Each gunshot survivor faces unique challenges, but collectively, their stories reveal recurring themes. Many feel isolated and lonely, and experience chronic pain and post-traumatic stress. Some have access to excellent health care, while others don’t have a primary care doctor.
“I couldn’t eat,” Derrick Strong recently told Listening Post NOLA, a New Orleans community media project that collaborated with The Trace on Shot & Forgotten, our survey-driven reporting project on gunshot survivors. Strong also couldn’t find a physical therapy center that would take his insurance, so he had to rehabilitate himself, he said. “It’s quite hard to imagine going through this without having a strong mind,” he said. “It can really break someone quickly.”
Nationally, at least 80,000 people survive a gunshot wound annually. So far this year in New Orleans, at least 500 people have been shot, the majority of them nonfatally. To learn more about what recovery is like, Listening Post reporters roved the city looking for people willing to talk about their gunshot injuries. The outlet also sent text messages to more than 1,000 community members and posted call-outs on social media.
The result was an 8-minute radio segment for New Orleans Public Radio, as well as audio interviews with New Orleans shooting survivors. Scroll down to listen to some of the most powerful accounts.
“I wish I could have got some therapy.”
Raynell Navarre recounted three separate shootings. He said he has taken bullets in the chest, shoulder, back, stomach, and leg. As part of his recovery, Navarre completed multiple rounds of physical therapy. He also saw a counselor, but felt the focus of those sessions was medication, not conversation. Navarre said he wished he could have had the opportunity to talk with someone about his experience, instead of just receiving pills.
“I walk with a limp because I wasn’t told that I could get [physical] therapy.”
Roy Brumfield survived two shootings 20 years apart. He said no one prepared him for the physical and emotional challenges his injuries would bring. “I’ve been dealing with nightmares and daydreams since then,” he said.
Doctors told him he was imagining the pain, and stopped giving him pain medication soon after he left the hospital, he said. He didn’t go to physical therapy because “nobody mentioned it,” and now he walks with a limp.
“The pain itself could be life-threatening.”
Allen Freedman was shot while pulling into his driveway in 1982. The bullet just missed his heart and ripped through his brachial plexus, paralyzing his left arm and hand, the latter permanently. The resulting nerve pain was so unbearable, it felt like “someone had ripped off about two or three layers of skin, put my hand in a Vise-Grip, squeezed the vise all the way down, and then stuck it in a white-hot fire.” Freedman told his wife that, if he couldn’t find relief, he would kill himself.
His transition from the hospital back home was also jarring. “You have a lot of support in the hospital. Everybody’s taking care of you, they’re coming and going and checking on you,” he said. “You get home and this, just, loneliness and just the fear of, how was I going to get through this? I didn’t know.”
“I don’t even have a primary care doctor.”
Reginald Watson was shot in the leg one night in the early 1990s on his way home from a parade. Years later, he was involved in a car accident that re-injured the same leg. “I didn’t never had the same doctor. They kept switching up on me, and it became frustrating,” he said.
“I had to really do my own physical therapy.”
Derrick Strong considers himself a peacemaker in his New Orleans neighborhood. “I’m always the mediator or the one that’s trying to unify everything,” he said. But he said a shooting that left him with nine bullet wounds showed him “that no matter what you do in New Orleans, there’s still gonna be the lingering aspect of violence and jealousy, envy, strife, over nothing.”
Strong spent about two weeks in the hospital and has needed multiple surgeries to address bone, muscle, and intestinal damage. “I couldn’t eat,” he told Listening Post. Unable to find a physical therapy center that would accept his insurance, Strong devised his own rehabilitation techniques. “It’s quite hard to imagine going through this without having a strong mind,” he said. “It can really break someone quickly.”
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