Kimberly Dozier: Technically, I Was Dead

It's hard to shake the whole "I almost died" thing. Put another way, many very well-meaning people will not let me leave it behind—in grocery stores, in gas stations or even at work. "Oh, you're … that reporter—from that car bomb. How are you? Are you in pain?" They can't comprehend how the shattered woman they saw on their TV screens almost two years ago, unconscious on a stretcher, got better. Maybe they can't quite believe it.

So to catch up those who may have forgotten: I'm a correspondent for CBS News. My team and I were hit by a car bomb in Baghdad on Memorial Day 2006. My colleagues, cameraman Paul Douglas and sound man James Brolan, were killed, as was the U.S. Army captain we were following, James Alex Funkhouser, and his Iraqi translator, known only as Sam.

At the bomb scene, I lost more than half my blood. The bomb "blew right through" me, as one of the surgeons later put it, peppering me with shrapnel, including a small shard to my brain, smashing both femurs and scorching off muscle and skin from hips to ankles on much of one leg and part of the second.

Once the rescue team got me to the Baghdad casualty hospital, I technically died about five times, or rather, I "coded." I just met one of the doctors who did the chest compressions on me. He complained that I "tried to die for two hours." (You won, doc.) Then came the pain of two-dozen-plus surgeries, the whole learning-to-walk thing, more surgery and the slow return to jogging, then running. Throughout the first six months, there was the ever-present wallop of grief and guilt that comes from surviving when those around you have died.

So I was driven to write it down—or rather, suckered into it. The counselor and the Franciscan monk at Bethesda naval hospital who tricked me into it knew they were sending me on the most painful reporting assignment of my life. At first I cried every couple of pages, every few hundred words. I wanted to chuck my computer out the window.

That was a year and a half ago. I ended up rewriting the first nine chapters about five times. Then I was told by multiple publishers, "Too raw. Too much medical detail. Too emotional." And also, "Sorry, but books on Iraq don't sell. The public doesn't want to hear about that anymore."

Well, the public needs to hear about this. I remember in the early years of the wars we seldom ever reported the "injured" figures from Iraq or Afghanistan—just the deaths. I got to live firsthand what we were ignoring: a long, painful journey of a year or more to get back to some semblance of normal, the same journey of more than 30,000 combat-injured from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Along with the physical battle is the one in your heart and soul—making sure memories of the trauma and violence, and the grief that follows, do not end up haunting you for the rest of time. I dealt with it head-on in the hospital—talking about the bombing even when some doctors told me to shut up and shut it out. What helped more was meeting troops from my patrol, and U.S. commanders who had gone through the same thing, and even other trauma survivors who were well versed in the art of recovery.

After you've dealt with your own inner battle, you then have to deal with the prejudices of an American public (your own friends included) who assume going through tragedy leaves you some sort of scarred-for-life walking time bomb. Veterans Affairs groups believe that's partly why veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan have such a high rate of unemployment—many people are scared of them. They don't know that full-blown posttraumatic stress disorder is rare, and even when it does occur, it's treatable, not a life sentence.

I'm now trying to treat this injury, and the recovery, as an opportunity. I spent three years trying to find the right character to tell the story of Iraq, and I guess it ended up being me: my book, "Breathing the Fire: Fighting to Report—And Survive—The War in Iraq," was finally picked up by Meredith Books and hit shelves last week. I'm still not completely comfortable with telling my own story so publicly, but if baring my soul will make a few more people pay attention—to the good, the bad and all the pain in between—then so be it. In short, I am a walking reminder of a war most of America seems to want to turn away from. Put it on a newscast, and people change the channel. Put it on the cover of a newsmagazine, and sales slump. Then I walk in and remind them of the war (make that two wars, in two countries) that only 1 percent of this country is risking their lives for. And I remind them that parts of this battle are hell.

The usual reaction I get from people about the war in Iraq is: "It's awful, it has gone on long enough. We've got to pull out and just let them kill each other." Yes, people really say that. Yet that seems to me to be a decision based on yet another emotional need to "change the channel" instead of thinking of lives, American and Iraqi, already spent and what sort of future we leave behind in that country.

As a journalist, I will not advocate a specific policy—but I will continue to remind Americans of the consequences of our actions, and the cost. No matter how this conflict started, the rest of the world is now watching what we do, and judging us by what we do next.

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