Specialist Joey Paulk awoke from a coma in a Texas hospital three weeks after he was burned nearly to death in Afghanistan. Wrapped in bandages from head almost to toe, he immediately saw his girlfriend and mother, and felt comforted. Then he glanced at his hands, two balls of white gauze, and realized that he had no fingers.
So it began: the shock of recognition. Next came what burn doctors call “the mirror test.” As he was shuffling through a hallway at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, he passed a large mirror that he had turned away from before. This time he steeled himself and looked.
His swollen lower lip hung below his gums. His left lower eyelid drooped hound dog-like, revealing a scarlet crescent of raw tissue. His nostrils were squeezed shut, his chin had virtually disappeared and the top half of one ear was gone. Skin grafts crisscrossed his face like lines on a map, and silver medicine coated his scars, making him look like something out of a Terminator film.
“This is who I am now,” he told himself.