As seen on T.V.

The V.A. is in the news a lot lately and none of it is good news.  I work for them, so I’ve got the inside scoop.  Sadly, it’s the same as what you’ve seen.  Why is it that funding science or education or infrastructure is always way more controversial than starting a new war?  I was never a big fan of indiscriminate interventionalism.  Now I’m a medical transcriptionist for the V.A. and I’m even more anti-war than before.  In many ways, I miss civilian transcription.  Sure, you get a whole plethora of sad reports, but you also get a decent number of neutral to good ones.  People have babies or get their condition cured and have a new lease on life.  Minor stuff like “I’ve got this rash,” with simple solutions like an ointment.  Or a person comes in “Do I have cancer?”  And the answer is “No, you’re just a hypochondriac.”  Okay, that one might be autobiographical of me ages 6-20.  Ah, fine, 6-present.

90% of the V.A. is sad though.  It can be argued that the vets with physical injuries are the best off.  Losing a leg is something that in time they can adapt to, but losing their mind or personality or higher brain functions is basically impossible to cope with.  How do you compensate for never again feeling safe in your entire life?  Or losing the ability to form a full thought because of a head injury?  It wouldn’t be so bad if there were a light at the end of the tunnel.  But the current vets are traumatized.  The Desert Storm soldiers still have PTSD.  Vietnam.  Korea.  Even WWII soldiers come in with PTSD yet.  No matter how far back you go, the war never ends for them.  The number of lives lost in our wars isn’t limited to the people who didn’t come back.

Yet on the other hand, I find myself apprehensive about the search for a cure to PTSD.  One of the major side effects of modern pharmacology is the idea that different emotional states are, in and of themselves, diseases.  If you’re depressed all the time you might be sick and need help.  Or you might be in a really depressing situation and need a different kind of help than pills can provide.  More and more the medical industry is trying to convince everyone that there’s something wrong with them.  A lot of the time, there’s something wrong with the world or the immediate environment around the person and their reaction is normal.

Shouldn’t killing other human beings be depressing?  They want to make a pill that makes war okay.  They see all these broken people coming back from war and instead of asking how or why it happened, they want to fix it so they can get them back out there to fight some new wars.  PTSD is the natural reaction to war.  If we want to avoid that, I think we should avoid war.  I’m not a 100% pacifist, but to my mind not just are the vast majority of wars unethical, they’re also stupid from a tactical/strategic point of view.  What has Iraq accomplished?  I don’t think we’re safer or more secure.  For the most part, I think every time we intervene, we make our future selves less safe by creating a whole new generation who look at America and see us as the country who ruined their lives and killed all their friends.  Recruiting terrorists is a lot easier when the “good guys” ride around like cowboys shooting everything and blowing up any building still standing.  The cost in blood, money, sweat and time was not worth such meager results.

For civilians, companies like GlaxoKleinSmith and Pfizer have a similar view.  As people feel more and more helpless and hopeless, the answer is always newer and better pills.  It’s never evaluation of the situation.  It’s never trying to improve the world.  Just numb it out.  I see little difference between GKS and Jack Daniels and marijuana and all the other ways to tune out the world, except that in the case of pot, it is statistically much safer.  In fact, many of the anxiolytics and antidepressants on the market now were often outperformed in clinical trials by the placebo.

Part of my revulsion at medication comes from my own personal experiences with Paxil, which I was prescribed when I was a teenager.  I was in the end stage of the disease known as puberty and it was the newest cure.  My doctor told me it had no side effects and it would make my life great.  I will admit, it felt good.  Imagine what it would be like to never worry.  Ever.  About anything.  In fact, for me, Paxil worked too well.  It put me into a pleasant dissociative state.  Of course, because I had no worry, I had little empathy.  Also, it turns out, being afraid of some things is kind of important.  I wanted to fight other people just to see if I was a match.  I planned to kill myself to test out the theory of the afterlife.  I didn’t feel depressed in the least.  I thought of it as a bold new adventure.  Later, of course, they would discover one of Paxil’s side effects was teen suicide.

So I went off it and my doctor told me it was fine to quit cold turkey because it wasn’t addictive.  Now they know it is.  I got what’s called “the zaps.”  Imagine having 9 volt batteries hooked up all over your body shocking you at random times.  While coming off of it, I had waking dreams and my first and last fully awake hallucination ever in my life where my bathroom sink talked to me.  I was a wreck.  Being on it made me a sociopath, coming off of it was like temporary schizophrenia and afterward my anxiety was so much worse.

Now I’m fine.  I don’t even get depressed much.  I still have generalized anxiety disorder a bit, but I’ve gotten used it.  When you’re a teenager and a doctor tells you that you’re too sad or too anxious, you believe them.  You believe all the criticism anyone gives you.  The older I get the less I care about what other people think and the more I look around and see that I’m not that unusual.  Compared with the rest of my family I’m probably the healthiest (admittedly they set the bar real low).

I wouldn’t say I’m anti-medication in the same way I would say I’m not anti-war (though the only wars in American history I agreed with were the Revolution, Civil War for the North and WWII.)  I just think that these things need to be taken seriously.  They aren’t for everyone.  They aren’t toys.  Plenty of people need medication.  Just about all schizophrenics and people with bipolar disorder need meds.  Plenty of people are so depressed they would kill themselves otherwise.  Or anxiety so bad they can’t leave home.  For many, meds are the difference between a never ending nightmare and a life worth living.  But being sad in and of itself isn’t a disease.  Worrying isn’t a disease.

What I really wish for is a world with less psychiatrists and more therapists.  Less prescriptions and more life changes.  Less psychological Band-Aids and more social justice.  What if when you went in to see the doctor, you tell him you’ve been feeling depressed.  He asks why and then refers you to some service that could actually help you get out of your personal situation.  Imagine a world where you weren’t completely financially, socially and legally trapped.

They are working on a medication now that erases traumatic memories.  Right now its not so accurate, but one day they hope to remove more specific memories, or at least all the bad stuff.  I find the very thought horrifying.  I’m proud of the terrible things I’ve survived.  They weren’t easy and I’m likely permanently damaged goods, but that’s life.  I learned some really important lessons from my worst memories.  The self is such a fragile state.  It changes over time and with different input.  Tampering with the process is such a metaphysical, philosophical and technical quandary.

I had a doctor once who whenever a patient lost a loved one, he automatically prescribed them Zoloft.  I imagine all the furniture in his waiting room had Zoloft written on it.  It’s kind of stuck with me over the years.  I started to imagine a world where when someone you love dies, you take a pill and you won’t feel the sadness anymore.   I didn’t know what to think.  When you’re in the situation, you’ll do anything to lessen the pain.  Why should it be any different than taking a pain med for a physical injury?  But there’s something so cold and unnatural about it too.  I’m a bit old fashioned about it.  I consider mourning a kind of sacred duty to commemorate any good person.  I’ve known people that after they died, the most anyone could muster was “It’s such a shame they wasted their life and never let anyone in.”  The only crying done is mourning lost chances, not cherished memories.  Soul rending sadness is what sets the loss of someone or something you loved apart from the people who never truly connect.

I find myself very torn.  I do these reports on these kids coming back from war and I want so badly to help them, to heal these psychic wounds, but I remember living in a world without consequences and I’ll do anything to prevent that.  Imagine an army of people who are never afraid.  They never have regrets.  They just follow orders, get paid and come home like it was an all expense paid vacation.  It’s a terrible blessing that our drugs don’t work.  I’m not a moral absolutist, so I’ve got no clue what to think about it all or what limitations or rules might be placed, but I can’t help but be creeped out by the quest to end the human condition.

Wow, my friends are right, I sound like an old man.  These darn kids and their fancy shoes and rock & roll and tricyclic antidepressants.  I’m becoming the John Henry of the chemical revolution.  That can’t end well:)

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About fanaticalhypocrite

I'm your average agnostic Irish Catholic Welsh Jew born in rural West Virginia as the mildly autistic son of a motorcycle riding nurse and an unemployed, ex-military, atheist theology major (likes there's any other kind.) Just another tragically disconnected member of the bitter American proletariat living in the twilight of U.S. world dominance. I'm a medical transcriptionist by day ("They're going to fire me tomorrow" has been my motto for 11 years), a security guard/campground host/lost & found department/problem solver/bouncer/bookkeeper understudy 24/7/365, and a nerdy wannabe writer by night. And also day. My life is basically a non-linear blender full of random activities. And now I run a blog because... why not? It's not like I was using my precious time to cure disease or end world hunger. Might as well tell a bunch of strangers about why [insert anything here] really pisses me off.
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13 Responses to As seen on T.V.

  1. Sabura says:

    “Insanity – a perfectly rational adjustment to an insane world.” – R. D. Laing

    Are you enjoying your spammy entrepreneur “likers”? Auggh. I’ve got them too. Wish there was a way to block them. Though maybe I should spend my time worrying about more important things … nah, displacing my concern to trivial annoyances is so much easier to cope with. Yay, pettiness for the win.

    • LOL. The internet is a strange place. Admittedly, I get a decent amount of spam and such in real life at my campground host job. A guy came in the other day, wanted to buy a map of the community (it’s a hillbilly homeowners association where most of the homes are dirt – for instance I’m a homeowner and my land only has a carport on it), so I told him I would sell him one (part of my job). I walk down to the office with him and then he changes his mind. He only wanted to see if I WOULD sell him a map. He didn’t even have 5 dollars on him. Then I had to listen to his story for a third time about how when he worked here so many years ago, they cheated him because he was bitten by a black widow and the company wouldn’t give him unemployment after he was fired. While that’s a much more complicated situation than he makes out, he describes his black widow bite as some minor swelling in his hand that was gone the next morning and he never went to the doctor. So, maybe he missed his calling of donating his blood as antivenin.

      Maybe we’re just beloved the world round by entrepreneurs;)

      • Sabura says:

        Real-life spammers such as spider man (hee) sound more entertaining, at least. These WordPress interlopers who supposedly “like” my posts just feel intrusive, and I can’t delete or block them like e-mail spam. :grumble, grumble: Okay, back to fretting about work instead (and there’s much to fret about there). Buena suerte, mi amigo.

  2. A dem/Fellow Traveler says:

    Never blogged, so I don’t know what you guys are talking about. As I read about your experiences, FC, I was thinking how valuable the understanding you gained is, however painful they were. I’ve had one minor panic attack in my life, but it showed me very viscerally how they drive people to the ER, and I value it for that. That still leaves most I can only try to guess at.

    Those poor guys in your VA reports. Our military has learned to turn off much of the inborn constraint to killing, but the humanity that won’t let them just forget and move on is still there.

    • Sabura says:

      My ex is a vet, a Vietnam volunteer (he’s half Native American, who are the ethnic group with the highest percentage of volunteers), who also suffers from PTSD. When you talk about that programming to turn off the constraint to killing, a dem, that’s oh so awfully true. When my ex once put on his Red Beret cap just to show me, his facial expression and whole mien altered instantly, changing him to some “thing” that scared me to the point where I told him to never, ever put it on in front of me again.

      He’s now struggling to get benefits for Agent Orange damage and has to wear a helmet even when in indoors because of seizures and frequent falls, but it looks like the U.S. Government is going to shaft him once again. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for him that he can get a seizure dog, which he’s been on the waiting list for a while. He’s owed at least that much.

      • Sabura says:

        p.s. a dem, I e-mailed you from the Political Board, but maybe you didn’t get it (or maybe they blocked it, since it was about another web site, oy). I was just curious what the other political forum is that you frequent that you mentioned is a comfortable, enjoyable place to go?

        • A dem/Fellow Traveler says:

          Sabura, your message apparently didn’t come through, but I just tested and that did. Please try again, although I have to warn that “kinder and gentler” is strictly relative for a political forum. The educational and urbanity levels are definitely higher on average than the other, but discussion is often not exactly elevated. Nevertheless, better manners are required than most open politicals.

          I feel for you and your husband. He’s owed so much more. For all his suffering, though, at least he isn’t clueless and foolish when it comes to so many issues. He is and has been “there.” I truly believe that’s worth a lot, even if it does keep him from participating in many of the typical “what’s wrong with them” bonding rituals…

          We know people who have similar problems getting VA care they need badly. Once they couldn’t fight any more, we took them away from their units and turned them into mere accounts under the direction of amoral and immoral accountants and attorneys whose job is simply to cut costs. Bitter stories. On the plus side, many say we are finally returning from an era driven by unleashed greed to a more responsible one when paying the bills we incur as a nation will at least be acknowledged to be our duty AS a nation. Hope, hope.

          • Sabura says:

            a dem, I tried you through the MTStars Political Board again, but maybe their e-mails are bouncing or getting spam-foldered for you. I doubt that Fanatical Hypocrite would mind you posting the name/link to the other political site here, but if you’d prefer not to do that for some reason, you could try sending me a message through my Facebook: ww w .fa cebo ok .co m .mike.muckraker (remove spaces)

          • Sabura says:

            Oops, that would be a slash after the “com,” not a dot. ww w. fac ebo ok. co m / mike.muckraker

  3. bootstraps says:

    Just a quick note to say I’m enjoying very much your posts on MTStars. Your latest, “Bizarre,” definitely one of my all-time favs. In my head there are thoughts that have no words. But I read your posts and there are the words!

    And I’m also enjoying reading this blog. I worked briefly for a company about 15 years ago that did VA only. It was just too overwhelming. Between the mental repercussions you describe, the drug addiction, and the lack of plain old medical care was more than I could handle. The impatience and disgust in the voices of the doctors (especially the pain clinic/drug addiction reports) made the job emotionally draining. Thankfully a fateful turn of events occurred that took any decision to quit/change jobs out of my hands and I became employed elsewhere.

    Okay, I’m off to do something productive! …maybe 😉

    • Thanks! VA dictation/transcription really is the pits of the business. One of the doctors I used to have before he finally retired, you could tell immediately whether someone was going to get benefits or not. If the patient was white, no matter how trivial their complaint they would get what they wanted. If they weren’t white, he’d come up with some ridiculous excuse.

      One guy I have now just plain hates everyone. He denies knee and ankle surgery for paratroopers, saying there’s no way to know for sure jumping out of a plane, getting shot at on the way down and crashing into unknown terrain could be the cause. He’s done that to half a dozen paratroopers. Even the other doctors and staff hate him. Every time he starts dictating, someone immediately starting buffing the floors or moving the furniture around or using noisy power tools. As he goes he gets more and more frustrated. No one else has that problem at the dictation booth. Sometimes he asks them to stop and doesn’t get any answer. I get the impression that he is universally reviled.

      I’m glad you could get out of when you did it. It does sap one’s strength. The main reason I don’t request a change now is that the V.A. accounts I have refuse ASR and outsourcing, so I’m doing straight typing. They’ll have to pry these depressing, corrupt, anxiety inducing accounts from me:)

  4. You’re too good of a writer, FH. You’re entirely too thorough in your subject. I kept wanting to highlight a particularly moving or thought-provoking turn of phrase, but there were too many of them.

    I was on Wellbutrin a few years ago (some antidepressants also function as migraine preventatives, so I tried it). After I’d been on it a few weeks, my dog died. My beautiful Sparx, light of my life for 10 years, smartest and most loving dog in the world. I went “meh” and went about my business. I knew that she deserved to be mourned, and I still had enough – something – left to realize that mine was not an appropriate reaction. I stopped taking it that same week. Four months later – four months! – her death hit me like a meteor. I was a wreck for days; I believe it was harder, more painful, than dealing with the loss in real time. Delaying the pain is not an option, nor is deferring it indefinitely. It’s inhuman, and I’m sort of attached to the messy, painful business of humanity.

    Heartbreaking, moving, thoughtful post.

    • Thanks. My trick is to talk so much that I eventually say something insightful by accident:)

      I think you’re a great writer too. You have a very eloquent, personal and involving style that draws in the reader. Storytelling – of true or fictional stories – is all about drawing people in and letting them live in someone else’s brain for a few moments.

      I can imagine how hard that must have been with Sparx. I’ve had a lot of pets over the years and cried for just about all of them when they died (even a fish – there’s nothing weirder than seeing a grown man cry about a dead fish, but Bugsy was the most awesome fish of all time!) Still, none were so hard as my Siberian Husky Shadow (whose picture is my gravatar icon). She was my dearest friend for 13 years. I was a teenager when I got her and we grew up together. I still miss her.

      You’re definitely right about delaying pain. Medication can mask or offer temporary reprieve from suffering, but it doesn’t go anywhere.

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