war wounds

Well, the world keeps assuring me that I’ve got work to do. As I mentioned in a previous post, one of the projects on my plate right now is Make Sure It’s Me/nh. MSIM is a play about TBI in military service members, written by Kate Wenner, a novelist and former producer for ABC’s 20/20. MSIM¬†arose from months of research and interviews Wenner conducted exploring the medical and military policy issues surrounding TBI. One of many points she raises in her play is the interweaving effects of repeated “mild” traumatic brain injury (sustained from IED exposure) and PTSD symptoms. This combination makes brain injury difficult to diagnose and complex to treat; and often the psychological and neurological damage increase a service member’s unwillingness or inability to ask for help.

Interestingly, Wenner chose to write a play to communicate about these issues, rather than a journalistic expos√©, or even a novel. In MSIM, she has crafted from her research a small collection of intertwining characters who are meant to be embodied live for small numbers of spectators at a time. Her hope is that this kind of community contact will spur more people to seek out TBI screening and treatment for themselves or their loved ones. And that the military and civilian communities participating in MSIM productions will be encouraged to work together more closely to support the large numbers of returning soldiers who may be affected by this injury. That’s right, folks! A hugely accomplished TV and film producer agrees with us that some jobs are best suited for the theatre. . .

Wenner’s work didn’t stop when she completed her play; she is incredibly supportive of our efforts to bring MSIM to Portsmouth in the spring of 2013, and to develop a series of community outreach events around issues facing TBI survivors and members of the New Hampshire military community. And she continues to raise her voice on this issue, as in her extremely moving op-ed piece from the NYTimes this past weekend, “War is Brain-Damaging.”

In addition to Wenner’s personal endorsement of our work, I’ve had the spooky experience lately of meeting new colleagues (plus one stranger next to me on the plane to North Carolina) who are living with traumatic brain injury. As soon as I started telling people I was working on this project, the stories flowed! None of these folks I’ve met so far sustained their injuries during military service, but all had fascinating (and saddening) details to share with me about their rehabilitative processes and their ongoing frustrations–for instance, being patient with their left hand while it meanders in a shaky zigzag on its way to picking something up. Or having to wear sunglasses in the supermarket so the visual stimulation isn’t overwhelming. Or simply coping with the exhaustion of a 24-hour-a-day headache. My deepest thanks go out to all of those who have shared their experiences with me in the short time I’ve been aware of this issue. I look forward to the many future conversations and collaborations I will have as we work to bring MSIM to the stage. And I send heartfelt wishes for healing to those living with TBI, and to their families.

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