My name is David Orozco I have had AS since 1997.
I remember the heat. The lights beaming down. The sound of the crowd cheering, excitement in the air. They came to see blood, sweat and tears. Two of which would come from me. The bell sounded.
I remember going to see the doctor the night before. It was the night of the 1997 All Army semi-finals. He flashed a light in my eyes and asked. “What happened to your right eye?”
I held my breath for a moment and answered as truthfully as I could. I lied. “I just now poked it! Coming up the steps.” I knew if I had told him it had been like that for three days, He would be obligated to inform my coach that I could not fight.
“You want to fight. Don’t you?” asked the doctor.
The answer was no. Truthfully, I didn’t. My eye was hurting immensely. Each time I blinked it felt as if sand was being shoved in my eyeball. I couldn’t see out of it. My eye was red and watery. But I had trained for months in anticipation for this moment. “Yes Sir.”
He flashed his flashlight in and out of my eye several times. Hell, being hit with the light each time was worse than taking a punch. As he began to ask ” Are you ….”
My answer came out again, “Yes Sir”
The doctor smiled at me and signed my pass book.
I fought and beat a south paw that night. For those few not familiar with boxing, this is important. When a righty fights a lefty they are mirror images of each other. Meaning both power hands are on the same side. A lefty shoots his power hand (left hand) to the right side of a righty’ s face. As I explained earlier, I could not see out of my right eye. This placed me at a great disadvantage because I could not see any punches coming from that angle. It was an easy fight for me. I won a 5-0 decision even giving my opponent a couple of eight counts and advanced into the finals.
The next night I went through the same process as before and again the doctor flashed his light and again, I said, “Yes, I want to fight.”
I remember sitting down after the first round and having my corner man ask me “What the hell I was doing out there?” He began screaming instructions at me and my mind faded to earlier that day.
My parents brought my son to see me. I was stationed in Germany and had not seen him for almost a year. My mom took him out of the car and said “Walk to daddy!” It was the first time I got to see him walk.
He walked up to me and I grabbed him and held him close. Holding him felt great. Some of the best things in life are the little things. I set him down time and again just to see him walk. I must have worn him out because he slept good that afternoon.
All the while I was watching my son. My father was watching his. He asked me to remove my dark shades and asked me what was going on? I said my eye was bothering me and he asked for my shades. He wasn’t as easily fooled as the doctor. My dad wasn’t just my dad. He was also my first boxing coach. He knew his fighter well and he knew my eye wasn’t poked. He asked me a series of fast paced questions. I didn’t know it then but he was reading me. Finding the truth for himself. Everybody remembers when Mickey was checking Rocky’ s vision. He asks Rock if he can see his finger and Rocky says, ” Yeah I see it.” Then Mickey slaps the heck out of his blind side. It’s cliché but trainers really do that stuff. My dad said I looked tired and asked if anything else was going on. I told him about training one day where I hit the heavy bag with a quick right and as I turned into it, I felt a sharp pain in my hips. It was excruciating. I fell to the ground and grabbed my hip.
My father begged and begged all day and into the night up to the final match not to fight. Being the great listener I am. I Gloved up. Nothing was going to keep me from being the All Army Champion. My brother did it and so would I.
I knew I would be fighting another south paw in the finals. But I beat the last one. Most fighters dread facing a lefty. But, I had an ace in the hole. My brother.
For the better part of my life I was the mandatory sparring partner for my brother. Antonio had hopes of representing the USA in the Olympics. He trained very hard and even made it to the 1992 Olympic trials. Eventually losing to the man who made the team, Marine Lance Corporal Sergio Reyes. Back to my brother. He was fortunate enough to be born a lefty. That was bad for his opponents but good for me. I must have had more experience and training with left handers than the average fighter. I knew exactly how to fight them.
Boxing a lefty with two good eyes was easy. Boxing a lefty with only my left eye was extremely difficult. Boxing a lefty who was nationally ranked was darn near impossible. I could not see but I felt every time he threw his left. Coefield pounded my face. I fell. I was tired. Fatigue was setting in. Wait, it’s only the second round why am I so tired? I trained hard. I was in the best shape of my life. Fatigue. I laid against the ropes. Bombarded with lefts and now rights. My opponent was having a great fight.
It’s funny the things you see and hear in the heat of battle. With my one good eye I could see my mom on her feet. Screaming. Giving instructions. Felipe, my son, standing on a chair clapping with the crowd not knowing they were in a frenzy due to the beating I was receiving. My dad had that look in his eye. You know the look. “I told you so.” I fought back with no reward for my effort. Two eyes are always better than one. Now Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to take anything away from George. He was a great fighter. I can’t say the fight would have turned out any different. But, at that moment I was relieved when the referee stepped in to stop the bombardment.
The next day my parents and my son left. I finally told my coaches about my vision. They sent me to the base opthamologist. Her assistants job was to screen me prior to her coming in. He checked my left eye and then started with my right. I kept telling him I could not see anything. He kept asking me “How about now?” I finally removed the patch over my eye and said “You don´t understand. I can’t see the chart. I can’t see you. I can’t see anything.”
When the doctor came in I was told I should be written up for fighting with a bad eye. She chewed me out worse than I had been beaten the night before. She finally gave me my diagnosis. uveitis, synechia, iritis. I did not know anything about this. I asked the usual questions. “Will it go away?, How long will it last?, When can I fight again?” I eventually regained my vision. But the pain in my hips had become more constant. It became difficult for me to run, turn and punch. For some strange reason I went from being a competitive athlete to (in my mind) a nothing. The doctor said if the uveitis returned they would run more tests. On my return to Germany, I continued to see doctors. I was sent from doctor to doctor until I found one who quite simply stated, “I don’t know what’s wrong with you but I can tell you in about ten years you will be using a wheelchair.”
I thought, Wow! Wheelchair before 40? Thanks doc. I remember thinking. I will be in the States soon. I’ll see what those doctors have to say. So being a good soldier, I quit going to sick call and ignored the pain. That always works, right?
In 1998 I returned state side. My immediate goal was to heal up and return to boxing. I figured start slow and continue until I felt better. My body had different plans altogether. No matter what I did, I was in pain. Sometimes in my left cheek and sometimes in my right. Sometimes I hurt in my shoulder blades. I described that pain to the doctors as a piece of rebar stuck through my chest and into my shoulder blade. I was in severe pain. Sleep was becoming less and less of a friend to me. Well, that’s not entirely true. I was getting sleep in intervals throughout the day. This caused its own problems. I was no longer performing at my maximum output. To put it simply, I was tired. Now, at this point, I am a grown man, a soldier, a Sergeant in the United States Army. I woke up in a soaked bed! Oh my God! I jumped up. Stripped my bed and showered. This was embarrassing. Want to know what’s more embarrassing? Rinse and Repeat.
I continued with the pain and embarrassment for months. I was not getting better. I asked to be sent to a specialist. He only came to the naval base once a month and so it took another few months to get anywhere with this. Now anyone familiar with the military knows how this goes. It doesn’t matter if your sick. If you make it a habit to go on sick call you become what is known as a “brokedick”, “malingerer”,”shammer.” Along with the fatigue and lack of sleep I was not making a good impression on my command. This was probably the worst part of my military career. I had become depressed and withdrawn. I was no longer a fine tuned soldier or athlete.
I always loved the part of the Audie Murphy Story when he, as an infantry soldier, calls in for an air strike. Each branch of service is great. But, to the individual soldier, airman, marine, or navy man, their branch is the best. Relying on another service is not normally wanted. But, like Lt. Murphy, when you need them your ecstatic! So when the Army could not figure out what was wrong with me what else could I do? Call in an air strike!
I was able to contact a rheumatologist at a nearby air force base. I explained my symptoms and my troubles focusing at work. He asked me for my medical records and to come in for some blood work. I obliged, and within a few weeks he brought me in and sat me down. We made small talk for a few minutes and then he grabbed his medical book. He was a major and he was smiling very excitedly. He opened the journal and began reading to me. It was almost as if he had instead opened my medical record and read from there. I sat in front of him listening. When he looked at me he could see the pain in my eyes. Quite literally as I was again suffering another bout of uveitis.
The Major apologized. He stated, ” Forgive me SGT Orozco. I treat airmen on a daily basis. The majority are fine or just have aching backs. It’s very rare to have someone come in with a disease I was trained to treat.”
This did not make me feel any better. Although, I was relieved to find out that I was not wetting the bed but instead having night sweats. For those suffering from night sweats you’ll understand that.
The Major explained to me that my blood work came back positive for HLA-B27. He stated its relationship to the disease Ankylosing Spondylitis. That was the first time I had ever heard of it. I immediately thought of the dinosaur Ankylosaurus. Talking for the next hour he explained how I was textbook for the disease. It was upsetting but at the same time I had gotten my answer. I was not crazy. I was not lazy. I was sick.
My life was changed forever. I was now in a fight that I hadn’t trained for. My opponent was coming after me like no one has before. It’s stealthy, powerful and smart.
I was medically retired from the military and have been keeping up with my meds. I still have pain and fatigue. But have a good support system around me.
Thanks for reading.
Tennessee, United States of America