TBI chronicles, part 1

Phew! It has been a busy six weeks since I last posted here, and so much has happened in the research and development of Make Sure It’s Me/nh that it’s taken me this long to shape my thoughts to share it with you! First, I’m pleased to introduce a page devoted to MSIM/nh, which includes a description of the play and our plans for its production in 2013, as well as a selection of research and support links concerning traumatic brain injury. Please notice the gorgeous image accompanying the page and this post: the original photo was shot by Sgt. Joshua Carnes in Abu Ghraib in 2005–he has graciously shared it with us for use in this project after I tracked him down on Twitter!

To start my chronicle of “Leslie’s Education in TBI (as it particularly manifests in military service members exposed to the compression wave of an IED blast)”, I need to tell you about the “Rock Star Neurologist” and his brilliant creation: MOTBIP. One of the first organizations I reached out to in my quest for knowledge was the Brain Injury Association of NH. This is a superb non-profit that provides all kinds of support for people living with traumatic brain injuries; one of many services they provide is a substantive resource directory, which Barbara Howard sent to me immediately. Then she and her colleague Erin Hall put their heads together on some contacts for the medical portion of my research. In particular, they recommended Dr. James Whitlock of Northeast Rehabilitation Health Network.

It took me awhile to get a message to Dr. W–he has great gate-keepers, and I sensed that he was special enough to deserve them. When, after a couple of weeks of trial and error, I received a call from the good doctor himself, I went into an instant flop-sweat: it was time to sell the project to a VERY BUSY SPECIALIST!

I guess I did alright, because the soft-spoken, extremely patient man did not hang up on me. On the contrary, he invited me to learn more about–and possibly participate in–an extraordinary training event he had developed called MOTBIP: Military Orientation Training for Brain Injury Professionals. It turns out that Dr. Whitlock is not a member of the military himself, although he has worked with veterans for many years. At some point, he realized that there were all kinds of details about the combat experience that could contribute to a patient’s brain injury which he, himself, could not understand. He didn’t even know the right questions to ask! So he approached the National Guard and worked with them to develop a one-day, immersive event for civilian medical professionals in which they would experience aspects of the combat environment. Dr. Whitlock wanted to experience for himself how tough it is on the body (and head) to be bounced around in a Humvee. He wanted to get a taste of how stressful it is to be in a firefight, and what that adrenaline surge actually feels like, when you are holding a weapon, you have little or no idea what you are looking at, and you have to decide what to do.

Amazingly to me, the MOTBIP which Dr. Whitlock devised with the NHNG did provide some of those experiences for him and about thirty other participants. They rode, they flew, they fired weapons in a convoy simulation, they ate MREs! And it was so successful that he is rolling out a new and improved version in September 2012! And I will be there! (Although I may not be in the rollover simulator–I’ve done my time upside-down in clown school, thank you.) Of course, such an interesting, practical, and complicated event isn’t the work of only one person, no matter how special. So stay tuned for Leslie’s TBI Chronicles, part 2, to learn about NH’s Commission on PTSD & TBI, the Military-Civilian TBI Collaborative, the NE Civilian-Military Cooperation Conference, and more . . .

. . . but before I go, one more tidbit about the Rock Star Neurologist. I call him that as a joke on myself because I was SO DARN NERVOUS when I first talked with him. But it turns out that Dr. Whitlock is not only extremely welcoming and easy to talk to, he is also DEEPLY INTERESTED IN MIME! So interested, in fact, that he asked me if I could introduce him to a mime who might work with him on a research project. I hooked him up with Michael Trautman, and now, even as I immerse myself in the world of neurology, Dr. W. is learning mime! How cool is that?