No news is good news – we have heard little from the “expert team” other than they are making progress around the theater. The weather has not been in their favor causing more than a few flight delays. It hasn’t been particularly warm either.
Rebecca – (daughter of two good friends) who is socially active and responsible, reads widely and sees below the surface, had the following thought:
Like many people over here, I have been watching and listening to the daily updates from Rep. Giffords’ doctors on her condition and her medical progress. One question has occurred to me. Does the average American realize that while we stand horror-struck at the tragedy in Tucson, Rep. Giffords is enduring what many of our wounded soldiers have and will endure during our military engagements? It seems a little odd to, on the one hand, grasp at every new change in Rep. Giffords’ condition–she opened her eyes! She can move both her hands! It really is wonderful to hear. But, the injured soldier is just that–injured, no details, no appreciation for the long recovery ahead. I wonder if having the detailed public focus on the slow, unsteady, recovery of one prominent person can shed light on just what your medical staff deals with regularly. The only glimpse I have heard is when the media refers to the surgeon attending to Rep. Giffords having experience from military service that aided him in dealing with this case. What we have heard, however, is that her life was probably saved by a staffer who quickly applied pressure to the wound, and medical personnel who moved he quickly to a hospital, where they could, among other things, remove part of the skull to alleviate pressure. I don’t recall hearing anyone talk about the need for an MRI at the Safeway.
The truth is that we see at least one, if not more service members a week whose families would be delighted if the head injury their love one was faciing was as mild as Giffords’. Not the concussion group, but the soldiers getting shot in the head, crushed in vehicle roll-overs or blow up by IEDs.
Neurosurgery is making strides, but you have to have most of a brain in order to have a reasonable quality of life. No one yet has been able to re-grow pieces lost to explosions or bullets. Science may be making progress (like this in rehab) or the unit working with traumatic brain injury at Walter Reed but there is a long, long road ahead for many. It is all too easy to forget about those who have returned home, especially those severly injured.
The signature injury from this war is not concussions, nor is it post combat stress disorder. The signature injury is the hundreds who have lost two limbs, the dozens who have lost three. Their numbers are increasing on a weekly basis.
I am old enough to remember the aftermath of the Viet Nam war. No matter how much everyone “supports the troops,” we have no idea yet of the long term challenges and burdens.
Had started telling this earlier in response to your trauma conference post- had just then seen a handsome fit (British sense- all our nurses were goggling at him) paraplegic for aid and assistance. I got to write up how we should be paying his wife skilled nursing wages- cathing him at 2 am, rectal stim for his BMs qod, etc. They’ve two kids- didn’t pry but think one since his injury?- and his home gym must rival that of some minor athlete’s- yet his wife goes along on his bike rides since if he falls off he can’t get back on his bike, and when I said I wished she’d accompanied him so I could hear her description of their day (caretaker only historian in most of these such exams) he said she took her only break from him in hospitals where she is confident he’s safe without her oversight. If that noble lady leaves or predeceases (or goes in hospital for any reason!) him the VA will be paying tons to give him the care he now gets.
You mention that one of the signature injuries of the war has been the multiple amputees. It reminded me of a recent news story about several such Vets undergoing rehab back here in the U.S. One image in the story showed a legless Vet sitting on a bed or other flat surface. The picture immediately called to mind a certain former soldier I passed at the metro station everyday in Moscow on my way to the University some 10 years ago. The man had a scooter–a platform, not more than 18″ per side, with 4 wheels– similar to the ones we scooted around on in elementary school gym class. He wore his fatigues and always stood straight, almost at attention, waiting for people to drop money into his cup. With no legs, the he used his fists on the ground for mobility. My thoughts, every time I passed him, were: “Poor guy. No doubt a veteran of the Afghan war. How sad that the Soviets got themselves into such an intractable situation, and even worse, that they have abandoned their debilitated veterans. How stupid the Soviets were to stay in Afghanistan for so long at such a great cost to their soldiers.” And now, a decade later, I’m suddenly hit with this image; proof that we Americans are slogging down a very similar path. I’d love to think that the VA system and advances in prosthetics will give our veterans a better future, but I’m not sure our track record is all that great.
Well, Rebecca is right, of course, and one can only hope that Gabby’s going to recover enough to be able to use her celebrity to speak for the anonymous brain injured people who have come and will come back from Iraq and Afghanistan.
I don’t know about signature injuries, but I do know we have a lot more survivors of a lot more serious injuries and that it is a continuing issue.
No one is calling for MRIs in Safeways. Mostly they are calling for gun control laws and civility.
The latter is good manners. Politicians have never been known for that. Actually, they market-test phrases and sound bites and talking points to see which are the most evocative and upsetting, and the most violent ones are the best, unsurprisingly. For example, if you disagree with a proposal or a bill or a law, it is now standard practice to call it “job killing”. Notice the use of the K word. (Facts are not needed to support the emotional content.)
Gun control laws? Heck, we all should have a right to be armed with a Glock. Apparently. My guess is that there were other people in the Safeway parking lot who were concealed-carrying. This saved the life of no one. The grandmother who grabbed his second cartridge did. Anyway, Arizona and Texas are supplying to the guns to the Mexican drug war, and to stop that illegal trade would be “job killing.”
Great post and commentary.
Very well put.
I know that for me, and I hope for many others, Rep. Giffords represents
a symbol of all the soldiers out there going through similar things. We
can’t follow the progress of every soldier, but through her the public
can learn what it’s like, and the glacially slow pace at which
improvement sometimes takes place. And then, simply, what it will be
like for them now.
May her case shed understanding for many for many years to come.
Your e-mail speaks volumes and I agree totally! The government sends our brave men and women out to fight a pointless war (we’ve discussed this on many occasions) with no concept or feeling that these people are someone’s father, mother, sister, brother, aunt, uncle, etc. They are just a number, a casualty is just a number, and they give no thought as to what will happen when these people return home with serious physical or mental disabilities. They give lip service on tv and to the deceased s next-of-kin, how they ‘regret to inform you’ and they don’t really care. Just a number on a form. A statistic. How will the government deal with these men and women and future mental or physical disabilities? Ignore it (like with Agent Orange), farm them off to the NHS (like I see happening where I work), etc. Yet woe betide when a government official or their family suffers a major incident in their lives and we are supposed to drop what we are doing, pray for them and feel nothing but pity? Sorry but I don’t think so.
I support the soldiers, I do not support either the US or UK government or this unjust and stupid war, a war created by Blair and Bush just to make certain that their buddies in the oil companies can have their mitts on oil fields in the area or pipelines running through the same.
I too grew up during the Vietnam war and actively protested the same. I had no realisation of what was going on until one afternoon I (about 16) was standing in my front yard and looked down the street to see an ambulance pull up. Out of this ambulance was carried a stretcher, and on the stretcher in full body cast was a young man (who had just been married and his wife was expecting their first child) who had recently been sent to Vietnam. It was at that point where my views changed dramatically. War is wrong, killing is wrong, but sometimes these things have to be (such as World War II). Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghan war, sorry but I don’t think so! These wars were fought for all the wrong reasons …not to save the world from a madman but created to serve the interests of madmen in power.
This email really hits home. [my son] is on a psych rotation with the Vets at the Repat hospital. He finds the function of the brain very interesting but has yet to explore TBI’s.
While reading this I wondered also how people like you cope with all this? Does it make you question why you are there in the first place? Does it make you even more keen to get out of the army and establish a new life where you can laugh and smile and walk down the street and listen to the birds and smell the scent of flowers and blossom in the air?
I pray that you can do this soon. Tears seep from my eyes, thinking of the traumas of every day life that the troops, citizens and especially good people like yourself have to cope with this every day. There comes a time where one has to hand over to someone else and allow you to take those steps on a sunny day without wearing army fatigues.
At dinner last night, a number of us were speaking about this. Complete consensus is that we were all in tears for the first few months in theater. Why we learn to hold it together is for the sake of the soldiers/sailors/marines coming through who depend on us.
They need compassion, not medical staff too wrapped up in their own pain not to provide the best care possible. They need people who can look them in the eye without contributing to pain or pity. They deserve our best.
And we now cry in private.
I think you should encourage Rebecca to turn this into an op-ed.
This is painfully true but unfortunately, the vast majority just doesn’t comprehend the level of service GIs commit themselves to.
Good analogy. It all breaks my heart.
From your lips to God’s ear…