Major Richards Mind

For years, I’ve been fascinated with how the brain works and have read various articles and stories on the topic. I’m especially curious about how and where the mind/brain connection works, but to date, researchers have yet to define that and debate flourishes.

Two of my more recent reads on the mind/brain were important enough for me to buy and hold after borrowing them from the library: Muses, Madmen, and Prophets by Daniel Smith looked at the question from more of a psychological/spiritual direction while My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor looked at science of strokes. Interestingly, the science of strokes also had spiritual insights.

One of my other fascinations, if you will, comes from the Sunday NY Times section, “Sunday Review.” Sunday August 12th carried the front page story, War Wounds. The way these pieces come together is the opening line of the article: “It would be so much easier, Major Richards says, if he had just lost a leg in Iraq.” Instead, the Major, whose IQ at West Point was about 148 (i.e. at the edge of the genius level) and now, he’s losing his mind from concussions he received in Iraq explosions. And basically, untreated concussions because he had no outward wounds. Two major concussions within a three-week period.

I recently had a minor concussion. I tripped, fell, and hit my forehead on a 2×4, which in itself was fortunate because I didn’t hit the cement. I ended up kneeling on one leg, propped on elbows and forearms, forehead on a 2×4. What was interesting was that while my mind functioned and I knew what had happened, my brain’s ability to control my muscles had disconnected. Even though I knew I wanted to, I could not lift my head; I could not push myself up with my arms. I wasn’t really scared, just astonished that I couldn’t, for the few moments/minutes it lasted, move.

Over the following days, I rested a lot, saw my doctor a lot, and slowly came back into balance. My “doctor” is a DOC, in other words, a doctor of chiropractic. She is a non-force healer who focuses on the sacral/occipital connection which not only straightens the spine but also gets spinal fluid going again. That’s a very brief outline, of course, but the spinal fluid is vital. I remained some wobbly in the pegs, but in a week’s time, I’d begun healing and writing and was back, more or less, in balance.

But I also learned a lot. I remembered how, when hockey players are hit hard, they often kneel on the ice, forehead down, and can’t move for a few moments; the same is true of other athletes when they have a head hit, only football players usually end up backwards. But they can’t move for a few moments either. And the athlete with a concussion doesn’t play for a while.

If professional sports can finally treat and understand the dangers of concussions, why can’t the military? One could say, I suppose, that in war, soldiers are an expendable commodity just as civilians are “collateral damage,” while in sports, players are high-dollar merchandise. Sports teams have body workers on staff just as they have medical staff. They pay to have their merchandise in top shape.

But in reality, this doesn’t hold up. The cost of educating someone like Major Richards is huge, as is the cost of the equipment that someone in war uses and carries. And has to have replaced or repaired on a regular basis.

Why are concussions treated with psychiatric doctors and not by a bodyworker who understands the mind/body/spirit connection?

What a waste: in dollars, in human values, to spouses, to children, in lives from suicide, and to a country that professes to honor these men and women.  What a terrible, terrible waste. While the Army is so far ahead on so many social issues (the first openly gay woman is being elevated to general), why are they so backwards in the mental challenges that come with war, whether head injuries or PTSD?

I don’t get it. Do you? Is it only the lack of money directed to the VA or is there some other lack of understanding that goes on? There are no simple answers, I know that, but I’m missing something..

What do you think? Fill in the blanks for me. If any of you have had military service, I’d appreciate hearing what you have to say.


14 thoughts on “Major Richards Mind

  1. how to create empathy, when a problem isn’t personal. it’s like inspiring the uninspired. only after the train wreck do we inspect the rails. how do we get injured people to put their anger aside and accept other paths to health, let alone find funding. i guess all we can do individually is offer what we have.

  2. All very good points.
    I would like to add from my personal experience, that the VA centers in both KCMO and Topeka, KS, are actively pursuing as many avenues for treatment of TBI and PTSD as they can find funding for today.
    I am well acquainted with both care providers and patients at both facilities and I see an amazing level of caring and active listening.
    I tend to agree with Dan on at least one pertinent point: until the federal government can regulate the training and therefore licensure of ancillary care, there will never be funding for “fringe” healing.
    And unfortunately, no one has been able to “find” the subconscious mind in a cadaver so how can we moderate, regulate and control the care of “the unknown”?
    And so it goes back to the Beginning. Man may make his plans but God directs his path.

    1. That’s really good information. Thank you.

      The mind is sort of like the so called ‘god particle’ in physics. Everyone thinks it exists but no one knows where. And interesting thing, the mind.

  3. Jack, I’m glad you emerged from football and the USMC with injuries that can be treated of managed. I thank you for the dedication to volunteer to be a Marine in 1963, not an easy time for our nation.
    I can assure you based on my 27 years in the Navy and Navy Reserve, and the recent graduation of one of my son’s friends from USMC boot camp, losing recruits to physical injury is no longer acceptable. It’s not easy to get good recruits when the country is at war, so none of the services tolerate DI’s who injure recruits. Oh, and sexist language is out too. That doesn’t mean that bootcamp is now kinder and gentler, just that the DI’s have to be more creative to get their message across. That message is still that you must prove your worthiness to be a Marine, Sailor, Soldier, … .

    Janet, I don’t get the impression that the NFL has taken concussions seriously until VERY recently. It seems to me the NFL is just as willing to admit a link between concussions and long term health effects as cigarette companies are willing to admit a link between smoking and cancer.

    I did not see the NYT article, but my impression is that neurologists and neurosurgeons dictate the care for brain injuries. …
    But I guess you’re talking about long term care. While a whole body approach certainly makes sense to me, it seems to me that the certification process for chiropracty and other non traditional healers is too loose. We’ve all heard of chiropracters who are fully licensed, but do more harm than good with forcible “adjustments” that make you feel good for a few days but lead to permanent injury. Military medicine isn’t even good at weeding out wack jobs like Nidal Hassan, I don’t see how they can manage an approval process for healers that have a less rigorous licensure procedure.
    Even if the military medicine and the VA were properly funded, how would you write a government specification for which healers could be hired? Maybe you could give people vouchers and track results, then disallow anyone who has bad results, but that implies a much larger staff for tracking.
    TBI, (traumatic brain injury) has the become the signature wound of these recent conflicts just as amputations were in Vietnam for 2 reasons that I can see. The first is that just like helicopters enabled saving amputees in Vietnam who would have died in WWII, our armed forces moved full capability trauma centers even closer to the battle zones. I think that the first hour after an injury is supposed to be “golden”, and the services got better at treating people during that golden hour…. SO many people with concussions who previously might have died now survive. Second, it’s an insurgency and the weapon of choice is roadside bombs, which tend to knock you around inside your vehicle and bang your head. So, there are lots of concussions to deal with. I doubt that enough money has been budgeted to deal with the huge number of closed brain injuries.

    As Jack implied, admitting to PTSD still seems to carry a stigma. What I’ve heard is that the post deployment surveys for PTSD are so transparent that anyone can tell what the “right” answer is to the questions. So unless or until you are willing to say, “I’ll abandon my unit, the unit I fought with, the unit that is like brothers and sisters to me,” you don’t step forward to ask for help.

    1. Hi Dan. Thanks so much for your careful response. You brought up several things I want to comment on/think about, so double thanks.

      You’re right that the NFL has only recently supported more careful study and support for players who’ve had concussions. I think that decision was reached in 2010. So it is recent. As is the high school and college emphasis on caring for students who have been hit hard enough to have a concussion. More education and outcry in the media helped that happen.

      I also appreciate your experience and expertise in saying that the services, with an all-volunteer, sexually and racially integrated corp can’t afford to use the tactics it once did. I know that’s also true from the stories Michael has related. Thanks for bringing that up.

      But what was especially helpful for me, personally, was your final comment: “So unless or until you are willing to say, ‘I’ll abandon my unit, the unit I fought with, the unit that is like brothers and sisters to me,’ you don’t step forward to ask for help.” Of course. And that, perhaps, is the bottom line.

      And I know that the quick battlefield to hospital unit turn-around began with Vietnam and so many that would have died in another era did not. And I know that’s true today.

      What troubles me more is the overall insistence on using neurologists, neurological surgeons, and psychiatrists to treat TBI and PTSD. Those fields of medicine, as are most medical fields, very limited in their application and approach. What they do, they do well, but as the term implies, medical and medicines are closely linked; i.e. psychiatrists proscribe drugs and neurological surgeons do surgery (I know less about the field of neurology) while body workers, such as trained and licensed physical therapists, often treat the whole body.
      Here’s the problem I see: PTSD/TBI create fear in the body as well as in the mind. Medical help limited to one area of the body (the head) isn’t effective for the rest of the body.

      For example, I teach speech, which is one of the more tension producing classes in college, and I’ve had several VETS in class. So they have tension on top of tension. Granted, I haven’t had the worst cases, but the students have been successful in learning how to change the chatter in their heads which in turn changes the tension in their bodies which in turn changes tension. I teach all my students to learn to recognize their own bodies’ triggers so they can retrain themselves. First step: breathe. “Breathe,” I say.

      So perhaps the piece that’s missing now is education. And it’s hard to educate when you’re in the middle of war. We can hope that the successes of the NFL or NHL in reducing long-term concussion damage will eventually help military leaders. Prevention is always key; but healing after incident is vital.

      Mercy. I think I’ve written a second blog post. Thanks for the dialogue and thinking through with me.

  4. And how many of the homeless are ex-military with undiagnosed brain damage and or suffering from PTSD?

  5. First, I am glad you are OK, Janet. I was a jock for all seasons in high school and went through Marine Corps Officer Training School but was then dismissed due to a recurring knee injury I got playing football. As to sports, I played football, basketball, baseball, tennis, golf, and wrestled and in retrospect received many concussions. Of course didn’t call them concussions then but rather called it “getting your bell rung.” Most of mine were playing football becasue as a “big fish” is a small pond, I played quarterback on offense and middle line backer on defense for four years on the varsity team. I can remember many times after a game being told by my teammates they either had to call the play becasue I couldn’t remember how to call a play on offense or had to walk me back to my position on defense becasue I couldn’t remember where to line up. And, I wasn’t the only one becasue over the years I can’t think of a player who didn’t get his bell rung not just in games but in practice. Today we cringe at these kinds of stories, but then getting your bell rung was a badge of not only courage but it proved you were “putting out” 100% for the team. As I have gotten older, I have often wondered if my word retrieval problem is at least in part to the symphony played in my head for all the times I got my bell rung. As to the military, I can answer your question in one word: MACHISMO! I was in OCS in 1963 and hopefully things have changed. However, we were subject to both emotional and physical battering if we failed to measure up 100% to what was expected especially the physical training part. We were mentally berated by being called all of the sexist slang words used to describe women and their anatomy as well as all the negative euphemisms used to denigrate homosexuals. On the physical side, none of us graduated from OCS without a cut and abrasion on the bride of our nose. This was becasue a favorite “attention getter” was for the Drill Instructor (DI) to slam his fist on the top of your helmet which sent it crashing down on the bridge of your nose. If you could not keep up on a “hike” the DI put his rifle under your pack and made you run to the front of the column which might be a mile or more. Yes, there were consequences but not for the DI. One of my friends got taken to the hospital in an ambulance becasue of heat stroke and did not return. For the next several days, anyone who did not keep up was berated by being compared to my friend who had overnight had become all that is worst in a man but more importantly to our DI the worst in a Marine becasue he could not take the physical training and quit. All the emphasis was on him as something you did not want to be becasue if you were you disgraced the Corps. There was absolutely no concern about why he could not continue becasue a Marine always completes the mission or literally dies trying. To my DI, and the Corps at that time, that was the difference between being a hero and being a “throw away” not worthy of life.
    In that culture MACHISMO, MARINE, and HERO all meant the same thing: you either complete your mission without complaint; that is you are a “can do” Marine, or you literally die trying to do so. Anything less than that is unacceptable and contemptible.

    1. Jack, thanks so much for posting your experiences. My military-wife experiences were from the same decades you mention so I know what you experienced although I only experienced it through listening to DIs stories. I do think the times have changed however. I know my grandson’s experience, and my nephew’s, has been very different from the old style of training. And yes, much of what happened then we’d call abusive today. And when we’re out in San Diego seeing grandson, the Marines still seem to have that same bluster – at least at ballgames!

      If you haven’t seen it, you might want to read Dan Lute’s response to this same blog. He’s one of the next generation of military men.

      Thanks for always reading! Janet

  6. It seems there is so much we don’t know, still, about what happens when the brain is injured or not functioning properly. With my brain trouble, a psychiatrist was my best ally, but of course, that’s just one case. I’ve always worried more about soldiers with mental and emotional wounds. My senior English teacher talked about how internally scarred her husband was in Vietnam, and I never forgot that. Glad you’re okay!

    1. Perhaps there’s more we don’t know than we do. I was looking at the issue of concussions and the care people receive, specifically, not general psychiatric care. i.e. not dissing psychiatrists, rather wondering at the mind/brain connections after a concussions/strokes. Thanks so much for responding!

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