OUT WITH THE OLD, IN WITH THE NEW

As we develop advanced tools of warfare, new types of injuries result too. Sometimes I wonder how advanced a society we are when I think about the ways we find to hurt each other. I’ve just been reading an article in Discover Magazine about facial reconstruction for soldiers who have horrendous injury to their heads from improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

With the war in Afghanistan and Iraq, damage to the head is one of the more common injuries. Technology has improved the survival rate so that less than 10% of the men and women injured in battle die. However, although they are surviving, many of them are dreadfully maimed and will spend the rest of their lives undergoing surgeries to repair the damage.

The Army is funding the development of new technologies to help soldiers with facial and head wounds heal faster and better. Advances have been made in treating burns and crushed facial bones so that scarring is much less evident. Special masks have been developed to heal burns and damaged tissue on the face. With the use of these masks, the head is encased in polyurethane where antibiotics, pain killers and anti-inflammatory medications can be administered all at the same time while maintaining a sterile environment.

It’s all very technical and involves negative-pressure wound therapy, but the idea is that the skin heals with reduced scarring. When the healing is done, the skin color is good and much healthier than what we’ve been able to achieve in the past. The soldier has a much better chance of getting on with a normal life than was formerly possible.

By rebuilding a face, you not only restore a sense of identity, but increase the chance of a more independent life for the injured. I don’t know if there is anything more encouraging than that!

A REAL PAIN IN THE BACK!

Even if you haven’t already, sooner or later it’s likely you are going to experience some back pain. I’ve had two terrible times in my life when I hurt my back and I’ll never forget them; I hurt so badly I couldn’t get my shoes on! It’s left me with a lot of sympathy for people that have long term back pain. Unfortunately, with hiking while carrying huge packs and equipment and all the ways that serving in the military requires lifting, toting, twisting, bending, etc., many veterans have back pain too.

In most cases, back pain isn’t that serious and there are things you can do to help the problem. However, since it can be the result of a slipped disc or other more serious problems, make sure you talk to your doctor first before trying any self-care. You also may want to look at your posture since it can have a big effect on back pain.

If you have an event which leaves you with a sore back, take some time off and pamper yourself – you’ll be glad in the long run that you did. Use ice for the first few days after a back strain, then switch to heat. Once healing begins, you may want to look at losing some weight and beginning some exercises to strengthen the muscles that hold your spine in place. That’s a great preventative for future pain.

If your pain continues, is stabbing, or produces numbness in your leg, call your healthcare provider. This may indicate a more serious problem. Most back pain can be managed though and over time can be prevented.

LEARNED BEHAVIORS

Suicide among veterans is a problem the VA has been focusing on for quite some time. Recent studies have shown that veterans with PTSD who have gone through prior traumatic incidents are more likely to attempt suicide. That makes sense to me; the strength of our experiences and how we react to them shape our future responses. This is especially true for people with PTSD.

Prior traumatic experiences such as child abuse, compound the problem. I can’t help but wonder if it isn’t similar to compounded grief with the trauma so overwhelming that suicide seems to be an acceptable alternative. Perhaps it is a case of compounded grief. It can take many, many years to recover from an abusive childhood and piling additional grief, horror, and terror onto the situation may bring back those feelings of hopelessness and helplessness.

Veterans who were exposed to abuse in childhood were eight times more likely to feel suicidal as those who were not exposed to abuse. I guess it’s not surprising that civilians who have been through abusive childhoods are also more likely to resort to suicide. PTSD leaves one feeling vulnerable with no way of protecting yourself. That same feeling can often be a part of why individuals think about attempting suicide. When we’re young, we don’t have the power or resources to respond to physical abuse. Battered children have little say in what happens to them. Growing up without learning how to cope in a health manner is extremely difficult to overcome. Those individuals who used attempted suicide as a way of coping with the situation were six times more likely to attempt suicide as those who had never attempted it.

Understanding the feelings behind suicidal thoughts and the impact trauma has when it is heaped upon additional trauma can only help us better learn how to prevent suicide. As we learn more, we’ll be better able to treat and heal PTSD more quickly and reduce the incidents of suicide in veterans.

TOOLS FOR SUCCESS

Could you do your job without the equipment or tools you use every day to get things done? While most of us wouldn’t be able to work without a computer, or a cash register, or whatever type of special equipment we depend on, we often just don’t take the time to give our bodies the tools it needs to do its’ best work for us.

I’ve worked with many veterans who have had health issues related to their war time service: everything from arthritic bones, damaged muscles, traumatic brain injuries, diabetic neuropathy, cancer, etc. What I’ve noticed is that they often eat so poorly that I have to wonder how their bodies can possibly heal or function at peak efficiency because they aren’t getting the nutrients they need.

Our bodies are wonderful things! They are designed to heal and knit themselves back together, but in order to do this, they need tools to work with. We need water and nutrients every day for the body to function properly, but if we pour into it things that don’t nurture it, our body will cease to perform at peak efficiency.

If you think I’m blowing smoke, consider how our bodies react to the things we do, or don’t, eat. Sugar is a wonderful example. Most mothers will quickly tell you about how sugar changes their children’s moods and behaviors, especially around Halloween. It’s not just sugar; caffeine, fatty foods, salty foods, all of it affects the way our bodies function. If you put good things in, you’ll likely to get good results. If you don’t put good things in, how can you expect to get anything good out?

I’m certainly not advocating you start a complete sugar-free diet today. I’m only suggesting that you make sure that during the course of the day, you eat a wide variety of healthy foods. One of the quickest ways to track how you’re eating is to think about the color of your foods. The brighter the color, usually means the better the nutrient content is, so look for bright green lettuce, yellow squash and corn, red peppers, blueberries, etc. Give your body all the tools it needs to heal and keep you at peak fitness.