Looking Back: Allen’s Story Part 1- A Soldier’s Suffering

We want to celebrate our patient contributors and writers for their efforts in helping the rare community by bringing awareness, understanding and compassion to often neglected disease. The following article was originally published in 2015 but we know that with every new diagnosis, this story can help a family, patient or caregiver in need of camaraderie and support. As we jump into 2017 we’re #LookingBack on some of the most poignant stories of previous years. Take a look at this story about Ankylosing Spondylitis.

In January 2003, Allen should have been in the best shape of his life.

After all, he’d started basic training just a month prior in an effort to become an airman. But little did he know that it was only the beginning of a twelve year journey that would bring out the very worst in him and sink him to a level he had never before experienced.

It all began with electric-like pain. It was like nothing he ever felt before, bringing him to tears. At the time, he chalked it up to a pulled muscle. But, nonetheless, an ambulance was called and after several tests, it was determined to be a strained muscle and he was sent on his way.

Though the pain continued to creep up his spine, Allen kept his mouth shut, thinking that everybody felt this pain at one time or another. With that in mind, he continued through basic training with no more than a sore back, ingrown nail, and a couple of fractures in his left foot. Then, from basic, Allen went on to tech school in Wichita Falls, where pain in his foot continued to persist. So back to the doctor he went, but nothing changed. He was set home with some pain medication and a fractured foot diagnosis.

From there, he continued to push through the pain and signed up to be a heavy equipment operator. However, with his new position came the same old pain. Nobody would listen, and more than that, his peers told him to suck it up because everyone “hurts.” So he did. He made it through the rest of tech school without a peep and then was off to Guam.

One study states basic training injuries can exceed 6 to 12 per 100 male recruits.

During the first couple of weeks, Allen’s pain seemed to subside. But then, two months into his new position in Guam, he was lying on the floor, hanging with a bunch of the guys in the day room, when he tried to stand up. Upon standing, pain shot through his body like a knife winching its way into his bones; it was worse than he had ever experienced before.

At that point, he couldn’t even walk. In fact, couldn’t even stand. One of the guys had to carry him back to bed, where he would lay, unable to move, until someone came and checked on him the next morning and took him to the base clinic.

“It felt like my spine had shifted. This was bone pain, like something had broken,” Allen said.

After x-rays, Allen, once again, was told he had a strained muscle. “Go home, rest, you’ll be fine” were the words that Allen continued to hear from doctors. Though he was weary and didn’t agree with his diagnosis, he obliged.

Then, like clockwork, the pain was back; and with similar results. “Muscle relaxers and rest,” they said. Allen’s shop even considered malingering charges because nobody believed him.

Fast forward 15 months and Allen found himself in Minot, North Dakota. Except, without fail, his symptoms began flaring up, including a new symptom, a very swollen and painful foot.

Allen was finally given permission to visit the base clinic (considering he couldn’t run, walk, do sit-ups, nothing). But what do you think happened? A strained muscle diagnosis. For the umpteenth time.

Frustrated with the pain, his job, and the fact that nobody believed him, Allen volunteered to go to Iraq. And luckily, for the most part, Iraq was relatively pain free for him.

“I said ‘relatively’ because I had learned how to do some things that I couldn’t have done before,” he said. “My foot was giving me issues, but nothing I couldn’t handle. I really believe the adrenaline rushes throughout the days helped curb some of the pain.”

After his tour in Iraq, Allen returned to Minot back in the states. Upon returning, the pain was so debilitating that he decided he would either let his duty time run out, or be kicked out of the military. So at the tail end of 2006, Allen’s contract “ran up” and he lived his last day as a military man—a day that came much sooner than he had hoped.

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