PRE-Traumatic Stress Disorder!

Why can't vets deal with a few mind-shattering explosions?

Posted May 23, 2012

A recent article in the New York Times discussed the army's problems in dealing with the huge cost

of treating multiple cases of "Post Traumatic Stress Disorder" (PTSD) in returning war vets.

I wonder if it ever occurs to them to treat the soldiers who don't have PTSD as the ones to worry about? If shooting people, bombing them, destroying villages, watching friends get ripped to smithereens, seeing dismembered body parts and burnt flesh all around you, killing innocent civilians, killing bad guys, killing period, doesn't at the very least stress you out, then you are the one in trouble. I wouldn't want to hang out with someone who wasn't traumatized by being in a war. God knows what other horrific things wouldn't phase them.

The army needs to be funding studies of PRE-Traumatic Stress Disorder, addressing the fear and terror and great aversion that every soldier heading into combat should feel before they ever arrive on the front lines.

Joseph Heller's Catch-22 should be required reading in Basic Training. And anyone who doesn't go AWOL after finishing the book should be put under house arrest for being nutso. The book contains a great and maddening passage where a soldier is trying to get released from army duty on the grounds that he's crazy, but the army psychiatrist concludes that the very fact that he wants to get out of the army means he isn't crazy, because only crazy people would want to stay in the army, so due to this "catch-22," he must remain.

Reading the Times article, I felt like Jon Stewart watching Fox News. He doesn't have to tell any jokes; he just plays actual clips and then looks baffled and perplexed and everyone laughs. For example, I just read this brilliant piece of information:

"... researchers....discovered what they believe is the mechanism by which explosions damage brain tissue and trigger the wasting disease, called Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or C.T.E., by studying simulated explosions on mice. The animals developed evidence of the disease just two weeks after exposure to a single simulated blast, researchers found." 

Hmmm. So what they're saying is that if you explode a giant bomb next to a tiny mouse's little head, it will damage its brain. Quelle surprise. And here's the scientific conclusion:

" 'Our paper points out in a profound and definitive way that there is an organic, structural problem in the brain associated with blast exposure,' said Dr. Lee E. Goldstein of Boston University's School of Medicine."

Right. There's an organic structural problem in the brain associated with blast exposure. Please picture Jon Stewart looking baffled. So it's a design issue. Our brains are flawed. They should have been designed by God or evolved naturally to be able to easily deal with mega-loud explosions going off in our immediate vicinity. 

This is the easiest blog I've ever written. I just have to keep quoting this article. I could work for The Daily Show!  Here's more:

"The paper provides the strongest evidence yet that some and perhaps many combat veterans with invisible brain injuries caused by explosions are at risk of developing long-term neurological disease—a finding that, if confirmed, would have profound implications for military policy, veterans programs and future research."

Okay, so let's see. "Combat veterans with invisible brain injuries are at risk of developing long-term neurological disease." I'm sure that came as a shocker to researchers. And if the finding is confirmed, "it will have profound implications for military policy", say, no more explosions, shooting, killing and war perhaps?  No, just brand new Super-Strength Helmets that are up to the job! Explode away, right in my face, I can take it!

"The study could provide a starting point for developing preventive measures for blast-related brain injuries..." 

Offhand, I can think of a some better preventive measures for blast-related brain injuries. How about, say, uh, NO MORE BLASTS?!

"... as well as drug therapies and diagnostic tests for C.T.E., an incurable disease detected only by autopsy."

So once you've been exposed to enormous, deafening, brain-damaging, life-destroying explosions, we'll figure out what went wrong in your head after you're dead. I love this approach!

"The paper also seems likely to fuel a debate that has raged for decades over whether veterans who struggle emotionally and psychologically after returning from war suffer from psychiatric problems or brain injuries."

Gees, that's a tough call. I can see how they've been debating this for decades. Maybe the returning vets are just over-tired?

"For the animal part of the study, Dr. Goldstein developed a 27-foot-long 'shock tube' to simulate explosions. At one end of the aluminum tube the researchers attached a device that uses compressed nitrogen to explode a Mylar membrane, generating force equal to the explosion of a 120-millimeter mortar round. At the other end, they tied down mice, allowing their heads to move freely."

Oh, thank God their heads were allowed to move freely. Otherwise this experiment would be just outright inhumane.

 "The researchers found that shock waves from the blast moving at more than 1,000 miles per hour had no perceptible effect on brain tissue. But the subsequent blast wind, traveling at 330 m.p.h., shook the skull violently in what the researchers called 'bobblehead effect.'"

Gotcha. So no big deal. Just picture that cute little action figure on your dashboard that bobs up and down. The worst-case scenario is, you or your loved one goes to a little country far away where everybody hates us, you experience unfathomable scenes of suffering, mutilation, and death, and very loud ear-splitting explosions and flying buildings and concrete and body parts, and you come home as a "bobble-head." No biggie.

"But when the researchers immobilized mouse heads during blasts, the mice did not develop learning problems later, suggesting that the brain trauma might be blocked by preventing the head from snapping around during an explosion."

Yes! Finally, a solution in sight! Once we get the Super-Power, Indestructible, Uranium-Enriched Krytonite Tank Helmet developed, our heads won't bobble around too much during nearby explosions, and we'll be home free! This is good news! I'm going to try this experiment on our cats. I'll tie their heads down and set off firecrackers in their ears. As long as their heads don't move, they should be fine.

 The final conclusion?

"Dr. Hovda said that one implication of the study might be that 'traumatic brain injury is not an event that we recover from.'"

Oh. Damn.

Am I completely crazy? Shouldn't we, um, maybe spend a bit of time exploring how to prevent the cause of all these brain injuries more than studying what they do to us afterward

Read my lips: PRE-traumatic stress disorder. "PRE" is the operative word.

We'll be right back.

About the Author

Eliezer Sobel is an author, musician, and retreat leader.

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