“Inside the Five-Sided Box – Lessons from a Lifetime of Leadership in the Pentagon” by Ash Carter, PART 2. Reflections, and a RANT.

Inside the Five-Sided Box: Lessons from a Lifetime of Leadership in the Pentagon

I spent so long reading this book (5 weeks?) that I forgot my INITIAL reaction… I was browsing around, uncertain if this was a “start at the beginning and read every page” book for me. I ran into something that almost caused me to throw the book across the room.

I turned to the last chapter, entitled “The Troops Deserve the Truth”, and turned to the next to last section, “Addressing the Consequences”. Carter describes his heart rending visits to injured soldiers, and ends with this:

The head of medicine at BAMC (Brooke Army Medical Center) once told me that when he first arrived…he would try to provice precise answers to questions like, “Will I be able to run again?…to hunt?…to surf?” But now, he told me, he’d witnessed so many instances of fearless courage and odds-defying recoveries that he simply answers, “You will if you want to.”

This makes me furious. If an injured person doesn’t heal, does that mean he or she didn’t want it enough? Really? Would you have said this to FDR?

Stricken by polio is 1921, the 32nd President of the United States had every advantage in his battle to walk again – strength, (overall) health, the best available medical care and rehabilitation, determination, and, yes, hope. But he didn’t walk.

My frame of reference on this terrible subject is based on personal experience with brain injury. I watched a family member claw his way back after a severe head injury. Recovery after a brain injury is never certain.

I’m all for positivity, both in patient and supporters, but reality can get in your way.

Today my Facebook feed, which was heavy on Veteran’s Day posts and links, brought me to an article in New York magazine about Cory Remsburg, an Army Ranger injured in October of 2009, ten years ago. His life has been irreparably changed. His parents act as his full time caregivers. He has seizures and balance problems and suffers from disinhibition, which means his judgement is impaired. He has PTSD. He self medicates with alcohol and is emotionally unstable.

The official, widely publicized and well intentioned story of “slow, steady progress” has unraveled. Cory Remsburg is at high risk for suicide and dementia. He still cannot accomplish routine hygiene unassisted.

Is any of this because he “didn’t want to”? The fact that Cory Remsburg is hanging onto life, and regards himself as a “work in progress” is a great tribute to HIM. He deserves respect, and the dismissive remark about “wanting to” quoted above is unfair and unkind.

The rest of Ash Carter’s book seems to be thoughtful and nuanced, but I hope he doesn’t mean what he said on page 418.

End of RANT.

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