The forgotten wounded?

Rehabilitation is not “sexy” medicine like its sister specialty, geriatrics – one unfortunate reason why it remains unpopular among medical and nursing students.

Shaare Zedek Hospital (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Shaare Zedek Hospital
Rehabilitation is not “sexy” medicine like its sister specialty, geriatrics – one unfortunate reason why it remains unpopular among medical and nursing students. It requires special people, with patience, loving kindness and a desire to see long-term results. But it is incomparable in its ability to move people deeply.
Spending time working in the pain rehabilitation clinic of Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer gives one pause to appreciate the sacrifices our youth make for our security and very existence. People who come to the pain rehabilitation clinic are people who have chronic, irretractable pain, whether from disease or injury. The clinic’s patients are people who suffer constantly, usually for years, sometimes for decades. Before coming to the clinic, they often take high doses of opioid medication, such as morphine and codeine, which sometimes leave them unable to function in day-to-day life, rendering them incapable for example of holding down a job. And a majority of these patients are wounded soldiers.
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Our collective memory usually draws us to the latest conflict. After all, it is reasonable to conceive of wounded soldiers from last summer’s war continuing to rehabilitate. We expect the soldiers wounded in this year’s terrorist attacks to be rehabilitating. But unless we have personal contact with wounded soldiers, our collective memory goes only that far.
In a single week at the pain rehabilitation clinic we can see soldiers wounded in the recent military campaigns in Gaza, the Lebanon wars, Yom Kippur War, Six Day War and even the War of Independence. Each has a forgotten story, each a tale of miracles and survival, each is a hero and each one survives day to day, dealing with the pain as they have for decades, suffering in silence and living their lives.
There is the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) gentleman who was a pilot in the Six Day War, was shot down over Syria and held as a (wounded) prisoner of war in horrific conditions for many months. He still suffers from chronic pain from botched Syrian surgery 48 years later. Looking at him now, he continues to be proud of his service to the country, but remains modest about his heroism, quiet about his traumatic experience, silent about his continued suffering. Headline: “POW exchange” (1968).
There is the handsome man from the periphery who lost a leg when three grenades blew up next to him during his service as an officer in the Yom Kipper War. He was nearly killed, knows that each day is a miracle, enjoys his grandchildren and refuses to take strong painkillers despite the extreme pain he suffered daily before coming to the clinic.
Headline: “2 soldiers dead, one officer injured in Sinai attack” (1973).
And there is the young man who was injured in a training accident when a tank ran over his leg 20 years ago due to poor communication between military divisions. His dreams of being an athlete were dashed at age 19. Headline: “Soldier injured during military training exercise” (1995).
More than the individual stories behind the old headlines are two cheerful findings. The Defense Ministry really takes care of its own.
Whether it’s overnight trips, accessible hikes, providing expeditious care for every need, the latest medical technology or providing support for post-traumatic syndrome – Israel really take care of our injured soldiers.
From a clinical and economic point of view, the Defense Ministry is the best insurer, payor and provider in Israel – cutting the bureaucracy and exceeding all of the health funds.
Secondly, I am continually moved by the human motivation to rehabilitate, to recover, the love and support of families, the loving kindness and care by nurses, physicians and health care providers, and the ability to live life beyond and despite the pain.
What I have learned from working with these very unique individuals is that after the throngs stop visiting the soldiers, the letters stop coming in from school children and cookies are no longer delivered – the wounded remain wounded.
As a health-care professional, I hope in coming years these fields will gain popularity as health-care professionals recognize their ability to truly heal people in mind, body and spirit through excellence in long-term care. Meanwhile, we are very blessed to have such a wonderful, supportive program in Israel to care for our unforgotten soldiers and to remind them of our collective appreciation for their continued sacrifices. For the layman, perhaps consider a smile and a nod for those on the street or in the mall who have crutches, a limp, or have amputations. Kindness remains the best thanks we can give these silent heroes.
The author is a nurse researcher and registered nurse in the Sheba Pain Rehabilitation Unit, a nursing educator, a US nurse practitioner and a health policy expert.