Doctor Eclectic

Doctor Eclectic
Doctor Eclectic

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Walter Reed

Not too long ago Mary and I found ourselves in the Bethesda, MD area where we were celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Navy Dental Corps.  Weather was great, accommodations lovely; but I had no formal dress shoes for the Black Tie event.  So, off we went to the military clothing store in the basement of what is now called the Walter Reed Army Medical Hospital.

We were struck by the fact that everywhere you looked there were amputees.

FDR Memorial
I have a close friend who lost the use of his legs in a tank in Viet Nam.  Gerry says he has probably gone through five wheelchairs in the 43 ensuing years. When I asked what changes he has seen he stressed that materials allow the weight to be about 30 pounds now, against an earlier version, which weighed 65 pounds.  FDR, recovering from a weakness from his bout with Polio had a chair that is depicted in his Washington, DC Memorial as weighing close to 80 pounds before it was captured in marble.
Eric Lorence

As to why there has been a decrease in the number of spinal injuries and an increase in the number of surviving amputees, Gerry speculated that the Armored Vehicles and Humvees are better able to absorb shocks from IEDs than the tanks of Viet Nam.  The explosives have also become better, as have medical treatment protocols and facilities. Warriors who would have died from the same injuries in earlier wars are surviving to be fitted with prostheses and reenter productive society.  Those who might have died from spinal injuries are living.

And competing.
The Blade Runner

As I write this the Paralympics are ongoing in London.  The name comes, not from the fact that the contestants have fewer limbs, but from the fact that they are “on an ongoing parallel path with the Olympics”.  The idea started in 1946 as a vehicle for WWII injured veterans to regain dignity and honor.  Now open to all manner of physically handicapped persons, including “The Blade Runner” Oscar Pistorius, who also ran in the Olympics, it has become a showcase for literally more than a thousand contestants.

Jerrod Fields
I was remindedthat my interest in this group goes back to my high school days, when with a friend, Chuck Walker, I did a series of radio shows where we would read scripts inferring that we were Paralyzed Veterans, a lie I justified as being okay because the cause was worthwhile.  The Paralyzed Veteran Association has continued its good work and Gerry is a proud member, as are more recent heroes like Jerrod Fields.  Others, like Steve Street, who has ALS, and Scott Servern, who was struck by lightning while an Army Reservist, work to expand the community and the goals of the organization.

In my early days in the Navy I had an engineering friend who was working on his Doctorate at MIT, trying to invent a mind-operated arm.  Dave’s dream is now everyday reality and the hands and arms, and occasional other body parts are more likely to be myoelectric driven than driven by cables.  And the materials have affected the weight of prostheses too.  As with Gerry’s wheelchair, which can pop off its wheels and store easily in a plane or car, the artificial legs, arms, feet and hands, contain carbon rather than just metal, strong and light, allowing ease of movement.

Which means these young men and women can actively pursue a variety of sports.  When I was in Washington, DC in the late sixties I had occasion to see competitive wheelchair tennis players warming up on a court I used to play on.  That sport, has evolved to a whole new set of rules because the chairs are lighter and configured for speed and quick adjustment.  A more interesting competitive sport for the handicapped is soccer, which uses a singularly developed chair.

A company I consult for is in the Medicare alternative care business.  Recently I was discussing with their Medical Director cost-containment by controlling cost and fraud on medical devices, a key point in the Affordable Care Act.  He mentioned that prior to their contracting for wheel chairs (at about $3,000) the fee-for-service community was billing the state or federal government $12-15 thousand a chair.  One can only speculate what portion of that was kicked back to the doctors whose sole discretion described the need for the chair(s) to a subsidized population, many of whom were injured by gunshot or vehicle accident.

But that should not detract from the brave souls I saw at Walter Reed.  A Dental Officer I met at the reception said she treated one survivor who was essentially a torso and a head; younger than 25 and with a positive attitude toward finding a meaningful, productive place in society.

To paraphrase Dickens, “God bless them, every one.”

On a lighter note, my next post will describe a recent trip to a Neil Diamond concert, where the audience contained fans whose ages ranged from seven to more than Neil’s seventy years.  Oh, oh, oh, times have never been so good… so good…so good…so good!

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