Notable & Quotable: No Turning Back
Bryan Anderson’s life changed with a boom on Oct. 23, 2005, in downtown Baghdad, Iraq. The improvised explosive device sent a stream of molten metal through his Humvee, and both his legs were severed and cauterized in a flash. His left hand and a chunk of his right disappeared in the explosion.
A U.S. Army sergeant at the time, he remembers it all in excruciating, vivid detail, up until the time he was put into a helicopter for transport to medical care. Then, he blacked out, and didn’t wake up until a week later in Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., with his mother looking into his eyes. “Mom?” he asked. “What’re you doing here?” His mother explained he had been in an “accident,” and she stayed with him for a year while he recovered.
In his book “No Turning Back,” Anderson recounts his amazing journey from being critically wounded to becoming critically alive, aware and fulfilled. It is an inspirational book, worthy reading for anybody, particularly people working in rehabilitation or providing HME goods and services to patients like Anderson.
Anderson tells his story through the writing of David Mack, who transforms Anderson’s memoir into a credible work of narrative journalism. The story flows from Anderson being critically injured, through rehabilitation and then triumph in recovery. The book reflects Anderson’s upbeat philosophy, and is peppered with his memorable quotes. For example, this is what Anderson thinks about what happened to him in Iraq:
“Bad things happen to us. It’s a fact of life. No one’s immune. … For me it was getting blown up; for somebody else, it might be losing a job, or a loved one dying, or a house burning down. There are things we can’t avoid, at least not forever. We can’t always control what happens to us. The only thing we can control is how we react to it. We can choose to lie down and die, or we can choose to go on living.’’
Anderson chose to live, but it required plenty of effort. In addition to adapting to rehabilitative devices, he has mastered a host of other skills such as snowboarding, wakeboarding and rock-climbing. His motto for life emerged from his early days of painful recovery at Walter Reed when he fell repeatedly while learning to walk on prosthetic legs.
“You know how people say they fell flat on their faces when they screwed up something they’re trying to do. Well, that’s what I was doing … literally. And that’s when I cooked up my motto: ‘If you’re not falling, you’re not trying.’”
It helps that Anderson is a former gymnast, and was able to adapt that approach to his recovery. But it also helps that Anderson knows how to talk to himself in a voice that urges him onward.
“If you call yourself an idiot or a klutz, or say you’re not attractive, pretty soon you’ll start believing your own bad press. You owe yourself better treatment than that. Don’t put yourself down—there are more than enough jerks in the world who will be happy to do it for you. Imagine if a good friend of yours was in your position. What would you say to him? Would you criticize him? Knock him down? No, of course not. You’d encourage him, support him. Well, you deserve the same for yourself.”
So Anderson moves forward into a life of helping other disabled veterans and an acting career. He is the national spokesperson for Quantum Rehab, a division of Pride Mobility Products Corp., and USA Cares, a nonprofit that helps post-9/11 veterans.
HomeCare, January 2012