Friday Reflection

{My dad’s USAF retirement ceremony}

Though I enjoyed looking at all of the thoughtful, commemorative posts to acknowledge Veterans Day (I also posted a happy photo on instagram of me and my dad, who served in the Air Force), I felt a sense of suppressed, sad emotions as well.  It was hard to pinpoint because I believe a part of me did not want to acknowledge the fact that behind several of the smiling faces could be a lot of pain, especially with the harsh statistic that 22 veterans commit suicide every day.

One of the most difficult patient cases I ever participated in was as a medical student doing psychiatric consultations on the medical floor.  I was paged to see a man in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), who was on a ventilator for over a week after he survived a suicide attempt jumping off of a highway bridge.  He would likely never recover from the damage of his injuries and would stay in a hospital on a ventilator for the remainder of his life.  I reviewed his history: he served in the Army, fought in the Vietnam War, was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and alcohol addiction, and never had psychiatric issues until he returned home from Vietnam.  And there he lay in the ICU — he could not talk, move, nor write.  He was essentially a vegetable.  Family never came — I don’t think he had any.  Yet, I sat there next to him and dedicated at least 10 minutes per day, whether he knew I was there or not, because I felt he deserved to be acknowledged and cared for, at the very least for his service and sacrifice for his country.

Reflecting on that moment, I realize how much our system needs to prioritize support services for the men and women who protect our country.  I currently see patients who have served in the military and are diagnosed with PTSD, but I can’t help but think of the majority of veterans who are limited in resources or ashamed to seek help due to the stigma attached to such diagnoses.  I hope that some day soon all of our veterans will be able to receive the psychological services they rightfully deserve and need.

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7 thoughts on “Friday Reflection

  1. It is unfortunate that our society is still more likely to acknowledge the physical trauma veterans suffer, but deny the psychic damage they endure. This disparity was particularly acute after the Vietnam War when vets’ PTSD went untreated as resources were scarce to nonexistent. For that war, a more sympathetic view of vets slowly emerged, helped by two sympathetic (and Oscar-winning) movies, Deer Hunter and Coming Home. I’m not aware of similarly sympathetic popular culture treatment of current vets’ struggles with the psychic aftermath of combat.

    • I did an online search for war-related PTSD movies and you’re right — nothing focused specifically on the psychological aftermath of being in combat. The movie Brothers showed up a few times as being somewhat PTSD-relevant, but can’t say I’ve ever watched it. Sad.

  2. I take from your story about you and the helpless vet that you’re still feeling last week’s loss and working through that. I admire you for your vigils at the side of the suffering, both then and now.

    • How insightful and observant of you to notice! My motivation to be more consistent with my blog was when my therapist pointed out that my blog could chronicle my own self-growth and development — I was initially resistant to write about this subject, but felt it was relevant and much-needed. Losing my patient last week also triggered past feelings of grief and this case was one that i realize hadn’t been fully resolved.

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