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Behind Closed Doors: Invisible Wounds of War

    As we celebrate Memorial Day this Monday I couldn’t think of a more fitting blog post than one that honors the men and women that serve and have served our country. I’ve always had an appreciation for our troops and the sacrifices that these soldiers and their families make; the safety they provide to citizens across the globe. I wanted to use this post to give you a small glimpse of what military medical providers experience behind closed doors.


    I feel moved by Memorial Day more than ever before because of my affiliation with a military base. What I see nearly every day at work is hard to explain and comprehend. From the exterior, I see soldiers who are well groomed and well spoken. But that’s purely an appearance and doesn’t show their internal struggles. That’s why our clinic formed a team to assess not only the physical, but emotional challenges that these men and women face. This is a day to honor and recognize those who regularly sacrifice for us. I also see it as an opportunity to help others gain a clear understanding of the reality that active military members face. Often times we do not celebrate something or someone until it is too late.


    It’s Friday afternoon, the medical team at our Traumatic Brain Injury Clinic, consisting of MDs, Physician’s Assistants, Nurse Practitioners, a Neuro Optometrist, a Neuro Psychologist, Physical Therapists, Speech Therapists, Occupational Therapists, Social Workers, and Researchers, meet to recognize a soldier who has been receiving rehabilitation intermittently for almost a year. Our Social Worker describes her first encounter with this gentleman:


    “You were on time the first day we met, well dressed, made great eye contact, held eye contact… I could tell you were confident. As I got to know you I began to see how much you cared for your family and peers. I knew there was plenty you were not disclosing; physical and emotional pain, fear and doubt. You were unsure why your memory and concentration were failing you. Unexplainable headaches and ringing in the ears were your new normal. You battled internally, wondering if these symptoms were real or all in your head. It was actually weeks before I even knew you had a prosthetic limb.”


    Behind closed doors the truth reveals itself. Injuries that are harder to identify at first glance are slowly exposed in our military population.


    Complaints of debilitating headaches, vertigo, ringing in the ears, and physical pain, as well as changes in memory, concentration, sleep, and energy levels are everyday occurrences in our Traumatic Brain Injury Clinic. Post-traumatic stress, difficulty reintegrating into society, hypervigilance in crowds, and nightmares are also common issues that we see on a day-to-day basis.


    Soldiers guardedly divulge stories about death of fellow soldiers, sometimes going into horrific detail. You hear of marriages slipping through the cracks and children that don’t understand why their mother or father is acting strangely since returning from deployment. As a physical therapist, it is abnormal to have access to this level of detail. Since being here I find it hard to treat any physical injury without knowing more about someone’s life and any emotional barriers that exist. We talk extensively about the influence of the mind on physical and emotional pain in other posts.


    It takes an Army (Navy and Airforce) to secure the freedoms that we have today. And sometimes it takes an army of medical providers to restore a normal life to the brave men and women that protect us day in and day out. If you have someone in your life that is a soldier, see today as an opportunity to check in on them. Ask deeper questions that may be uncomfortable, but could make a great impact on the strength of the relationship you share with one another. If I have learned anything, it is that people can always hide pain with a smile. Sometimes knowing someone cares can make all the difference in their life.


    If this is something that speaks to you, please do what you can to support our troops. Numerous foundations and organizations exist to help these men and women.



    Dr. Michael Infantino, DPT