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  • M.C. Combs

The Life Changing Moments

We were seated at the dinner table with guests from Europe on the screened in porch. The phone inside began ringing furiously. I quickly excused myself to go into house to answer a phone that was disturbing the conversation at the table. Saying “Hello”, I immediately heard a deep voice that I instantly recognized.

“I’m sitting here with my rifle in my lap,” he said.

It was John, the son of a lifelong friend who I had known since his early childhood. He’d grown into an interesting man, a medical doctor and adventurer. He’d become a military physician serving in Forward Aid Stations in Iraq, that war’s version of a Mash Unit. But it certainly was not the fun of the famous movie and television show. After several years in Iraq, John had come back to the United States to do a medical fellowship in Hyperbaric Medicine and then served four years as a Seal Team Physician performing underwater medicine. A total of eight years and it became clear that John was in serious trouble. He had severe PTSD and after the military and the Veteran’s Administration did everything they could for him, it was clear he was still suffering terribly. He was living at home with only his widowed mother. Due to the isolation John was going more deeply into his disturbed brain.

Fortunately, many years earlier I’d had some suicide prevention training, so I answered his statement, meant to shock, with a calm voice. “Why haven’t you used it?” I asked, stopping him from the speech he had intended. Then I knew my job was to just listen as his pain was expressed in anger and by telling me what he did not want to hear in my responses.

I knew enough about this condition to understand that the isolation he was in was only feeding the beast inside his brain. After nearly an hour of listening to this tortured soul, I returned to the dinner table. It was difficult to return to the conversation as all I could think about was what I could do for John.

The next day I began to research every service available for veterans in our community. I knew there were many as one of the largest Veteran’s Administration Medical Centers was located here.

John called back numerous times in the next days and weeks. Each time I’d tell him about a program that might be of help to him that was here in our town and then invite him to come and live with my husband and me. My husband John was also a retired Naval Officer, so he and this John had become good friends over the years.

During one conversation I told John about the Equine Therapy program called HOPE (Horses Helping People) that was located here. He immediately reacted positively to that idea, working with horses to get better. So we made a plan for him to come to Florida, live with my husband and me and begin the Equine Therapy sessions. I talked with the Director of Hope, himself a PTSD patient in years past. He called John and everything was in place. John, sounding better than he had for days, called me that he had his plane tickets and would be sending me his itinerary. He would be arriving on this coming Friday.

The itinerary arrived on the fax machine on Wednesday but on Thursday night his mother called. “John went into a deep depression last night and I don’t think he’ll be able to make the trip tomorrow. He’s in awfully bad shape.”

I knew enough about PTSD by then to know how serious this was, but I prayed for him and that he’d be able in the future to do as we’d planned. It was early that Saturday morning and the phone rang. John’s younger brother Ryan was calling.

When I heard his voice, I knew. I did not even need to hear the words that came next.

“We found John in the front yard this morning,” he said.

I don’t remember the next few minutes, but I do know that a violent pain rose up inside of my chest. That pain was the beginning of a new journey and a new mission for me. We cannot keep losing these wonderfully promising young men. There must be a way to save them and allow them to live in comfort with their own minds.

After three more years of searching and writing about it, I think I’ve found it. But that’s another story.

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