In October 2005, 21-year-old Army Sergeant Erik Schei was shot in the head during his second tour in Mosul, Iraq. The bullet shattered the top half of his skull, leaving him paralyzed and with no control over his bodily functions.
His parents, Christine and Gordon, have been his primary caregivers since, and at StoryCorps, they remembered hearing the news of their son’s injury for the first time.
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Gordon Schei (GS): It was a sniper that hit him, uh, entered above his right ear and exited above his left.
CS: Do you remember seeing him for the first time in the hospital?
GS: Yeah. The first time I saw him, he just looked at peace.
CS: I remember the machines beeping--all these tubes coming out of his nose, his mouth, his brain.
GS: They told us he'd be a vegetable his whole life--wouldn't be able to eat, wouldn't be able to speak. And, prior to him going to Iraq, I had had a conversation with Erik. He had asked me if anything ever happened to him to pull the plug.
CS: I understood what you had promised, but I just could not be the one to end his life. So I pulled the doctor aside and I said, "Can you show me a piece of paper saying that he's gone, that there's no activity on his brain?" And he looked at me and he was really quiet. I said, "You know what? There's no more talking about unplugging." And at that point, we decided to take him home.
I was scared out of my mind. I was scared to death to give him the wrong meds. So I must have measured over and over the first week, so I wouldn't kill him.
But now he's…
GS: Smiling and laughing everyday.
CS: Well, once and a while he has a bad day, when he's getting extremely frustrated. But it's rare. And I think he doesn't want to show that side of him. He knows how hard it is to feed him, cut his fingernails, shave him. And he must say 10 times, I'm so sorry mom. I'm so sorry. Because he know that I have to change his diaper. And I know that's hard on him.
GS: One of the biggest fears I've got as I get older and you get older, are we going to be able to handle taking care of him? But uh, I once asked him, "Did we make the right decision?" And he said, "I'm alive. And I'm glad I'm alive."