A bittersweet chronicle about caretaking for the nonlethal casualties of war.
As a dedicated physical therapist at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Levine rehabilitated scores of American soldiers (predominantly men in their early 20s) deployed to and returning from war-torn Iraq and Afghanistan. Her memoir is comprised of vignettes chronicling the diligent work required to make the facility function and, more importantly, about the patients who filled its rooms with war stories and poignant personal histories, from the heartbreaking to the humor-laced. After a six-year tenure, Levine knowledgeably describes the cramped, fishbowllike “glassed-in gym” housing more than 100 patients at a time (all viewable by inquisitive tour groups) in the amputee unit where she and other therapists helped soldiers convalesce. She also outlines the finesse of amputations and prosthetics and allows a glimpse into her personal life as a single lesbian. Throughout her affable narrative, Levine celebrates the facility’s long history as the Army’s flagship medical center, yet her focus remains on the patient-care experience and the interactive camaraderie that is such an integral component to a soldier’s recovery. Among the more colorful characters are co-worker Jim, a retired Army lieutenant colonel who was also a compulsive baker and fledgling marathoner; a paranoid fellow physical therapist nicknamed “Major Crazy”; a prosthetist dubbed “Big Sexy”; and Walter, the unit’s service dog. However, emerging as the centerpiece of the collection is Cosmo, a defiant, foulmouthed, 22-year-old infantry soldier who was admitted with one leg blown off; he eventually became a double-amputee Levine describes as a man virtually “cut in half.” Ultimately, while her job is to physically restore these servicemen, it is seeing smiles of contentment or a long-awaited discharge that “makes the long hours and the physicality of our work worth it.”
A moving volume suffused with pain, hope and bravery.