Thursday, November 10, 2011

Remembering the Invisibly Injured ...

Tomorrow, at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, we will remember the thousands of Canadians who have been killed or injured in our wars, past and present.

However, there are some of the fallen whose names will not come to mind so readily, some whose injuries and subsequent deaths have never been acknowledged as being associated with war. Here I'm thinking, specifically, of those with the "invisible wounds" of Mild Traumatic Brain Injury (MTBI), Operational Stress Injury (OSI) or Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and the addictions and suicides that can come in their wake.

It wasn't until the past week, after hearing family stories at the funeral of my uncle, that I began to question the part that war injuries may have played in my own father's early death. A sergeant in the Canadian Army during WW II, he trained hundreds of soldiers in the risky business of bomb demolition. One cold prairie morning, a young trainee accidently detonated a bomb, believing that my Dad had already left the bomb disposal hut. My Dad was blown several feet in the air, lost consciousness, and burst both eardrums.

For the rest of his life, this quiet, kind and gentle man experienced hearing loss, headaches, dizziness, an exaggerated startle response and irritability, nightmares, emotional numbing and disengagement, and ongoing relationship difficulties. He used alcohol to cope with his physical and emotional pain and eventually died of his alcoholism at the age of 58.

With the benefit of hindsight and recent physiological research, I now suspect that my Dad suffered from the complex combination of MTBI and PTSD. He was officially diagnosed with neither and I imagine the same is true for many others, even today.

My father's "invisible wounds" had a profound impact on our family life and, while 12 Step programs were helpful for some of us, they didn't address the impact of the MTBI, itself. Fortunately, there are a growing number of supports available today. One of my favourites is Barbara Stahura's blog, Journal After Brain Injury. Here, one can find original blog posts by the spousal caregiver of a TBI survivor, sentence stems for both survivors and caregivers to use in healing through journalling, and many resources for survivors and caregivers alike.

Tomorrow, as I watch the annual cenotaph service, I will, as always, remember with heartfelt respect and gratitude, our war dead and wounded, our serving military, and the families who care for and support them. And this year, for the first time, I will include my own dear father, Jack, amongst the soldiers and merchant mariners we honour.

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