News in Nursing

Airforce Veteran Finds Joy in Being a Nurse

After a life-changing injury, this veteran wanted to help others by becoming a nurse. Learn about his story now.

Airforce Veteran Finds Joy in Being a Nurse


Jonathan Haag turned his life around after a life-changing injury and used his experience to became a nurse. Jonathan went through a condition that still affects him today, but he is much stronger now and uses his experiences to heal those around him. Jonathan has an incredible story of hope, strength, and perseverance in the face of horrific pain.

Jonathan Haag’s Story

Jonathan Haag was born and raised in the eastern Tennessee town of Rockwood. He entered the air force in the late 1990s – immediately after high school and began his career by working on T37 and T38 aircraft.

During a routine workday, Jonathan was climbing down a ladder from the top of an aircraft, and at a breakneck pace, when his left foot gave out. He caught his foot in the rung of the ladder, which resulted in a traumatic injury. Jonathan was rushed to surgery where every bone in his foot was realigned.

Jonathan was strong, but he did not realize that after surgery he would have a constant companion – horrifying pain. It was not just post-op surgical pain, but complex regional pain syndrome or CRPS. Complex regional pain syndrome is not common, but it happens healthy people. The pain changes the physical makeup of your body and mainly affects your limbs. As time progresses, CRPS can spread to unaffected limbs.

Doctors solemnly related to Jonathan he had the worst case of CRPS in recorded medical history. Having the worst case of CRPS ever was not a  diagnosis anyone would want to hear. Jonathan began a life of fighting excruciating pain and trying to manage CRPS. He watched  and felt his limbs get progressively worse.Six years after from his initial injury, the pain spread to his injured left leg and migrated to his right leg. Both legs swelled up, and Jonathan accumulated over 160 pounds of fluid in his legs.

Twelve years of Jonathan’s life was spent in a wheelchair. He had to learn to manage his lower limbs that became hyper-swollen and almost unbearably painful. Johnathan tried every method of pain management available. He used spinal cord stimulators, fentanyl pain pumps, and every breakthrough in pain medication he could find. Jonathan describes his pain, “it was like my bones were being crushed and ripped out of my body, all while my legs were on fire.”

Jonathan suffered for years, and then in 2010 the VA hospital in San Antonio opened a Ketamine Coma Clinic.

What Is Ketamine?

Ketamine is a potent NMDA-blocking drug. It is a powerful anesthetic drug used in human and veterinary medicine. When properly administered and utilized ketamine is safe and very effective on pain and can also be used for depression relief. Ketamine is considered a dissociative drug or a hallucinogen that causes a person to feel detached from reality.

To understand why Ketamine is so effective, Dr. Ronald Harbut of Hot Springs, Arkansas says, “[compare] Ketamine therapy to the healing of a broken bone. If someone breaks a bone and you simply put the two pieces back together, they won't immediately heal. However, if you add a splint and hold the bones juxtaposed and steady for a period, and take away the splint later, the bone is healed. I think that the Ketamine treatment does something similar; it lends support and allows the abnormally sensitized nerve cells to heal themselves so that when you finally take away the Ketamine, the pain is reduced or gone."

There are three ways ketamine, can be administered.

  • One is out-patient infusion. Infusions are done over a period of either days, weeks or months, and the infusion lasts anywhere from 1 to 6 hours at a time.
  • Another form of ketamine use is an in-patient or awake technique. The treatment consists of five continuous days of infusions of ketamine and clonidine while the patient is monitored in the hospital. In-patient or awake treatment has the highest success rates and brings on the highest relief retention percentages. After undergoing ketamine treatment, many patients reported feeling no pain for months. Every patient is different, and your pain relief may vary, but any relief for someonesuffering from intense pain is welcome.
  • The third treatment is high-dose ketamine infusion or the coma technique. High-dose ketamine infusionis practiced in Germany and Monterey, Mexico and just recently in the United States. Dr. Robert Schwartzman, a noted RSD specialist, reports the coma method allows the pain connections from the body to the brain to reset or reboot – almost like your computer. For seven days powerful drugs surge through your veins as the patient is on a ventilator. This treatment has been effective in varying degrees and has provided patients with a good measure of pain relief.

Jonathan’s Story Continues

Jonathan attended the Ketamine Coma Clinic for several days, and the results for Jonathan were amazing. The pain was controlled and swelling decreased. After the treatments, Jonathan discovered he had 20 lbs. of excess skin on his thighs. Months later, the skin on his legs was removed and he underwent bilateral knee replacement on both knees.

Jonathan felt great and empowered. He originally wanted to go to medical school, and because of his experiences, he decided to became a nurse. After graduation from nursing school, he was hired in the ICU (Intensive Care Unit) of the hospital and became one of their top nurses.

Jonathan knows how to sympathize with patients in pain. He also knows how to regulate pain control for his patients. He has learned to take a holistic approach to pain and that is important to his patients. Jonathan urges hispatients to use relaxation in addition to pain meds. He talks them down from their pain and gives them techniques to live with it. Jonathan spends much of his time with those patients who are in terrible pain and need a lifeline.

Recovery takes time, and for some patients, it is easier to use addictive pain relievers. Jonathan reminds his patients that if they give up on the pain, it’ll take control of your life.

One doctor in the ICU who worked with Jonathan knew his story. Together they opened a pain clinic where Jonathan could use his extraordinary skills to help more patients who suffer from life-changing pain.

Jonathan lives with his pain 24/7, and there are days when he comes home after a 12-hour shift and is unable to walk. His legs still swell up and he needs to wear compassion stockings every day. At home, he can let his legs rest for a bit, but he always needs to gets up and walk around as much as he can.

Jonathan goes to the gym after work and exercises his way through powerlifting exercises. The movement in powerlifting works on the sympathetic nervous system which is the leading cause of suffering in CRPS.

Jonathan continues his ketamine infusions every six to eight weeks, and the drug gets infused at 800mg an hour. Jonathan is lucky; ketamine therapy work for him. Not everyone can tolerate the drug, but for those who can undergo the therapy successfully, ketamine reboots the sympathetic nervous system to ease pain signals. Another plus for ketamine, it does not have a physically addicting property when used responsibly.

In his most painful moments, Jonathan eases his pain by thinking about his family. His wife and two children have been with him throughout the entire process. Jonathan says, “It's been amazing to be able to show them that life is rough, but you can still keep going no matter what you face.”

Would Jonathan suggest a career in healthcare? He emphatically says, “Yes.” If you want to take care of people, nursing is for you. Even if you are an ER nurse and only see patients for an hour or two, or patients to take care of weeks on end, get to know your patients. Understand the pain they are enduring. Always be sympathetic and empathetic.