Home Sweet Home
It wasn’t until the flights returning me home that I became aware of a heightened sense of irritation and a shortened temper. If it was evident earlier, no one mentioned it to me. I, with many others, was assigned to baggage detail. My normal response would have been to shrug it off as an inconvenience and work amiably with my fellow Service Members to accomplish the mission. While I tried to project a positive attitude exteriorly, internally, anger surged. While physically, emotionally, and mentally exhausted, we loaded and unloaded duffle bags for each leg of our return home; civilian ground crews watched and instructed us in relevant aspects of loading a cargo hold. This wasn’t a significant event compared to the events of the previous months and so my irrational anger surprised me.
By the time I arrived home, I had not slept more than a few hours in the previous few days. I had surprisingly limited insight into the personal and professional challenges that awaited me. I thought I had it all under control; after all, I was a medical professional.
Returning home to an Army Medical Department (AMEDD) unit that doesn’t deploy as a unit was challenging. First, most military medical clinics seem chronically understaffed, and the pressure to return to a full patient caseload soon after returning from deployment should not be underestimated. I was fortunate to have an outstanding supervisor. While demanding, she was also supportive, and she helped me overcome some of the professional challenges associated with returning from theater. Furthermore, post-deployment physicals and behavioral health screenings were, in my case and in the case of some peers, ineffectual. It appeared to me that any mention or even hint of deployment-related concerns led to dismissive responses designed to remind me that ‘I’m medical, not a combat soldier,’ and that ‘I came home intact, so it can’t be too bad.’
Ironically, gaining appropriate medical care seemed more readily attainable when I maintained a disingenuously positive attitude and avoided mentioning any deployment-related association with my injuries. Admittedly, I didn’t try very hard at the time to seek appropriate care for my concerns. I, more than they, already knew how fortunate I was. I was able to return home to a loving and supportive family. I now had the opportunity to again participate in the growth and development of my twin toddlers. These factors alone, I knew, were advantages that many of those I served with didn’t have.
I knew several medical and behavioral health providers and could have used my collegial associations to seek additional care as necessary. However, asking for assistance/opportunities outside of those typically provided others is not compatible with my philosophy of health care delivery. Additionally, it was far too opportune to quickly transition back into taking care of others, while compartmentalizing my own needs. Furthermore, my post-traumatic stress symptoms never converted to post-traumatic stress disorder. Some peers and colleagues didn’t fare as well. Finally, I have also had the honor to interact with some of the most extraordinary Service Members and civilians, most of whom have stories significantly more involved than mine. Perspective, hope, love, and faith may be abstract concepts, but they were also powerful allies during my deployment and in my transition home.
As I write this, I still experience almost daily foot, back/neck/hip, and shoulder pain. Although not entirely back to pre-deployment levels, my memory, and atten- tion/comprehension of written information has returned to near pre-deployment levels. Word-finding deficits and discomfort in large crowds continue to frustrate me, but they, as well as the headaches have significantly improved. The moments of irrational anger, nightmares, and the ringing in my ears have resolved. Writing this brief account of events still brought tears to my eyes with the complexity of emotions that comes with remembering those who were/are less fortunate. Without my admission of these challenges, no one would know of them. I function well in both civilian and military environments. In fact, I expect that I will graduate with my Ph.D. this year, which will see the conclusion of a goal envisioned long before August, 2012. I also anticipate continuing to serve my fellow Service Members and their families.