“Take three of my limbs and give me my brain back,” says Staff Sergeant Annie Nichols, one of five veterans who make up the heart of Kate Wenner’s play Make Sure It’s Me.
The play explores the emotional, spiritual and physical ramifications of this “signature injury” of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, for the injured vets and also for their families.
The time is 2006, and the setting is a university clinic, where Sgt. Nichols and the other vets are being treated for the brain injuries they suffered from IED blasts in Iraq.
Dr. Jo Fitch is the civilian brain trauma specialist caring for Sgt. Nichols and the others. She was commissioned by the Pentagon to help them understand this confounding new combat injury.
Though the vets in Dr. Fitch’s study may never recover their full cognitive abilities, they are able to begin to recover pride and purpose by turning to one another, as they once did as warriors. “We’re in this together,” says Marine Lance Corporal Kevin Daniels to Navy Corpsman Jackson Cantrell. “You’re not alone.”
Their spouses also take solace from each other. “The wives that lost their husbands, they think they got it so much worse,” says Angel Rodriguez, “They don’t realize we lost our husbands, too.”
But parents sometimes suffer alone. Sue Daniels remembers when her son Kevin boarded the bus for basic training. “He said promise me something. If anything happens, open the body bag. Make sure it’s me. He was safe for two years. And then I got the call.”
As Dr. Fitch treats the vets in her study and hears their stories of fighting while suffering brain injury symptoms, she becomes incensed that the Pentagon has yet to begin battlefield testing. She threatens to give an interview to the New York Times, infuriating her Pentagon liaison, Lt. Col. Banks.
When Banks meets the vets at Dr. Fitch’s clinic, and hears the painful stories recounted by their families, he has a profound change of heart. He remembers back to his days at West Point, when the young cadets were told to always choose “the harder right over the easier wrong.” Bypassing his superior officers, he goes directly to the Secretary of Defense to raise a red flag about troops currently serving with undiagnosed brain injuries.
When Dr. Fitch expresses surprise that the Secretary didn’t know this, Banks explains, “Sometimes truth has a way of dying off up the chain of command.”