There's only one story that I've written that didn't make it to print. Unfortunately, it was one that I was passionate about telling.
I’d been asked to write an article about the integrative health program at the VA. I met with five vets – men and women who’d served in Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq – to talk about their journey of healing. All of them had been injured, physically and emotionally, and all of them had found relief in the ancient practices of yoga, meditation, Qi Gong, and acupuncture. They each responded to the interview process differently – one was very talkative from the start, and another was incredibly closed (especially when he learned I didn’t have a military background. Sitting back in his chair with his arms crossed over his chest, he said: “The difference between you and a vet is night and day.”). It tested my interview skills mightily, but when he finally decided to trust me and open up, I felt honored to hear his story. Pro tip: Ask good questions and LISTEN. He told me that he doesn't like fireworks, "not because of their lights or noise, but because of the glowing ash that hangs in the sky afterward."
Even though those interviews happened years ago, I still reflect on them today.
Here’s one of the stories:
Dr. Don Glover had been a medic in Vietnam and had a difficult time adjusting to civilian life. He had what he described as “pretty severe PTSD,” had trouble sleeping, and was always on edge. Like many vets, he decided this was just part of life and learned to coexist with that dark place permanently, unbeknownst to those around him.
Twenty years later, he was taken to the hospital ICU with an internal bleed. He couldn’t keep warm and kept asking the nurse for blankets. Finally, he asked her why he was so cold. “She just looked at me and said, ‘Because you’re dying.’”
His doctor said that he’d never seen anyone lose that much blood and survive. Don was lucky to be alive, but the experience had a sobering impact on him. An old friend visited him in the hospital and said, “I think it’s time to do something to cure your ulcerative life.” He handed Don a book about meditation – Living with the Himalayan Masters. He began by meditating for five minutes at a time, but even that was difficult. As soon as he’d allow his thoughts to slow down, he’d start having flashbacks. But he kept at it, and after six months, he found he could sit for 30 minutes at a time (and was calmer in general). “I could be with those memories and just let them move through me.”
Don’s story was so impactful to me, and it was heartening to know that he was using his experience to encourage other vets to seek relief through alternative therapies. Shortly after, I decided to sign up for a yoga/meditation retreat (another story for another day) and learned how still sitting can be a life-altering practice, even if it’s just 10 minutes per day.
The story never ran, but thankfully I was able to use some of the reporting in the article I wrote for USA Today’s Special Edition. I don’t know where those veterans are today, but I’m hopeful that they’ve continued to find healing.