Worthy of Notice

Silhouette of a soldier against the sun.

No Apologies Needed

Today’s story is again from the website Task & Purpose. It is a heartfelt, thought-provoking piece about what makes a wound worthy of notice. Its title is “We Need to Stop Putting PTSD on a Pedestal.

The author of the piece, Ian Bertram, is a graduate of the United States Air Force Academy and remains on active duty as a helicopter pilot.  Given the nature and purpose of his story, let me share a few excerpts in the very words he chose for himself:

“My personal story is one tangential to combat, and I often question if I deserve to even think I might have some level of post-traumatic stress. I served a year in Afghanistan flying alongside Americans, Afghans, and other coalition allies. I was targeted only by inaccurate fire, and although I drew my own weapon on occasion, I thankfully never had the need to pull the trigger. I often found myself in close proximity to wounded and fallen Afghans.

“Some people, even those in the military, might say that my experiences were decidedly outside the normal realm of human interactions and that some kind of combat-related stress is a possibility. However, I cannot help but compare myself to friends and comrades who have been on the ground, in a convoy or small forward operating base that has come under attack, or to my combat rescue brethren that have faced hellish fire to try and save lives.

“Three years after returning home, although I am proud of what I did over there, I don’t feel like I was in combat. But loud noises can make me seek cover, and dark dreams come along more frequently than they ever did before. Thankfully, I don’t feel debilitated by any of these, and I have not had any thoughts of hurting myself or others. Yet I worry at least in part about what this is doing to my long-term psyche.

“I feel as if I’m whining — and we all hate whiners — and am insecure for even entertaining the thought that my experiences are negatively impacting me after returning home. Again, many people probably think I’m being ridiculous, but it’s not their opinion that matters. When it comes to post-traumatic stress, only the individual can decide to seek help.”

Mr. Bertram, you are a brave man. Many, I’m sure, will be more than ready to inform you of your shortcomings as they perceive them, in the time-honored tradition of “I did it. I’m fine. What’s the matter with you?”

Having been a psychiatrist for over thirty years, and having worked with many—and I mean, many—combat veterans who have told me to my face that such words had often come out of their very mouths in the past, I can only say, “Maybe fine, maybe not. Time always tells.”

Today, as on every day, I have only one thing to say: If you are a combat veteran, if you have deployed to areas of conflict or, even in the “safety” of cyberspace, infiltrated areas of conflict, if you have actively—and as honorably as possible—done your job in the midst of War, you still have what it takes to do what needs to be done. You owe no one an apology for your life and where you find yourself in it now.

There are still missions and connections out there worth looking for, striving for, and living for. Go for it.

Mr. Bertram concludes the piece as follows:

“I’m writing this because maybe it will help others come to terms with their own past in its own context. Sometimes people just need a friendly ear to vent their thoughts to, and other times they may need more advanced help. Either way, we need to help each other continue the march toward cultural acceptance of mental health problems, like post-traumatic stress. When seeking care ceases to be a big deal, then we can all get whatever help we need and get back to the mission, regardless of what our role in the larger fight may be.”

Well said, sir, and thank you.  I wish you the best, now and always.

And believe me, Mr. Bertram: you more than have what it takes.

Until tomorrow, be well,


Doc in the Sky

Silhouette of a soldier against the sun.

Take Off!

Listen to the Podcast of Blog Post:


Today, it’s a blog I want to introduce to you.  With a title like Fighter Pilot to Physician, who wouldn’t be intrigued?

Chris Varani is, by his report, a medical student at the University of Colorado. But, hey, so what? After a Masters in Business Administration and a Masters of Science in Finance, what a little MD among friends?

Oh, yes, and after being a F-15E Strike Eagle fighter pilot for the United States Air Force.

Just another day at the hospital.

I write this column as an old guy who needs to sip his venti soy latte slowly in the morning just to get the juices flowing. Simply reading this man’s prose, I’m exhausted. In a very good way.

As I look back, though, on my third-year medical student experience, back when Morse Code was a required subject, I’ve got to admit: I’d have been exhausted by our young pilot-financier-student even then.  I was only twenty-two when I hit those wards, with plenty of energy, true, but certainly energy not even a tenth as focused as Chris Valenti’s has been for quite the while. Getting through the day was often a victory in itself.

I certainly would have admired him then. As I do now.  Age doesn’t temper all things, after all.

Combat veterans have also known what it is to focus even in the midst of chaos, in the air, on land, on the sea. I strongly suspect that Chris would urge his fellow veterans never to forget that. I couldn’t agree more wholeheartedly.

When I was an attending at a teaching hospital, I always addressed the medical students as “Doctor.”  They’d already earned my respect for the name, I figured, even if they’d not yet earned all the credits for the diploma.

So here’s to you, Dr. Valenti, still having what it takes to do what needs to be done. I have no doubt whatsoever that you will fly into your future and, even more, into the future of your patients with the same vigor with which you flew those planes into the stratosphere.  Good for you.

Good for us all.

Until tomorrow, be well,


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