Road Of Recovery

Critically wounded in Iraq, CBS News reporter Kimberly Dozier faced an uphill battle to tell her gripping story of survival

May 12, 2008|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,SUN TELEVISION CRITIC

At first, it seemed as if nobody wanted the book that CBS News correspondent Kimberly Dozier was trying to write about her life and near-death experience in Iraq.

One publisher wanted her to tell the story "through an intellectual feminist prism."

Another urged her to make her account "less medical."

A third thought her take on events was "too raw and emotional."

But after a while, the 41-year-old graduate of Maryland's St. Timothy's School came to understand that the problem wasn't so much a matter of style or tone. There was a more fundamental economic explanation for the publishing world's reluctance to embrace her story.

"The reason I almost didn't find a publisher was because books on Iraq don't sell. Over and over, when I was shopping it around, editors would say, `Gee, it's about Iraq.'" Dozier recalls, mimicking the higher-pitched false voice of someone trying to hide disappointment.

"But you know what, I had to admit that when we put Iraq on TV, people are changing the channel. ... Every chance we get, it seems like we turn away from Iraq. It's like you have to find some way to draw people in to listen to the story of that war."

Ultimately, Dozier found such a way. She also found a publisher in Meredith Books of Des Moines, Iowa.

What readers will find is a gripping saga of Dozier's physical devastation on a Baghdad street and her long, hard road of recovery in military and civilian hospitals and rehab centers in Germany, Washington and Baltimore, where her parents live. An intensely personal story, Breathing the Fire also manages as well as any book yet out on the war in Iraq to communicate universal truths about what it takes to survive and go on with life after being grievously wounded - whether journalist, civilian or soldier.

In her words

Dozier's harrowing tale opens late on May 28, 2006 - the eve of the day on which the veteran Middle East correspondent was wounded by a car bomb while reporting a story on how troops were spending Memorial Day in Baghdad. The blast killed two of her CBS colleagues, cameraman Paul Douglas and soundman James Brolan, as well as Army Capt. James A. Funkhouser. It left Dozier with shrapnel in her brain, two shattered femurs and less than half of the blood she had in her body before the bomb detonated.

"I hate these nights," she writes on the first page of the book. "Stare at the ceiling, turn left. Turn right. Can't sleep. Dread tomorrow's assignment, as usual."

Eight pages later, the bomb explodes: "In that moment, the world slammed backward into black."

And, so, her struggle to survive begins.

A former BBC radio correspondent and freelance contributor from Egypt for The Sun and The Washington Post, the Wellesley College graduate writes in the spare style of the personal journal or diary. The taut sentences and concrete language lend an air of clinical objectivity to her account of the wounds and emotions that she struggles to overcome.

"LANDSTUHL REGIONAL MEDICAL CENTER, GERMANY, JUNE 1 OR 2, 2006," she writes one page after the blast.

"Pinpricks all over my legs like little needles.

"Fluorescent light.

"Machines beeping.

"Trying to speak. Can't. ... "

Immediately after the blast, Dozier's heart stopped twice, and doctors thought they were going to have to amputate her legs, which had received the brunt of the explosion. Some thought she would never walk again.

During the next month at Landstuhl, the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda and the Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore, she would have more than 25 operations. They included brain surgery to remove shrapnel, a procedure to restore hearing by grafting a new eardrum into her ear, and orthopedic surgery to rebuild her legs around two titanium rods.

Between the pain and nonstop narcotics, she started hallucinating at night, seeing demons in the sprinkler heads over her hospital bed. Not until her move in July to Baltimore's Kernan Hospital would she start to wean herself from the powerful opiates she had been on since May 28 - yet another mountain to climb for someone who was only starting to learn how to walk again.

The struggle goes on

Baltimore plays a large role in Dozier's life and her journal of recovery. Her parents, Dorothy and Ben Dozier, in their 80s and living in Timonium, were at her bedside through most of the darkest hours.

Her mother was born in Baltimore, and though her father was born in Norfolk, Va., he was raised in the city and studied engineering at the Johns Hopkins University. He fought in World War II as a Marine and was wounded in the Battle of Iwo Jima.

Describing her own won't-quit attitude and the role it played in her recovery, Dozier writes, "Looking at my mom and dad, you can see where my attitude comes from. It's perhaps best described as down-home-Baltimore `You only deserve what you've earned the hard way' pride."

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