Step by Step

Daniel Hurley, injured in the Persian Gulf war, doesn't yet know how he will use his college degree. But he knows this: He can deal with pain.

Class of 2000

Portraits of Inspiration

May 24, 2000|By Larry Bingham | Larry Bingham,SUN STAFF

The moment will come somewhere in the middle of graduation tomorrow morning when they get to the letter H. The associate provost will say his name -- Daniel Richard Hurley -- and that's when you should look for the cane.

If 35-year-old Hurley walks across the Towson University stage without it, you will know the graduate who nearly died in the Persian Gulf war is having a good day.

You will know the graduate who takes 15 pills a day slept well, probably woke early and had coffee on his deck in Owings Mills.

If the weight of his left foot is supported by the cane, however, you will know Dan Hurley had another bad night.

A bad night means he went to bed between 8 and 8: 30 p.m., exhausted.

It means he awoke between 2 and 2: 30 a.m., craving Valium.

A bad night means he hobbled down the stairs of his townhouse, fell asleep in the La-Z-Boy, awoke again at 4: 30 a.m., groping on the end table for two bottles, one filled with morphine, the other with Percoset.

Hurley has suffered more than his share of bad nights since one in particular: Feb. 23, 1991.

On that night, he was a 26-year-old Marine stationed in Saudi Arabia, assigned to a convoy carrying ammunition to the Kuwaiti border. When the troops reached the front around 1 a.m. and turned off their engines, Hurley heard the air strikes, and the distant missiles sounded like thunder.

There he was. Miles from his Indiana hometown, miles from his wife at the base, miles across a desert so flat that an accidental flick of headlights could give an entire convoy away.

Whoever flicked them on immediately flicked them off.

"How I got caught in the open I'm not really sure," Hurley says. "Was I going to the vehicles to get someone or something? I don't remember. I remember a loud explosion behind me. I saw the flash."

Then

"I don't remember anything until the next day."

By then, "I felt like I got hit by a truck. But I was walking. I was up and about. My leg had swollen, and my body started to get stiff, but I tried to play it off."

Doctors found damage from head to foot: tendons and ligaments ripped from bones, bones broken into fragments. Surgeons cut into his shoulder, his neck, his arm and his foot -- 10 surgeries in 10 years. And still his foot hurts so much he walks with the cane.

"The pain really does control my life, and of course you try to control it, but to an extent you can't."

Hurley and his wife eventually moved to Maryland to be close to the Navy hospital in Bethesda. They bought a townhouse in Owings Mills, but these days the townhouse is up for sale.

Living with pain is like living with another person. And living with a third person takes a toll on a marriage. Now Hurley is divorced.

Three times during his military career he attempted night classes and correspondence courses, but every time Uncle Sam sent him overseas. Forced to retire in 1997 because of his injuries, he finally made it to college.

"I arrange my classes in the mornings. I try to arrange it so I have a day off after I have classes. I make sure I get what I have to get done done so I can be home in the evenings or even toward the afternoon hours so I can take my pain medications."

What Hurley will do with his business administration degree he isn't sure. He plans to move back to Indiana after graduation, close to his parents and into a house without stairs.

As for the pain, "You learn to deal with it, and sometimes it's difficult, frustrating. But you know, there's nothing you're going to do about it."

One thing is certain, though. Graduation will be a good day. With or without the cane.

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