PTSD: Veteran’s disease?
EDITOR’S NOTE: Columnist John Ostwald submitted daily columns for the week prior to Veterans Day. The columns covered a variety of armed forces issues. The information in the columns came from interviews with veterans and family members, research and John’s perspective as an educator and veteran.
I was asked to be on a panel at New York Law School a few months ago. The topic was Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Whenever I am asked to speak in public, I contact the organizer of the program to try to get very specific details regarding what the audience might want to hear. The contact person said that he would like me to discuss myths about PTSD. There are many so I decided to address one that has been around for many years. PTSD is often called “the veteran’s disI was out of town when I got cal staff, and movement caused ease.” It is not “veteran’s disthe call from the local police. alarm. One day his fever spiked ease”; it can be anyone’s disAfter learning that he was unat 105.4. ease. likely to survive, I called the During the early part of his
During my presentation I local undertaker. On the four rehabilitation, my colleague, showed some images from the hour flight home, I wrote his Dr. Edward Tick, a national 911, Las Vegas and Parkland eulogy and planned his funeral PTSD expert, told me that I was Florida tragedies then I menservice. It was apparent to the in the acute stage of the disort io neda personal der. experience. other travelers that something
My symptoms of PTSD was very wrong. During this period I had started about eighteen months When I arrived at the Innightmares that most often inago. I have been out of the miltensive Care Unit I saw my volved death rituals like funeritary for over forty years. My son —- a lifeless figure lying in als. During one vivid dream I unit was Inshore Undersea bed with dried blood on variwas kissing my son’s hand just Warfare Group II based in Litous body parts and tubes combefore the coffin was closed for tle Creek, Virginia. Although I ing out of his nose, mouth, and the last time. I had flashbacks trained extensively during the chest. An oddly shaped device to the early weeks of his time in Vietnam era, I did not serve “in was sticking out of the top of the Intensive Care Unit. I saw country.” My only time out of his head. I was told later that the tubes in his mouth, nose, the country was spent in Guanit was used to measure presand under his arms. I saw the tanamo Bay, Cuba. sure on the brain. I slept in his dried blood on his head, hands
The symptoms came on as a room for some nights fearing and arms. Most prominent was result of witnessing the afterthat each one would be our last the look of terror and confusion math of my son’s car accident together. in his eyes after he woke up when he was sixteen years old. For a few weeks, his mother from the coma.
His vehicle flipped and he was Pat and I spent 12- 14 hours a I used to think that he and I underwater for about 12 minday watching and waiting and would be killed in a car crash. utes. His heart stopped twice crying and worrying on the I had intermittent suicidal and he remained in a coma for ICU. Every sound, change in thoughts. On some nights I a few days. facial expression of the medi- would jump out of bed because I thought I heard him call to me from his room downstairs. I irrationally thought that I will find him dead in his room when there was no danger of that happening. Once in a while a profoundly powerful feeling of dread and grief swept over me and I got anxious and cried. I often said to myself, “There is something wrong with me.”
Despite these and other symptoms I am doing well. I know how to take care of myself emotionally and the time (30 months) has helped. Jackson is doing very well also as he recovers from a traumatic brain injury.
Traumatic experiences can happen to anyone and they come in a variety of ways. It is obviously important to pursue healing proactively.