Fourth of July is over, and with it comes recovery from a myriad of ailments. Over eating BBQ, little sleep at night, and of course, recovering from fireworks and the memories I carry with them are the typical aftermath of this holiday weekend. (my dad has a soft serve machine, it is impossible for me to resist helping myself to many ice cream cones…)
Quick reflections on July 4th
My neighbor behind my house must have a connection with Grucci because the fireworks display was spectacular. It was a solid 40 minutes and a loud 40 minutes at that. My boys were in my lap and they asked to move from our behind glass indoor position to our back patio. I obliged and we sat through the remainder on July 3rd outside.
It was intense. They sound the same and bring the emotions right back. I was overwhelmed at first, but remembered that the In Vivo only works if you remain immersed. Plus, my son was firmly planted on my lap and he was not having me go back inside. I was able to talk with my wife and get through it. By the end, I was proud that I succeeded in tackling my PTSD goal for the weekend. It wiped me out, and I spent most of 4th on the couch, but I did it. Which is my lead in to the title of this post: the aftermath.
What happens after?
I feel that the aftermath of traumatic events, and how they are handled and processed, both in groups and individually, is a critical step in lessening the severity and long term impact of the events. Trouble is, in war, you are most definitely dealing with immediacy and not trying to get to far ahead of yourself. If you look to far ahead, you get distracted, lose focus and miss an important mission. If you dwell, you get bogged down and stuck in the mud.
You have to keep moving. Moving keeps you alive. We most often cannot take a timeout to review what just happened and explore our feelings. And that is exactly where the trouble starts. It is a more exquisite form of a catch-22. We must pay later to get through today.
It is my opinion that tempo has a lot to do with the lasting effects of PTSD. The longer and harder the tempo, the less time to deal with what may be creeping up, the deeper it is ingrained.
Again, it is not the Armed forces job to completely manage the tempo. The situations, dire and dangerous, dictate the pace. But, I can assure the Army that the prolonged grind and staring into more deployments led to my exit, and I am sure it led to a few of my compatriots exit as well.
The Makeshift Field Hospital
In one particular instance, we did an out brief after a horrendous day.
The morning started with a car bomb vaporizing a dozen people and leaving hundreds more injured. My unit housed the Forward Aid Station (FAS) and when the hospital in town was overflowing, we opened our gates to treat the wounded civilians.
They came in literally by the truck load. Missing arms and legs, facing third degree burns, and quickly reaching our max capacity I spent that day doing triage assisting our stellar Medics. It was so bad we pulled our line mechanics in to give IVs just so we could have more hands. It is an understatement to say I am haunted by the children I saw that day, and unfortunately there are many. We worked for hours upon hours calling in MEDEVAC choppers and treating the wounded. When we were finished, we were left bleaching out all of the blood stains in the concrete at dusk still reeling from our impromptu hospital.
That night we sat with a counselor as a group and talked openly about our feelings and what happened. I started with this, “Every time I walked past my room all I wanted to do was go sit on my cot in the corner, put my poncho liner over my head and cry.”
I didn’t. I kept moving and stayed alive. The aftermath is where you can get a lot of good work done, if the time permits. I am grateful for that hour we spent talking that night. It is a luxury in a combat zone that doesn’t come often.
The Aftermath has just begun
But, this just reinforces the need for our VA system to be stocked with staff eager to take us on. The aftermath is still going on. It will be for years. We need the system that understands us and is sworn to continue our care to step up. We need citizens to accept us as Veterans and embrace us on our road back to normalcy.
I can still vividly see a small boy who was burned down half his body and barely crying on a cot while we gave him an IV. The aftermath of these wars has only just begun.