ROAD OF RECOVERY

The Baltimore Sun

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."

"The biggest thing about Kimberly is how driven she was and how hard she worked," says Amy Jones, one of the physical therapists at Kernan who was involved in Dozier's rehabilitation. "She came in every morning with a really positive attitude, worked incredibly hard, and that's why she had the kind of recovery she did."

The recovery continues - at least the emotional and professional parts. In the book, Dozier recounts a meeting with members of CBS News' London bureau, where her two colleagues who died had worked. While she says she found much support, she also encountered the complex mix of darker emotions - anger, guilt and sorrow - that live on after a tragedy.

"I went to embrace one old friend, and as I stepped forward, he crossed his arms and stepped back. I froze halfway to a hug. That hurt like hell," she writes.

When asked about the passage, Dozier said she thought the colleague who refused to hug was receding as much from the pain he felt over the deaths of his friends as he was recoiling from her.

"I am the living embodiment," she says. "People have to aim that pain somewhere. OK, now I understand: It's got to be; it's got to be."

The Peabody Award-winning reporter thinks she also became the embodiment of the war for many who saw her reporting it on TV - and that, in part, is why there was front-page interest in her injuries and recovery.

But Dozier repeatedly stressed her hope that Breathing the Fire would shed light on what thousands of soldiers and Marines are experiencing.

"I want Americans to know what the troops are going through. I want the troops to know that there is a way out of dealing with their trauma and recovering from it, whether it is a blast injury or an injury to their heart and soul - or both," she says. "And I want to make people think about the choices they're making and how much they have criticized us for trying to give them the information they need to make that choice."

Philip Seib, a professor of journalism and public policy at the University of Southern California, says books like Dozier's can play such a role.

"There might be a tendency in some quarters to term these books narcissistic, but I don't think they are. I think they serve a tremendously good purpose," Seib says, linking Dozier's book to In an Instant: A Family's Journey of Love and Healing, the 2007 account by ABC News anchor Bob Woodruff and his wife, Lee, of his road to recovery after being seriously wounded in Iraq.

"By calling attention to their situation, they reflect on the situation of a lot of soldiers who have been badly wounded but don't have that kind of voice," adds Seib, editor of the international journal Media, War & Conflict. "It's important for the public to know that these books are not just about journalists, they are about the whole price of war."

Reporter's aspirations

Dozier, now a foreign correspondent in the Washington bureau of CBS News, hopes to return to the Middle East and keep informing audiences about the price of war. While she acknowledges that her bosses might be a little "gun shy" about sending her back, she is confident that, eventually, they will.

"I know that she does want to go back to the Middle East, and, obviously, that's a tough discussion for us, because we all care about her so much," Sean McManus, president of CBS News, said last week. "Putting her into a situation where she could potentially be in harm's way is a difficult decision, and we haven't gotten to that point yet."

For now, McNanus says Dozier will remain in Washington - but they'll keep talking about a possible return.

"At some point, I'll will go back to the Middle East," she says in a voice that suggests the kind of determination that helped her learn to walk again - and find a publisher in a down market for books about Iraq. "There is no doubt about it."

david.zurawik@baltsun.com

Kimberly Dozier

Born:

July 6, 1966

Place:

Honolulu, Hawaii

Education:

St. Timothy's School; Bachelor of Arts, magna cum laude, Wellesley College (1987); Master of Arts, University of Virginia (1993)

Jobs:

BBC Radio World Service anchorwoman (1996-1998); chief European correspondent and London bureau chief, CBS Radio (1998-2002), chief correspondent Middle East bureau WCBS-TV (2002-2003); Baghdad correspondent, CBS News (2003-2006); foreign correspondent in Washington, CBS News (2006 to present)

Awards:

Peabody Award (2008), American Women in Radio & Television Gracie Allen Award (2000-2002 and 2007), Radio and Television News Directors Association First Amendment Award(2007)

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