How it feels to survive a shooting

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Bryan C. Ryser, 60, U.S. Navy Veteran and Hunting Club President, Loganville

On a hot day in 2008, on a street of middle-class homes in Gwinnett County, Bryan Ryser was putting his lawn mower away when his neighbor, Charles Quinn, shot him in the back. Other neighbors had nicknamed the schizophrenic Quinn “Wi-Fi” because he berated them for sending messages to his brain via cell phone. He was known to mow his lawn without starting the mower. Three months before, Quinn had been arrested on simple battery and criminal trespass charges for attacking a seventeen-year-old girl in the neighborhood. And now Quinn was charging at his neighbor with a handgun. What happened over the next few moments—before Quinn inexplicably retreated to his home and killed himself—would strip Ryser of his cherished hobbies: snow skiing, ice hockey, scuba diving, playing his guitar.

The first shot shattered my acetabulum, blew my hip apart. The only way I can describe the impact is if someone came up behind you with a bat and knocked you to your knees. For whatever reason, I knew I’d been shot. Probably within three to five seconds, you feel it. The bullet wound itself was just like a searing, white-hot poker rammed through you. It’s just an indescribable heat.

I turned on my knees and said, “You need to stop now.” Put my hand up, and he blew my thumb off. I thought, I’m dead now. I started crawling to the back door, and he was just walking behind me, shooting me. Two more times [in the shoulder and lower back]. I was scared to death.

I was lying there, making my peace, praying to have my family taken care of, and he stood over me. I could see his foot. I thought, Just don’t breathe, don’t do anything, just pray that he walks off. It was dead calm. Wasn’t a car, an airplane, a bird, a dog. Then I heard the fifth shot [attempt, but it was] a misfire. That probably would have been the finish-off shot.

I didn’t hear him leave. He never spoke, never said a word. He didn’t have an expression on his face—just a deadpan, glazed stare. Whatever he saw, I don’t think it was me. He didn’t look at me like a human to a human.
I started crawling for my life [around the house, to the kitchen]. I laid there, made my 911 call. They showed up in force. Two Gwinnett firefighters, William Jennings and Phillip Kleck, strapped me to a board and got me out before the scene was secure. They saved my life.

[At Grady Memorial Hospital] there was a female doctor; I wish I knew her name. She put her face in mine, almost nose-to-nose, and she said, “We’re going to save your life now.” I started crying. I was like, “Thank you!” Then I was out.

Total of eight [surgeries], including three on the hip. I’ve had acupuncture, every kind of therapy. Too much medication. I don’t just jump out of bed in the morning.

There’s stuff you can measure—leg flexion and those sorts of things. But the immeasurable things are probably the worst. I’ve lost trust. I pull up at a QuikTrip and I stop, look all around the parking lot. Someone slams the door behind me, it raises the hair on my neck. I don’t sit with my back to the window, or to the door. No, no, no. It sounds kind of crazy, but that’s just the way it is. This isn’t like television; I’m not okay next week.

People say, “You know how lucky you are?” I’m not lucky; I’m fortunate. There’s a big difference. No matter where I am, Walmart or whatever, people ask, “How are you?” I say, “Fantastic!” And I say it loud enough for everybody to hear.

This article originally appeared in our May 2014 issue.

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