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"My husband is part of the United States Military and has been for over 27 years would probably be for another 27 years if it were not for his injuries that have kept him from being able to perform his duties within the military. He loved serving other and chose to go into the military to help protect the rights we hold dear as Americans and to serve other soldiers.
When did he become injured? I believe that with injuries in the brain it is not always easy to pinpoint an exact date and time of an injury and would have to say this is true with my husband.
He in 1997-1998 served in what was Bosnia where not only did he witness great atrocities that would continue to play in his mind even until today, but he was exposed to frequent and semi-regular mortar attacks that would shake the ground and all who stood on it. He later served in Iraq where in 2007 he was one of many who were in the blast zone of a rocket missile that was targeted into the military camp.
During this episode he was knocked unconscious for a time. When he came too, he did not seek medical attention as he probably should because of his “old school soldier” attitude, he was moving and above ground so he needed to help others around him that were injured with visible injuries, that were trying to get debris of them, that needed consoling, etc.
When he returned from Bosnia, he had a hard time sleeping, was angry at little things and little things would become big issues, he would relive nightly different missions and things he had seen, even acting out those nightmares that cumulated with me waking to being strangled by my sleeping husband.
I have to make clear here, he was sound asleep and was terrified when I could get him awake that he might hurt me or our children. We did try to seek help, at the time we were advised that I had better stop talking and my husband should drop it or it would destroy his career. We stupidly listened and tried to cope with the new normal.
He within a year of returning from Bosnia was sent on an unaccompanied tour and he began to have more symptoms of something being wrong. It was hard being on the other side of the world to see your spouse falling apart. The changes became more and more pronounced, he was behaving and acting in ways that just were not him, almost the complete opposite.
I on more than one occasion contacted people from the chaplain to people in his command that something was wrong. At this point I was again warned I would destroy his career and my husband was lead to believe that was what I was doing and that perhaps I was not military spouse material.
We separated for a time and the changes were still active in his life but at this point I was looked at as the overly zealous soon to be divorced woman and was ignored. We after about 3 years brought our family back together, and by this time we were used to the “new normal” and the angry outburst and nightmares were nothing like they had been when he first came home from Bosnia.
When he arrived back home the middle of 2008 from Iraq there were changes, but the military now teaches families, almost drills it in to our heads, that soldiers will come back from deployments changed.
They offer and provide reunification classes that are again to remind us that we have changed and they have changed during the deployments and that we can and should expect changes in behavior, in emotions, in us wanting to maintain what we have set up for the our homes, etc. Also history had shown the girls and I that Daddy when he comes back was different for a while but this time there were many differences.
Our two grandchildren were living with us, the girls themselves were now older could now see what I had tried to shield them from. He on the outside bore no wounds, didn’t walk with a limp, no scars, but he had many unseen wounds and scars. We gave him space initially hoping he would soon bounce back.
He would have nightmares, was hypervigilant, he would hold up in our master bedroom to the point of bringing the TV and computer in there something he had always refused to allow. If the grandchildren squealed something that used to bring smiles made him run for cover and left them wondering what the matter with Grampie was.
He also was having memory issues that we brushed aside as he just wasn’t hearing us. He would at times laugh at things that just were not laughable but he would catch our looks and walk away.
As we moved on he did not “bounce back”. His hearing was worse, they did hearing exams and MRIs , discovering his hearing was significantly changed from before Iraq to after, but they gave him stronger hearing aids and blamed the ringing in his ears on the hearing loss.
They also began to blame the hearing loss for his memory changes. “I didn’t hear you" became a frequent response, though he might have at the time been able to repeat what had been said but a few minutes later couldn’t recall the conversation. We also started hearing “I’m thinking” to questions that required no thought.
He was having frequent headaches that would knock him out for hours at a time. They would blame on his blood pressure being elevated, but we noted that the headaches still where happening when his blood pressure was “normal”.
He was super sensitive to loud noise, seemed to always be tired regardless of how much sleep he got, nothing seemed to make him happy even things that before had brought joy to him, he would repeat things over and over and began to have to have a regular routine or the world was coming to an end.
His symptoms could take hours to list but he had no rhythm or reason to his moods, one day he would sleep all day the next bouncing of the walls, would speak without thought of who or what he was saying or how it would be perceived, he would be extremely aggressive and short fused, uncharacteristically lewd, seemed to lose all sense of social grace and at times military bearing and this is but a partial listing.
I think what kept us from realizing how bad he was and the amount of trouble he was having was his military bearing.
We sought help for the symptoms individually, not knowing what the matter was but even with treatment for those individual symptoms he still was having problems. He recognized at times he was having trouble and that he was behaving in ways that were not his normal and this upset him more.
He even began to question his faith and all that he once held dear. Being that we are a military family we move frequently and one of the disadvantages of that is that at each new location the medical starts over each time, the system is designed so that should not happen but after so long in the system it does repetitively.
He began trying to hide his symptoms because of fear he’d be told he was going crazy and tried to do what they had previously told us to do to help. While at the new duty station overseas, his nightmares became worse and he again began to act them out, on many occasions I would wake to him over me strangling me. For that matter many of the symptoms became worse, trying to hide them only seemed to bring them out.
Yes, hiding was one way of dealing with it because in today’s day and age to say you are being strangled in your sleep and your spouse is having angry outburst, makes people think of domestic violence, so in fear we kept silent for a time.
Though silent I began researching online what was happening and eventually began to talk with his medical provider. I was not completely honest with his medical provider either but tried to get his provider to ask questions that would help him discover what was going on.
In January of 2011 my husband had a heart attack at that point and I also discovered in picking up his meds at the pharmacy while he was TDY that he had not been taking them correctly , we had more of some and less of some than what we should have. This was enough that I began talking with his provider. They did testing there in Japan that eventually led us here to Hawaii in March of 2011.
While he was being tested it was discovered he needed immediate bypass surgery. We both had a big wakeup call, the blockage was enough that the heart attack could have taken his life and that all the symptoms that we had been dealing with needed to be taken care of. Together when we returned to Japan we went to behavioral health where they diagnosed PTSD but still they felt that something was not right.
Eventually because of his heart condition and the PTSD the military moved us to Hawaii to be closer to Tripler and into a unit where my husband’s job was and is to heal. Here in Hawaii he for over a year saw psychiatrist, psychologist, neuropsychologist, audiologist, primary care doctors, physical therapist and it seemed any other –ologist that might have an opinion.
The doctors gave him medicine to help with symptoms, they did MRI’s, CAT’s and PET scans, went to local hospitals for EEG’s and sleep studies, but one symptom would come under control and another would seemingly get worse. Or the treatment would leave him more tired or sleeping at odd times, he no longer is able to drive because he fell asleep at the drop of a hat.
In April/May I was researching online on veteran sites and reading post on Facebook and came across a site that lead me to homecoming4veterans.org that talked about neurofeedback and how it was helping soldiers with PTSD. I had a ray of hope that this might help him, as they were saying PTSD was causing all of what was happening, though all the medical providers he was seeing could not even agree on this diagnosis.
The site listed providers here in Hawaii and after reading the site through and through I went back to Facebook and was saddened to read that active duty where not being able to get coverage to allow for this, even though many of the veterans who had participated were according to their families doing better.
About this time he was referred to a neurologist as he was now stumbling around, blanking out and just having quite a few neurological symptoms. The neurologist at Tripler listened and ordered many test but felt that something was going on with his sleep that was causing a lot of his symptoms so she voiced she was going to refer us out into the civilian sector as she was not specialized in sleep disorders.
Initially she had voiced sending him to one of 3 providers but the more he rambled using military terms she felt that he would do better to go to this one particular neurologist, Dr. Russo. She voiced he would understand the military as he recently retired from the military himself. In the back of my brain I thought that name seemed familiar from the homecoming4veterans.org.
We got authorization from our insurance to see Dr. Russo and scheduled his first appointment in June. From the first appointment, your practice was different. Coming in the first day, it was comfortable, almost like coming into a friend’s house, your office staff and you made us feel at home.
You reviewed a mountain of information and made few recommendations, but it was the second appointment that made a believer in you and your treatment methods. You began treatment for what you believed to be a brain injury and the PTSD using different medications and the neurofeedback.
You were confident enough in your diagnosis but the military’s medical system couldn’t agree because they couldn’t see the damage on the tests that they had done and continued to run. You received your DEEG and we got authorization from Triwest to complete one. The DEEG was able to prove visually the brain deficits and injury that could not be seen otherwise!
Since beginning treatment that was able to be geared more to him because of the DEEG findings. His outbursts have decreased and when they happen now he is able to be redirected. He is able to do more than sit and fixate on an online game. He is being able to sleep better, it is still not a full night but he is at least getting 6 hours of sleep most nights. He has not strangled me in his sleep and is not acting out his dreams like he was.
He is being able to tolerate the noise of toddlers and little children again. He has begun to actively have a relationship with his children and grandchildren again. He still has challenging days but the challenging days are decreasing and there is improvement that providers who questioned the treatment can’t deny and give account for!
To other families I would say, don’t give up! If it doesn’t sound right or seem right it may not be right. Medical providers are human too and they can only tell you what the test they are doing say. They all agreed that something was not right but with what they had available to them they just could not see it.
You are not alone, no matter how alone you feel, there is someone out there that is going through something very similar. If it isn’t in your circle of friends reach out, the internet allows you to talk with people around the world. Be honest, honest with yourself, honest with family or your support people, and honest with your medical providers. Keep your faith and don’t stop, you know your loved one best."