PTSD

By Dr. Jim Ferguson

This is not a paid endorsement, but I’m a fan of The Teaching Company, an organization that contracts with college professors to develop university level courses, and then markets these courses to people who enjoy continuing education. In fact, most of my non-science education has occurred over the last three decades through reading, study and with courses like those of The Teaching Company. We live in a time of unprecedented access to information and educational opportunities. Learning how to search for answers to your questions, is foundational to a lifetime of learning, and is what I still teach young doctors today.

Later this month, I have a surprise for my readers, but until that time I’ll just tease you and keep plodding away with my self taught areas of interest, including history, philosophy, religion and politics, which are then sprinkled over my essays built upon foundational science and my medical expertise. I realize I sometimes disappoint the “nattering nabobs of negativity” who clamor for me to write only about what I might describe as predictable, dry as toast, medical topics. This column is in the Health and Wellness section of the Focus, but in my defense, each week I write about what interests me, and after all, it is my opinion column. I actually like being a bit unpredictable. Like “a box of chocolates,” I never want you to know as you begin each column, what you’re going to get.

Recently, I was intrigued to learn that scientists are now describing PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) after serious medical illnesses like heart attacks, strokes or confinement in intensive care units. Though I admit I am no expert in this disorder or other emotional illnesses, I do have considerable experience treating depression and anxiety disorders which occur commonly in an internal medicine practice. However, like most of you, I had associated PTSD with physical or emotional trauma such as assault or sexual violence, combat or mass conflict and displacement. We often hear that our soldiers returning from the battlefield are left with emotional scars from their combat experiences. I imagine these as aftershocks from a violent earthquake.

One wonders if PTSD is occurring more frequently or it is just more readily recognized by medical professionals. Interestingly, “soldier’s heart syndrome” was described in the Civil War. This later became known as “battle fatigue” or “shell shock” in WWII. Perhaps this similar constellation of symptoms is now codified as PTSD.

The incidence of this post traumatic syndrome from any of a number of causes may be as high as 10% in the United States. The World Health Organization reports a 2% incidence of this condition worldwide, but curiously only a 1% incidence in Australians. I once read that the most common cause of death in the former Soviet Union was a “cold.” Apparently, Putin’s Russia didn’t have alcoholism, venereal disease or pneumonia. My point is, diagnosis and reporting may be sketchy and politically motivated.

As my readers know, I think movies can sometimes best depict what might be otherwise incomprehensible. Examples are the perception of a paranoid schizophrenic in the movie A Beautiful Mind, or the representation of a psychopath in No Country for Old Men. The Tom Hanks character in the movie Sully demonstrates the classic symptoms of PTSD. After the harrowing airplane crash into the Hudson River, pilot Sully experiences nightmares, flashbacks of the crash, sleep disturbance and intrusive thoughts, perhaps complicated by the investigation of the crash and his culpability.

With the marvels of modern technology scientists can now measure an increased volume of certain brain stem structures like the hippocampus and the amygdala in patients with PTSD. They can also measure chronically elevated neurotransmitters such as norepinephrine, which perhaps explains the hypervigilance of PTSD sufferers, somewhat akin to the “fight or flight” response we all learned of in high school health class.

I’m a bit surprised that President Trump appears undaunted by the 92% negative coverage of the scurrilous “drive by” media. He is fortunate to have avoided PTSD, since the disorder occurs after physical or psychic trauma. With virtually the entire Washington establishment (the Swamp) after him, along with academia, leftists and the Holly-weirds, who among us could survive such withering attacks? And yet, Trump lives on and apparently thrives. A robust economy, a revitalized military and a resurgent and once again proud America on the world stage are metrics of his successes.

Maybe Trump is not at risk. It is Pelosi and the Democrats who have utterly lost their minds. As I watched the State of the Union address, I thought Bernie Sanders’ head was going to explode and that Pelosi might chew off her lip. It doesn’t require a doctor to see the scowls on the faces of Democrats to understand that someone has a serious problem. On a humorous note, a Facebook post commented, on the Congresswomen in white, that they had not seen so many Democrats in white since the Klu Klux Klan was formed. And as I listen to the economics major from Boston University, Alexandria Ocachia Cortez’s (AOC) plans for a Green New Deal, I’m glad that my kids did not waste our family’s resources on an Ivy League/New England “college education” and become  poisoned with irrationality.

Perhaps we’ll all develop PTSD as a result of the progressive-socialist-Democrat war waged against the unborn, prayer, the national anthem, the American people and the notion of American Greatness. The only check on these “new Puritans” of the politically correct left, socialists and Democrats is Donald Trump. Daily, he remains in my prayers, as does those which are lost to reason, American tradition and apparently have been co-opted by lunacy and evil.

Abraham Lincoln was raised by a fundamentalist and abusive father who drove Lincoln away from his Christian heritage. However, he rediscovered his faith in the crucible of the Civil War. Lincoln once said, “Many times I have been driven upon my knees with the conviction that all my faculties and those around me were insufficient for the problems of the day.” I concur with perhaps our greatest President.

Therefore, I pray daily for AOC and Nancy Pelosi. I pray for President Trump to “keep [his] head when all around [him] are losing theirs…” (Rudyard Kipling). And I urge you to pray and “speak the truth in love.” It will keep you sane.

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