Needle to the Neck

by wjw on May 4, 2010

War’s tragedy doesn’t end with the war, nor does trauma end when the precipitating cause goes away. When my father’s generation came home from the Second World War, a lot of them brought the war home with them. The traditional cure for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in those days was lots of alcohol, followed by kicking the wife and kids around the house.

Not that this happened to me. My father was singularly untraumatized by his war experience, or he got over it very quickly. But a lot of my peers weren’t so lucky. And a lot more of my peers found themselves in Vietnam and came back as human wreckage.

So again we have hundreds of thousands of soldiers facing danger overseas, and a vast increase in PTSD cases that threatens to overwhelm our mental health infrastructure. The Pentagon is alert to the danger— even if individual officers and NCOs are not— and have been testing a variety of therapies, including “bioenergy,” reiki, “dog therapy,” yoga, and meditation.

And now it looks as if they just might have found an answer, something called a “stellate ganglion block,” which involves injecting a small amount of local anaesthetic into a complex of nerves located in the neck. The sample so far treated is very small, but the success rate is through the roof.

Since PTSD is caused by a brain so traumatized by repeated jolts of adrenaline that it can’t believe it’s out of danger, it makes sense to tranquilize that part of the brain that keeps reliving the trauma. It looks as if they might have found the right place.

Let’s cross our fingers that this therapy. The social consequence of a war is always increased misery at home, and any misery averted is, well, misery averted.

(Incidentally, has anyone seen Humphrey Bogart in In a Lonely Place? An absolutely brilliant performance as a Pacific vet with PTSD— got the symptoms exactly right, even if the disease hadn’t been described yet.)

S.M. Stirling May 4, 2010 at 3:05 am

Y'know, the odd thing is that there's very strong evidence (from forensic archaeology) that in primitive times, before the invention of the State, war was -constant-.

Not big wars, just a constant pattern of low-level fighting, like that which caused the decease of Otzi the Iceman.

That is, most males died by violence; a substantial though smaller share of females did too.

Beatings, stabbings, spear-raids, ambushes and so forth were constant. You carried your spear or whatever all the time because you might need it at any instant.

So perhaps PTSD is the normal state of affairs?

Michael Grosberg May 4, 2010 at 7:37 am

It would be awesome if they could get actor Michael C. Hall to administer the shots.

dubjay May 5, 2010 at 1:26 am

Michael, the idea is to =reduce= anxiety, not increase it!

The Great and Powerful Oz May 5, 2010 at 4:01 am

I was doing some research on mental health and what kind of help is available and I was rather amazed at the cornucopia of resources now available for veterans. I grew up during the Vietnam War and I remember the way returning soldiers were often treated. Now I think we as a society have a massive guilt complex over that. The good news is that help is now readily available for veterans. The bad news is that other groups of folks are being marginalized even more. Tough choices.

S.M. Stirling May 6, 2010 at 2:22 am

Oz: life is about making choices. Needs are infinite, resources always finite, someone is going to get the dirty end of the stick.

I'm cool with veterans getting priority. They earned it.

The Great and Powerful Oz May 6, 2010 at 3:45 am

Hmmm, rereading my comment I see that I may have phrased things in a less than optimal manner. I'm a little sleep deprived and tend to drop some ot the ideas I intended to post. I'm also not a highly trained professional writer, just a fan.

I realize now that I may have implied that veterans may not deserve all the support they are getting. Bad Matt, no cookie! What I should have expanded on was my thought that our society has a serious guilt complex over the treatment of veterans, particularly from the Vietnam War. I am worried about the massive backlash that could happen when the public no longer feels that guilt. Taking care of our veterans is very important and has been neglected for decades, I'm concerned that it could wind up being a fad and there will be a massive drop in popularity and funding in the next few years. I think that having long term, even if mediocre, support is probably more important than having lots of support this year and very little next year. Stability is important in mental health care. Doing an okay job over many years is probably better than doing a great job now and turning a cold shoulder to people in need next year. Or maybe I'm totally off base.

I also have a personal stake in the allocation of resources in the mental health arena, I was totally blown off by the National Suicide Hotline when I called a few months ago. The fact that I'm not a popular cause and so don't deserve help is painful. That pain leaks into things I write and sometimes colors my meanings in unintended ways.

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