by Danielle Unger
Like the gangrene epidemic of WWI and the influenza outbreak of WWII, the Iraqi war is beginning to show signs of its own military plague- traumatic brain injuries (TBIs). A TBI is defined broadly as a head injury where a sudden trauma is to blame. The majority of TBIs in young people are due to transportation accidents or violent activities. It is possible to sustain a mild, medium, or severe TBI, and the symptoms of a TBI are virtually limitless. However, some include headaches, dizziness, trouble sleeping, depression, irritability, and confusion. The staggering variety of symptoms, which are easily confused with symptoms of other disorders, make diagnosing a TBI very difficult. On top of this confusion, there are many types of TBI’s such as, concussions (the most common type), depressed skull fractures, penetrating skull fractures, and cerebral hematomas, all with their own laundry list of signs and symptoms.
TBI’s don’t just confuse doctors with their conflicting and common symptoms, they also manage to evade detection in most CAT scans.
“It’s the so-called invisible injury…. a complicated injury to the most complicated part of the body,” said Dr. Alisa Gean , a neurosurgeon at the University of California, San Francisco (quoted here).
In the context of the Iraq war, where soldiers see approximately one explosion per month, the failure of usual detection methods for TBI’s is worrisome. Soldiers with unnoticed TBI’s frequently get sent back into battle much earlier than they should, lowering their chances of ever recovering. For those lucky enough to receive treatment for their TBI, treatments vary. Because the scope of TBI’s are so wide, more often than not, doctors are forced to nothing more than treat preexisting symptoms. TBI patients often work with a therapist who leads them in certain exercises that are designed to help them retain important life skills like following directions while distracted and completely many complex tasks simultaneously.
One thing is for sure, the difficult effects of TBIs are aggravated by combat situations. For example, while being trained to be alert at all times might be beneficial to a healthy soldier, one who suffers from a TBI might become paranoid or confused because this fight or flight reflex is stimulated at all times. The high occurrence of TBIs is also a burden to the entire military system, and the general public who must pay for the treatment of TBI patients at places like Vanderbilt University’s brain injury rehab program