Trauma and Growth: A Fake but Genuine Smile

I have implants. No, not the kind you’re thinkin’. D e n t a l  implants. And a nose job. Oh, and thicker lips thanks to a fabulous plastic surgeon. Things you didn’t know eh?

It’s not the result of some kardashian like ego driven attempt at maintaining my youth, although these laugh lines are getting thicker! I was 19 years old, new in the army, and I had a vehicle accident. A tank, I had an accident in a damn tank and my face lost.

This was single handedly the best thing that happened to set the tone of my military career.

Talk about a lasting impression, last night at drinks with old friends, a stranger looked at me oddly and asked if I was ever on a certain military base in 1998? And involved in a tank accident?!? I was a little surprised.  Dude remembered my face/name from 20 years ago. 🙋🏼‍♀️ Yup, that was me. It was big news back then, a story that spread like wildfire.

Trauma

The 1990s vibe

I was a reservist and this was my first contract augmenting the regular force. In fact, it was my first time in a brigade setting with ‘real soldiers’.  I was wide eyed and bushy tailed and feverishly determined to prove myself.

It was also an era where there weren’t that many female soldiers kicking around.  When my friend and I arrived to augment (both young female reservists) it caused a few comments and assumptions. Assumptions that I wanted to prove wrong. Game on.

Gut instinct

A brigade level exercise was coming up and everyone was preparing, which meant taking the vehicles for a short drive as well to make sure there were no kinks to work out.

Here I was minding-my-own-business when the troop warrant officer spotted me and told me to hop in the bison to crew command so that the driver could take it for a drive. But I don’t have a helmet I said. It’s just on base he said, no need. But I  don’t know how I said. It’s easy he said, just said clear-right-clear-left. Ooookaaaayyyy.

I had that gut instinct of this-is-going-to-be-a-whole-lot-of-bad-news-bears but climb up into the crew commanders hatch just the same.  I mean, it’s just a spin on paved roads so no biggy right?

The incident

So there was ‘crew commanding’ when the driver decided to swing off the paved roads and into the training area. He’s the regular force soldier, so he knew better right?

He was a guy. I was a young girl. He was showing off.

It’s that simple.

I didn’t like it. He was speeding through the training field. I don’t mind saying that I was a bit scared and that with each bump in the field my heart sank a little. This was not fun.

Then we hit an old tank ditch at full friggin’ speed. Tank ditches are meant to hinder/stop tanks. Boy did it ever. No helmet. No seat belt. Some higher power must have saved my a** that day. 

I took the hatch through the chin, knocking out four teeth whole, fracturing my upper jaw, breaking my nose, and cracking ribs. This all happened before I had time to blink. Hello there trauma.

A little disorientated I tapped the driver on the shoulder and said ‘hospital’. A least I attempted to say ‘hospital’ but I think he got the message when he turned around to see a literal bloody mess.

A little surreal

As we drove to the base hospital I took off my soaked combat shirt, went back on top to retrieve my teeth, started my own first aid, and had my military ID and health card ready. It was oddly all so logical in my head, like ‘something shitty just happened so do what you can do about it’.

When the vehicle stopped, I climbed out of the hatch myself and down to the front of the tank. By then the shock was wearing off though and reality setting in. I looked at the driver and started crying.

He came over and whisked me up in his arms, running towards the entrance and kicked open the double doors with his foot.  The hallways were empty. He yelled ‘medic’.  Then there was this rush. Medics and nurses and doctors everywhere. The shocked look on there faces. Orders being given.  

My only thought is that this scene was straight out of the movies?!?

Trauma and growth

SMILE and handle it.

After two days off for surgeries, I was back to work.

I wasn’t done proving myself damnit. So with black eyes, cotton up my nose, black sutures  out of my nose looking like a bulls ring, and no teeth…there I was showing up for PT. It was obstacle course PT.

I’ll never forget the warrant officer looking at me like I was insane. ‘No way. You can’t do it.’

At which point I defiantly pulled out my med chit (doctors orders) like the stubborn teenager that I was and told him that out of all the restrictions – there’s not one stating I can’t run along side the troops and help motivate through the course. And I did just that, and the next day, and the next after that.

The reputation

That rep served me well. Almost like the ‘little engine that could’ story, I became known as someone who worked hard and through obstacles.  I got picked for deployments and jobs because of it, was respected by the right people because of it, and most important gained confidence in myself because of it.

It felt like, if I could get through that then I could get through anything.  Coping skills that served me well only a few years later during my first deployment overseas and first mass casualty.

This wasn’t a moment in time to hate, it was a moment to appreciate. The personal growth was tenfold.  Trauma and growth sometimes go hand in hand. I had to ‘own it’ when it came to having no teeth or dentures for a while. Trust me, the jabs and jokes were in abundance.

Apparently people still remember 20 years later. 🤷‍♀️ When I say ‘smile and handle it’, I mean accept the challenge you’re faced with and get the f**k through it. The benefits will follow. #trust

The aftermath

So I have lovely straight fake teeth and a scar on my chin that most people either don’t notice or are too polite to ask about.  It’s a memory that will likely still make me smile when I’m old, grey, and the only person in the nursing home with any teeth left. 😉 Ha ha.

That ‘something shitty just happened so do what you can do about it’ attitude has followed through life and served well. Shitty things do happen and your reaction to them matters. It matters a lot. It sets a tone. So whether it’s been getting my wallet/phone stolen in New Orleans, or burning out with adrenal insufficiency or unexpected job loss – the attitude remains the same. Handle it.

Victoria xo