now I have to focus everything on getting better to the point where I can stay.”
It was March 3, 2006. Loewen, a member of the 1st Battalion of Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, was stationed in Kandahar, the crew commander of a LAV III armoured vehicle. His orders that morning were to escort members of the board of inquiry investigating the suicide bombing that killed Canadian diplomat Glyn Berry six weeks earlier. “Itwas about9:30 a.m.,” the 29-year-old recalls. “We left camp and we were going down the highway and everything was going pretty normal—or as normal as it could be.” The convoy was well outside the airfield gates when it pulled up behind a truck that was driving suspiciously slow. Loewen stuck his right arm outside the LAV, waving the driver along. “The next thing I know, a guy in another car blows himself up,” he says. “My upper arm was shattered and the elbow was pretty much taken right off. As my wife says, it’s back in Afghanistan somewhere.”
By December, nine months after the bombing, his is still a gruesome wound. The explosion shredded the underside of his forearm, destroying most of the muscle and skin and puncturing a hole in his ulna bone, right near the wrist. The major nerve that controls the pinky and part of the ring finger was also severed. Chunks of the gash were so deep that doctors patched them up with pieces of muscle and nerves taken from Loewen’s left leg. Seeing the injury for the first time, it is impossible not to stare at the fat fleshy bulge near his wrist. It looks like a giant bee sting.
“Lor the first few days I thought I was just in a bad dream, and I was going to wake up and carry on like normal,” says Loewen, sitting in a University of Alberta Hospital waiting room. He is wearing camouflage fatigues and a matching green beret. A thin yellow patch—his official “wound stripe”—is sewn on the left sleeve. “I was more pissed off at the fact that I wasn’t going to be able to finish the tour than the fact that my arm was pretty much blown off.” After the bombing, Loewen was placed on sick leave for four months, splitting time between the burn unit and his bedroom, near his wife and two young daughters. He is back at work now, but light duties only. His orders are clear: get better.
When Loewen first arrived at the U of A hospital, his arm was fastened to a splint, straight as an arrow and completely unbendable. Because of the extensive nerve damage, he couldn’t touch his thumb with any of his fingers. Amputation seemed certain. Today, Loewen is still fighting that fate. The prognosis remains sketchy, but every visit to the hospital brings a smidgen of improvement. “It’s kind of funny,” he says. “The therapists look at my X-rays and ask how I’m moving my fingers in the first place.”
Loewen’s first stop on Monday mornings is a session with the occupational therapists, Jane Quach and Tara Brown. He removes his coat, hangs it over a chair in the corner of the room, and sits down, lifting his limp arm onto the adjacent table. The next few minutes resemble a geometry class. Using a protractor, the therapists measure the movement in each of his nerve-damaged fingers. The ring and the pinky are still rigid and stiff. “I’m just trying to get the fingers to bend further, and it just won’t go,” he says, staring at his hand. “Physically, it’s possible to move it, but I just can’t get my brain to move it.”
Of all the injuries, Loewen’s battered elbow remains the biggest question mark. The more flexible it becomes, the more certain his future will be. To help restore movement, the therapists have designed him a custom-built brace made of hard plastic and Velcro. White and green, it looks like a vice, with a long, hookshaped screw holding one end to the other. Every time Loewen twists the screw, the contraption bends his elbow joint ever so slightly. Each rotation is more painful than the last, but he keeps turning and turning and turning. Grimacing, he stops at 48 degrees.
His goal is to hit 90, or, as Quach puts it: “To get the beer to his mouth.”
Loewen laughs, but he has more serious goals in mind. Turn the ignition. Cut a steak
with his right hand. Hold his newborn daughter properly. But more than anything, he wants to keep his uniform, and maybe one day wear it back to Kandahar. “I keep telling the higher-ups that if I can complete a physical fitness test and if I can complete a rifle test, I will go back overseas,” he says. “I know it won’t be in a combat mission, but I can still go in as support.”
Unfortunately, it is not that simple. There was a time, not long ago, when the military would do its best to find spots for wounded
troops who still wanted to serve. A desk job in recruiting, perhaps. Not anymore. Last May, two months after Loewen nearly lost his arm, the Forces announced a new policy that will spell the end to many careers—regardless
of the soldier’s wishes. According to the new rule, a permanently injured soldier is only allowed to stay on the job for three more years, and only in certain circumstances. After that, it’s 3b—a medical discharge.
Before that happens, troops are given every chance to recover. Casualties rushed home from the battlefields of Afghanistan can receive up to 304 days of sick leave, fully paid. When that expires, a unit commander can approve two more six-month extensions known as “temporary medical categories.” Loewen has just started his second “TCat,” which means that although he can’t hold a rifle, he can still report for duty (his battalion has assigned him to the LAV cell, where he helps teach younger troops). If his arm continues to heal, DND doctors can authorize a third TCat that can last up to one year. But when that ends, the tough decisions begin. Every full-time soldier, sailor and airman must be able to perform a series of physical tasks known as “Universality of Service” standards. Dig a trench. Lug a stretcher. Fire a machine gun. Everyone in uniform must also be healthy enough to “perform duties under extreme climatic conditions” and “with limited access to medical supplies,” food, shelter or even sleep. Basically, the checklist ensures that the entire Canadian Forces is both employ-
‘I don’t want everybody to feel sorry for me. I would prefer that people not even notice my prosthetic foot. That’s my goal.’
able and deployable. Loewen will eventually have to pass that test. If he can’t, the doctors will downgrade him to a “PCat”—a permanent medical category—and ship his case file to Ottawa. There, it will land on the desk of Maj. Yvan Rheaume, who, every year, helps decide the occupational fate of hundreds of fellow soldiers. “Someone must do it,” he says. “It is life, unfortunately.”
Rheaume receives dozens of files every week, each one signed by a physician and packaged in a yellow folder. The forms don’t disclose how or where a soldier was injured. It doesn’t matter whether he tripped down the stairs in his house or drove into a roadside bomb. All that matters to Rheaume and his staff are the long-term “medical employment limitations.” In other words, can the soldier meet the Universality of Service standards? For many, the answer is no, leaving Rheaume little choice but to recommend a medical discharge. The policy does have one loophole, but it only postpones the inevitable. An injured service member can keep working if his trade has a critical shortage of personnel. The infantry, for instance, is desperately undermanned, so if Rheaume were assessing Loewen’s file today, his job would probably be spared—but only for three years. Not a day more. No exceptions.
The three-year rule came into force last June, but it arrived with no publicity and no protest. Few people outside the service—or in it, for that matter—even noticed the change. In the business of arms, after all, medical discharges are nothing new; last year alone, 963 people were released for health reasons ranging from bad backs to kidney stones. But in the coming years, as the policy takes hold, more and more of those cases will be wounded Afghan war vets—if ont-line troops who risked their lives and paid the price. Many will want to keep serving, despite their disabilities. They’ll receive a pink slip instead. “I think the Canadian public should be horrified by this,” says Bob Bergen, a research fellow at the Canadian Defence & Foreign Affairs Institute. “The government is going to have to give its head a shake.”
Don’t expect that to happen. As long as Canada is committed to Afghanistan, everyone in uniform—from clerks to accountants to special forces—must be fit enough to deploy. Those who can’t will be replaced by someone who can. “From the public’s point of view, it may be difficult to understand because these guys risked their lives for the country,” Rheaume says. “Sometimes people will say: ‘You cannot kick me out. I just got a big mortgage and my kids have special needs.’ It’s not that we don’t care about those people, but at the same time you must ensure you have all the people you need to do the mission.”
IT’S AS IF Laurent Guyon never left the trauma ward. A brown metal hospital bed sits in the middle of his Ottawa living room, not far from a wooden shelf stocked with bandages and Percocet painkillers. A plastic triangle hangs over his pillow, the kind patients use to lift themselves up. His wheelchair, a rental, is always within reach. “I am doing crossword puzzles now,” he says. “I never did that in my life, and now I’m doing it just to pass the time. Besides that, I do the dishes. I shouldn’t have showed my wife that I could do the dishes in my wheelchair.”
In busier times, Master Warrant Officer Guyon was on a plane bound for Kandahar, barrelling toward his first overseas deployment. He was a volunteer, a 40-year-old
reservist who answered the call. “I think I saw a guy on a bicycle,” he says, recalling that September foot patrol. “I was looking somewhere else and then all of a sudden I heard the explosion. Both my legs were broken before I hit the ground.” Four fellow soldiers were killed. “They teach us that if you get wounded and there is still a threat, you have to fight back,” Guyon continues. “But I was holding my two broken legs and looking at my rifle thinking: T can’t do the hero stuff. I can’t do anything.’ ”
His legs are still useless. The explosion fractured both femurs—the thick bones between the hip and the knee—and pierced his skin so deeply that half his blood poured out. Both legs were devastated, but the right was slightly worse. The main artery took such a blow that surgeons borrowed a vein from the left leg in order to keep the blood flowing. Doctors also performed a fasciotomy, slicing a long gash down the outside of his calf to relieve the swelling. Today, Guyon’s legs are a collection of long red scars, each with a different
story to tell. A hidden titanium plate keeps his right femur in place. On the left side, a thin rod does the same job. “Some days are kind of hard because I am not a very patient person,” he says. “But I am happy to be alive. For those four guys who were killed, I have to prove to that bomber—and to myself—that I’m not going to let this affect me.” Guyon has a visitor this November after-
Loewen has his goals. Turn the key in the ignition. Cut a steak with his right hand. But more than anything, he wants to keep his uniform.
noon: Julie Dignard, a physiotherapist who makes house calls. She kneels beside his bed, gripping his swollen right ankle as he bends his knee. It seems like a pointless exercise, but it will make all the difference when doctors give him the green light to stand up. ‘Once Laurent is allowed to put weight on
the leg, there have to be muscles to support it,” Dignard says, pulling gently on his foot.
IT IS A frigid January afternoon in downtown Toronto. Barnewall and a friend are spending the weekend at his cousin’s waterfront condo, killing the afternoon before heading to the Air Canada Centre for tonight’s Toronto Rock lacrosse game. The walk will be a good test for Barnewall’s new prosthetic leg, which arrived the other day. “It’s all about returning to normal, and part of returning to normal is being able to walk,” he says, sipping a bottle of Corona. “I don’t want everybody to feel sorry for me. I would prefer that people not even notice.”
Unlike Loewen, Barnewall is not battling to stay in uniform. When his contract expires next year, he is pretty sure he will walk away. “I don’t regret going into the army,” he says. “They’ve done everything I’ve needed since I got hurt. No snags. No obstacles.” Barnewall will never pay a medical bill linked to his injury. If he wants a special prosthesis to play hockey (which he does), Veterans Affairs will cover the cost. And if that one breaks, he’ll get a new one—no questions asked. “Losing my leg will never be worth it, but they don’t f-k you,” he says. “You get compensated.” Barnewall is hesitant to discuss dollar figures. He has received one hefty cheque already, but the amount of zeros isn’t something he wants to share. But he will say this: “It’s a sigh of relief. You take a breath and you know that things are going to be fine. I’m not going to have to worry about not being able to pay bills or having to sell my truck or figuring out where I am going to live. And I won’t have to worry about finding a job right away where I make $50,000 a year.”
The process is complex and the paperwork can be overwhelming, but Canadians who suffer serious wounds in the Kandahar war zone can expect to receive tens of thousands of dollars—if not hundreds—when they arrive home. The payouts begin with SISIP, a government-run insurance firm that caters only to soldiers. Everyone in uniform must pur-
chase long-term disability coverage, which costs about $8 a month. But they are also covered, free of charge, under SISIP’s Accidental Dismemberment Insurance Plan. Restitution is swift, non-negotiable and tax-free.
A severed limb—a foot, for example—is worth $125,000. Lose two, and the amount doubles to $250,000. In 2006, the plan paid a combined $1 million to seven soldiers who lost a body part—or more—in Afghanistan. Veterans Affairs offers an additional lump sum “disability award” that can reach $250,000.
It is a mind-numbing calculation—the official guidelines are 407 pages—but the amount boils down to this: what is your specific injury, and how deeply has it affected your quality of life? Until last April, the feds paid out monthly disability pensions to worthy claimants, but that practice was scrapped when Stephen Harper introduced one-time rewards as part of the New Veterans Charter. Some have criticized the change, complaining that Ottawa can now wash its hands of damaged goods with a single cheque. But that’s not entirely accurate. The lump sum atones for “pain and suffering,” the instant and immeasurable anguish a soldier endures after a catastrophic injury. It doesn’t compensate for lost earnings or day-to-day living expenses. Other financial safety nets are in place to deal with that. Most notably, if a soldier suffers a “permanent and serious disability” (a quadriplegic, for example) he is guaranteed a monthly pension that equals 75 per cent of his gross, pre-release salary. It doesn’t matter whether he already received a cheque from SISIP or Veterans Affairs, or both. The monthly pension is a completely separate benefit.
Michael Barnewall and Mike Loewen will not receive 75 per cent pensions for the rest of their lives. It may seem unfair, but as horrific as their injuries are, neither man is incapacitated. In fact, the vast majority of 3b’ed troops fall on a similar fringe: too wounded to keep serving, but healthy enough to hold a civilian job. Such is the essence of the new Charter. It cares for the worst of the worst,
the men and women too badly maimed to move on. But for everyone else, the main goal is to get back to work. Just not in the military. “The policy objectives are not simply about compensating people,” says Ken Miller, national director of program policy at Veterans Affairs. “The policy objective is all-around wellness. It’s a great statement of success if we can actually help them back to full self-sufficiency.”
lf| ¥ V1 E* ¥ E" f ATE11\T <toP left) 9ives two thumbs-ups during his Afghanistan tour. Back in an Edmonton hospital XVX A XV Ci ÂÆCi If If Ci XII (bottom left), doctors were not sure whether his mangled arm would need to be amputated. Occupational therapist Tara Brown (top right) measures his progress. The custom-built brace bends his elbow with the turn of a screw.
Miller, a 25-year bureaucrat, says the old pension scheme was so focused on compensation that it didn’t do enough to help injured soldiers recover. Here’s your monthly cheque. Good luck. The new system goes way beyond that. As long as a medically discharged member is participating in a rehab program, the government will pay the equivalent of 75 per cent of his salary until he recuperates. Ottawa will also cover tuition costs, up to $20,000, to retrain people in new professions. And when they graduate, the government guarantees them priority employment. In the first two months of 2007, the feds have already hired more than 80 former soldiers. The private sector has stepped up, too. As part of a new initiative called the Transition Assistance Program, dozens of companies—from Bombardier to Casino Niagara to Home Depothave agreed to post online employment offers specifically aimed at wounded Canadian troops. “It’s a workopolis.com for injured military people,” says Lt.-Col. Gerry Blais.
His official title is director, casualty support administration for the Canadian Forces, but Blais’s primary job is to direct the Centre, a joint DND-Veterans Affairs initiative that was launched in 1999 and has come of age in the shadow of Afghanistan. It is a one-stop shop for wounded vets, helping 3b’ed troops do everything from filling out compensation forms to making their homes wheelchair accessible. Last year, the Centre’s 1-800 line prevented seven suicides. “The passion that my staff has, I just can’t explain it to you,” Blais says. “It’s amazing.”
But Blais is not naive. He knows that no matter what the military does, there will always be someone who says it’s not enough. How much, after all, is a foot really worth? Or an arm? Or 15 per cent of your brain? There is no simple answer. But as Blais says, soldiers are well aware of the risks before they ever sign on the dotted line. “When you join the military, you know what you’re getting into,” he says. “Everyone knows what we do.” Barnewall understands that. He has no complaints about how the system has treated him, both physically and financially. As for what’s next, he’s not exactly sure. His name will remain on the military payroll for at least another year, so he has some time to decide. He does know one thing, however: “Every dollar that I get out of this, I would give back to have my leg back. That’s for darn sure.”
BY MONDAY AFTERNOON,Mike Loewen and his buggered arm are back at base, sitting inside the Edmonton Garrison fitness centre. He spends Wednesdays and Thursdays here,
too, enduring, as he calls it, the “legalized torture” of Keith Ross, a civilian physiotherapist. During his five years at the centre, Ross has never laid eyes on an arm as bad as Loewen’s. “These injuries are entirely unique,” he says. “Even with all the expertise in the world, you learn as you go with some of these injuries. You find out what works, how much you can tolerate, and you go from there.”
Today, Ross begins the hour-long appointment by heating the arm with a warm, jelly-
like substance. It softens the scar tissue, helping the blood to flow. Then, in a repeat of this morning’s drill, he wrenches on the elbow, bending the busted joint as far as it will go. “We’re pretty much hitting bone on bone right now,” he explains, pushing a little harder. “It’s more of a clunking, grinding in the sense of a gristle compression rather than the true glide of a joint.” Loewen is wincing.
As agonizing as it is, he would rather endure
this all day than what’s next. “I hate needles,”
he says, turning his eyes the other way. “You find a trigger point or knot in the muscle and you stick it in,” Ross says, holding a few tiny needles in his hand. They resemble the kind used for acupuncture, but
they’re actually much thinner. “It winds up the muscle, and when you pull it out, the muscle relaxes a little bit more than when you started.” A few minutes later, four razorthin needles are poking out from Loewen’s arm. He still won’t look. “I’ve talked a lot with Mike,” Ross continues, waiting for the right moment to slide them out. “We’ve had to discuss outcomes and options, because, of course, hanging around the background here is amputation as an option. At what point would you become more functional as an amputee with a prosthesis than putting all this time and effort—and pain, I might add— into rehabilitation? I would say we are still 50/50. The problem is he is almost blurring the line because he is doing so well.”
When the appointment is over, Loewen— despite doctors’ orders—drives himself home
to St. Albert, about 20 minutes north of the base. He changes out of his combat fatigues and into a pair of jeans and a comfortable grey T-shirt. Downstairs, his seven-year-old daughter, Shea-Lynn, is watching cartoons. Lyndsay, his wife, is sitting on the couch beside him, holding their six-month-old baby, Tristina. “That was the only silver lining of being hit,” Loewen says. “I was able to be
home for her birth.”
“It turned my stomach,” Lyndsay says,
recalling the first time she saw the arm. I was horrified. But I would sit there and swallow, because Mike’s looking at me and I m thinking: ‘Don’t hit the floor, because this poor guy is going to think it’s so horrible that
it can’t get better.’ ” Lyndsay is Mike’s rock, always supportive but never pitying. She shovels the snow, carries in the groceries, and takes the odd clunk to the head when her husband, wearing his elbow brace, rolls over in bed. “You just do it and you deal with it,” she says. “But I have also had to fight feeling guilty. I’m happy he’s home. I’m happy he’s alive. But I’m feeling extremely guilty that I’m happy he’s home because all these other women are getting caskets.”
MIKE LOEWEN undergoes therapy three days a week for his elbow and hand—the baby finger is still rigid (left). When physiotherapist Keith Ross (middle top) first met Loewen, his arm was completely unbendable. The green spots on the map of his hands (right) mark where he has the most sensation; red is the least. Despite the injury, he went on a sergeant’s course (middle bottom).
I find that too, Loewen adds. I felt so guilty because I was home and I wasn t going through the same dangers that my buddies were. And then, when they got back home and everyone was back to work, I felt so angry because they could go back to their lives as
normal whereas I’m still continuing on with my physio.
But as far as the military goes, the Loewens say they couldn’t be happier. Even now, nearly a year later, the chain of command still phones the house to see how Lyndsay is holding up. Loewen s direct superiors have been espedaily supportive. Before the accident, he was a shoo-in to be sergeant. He still wants the promotion, so his unit—despite his handicap—has agreed to send him on the necessary
course. Classes start in a couple months,
“This is his job,” Lyndsay says. “This is what
he does, and anybody that Mike works with, they all respect him. I can t imagine him not being a soldier. I can t imagine me not being a military wife anymore,
FOUR DAYS BEFORE Christmas, Laurent Guyon wheels himself through the front doors of what used to be Canada’s private military hospital in suburban Ottawa. Most of the former wards inside this brown brick building are now offices, occupied by the Canadian Forces Health Services Group, the military’s ever-growing medical bureaucracy.
The only patients in the entire facility are in the physiotherapy wing on the first floor.
Last week, Dr. Steven Papp, Guyon’s orthopaedic surgeon, passed along some good news: three months after the bombing, he can finally start putting pressure on his legs— full weight on the left, 50 per cent on the right. “I’m getting used to it,” he says, wearing grey shorts and a blue T-shirt. “I got up yesterday and it felt like when you’re drunk— really dizzy. I guess the heart is not used to pumping that high anymore. But it’s pretty good. At least I can stop seeing up people’s nostrils.”
Not for good. Not yet, at least. Guyon still has months of tedious routine left to brave before he is able to walk his dog. This morning, he begins his session with some leg stretches. Capt. Lisa Francis, his military physiotherapist, helps bend his knees as he lies flat on his back. “Let me know when that hurts,” she says. Behind her, a plastic skeleton is sporting a Santa Claus hat.
A mechanical engineer by trade, Guyon joined the reserves when he was 18 and served the next two decades with the 2nd Field Regiment, Royal Canadian Artillery. A few years ago, bored with the private sector, the Montreal native signed a three-year contract to work full-time at Ottawa headquarters. He was barely settled into his new post when he heard about CIMIC officers, the Canadian soldiers who interact with Afghan elders. He trained part-time for six months, then cancelled his three-year gig to sign a new, one-year deployment contract: six more months of training and six months overseas. He landed in theatre on Aug. 10. On Sept. 18, his legs were shattered.
Since 9/11, hundreds of Canadian reservists have served in Afghanistan—despite the fact that many civilian employers still don’t promise them a job when the tour is over. The military can’t force the private sector to be more accommodating, but it has adopted its own policies to help protect wounded reservists. Part-timers injured overseas can have their full-time service (officially known as “Class C”) extended for up to two years, if they don’t heal, all the benefits accorded to the regular force are available to them. Guyon plans to take advantage of the military’s Return to Work Program, which allows wounded troops to ease back on duty a couple of hours at a time. His superiors have already phoned to tell him his old desk is waiting. “Will it be a three-year contract or a one-year contract? I don’t know,” he says. “But they will take care of me.”
Finished bending and stretching, Guyon sits up, his skinny legs hanging over the edge of the table. Anxious to test the muscles, he reaches for his silver walker—the kind common in nursing homes—and carefully stands up. Francis hovers beside him, close enough to grab a hold if he stumbles. “Just take your time,” she says. “Forget about everything around you.” Favouring his left side, Guyon pushes the walker a few inches along the tiled floor, then slides his bare feet toward it, one after the other. Push. Slide. Push. Slide. It takes a few minutes, but he manages
'I’m feeling extremely guilty that I’m happy he’s home,' says Loewen’s wife, Lyndsay, 'because all these other women are getting caskets’
to complete a short lap around the table before plopping down on the other side, exhausted and out of breath.
MICHAEL BARNEWALL HADN’T lived with his mom and dad since shipping off to basic five years ago. That changed after the land mine. For weeks now, his mother, Terri, has spent every morning with her youngest son, driving him 45 minutes from the family bungalow on the shores of Lake Erie to the Windsor Regional Hospital. “I know Mike hates it,” she says. “It is a lack of independence that is very unfamiliar to him. He is not the type to be babied or coddled.”
By 8:30 a.m., Barnewall is sitting in the lobby of the rehab clinic, directly across from a gift shop that hasn’t opened yet. Leaning back in his chair, he cracks a joke about buying himself one of the ugly china dishes on display in the window. He can be soft-spoken at times, but Barnewall has a sharp wit. When asked whether he cheers for the Detroit Red Wings or the Toronto Maple Leafs, he answers neither. “I like the Nashville Predators,” he boasts. “They need fans. If they ever win the Stanley Cup I’ll be the only person at the parade.” Today, he is wearing a baseball cap that bears the logo of the Montreal Express, a lacrosse team that folded years ago.
His first stop is the hand clinic, where Mary Ann Bender, his aptly named occupational therapist, goes to work on his damaged right pinky. Barnewall’s foot took the brunt of the explosion, but his arm actually looks much worse. The entire thing is red and scraped and sore. He can barely move some of the knuckles. Bender is trying to remedy that, using her fingers to massage the tendons. As she rubs, Barnewall hides his face in his armpit, trying to mask the agony.
The appointment lasts an hour. When it’s done, Barnewall limps out of the room and down a narrow hallway. He grips his metal cane with his left hand, which is surprising, considering his right foot—not his left—is missing. “When the cane is on the same side, you lean on the injury,” he explains. “Now, when I need to, I lean on the cane—away from the injury.” When he reaches the physio centre at the other end of the building, Barnewall parks himself in a chair and pulls up his right pant leg, revealing his prosthesis. Flesh-coloured and complete with fake toenails, the foot is constructed of carbon fibre and cov-
ered by a black running shoe. Designed by Ossur, a firm in Iceland, this particular version is known as an “energystoring, energy-returning” device. It works a lot like a subtle spring, easing the pressure of every step. The shin
is a thin titanium rod, which leads to a wide plastic socket at the top end.
His stump is bothering him today. Like all amputees, he is enduring the most common side effect: residual limb atrophy. What’s left of his leg is slowly shrinking as the swelling subsides and the muscles shrivel. “Eventually it will stop and just be whatever shape it is,” Barnewall says. When that happens, he will receive a permanent prosthesis, one that fits him like a glove. Until then, however, he slides on some thick cotton socks, fattening the stump so it fits as snug as possible.
This morning, like most mornings, Barnewall is the youngest patient here. Everyone else appears to be in their 70s or 80s, the victims of a stroke or diabetes or the natural decay of old age. He starts with a brief stint on the treadmill, then walks a few steps to the back of the room, where his physiotherapist, Kelly Soulliere, hands him a soccer ball. Holding
his cane, Barnewall kicks the checkered ball against an empty wall. It will help restore your balance, Soulliere tells him. A few kicks with the left. A few with the right. A few with the cane. “I’m a bone rack now. I’ve lost 20 lb — plus whatever that weighed,” he says, pointing down at his missing foot.
The irony of this whole routine isn’t lost on Barnewall. He was the speed demon, the guy who could outrun anyone in his platoon. He was a dandy soccer player, too. “Some days it’s hard,” he says. “I’ve always been built on speed. I’ve always been the fastest guy, the most agile, the most athletic, so to have that taken away, it hurts. But also, I’m excited to play sports and do things to the point that people don’t even know I have a prosthetic foot. I would like people to say: ‘Wow, that guy is really good,’ and then find out about my leg.”
A mock set of stairs sits in another corner of the room. Without his cane, Barnewall climbs up one side and down the other. The trampoline is next. His job is not to bounce, but to stand on top of it, staying as still as possible. Of all the drills, this one seems easy. But it’s the toughest. “Basically, my left ankle is controlling all my balance,” he says, staring straight ahead.
In a few weeks, Barnewall’s battalion is
scheduled to return from Kandahar. “I’ll feel a whole lot better when everybody is not in Afghanistan anymore,” he says. “And when the guys get off the bus in Petawawa, they’ll see me walking.” One of the guys
who won’t be on that bus is Josh Klukie, a 23year-old private who was killed two months before Barnewall lost his foot. “It was the same kind of thing,” he says. “He wasn’t the first in the order of march. Other guys had passed over the land mine already. This whole thing has made me a definite believer that when it’s your time, it’s your time, and when it’s not your time, it’s not your time. It was an identical scenario, and he’s dead.”
THERE WERE MORE than a few puzzled faces when Mike Loewen arrived at CFB Gagetown in late January for the first day of his two-month sergeant’s course. He didn’t know it, but the rules apparently say that soldiers on a temporary medical category are not allowed to enrol. The mix-up was eventually solved, although he had to accept a few conditions: he can’t fire the .50-cal., and even if he passes the course, he won’t be promoted until the doctors weigh in. “I was told by the instructors that I’m not going to get any special attention,” Loewen says. “I said: ‘Well, I didn’t want any special attention.’ ”
When classes aren’t in session, Loewen spends time with a ball of putty, trying hard to squeeze some sensation back into his fingers. The elbow joint is still improving. Before leaving for New Brunswick, he was able to bend it 55 degrees on his own—a seven-degree jump in seven weeks. With a push from his therapist, he managed to hit 69. “We have already surpassed what everyone was hopeful of in the beginning,” he says. “I’ve accepted the fact that I’m injured, but I’m not accepting the fact that I can’t get any better.”
SISIP, the military’s insurance firm, seems to think otherwise. The company recently mailed Loewen a cheque for $125,000, the automatic amount for a combat soldier who loses a limb. The money is nice, he says, but it won’t deter him from trying to recover— even if that means returning the cash. “I would trade that back in a second,” he says. “To be able to hold my daughter properly, that’s worth all the money in the world.” Loewen is not naive. He knows that a possible 3b still looms large. But with more surgeries planned in the coming months, his attitude remains the same: Take everything one day at a time, and see what happens.
“You don’t really think about getting injured—or at least I never did,” he says. “It’s the whole stereotype: you’re young and inde-
'For those four guys who were killed, 1 have to prove to that bomber—and to myself—that I'm not going to let this affect me’
structible.” It wasn’t until he came home hurt that he learned about DND’s new policy, the one that prohibits wounded soldiers from finishing their careers. “I can’t picture myself as a civilian,” he says. “I see the reasoning behind the rule, but the way I look at it, I can do something that will free up another soldier to be able to go overseas. It’s not a money issue. It has nothing to do with money. It’s just the fact that I still want to serve.”
BY FEBRUARY, LAURENT Guyon still needs the wheelchair. But his crutches are close by. His doctor finally gave him permission to put full weight on both feet, and, like a good soldier, he is following orders. “The greatest event I had last week was going to the bathroom and pissing standing up,” he says, smiling. “A real man thing, you know.” This morning, Guyon uses the crutches to hobble toward a stationary bike in a far corner of the physio room.
j A up JP iy|vp (** TIVA1VT was in Afghanistan for five weeks when a suicide bomb shattered his legs, later AJ AJ JtV Hi AM A VÜ W X AJ AM rebuilt with metal rods (middle). Physiotherapist Capt. Lisa Francis (right and bottom left) spent six months helping to rebuild the muscle. Guyon started walking (top left) in January.
As he pedals, Guyon explains that his old bosses have agreed to lend him a laptop so he can start working from home. Nothing too strenuous, though. Just some light reading. “I actually feel like I’m still on operation,” he says. “My job is to sit up and get back into shape. That is my mindset.” Guyon stops for a second, taking a gulp from his water bottle. If he is bitter about anything, it’s that he was wounded so early in the mission. So early, in fact, that he never got to actually be a CIMIC officer. “I have to make peace with that,” he says. “I know I was there. The other day, I was watching a comedy show, a sitcom, and these guys were caught on vacation and there was a revolution where they were. And there was an explosion. It was a comedy, but my right leg twitched. And that night, I didn’t sleep too well. It is there. It is always there. But I don’t really want it to go. I don’t want to forget what happened.”
AS PROMISED, BARNEWALL rode a train from Windsor to Petawawa so he could be there to welcome his friends home from Afghanistan. “It was nice,” he says, downplaying the moment. “They were glad.” He has spent the rest of Valentine’s week at his old apartment on base. It is typical barracks. Empty beer cases line the kitchen floor, right underneath a calendar featuring a barely dressed Jenny McCarthy. In the living room, a massive 60-inch television covers an entire wall. “My roommate gave it to himself as a gift after the Kabul tour,” Barnewall says. Two small trophies sit on top of the TV stand. Both are his: one for scoring the most touchdowns in rec-league football; the other for winning a road hockey tournament.
Barnewall isn’t ready to return to work— “They would just be making up jobs for me,” he says—but he does have to stop by the battalion this afternoon to drop off some paperwork. His apartment is on the third floor, but he has no trouble limping down the stairs and out the back door. He is getting quicker by the day. Outside, his shiny black pickup truck is parked in the lot. He took it out of storage as soon as he got off the train. “It doesn’t take long to get used to it,” he says, explaining how his left foot pushes the pedals. “When you don’t have any other options, you learn pretty quickly.”
The halls of the battalion are empty. Most of the soldiers, fresh from their Afghanistan tour, are enjoying some well-deserved rest. The few who are around smile at Barney and pat him on the back, telling him how good he looks and how they should all go for a beer this weekend. Before leaving, Barnewall makes a quick stop at the kit shop. A Grade 4 teacher in Windsor has invited him to speak to his class, and he doesn’t want to show up empty-handed. A clerk fills two plastic bags with T-shirts, red and yellow ones that say: “Support our Troops.”
Barnewall is driving back to his parents’ house in a few days, but he won’t stay long. He told the army that he wants to complete the rest of his rehab in Petawawa, close to his buddies and his own bed and the life he knows best. In fact, Barnewall says he is now considering staying in the Forces for a few more years. Asked if he could pass the Universality of Service standards with a fake leg, he smiles. By then, he plans to be sprinting and skating and doing everything else he did with such ease before Nov. 21. Running a couple of miles shouldn’t be too difficult. “I can find 500 guys on the base who would not be able to do that test as easily as I could,” he says.
It’s easy to believe him. Four months ago, Barnewall lost his right foot. Today, he is walking around with a limp that is barely noticeable. “I’m sure there are people who would think the world is out to get them and say: ‘Screw this. My life’s over,’ ” he says. “But I don’t want to live like that. I sure wish it didn’t happen, but it has, and being bitter is not going to help anybody. It’s not going to help me.” M
michael.friscolanti a macleans.rogers.com