September 16, 2009

Helping the Wounded Warrior

I know we are supposed to be at war, but where, really does one see any signs of the effort? No rations, bonds, enlistment drives or things our parents knew well. The war is distant, a story on the news page. A sad obit inside the local news, a picture of someone looking too young to die.

Those off-in- the-distance wars are the only types I know. What I do see are the survivors, the people who return home to the stillness of our suburban streets with a little baggage from Baghdad.

In my massage practice, I have done massages with veterans of World War I, II, Korea, Vietnam, The Gulf War, the Bosnian conflict, and now Afghanistan and Iraq. Vets don’t talk much about their times in war areas, but I do get slips of information here and there to explain some of the souvenirs.

The dark, black blotch on one fellow’s forearm, slowly moving up to the surface, 62 years after Normandy, was shrapnel from a mortar shell.

The scars you can see, however, seem to be more than outnumbered by the scars on veteran’s nervous systems. Back in the USA, vets have told me they freeze when they hear the nightly fireworks at Disneyland. When a plastic bag floats across the freeway lanes, a vet told me he clenches the steering wheel thinking it might be a home-made bomb. One vet told me, he didn’t want a parade or a medal. He just wanted to be able to sleep through the night.

It’s been a long-standing and continuing scandal that soft-tissue injuries and post-war trauma syndromes aren’t given any respect in our country. Such wimps as the British Empire have long recognized and treated shell-shock syndromes with massages, rest and other therapies. The injuries are just as real as the shrapnel from a mortar shell.

In my little massage practice, I try to help. I work with altering the pain cycles, the hyper-vigilance and the rumination arcs that keep veterans awake at night.

Painfully, I see vets now trying to piece themselves together in between tours in Iraq. There is no getting out of the service if you are a reservist and know how to do something, like fly a plane or perform surgery. If you look okay, you can still shoot a gun, you get sent back.

I wish I had even one answer to all the world’s big problems, but I do have a little time, and a little patience, and a little understanding of how the body reacts to constant, powerless stress. That is at least a little help to people who have already given so much for their country.

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