NORMAN — One night recently, military veteran EH Pittman accidentally hit himself in the mouth, busting his lip open.
Another night his wife found him eating cookies at 4 a.m. because he couldn't sleep. Some nights are long for Pittman, who said he used to fall asleep easily.
“I was in 500 combat missions,” Pittman said. “I was shot at and walked away. I didn't from this.”
“This,” was the May 20 tornado in Moore. Pittman, 30, was working at the 7-Eleven at SW 4 and Telephone Road when the deadly EF5 twister roared through. He tried to protect a co-worker and a mother and her baby with his body as they hunkered down in the restroom searching for a safe place.
In the aftermath, debris wounds covered his body.
His spinal cord was fractured, leaving him paralyzed. His clavicles were broken and his lung collapsed. He suffered a gash that covered almost the entire width of his lower back and two cuts on his head that took 12 staples to close. He said he has no feeling from his belly button down.
Three people at the store didn't survive. Megan Futrell, 29, and her 4-month-old son, Case, died. It's something that still weighs on Pittman, sometimes during the long nights as he tries to sleep, he said.
A third person, Terri Long, 49, also died at the 7-Eleven, where she took shelter on her way home from work.
Surviving the tornado is a daily challenge for Pittman and his wife, Jean. Their lives now revolve around his wheelchair.
Medical care continues
EH Pittman, who had just returned from a 13-month deployment in Afghanistan with the Oklahoma National Guard's 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, said he can't shake the dreams that interrupt his sleep.
After the storm, he spent 91 days in hospitals and the Jim Thorpe Rehabilitation center before his release Aug. 19.
He continues to receive medical care and goes to physical therapy twice a week.
A goal for Pittman is to walk again, he said, but he doesn't know if that day will ever come.
“It is up to the good Lord what he gives me,” he said. “I believe there are reasons for what he does.”
For now, Pittman, his wife and two children, daughter, Izzabele, 13, and son, Logan, 7, are learning to adapt to his life in a wheelchair.
Jean Pittman climbed on her husband's lap during a recent interview and smiled. He smiled back. Life for the Pittmans is not all bad.
Workers' compensation officials have renovated their Norman home.
The doors are wider to make way for the wheelchair; there are two nozzles so he can take a shower and the kitchen cabinets and appliances have been lowered so EH Pittman can bake, one of his favorite pastimes.