I was contacted numerous times during the leadup to July 4th by some who suffer PTSD and asked-almost begged- to write an article about the negative effects of loud explosions on those with PTSD. The folks who wished me to write were concerned about this and felt they needed to voice their angst.
After studying the issue from several angles, I came to the conclusion that this was a non-issue. Even more so, it begets a new problem wholly unheard of. America is a boisterous nation. We are a microcosm of many faiths, beliefs and morals. One thing that unites us is our love of our hard-won freedom from England. Celebrating it is as natural as breathing. Asking Americans to tone it down or eliminate the noise and ardor in order to accommodate a select few who suffer PTSD is just not going to happen.
A spate of signs have begun appearing in front of homes of Veterans who suffer post traumatic stress around this time of year. How this plays out is not entirely clear. Are the neighborhood residents in the vicinity of the Veteran expected to curtail or forego festivities in order to assuage the affected few? How do we assimilate this new minority and still retain our identity as July 4th revelers?
I see a parallel with animals who suffer this problem. They are a well-know casualty every year and getting more media exposure. The accepted practice is to medicate them with Ace Promazine and throw them in the bedroom. ACE Promazine, for the uninitiated, is PCP. If you are my age, I’m sure you may remember smoking some of it. It’s like looking through binoculars backwards and driving anything-even a child’s tricycle-is ill-advised assuming you could find it. Medicating Vets to this extreme degree is not the answer.
Allow me to draw from my experiences. When I came home in 1972, it didn’t take anything more than a car backfiring to send me into a ditch head first. This was a wise precaution in my former assignment as it could just as easily have been an M-26 or a B-40. Your mind is a conditioned, reflexive muscle that simply responds to stimuli. Much like Dr. Pavlov’s famous dogs, it can be “taught” to drool at the ring of a bell. Likewise, it can be conditioned to perform survival precepts to live another day. In all instances, it is the learned, reflexive action that is the catalyst.
In the context of our discussion today, any conditioned reflex can be “unlearned”. I know. I’ve done it. I suffered that very same reflex and soiled many a good pair of trousers in a frenzied attempt to crawl under cars or take cover after a loud explosion. This gradually tapered off and no longer poses a problem. It’s not to say that the sound doesn’t affect me. It’s more along the lines of how I react. No more is the fight or flight gene aroused. My brain assimilates the noise, classifies it as threat or entertainment based on a long list of where, when, how many etc. If it sounds like an AK on full auto, my senses are attuned in an entirely different manner than if it occurs at 2200 hrs as the festivities ramp up at dark.
A small number of Americans-far smaller than you would assume- suffer the deleterious effects I mention. Warfare hones the survival instinct and it takes decades to “unlearn”. While I hate to say this, a larger number than you would think aspire to be PTSD sufferers for the sympathy it engenders. I find it sad that anyone would feel so unloved or unwanted such that they would sink to narcissistic self-indulgence to garner this attention. In this day and age of selfies and Facepage, it is becoming all the rage to be seen and heard. Being a victim-especially a Veteran- is guaranteed to elicit oodles of sympathy. For proof, I offer the plethora of Stolen Valor types beginning to parade around malls. The cacophony of voices vying to be heard also increases daily. So, too, does the demand for recognition of all manner of new afflictions demanding results or some form of medical intervention.
One thing I still suffer from-and may for the rest of my life- is the sound of a chopper going over. A Huey has a signature sound like no other but few realize the whole generation of Bell choppers of that era had that signature or one extremely similar. Many are still used today and have an ugly habit of transiting over my house fairly regularly. Which begs the question- should I contact the local military authorities and ask them politely to be more considerate and courteous? Perhaps they could reroute their flight path in such a way as to inconvenience me less. The futility of that argument is plain on its face. I’d be laughed out of the FAA building and rightfully so.
One can see the problem brewing in the cauldron. This is America. We are free to move about the country and make noise doing so within reason. We are free to utilize airspace overhead and to be boisterous on one or two days a year in celebration of our Independence. In short, this is our America-not one or two individuals’ America in the neighborhood whose druthers must be accommodated.
My particular part of Washington state is very rural, conservative and for the most part, still allows us to fire guns and ignite fireworks of any calibre. The only one with PTSD hereabouts is me. I have learned to curb the urge to flee. I have gone so far as to indulge myself in immersion therapy by firing my guns on the Fourth as well. I ignite unsafe and insanely loud fireworks purchased at the Indian reservations where they have the biggest and best. I have discovered it is the best therapy invented since Pavlov’s bell-ringing to induce drooling. No, just kidding. Cupcake says I only drool while sleeping.
There are two schools of thought in America and unfortunately it appears the politically correct one where “Can’t we all just get along?” is increasingly colliding with “You must curb your zeal for the good of the many.” From my standpoint, it sounds much more like “the needs of the few outweigh the needs of the many”.
Millions of us have returned from wars with bent brains. At no time has anyone ever suggested that we curb our zest in celebrating the Fourth- or New Year’s Day- for that matter. It borders on un-American behaviour to even contemplate a subdued celebration. How do you “be courteous with fireworks”? I’m all for sparklers and my grandkids love them but they are merely part and parcel of a bigger demonstration of my pride in being an American. Illuminate me. How do we be courteous with fireworks? Knock up the impacted party and inform them you are preparing a reenactment of the siege of Fallujah? Politely put up signs in your own front yard announcing “World War III begins promptly at 2145 hours. Hearing conservation program temporarily suspended”?
Accommodating combat Veterans should not be so difficult. I have found that if I am part of the celebration or, indeed the precipitating party, it ameliorates the effects of the sounds. I also find that the noise is far less stressful if I know it’s going to happen and when. I cannot control the airspace above my house nor can I induce the FAA to alter the flight path of rotary wing aircraft. In that, I am sad. It has a far more insidious effect than an explosion. It’s the condensed essence of too many friends making their last flight. It’s the sound of finality-taps played out by rotors on the air. It is a constant reminder of Search and Rescue played out again and again for four decades with no ending in sight. I have learned to balance that, too. When it occurs, I remember all the good times I shared with those friends. DEROS parties, the thrill of victory when the AirAm H-34 got our pilot and GIB out minutes before the Pathet Lao descended on them and even the excitement some felt when they were cured of the clap and back in action again.
Yes, I can commiserate with Veterans who have issues. I ask you to let the dead bury the dead and to go on living. I counsel all of you who lived in the shadow of the Blade to look up when you hear that sound. Look up and embrace it when you feel that lump in your throat. Go outside and embrace those loud booms on the Fourth regardless of what your brain is telling you. The sooner you do, the sooner you’ll be healed. Don’t wallow in self-pity and ask everyone to conform to your wishes and desires. This is America- that amazing amalgam of “Yes we can”. No single one of us is more equal than any other. None should have to forego the blessings of freedom in order to make their neighbor less uncomfortable.
For those of you who have returned more recently from Afstan, I offer the assurance that it gets better over time. The hurt recedes like the tide. It doesn’t go away but it becomes more remote and less painful to remember each time. Never forget those friends but do not let them consume your every waking moment and dictate your emotions for life. Next year, in 2015, go out and find the loudest and the best pyrotechnics you can purchase and revel in the freedom the Founding Fathers accorded you. If your state forbids the practice, then come to Washington on vacation and do it here. As of Tuesday, you can do it stoned out of your mind on marijuana. Now there’s a match made in Heaven. Pot and Pyrotechnics. ETOH is optional. Our state’s new logo should be Proud to Be Unsafe and Insane.
A warm thank you to Jeff in Florida for the following. I think it sums it up. Too bad they don’t allow machine guns in our state. Just Pot. Only in America, Ladies and Gentlemen Vets. Only in America can you have this dichotomy.