Books: Doonesbury gets real
By PATRICK DICKSON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 24, 2005
I keep a file of angry letters to Stars and Stripes concerning the comic strip “Doonesbury” because I remember being a young troop overseas and reading those same letters.
They often call its author, Garry Trudeau, a communist or some such, and usually call for Stripes to stop running the strip.
Perhaps readers will react differently to Trudeau’s “The Long Road Home: One Step at a Time,” a collection of strips that depict long-time character B.D., a Guardsman deployed to Iraq, getting wounded and treated in the field, then at Landstuhl hospital in Germany, and his journey through recovery at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in D.C.
Trudeau is donating all his proceeds from the book to the Fisher House Foundation, which runs “comfort homes” on the grounds of major military and VA medical centers for family members who have a loved one hospitalized for an unexpected illness, disease or injury.
But when my boss asked me to review the book, I thought, “I’ll just be another treasonous lefty journalist sympathizer to a lot of readers. Those who like ‘Doonesbury’ will like the book; those who don’t will hate it no matter what I write.”
So I took the book to a nurse in Ward 57 at Walter Reed, where severely injured GIs do their rehab.
Army Lt. Erica Erickson has been in Ward 57 for two years. She talked with me for an hour about the book.
“I liked the beginning, how [the character Ray] says, “Can you hear me? Stay with me!” because when people are going downhill, even here in the ward, the first thing you want to do is keep them awake, keep them talking to you, keep them not focused on their injury [and] let them know they’re going to be OK.”
Erickson, a 24-year-old nurse from Oakes, N.D., took me through the whole book, comparing Trudeau’s strips with what really happens on the ward.
“It shows how people don’t know how to react to an amputee, just because it’s different. So they come in the room and they’re like, “Oh … hi. Yeah, so … you know … we gotta go!” Erickson laughed.
“You gotta look at the person, and not their injuries. You just talk to them like a normal person.”
Trudeau, without judging the politics of the war, has shown the public what it’s like for a wounded guy to deal with infections, prosthetics, a demanding rehab, and the pain and poignancy – and humor — of coming to grips with a new reality.
Would Erickson recommend the book?
“I thought it was cool. I want to get it.”
Erickson helped to treat Sgt. Jason Pepper, who gets a mention in the book. Yes — Sgt. Pepper. She’s seen a lot in two years.
“People say ‘How can you work on that ward — it must be so depressing!’ But it’s not. Yeah, you see people right away [after being wounded] and they have tubes in their nose, tubes everywhere, in a lot of pain, but two months down the road I discharge them, and they’re on their way to walking, and … I see a gradual progress toward recovery.
“Initially they might be depressed, they might be angry, and the book talks about how they go through the grief process, which is very true, but then I get to see them accept it and move on and be very happy and positive. I think it actually might be more motivating to work on this floor than on others. I get to see people get better.”
Couldn’t have said it better myself.
Click here for a story on how the book’s proceeds are helping Fisher House.