Silva is facing a harder time adapting to civilian life. A misstep in a minefield in Afghanistan last October blew his two legs off below the knee and he has undergone more than fifteen operations to repair his bowels and urinary tract. When I visited him in May, Silva could only move on his prosthetics with a walker or metal bars, and many days was too drained by repeated infections to get out of bed. Doctors expect him to remain in Washington DC’s Walter Reed Army Medical Center until the end of the year, separated from his wife and two young children in South Africa.

The day we met, Silva had just attended a photo shoot with New York magazine for a spread on war photographers, and the irony was not lost on him that this time he was on the wrong side of the camera. “I don’t want a future taking studio portraits with lights,” he said resolutely. “I want to get back in the field.”

A nurse entered with an x-ray machine and a cup of pills. Silva reached for a bottle of water but it dropped and rolled away on the floor. I waited for an awkward beat to see if he wanted me to pick it up. With a resigned face he nodded, “Yes.”

It was a quiet drama, nothing like racing past snipers. But it sure carried a punch.


Judith Matloff is a contributing editor to the Columbia Journalism Review. She is a veteran foreign correspondent, who teaches a course on conflict reporting at Columbia, and is the author of Fragments of a Forgotten War and Home Girl.