Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Back to Work

So, I've had a light clinic month for the last 2 weeks. No complaints from me! I needed a break after a hellish 2 weeks on the consult service at the VA. I can't talk about, I'll get too angry.

So, in clinic today, I had a patient with PTSD -- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He came in to the ID clinic for fungus on his toe nails. What he really wanted to talk about was the horrors of Vietnam. I wish I had more time to dedicate to that for him. As it stood, I did the best I could with my limited amount of time.

He kept coming back to one main theme. He said he was born a Mormon. He studied and went on his mission trip. He then went into the Marines (enlisted or drafted, I'm not sure) and went to Vietnam. He went TWICE. Two tours in the violence and horror that was the Vietnam jungle. He looked at me and said, "I killed 6 people in my first 2 days there. 'Thou shall not kill.' How do you deal with that??" Of course, I had no answer.

He proceeded to tell me that when he came home after his first tour [aside: why do they call it tour, like it's a fun romp around the world?], he was talking with his family. "They were all 'Peace' and 'Love' and 'Jane Fonda.' They didn't want to hear about it. They wouldn't let me talk about it." He was so conflicted about his religious upbringing and the acts he witnessed and committed. He was crying out for help, for someone in his family or community to listen to him and let him purge his nightmares. He got nothing.

No matter how you feel about the Vietnam War, our involvement in it, etc, you can't punish those men that were sent to fight. They were doing a job and often just trying to save their own skins in the ordeal. America really treated those vets poorly when they returned. Thankfully, my patient has a group for therapy that he enjoys. Sadly, he says he lost his first two wives because of Vietnam -- they couldn't take his emotional lability, his voluntary admissions to the psych ward, or his leaving for hours / days at a time. He gets these flashback and then wakes up under some tree, not knowing where he was or how he got there.

I can't say he'd be different if someone would've let him unload back in 1970-something when he returned the first time. I can't say that his PTSD wouldn't be as bad if someone would've given him a shoulder 30+ years ago. I can say that he turned his back on his religion and his God for many years because of that moment. Fortunately, he has found his way back, and he said that getting back to church was one of the best things for him. It's just sad that he was pushed out in the first place.

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