So, I had been warned. He’s a bit odd. Talks a lot. He’s difficult, but harmless. He has some crazy ideas. He’s a former Marine. Okay, you got me. He’s a former Marine? I’ll do my best to help.
Leo served as a helicopter pilot. No surprise that he has back, neck and head pain from injuries that occurred from any of 100 different experiences. He’s been shot at, crashed landed into water and, too many times to count, risked his own life to rescue fellow soldiers. Crazy dangerous stuff. He smirked, but I swear I heard a tremor in his voice when he said, “Leave no man behind.”
Male and female soldiers are both dealing with more than just physical pain. The bio-psycho-social model reminds us to consider the impact of mental stress.
Leo deployed several times on multiple missions. During that time in-country he stayed hypervigilant 100% of the time, to keep himself and the members of his unit alive. In war today, there is no such thing as a safe zone. He explained that a calm environment can be interrupted at any time by a hand grenade tossed over a wall, sniper fire, or improvised explosive devices (IEDs) during a routine convoy.
Mental health and physical health mix. Leo lost several friends. He buried his grief. He felt survivors guilt for making it home, when so many others did not.
Leo described his back pain on any given day was between a 7 and 11 on the pain scale. His docs at the VA Hospital were told that oxycodone was a safe and effective treatment for pain. Leo knew the risks of taking an opioids, but for the first time in years he had some relief.
The next war began when he realized he was addicted. I started seeing him just after he had been told he couldn’t use cannabis to take the edge of the withdrawals. He was furious. The weed was actually helping. The VA doctors made no exceptions – if he tested positive for cannabis use, he’d lose his military privileges. As of today, those docs either retired, were encouraged to leave or began embracing new research on the role of cannabis in overcoming addiction.
This land mine led him to explore other options. So that brings us to today. Leo laughs at himself because he is doing therapy he never in a million years thought he’d try: Massage, music therapy even drinking some special juice to detox his body. Leo kicked the pills. He assures me that’s one of the toughest battles he’s fought. He’s also addressing his mental health – the buried grief, the guilt, the post traumatic stress injuries.(PTSI)
Treating Veterans is a privilege and an honor. I was reminded there can be A LOT more going on under the surface of the physical pain. Challenging clients have taught me many lessons: a reminder to listen and not judge, to be patient, and/or to practice compassion. The more challenging, the greater the opportunity to learn.
Thank you to those who have served, and thank you to the families of those who have served. When I get to walk beside you for a season, to play a small part in your healing process, I am grateful beyond words.