Karen

Age at interview: 36
Outline:

Karen joined the Army out of high school and served ten years, from 1996 to 2006, including three deployments to Kuwait, Bosnia, and Iraq. While serving as military police on a tour in Iraq Karen was involved in an incident where the Humvee she was driving hydroplaned and rolled over. Later the convoy in which she was travelling was blown up by an IED. Karen served eight more months after these incidents, and while she was able to function in her job, things were noticeably different. She struggled with anger issues and, once back home, increasingly isolated herself. To cope with the symptoms of her injuries Karen does yoga and maintains a flexible job schedule.

Background:

Military branch: Army

See full story

Karen joined the Army out of high school and served ten years, from 1996 to 2006, including three deployments to Kuwait, Bosnia, and Iraq. While serving as military police on a tour in Iraq Karen was out on a night shift when the Humvee she was in rolled over. “I rolled it over. It was completely my fault. I hydroplaned. There was nothing I could do.” Later the convoy in which she was travelling was blown up by an IED.

Karen served eight more months after these incidents and while she was able to function in her job, things were noticeably different. She struggled with anger issues and, once back home “I smoked a lot of cigarettes. I stayed in my room. I did not socialize. Actually, I didn’t socialize that whole year, which is terrible for me.”

One evening while watching TV, Karen lost control of her neck function, slumping forward. “My head just kind of fell and I had no control. I was like hello, please stop doing that, and I sat there for a minute and then I lifted my head back up, but that was a weird event. I had never lost control of my neck.”  After this incident, her general practitioner suggested she be screened for TBI. Although she was never received a definitive diagnosis, VA doctors suggested she was struggling with PTSD coupled with symptoms from mild TBI.

Karen says the hardest part of living with her injuries is the “social stuff, but I don’t mind being different in society.” She admits she has trouble with crowded places and loud noises that can cause her anxiety. “When it gets hot during the summertime and the sun comes out and there are fireworks, I lose my shit. It starts as anxiety, and anxiety sucks because I know what's about to happen and it's like I can't head this off.” To cope with the difficulties she faces from her injuries, Karen tries to eat well and drink water. She also enjoys yoga and is “self-employed, so I can pick and choose who I'm around all day. I'm blessed that way.”

 

Karen was in an IED explosion in Iraq.

Text only
Read below

Karen was in an IED explosion in Iraq.

HIDE TEXT
PRINT TRANSCRIPT

So, an IED stands for Improvised Explosive Device, and I want to say back in the day but I’m not talking about like the 15th century, I’m talking about like five years ago, in Iraq, these Improvised Explosive Devices are the main threat to us over - were, I don’t know now. I don’t pay attention or watch the news. Evidently, our traitors are the biggest problem. An IED is something they put together like a shoebox and it goes boom, but they hide it to where we can’t see it and they’ll sit over a way with like a cell phone or a pager or something that will fit and they wait until we ride by, and when we ride by, they hit, but it’s not always that way. Sometimes it’s timed. Sometimes there’s like a little wire and when you roll over the wire it blows up at you. Sometimes, they would set it up in a city and blow it up at you and then they would ambush you while you’re trying to get your dead guy out. So, that’s what an IED is.

And the blast was so huge that I don’t know if it moved any of the trucks because I was in the first truck, and it hit right behind like the second or third truck, and the blast was so - you know those movies where the guy is running away from the blast, it blows up and they jump a little bit. It is so Hollywood, y’all, and you’re driving in this completely dark and it is just bright orange just light from the back and it just sucks you in and you see this light and whoa, and then you’re back into life and you’re like, “what the hell was that?!” And I heard over the radio a guy in the back who hadn’t seen any combat, that poor baby, and he was a team leader, he was a leader, he was an NCO, I made fun of him, and then he - but anyways, when that happened, we drove to a little camp and we all sat there and talked and smoked cigarettes or whatever and we made sure he was all right, and then we got in our trucks and we continued our mission, which was fine….

 

Karen describes an event that made her realize something was really wrong and prompted her to get screened for TBI.

Text only
Read below

Karen describes an event that made her realize something was really wrong and prompted her to get screened for TBI.

HIDE TEXT
PRINT TRANSCRIPT

I had an event on my couch and it scared me. I poured myself a bowl of cereal because I don’t want to grow up, cereal is awesome. I was sitting on the couch about to watch TV and I sat down like the camera is the TV and I was sitting kind of looking at it and leaned back and I went to just kind of sit like this, and my head just went what the fuck. My head just kind of fell and I had no control. I was like hello, please stop doing that, and I sat there for a minute and then I lifted my head back up, but that was a weird event. I had never lost control of my neck. So, I told my primary care physician who was awesome, and she said you need to go to the VA and get screened for TBI.

 

Karen was screened repeatedly for TBI, but never received an official diagnosis and was told her symptoms were due to PTSD.

Text only
Read below

Karen was screened repeatedly for TBI, but never received an official diagnosis and was told her symptoms were due to PTSD.

HIDE TEXT
PRINT TRANSCRIPT

So, I drove the hour and a half, I don't know how many times, to [the VA] be screened for TBI, and I went through the I'm going to say a bunch of words and you say them all back to me tests, and here's a quiz, can you put together the triangles, and they tested memory, you know what I'm talking about. And I didn’t hear anything back for a long time. I finally had to go and ask and somebody what was next, and they were like well, I got a phone call saying you're not - actually, I made a phone call to the VA and the person that I spoke to said you don’t have TBI, but you have PTSD, and sometimes PTSD can bleed over into TBI, but yours doesn’t bleed enough. But listen, if you'd like to come to our support groups, that would be great - an hour and a half away from [where I lived]. No, thank you. So, here we are. I think - I have a theory because I lived in this head, and my theory is that I hit my head and then by the time I got to the VA, it fixed itself. Can brains do that? I don't know. I think mine did. And I think that that’s why you don’t see any. I think my brain has changed. I hope it's not for the worse, but I can't prove it and I don’t think anyone will ever be able to, and I am very concerned that when I'm older and confused that that’s what it's going to be and I'm not going to get treatment. That’s my concern.

 

Karen explains that people are already ill before they get diagnosed, and that the worst part is not knowing what is wrong.

Text only
Read below

Karen explains that people are already ill before they get diagnosed, and that the worst part is not knowing what is wrong.

HIDE TEXT
PRINT TRANSCRIPT

But those years, I didn’t know what was wrong with me, and I couldn’t figure out why I was feeling this way or thinking this way or not functioning correctly, those were the worst. Not knowing was the worst.  When you're acting nuts and your shit won't work and you don’t know why, that’s the worst. So, I think to offer education. The problem that we have is that getting the diagnosis isn't new. You're ill before you have a diagnosis. It's new to y'all. So, we already know we're fucked up, but our perceptions of it may be different. Our experiences are different. The way we're going to deal with it is different, and I think maybe saying that here is a trigger, and when a trigger happens, it can do this to your body physically, and then mentally it can do this, but you can do something else mentally if you want if you take the time to realize what's happening. 

 

Karen often reschedules appointments and may not even get out of bed on the days when her “brain isn’t braining.”

Text only
Read below

Karen often reschedules appointments and may not even get out of bed on the days when her “brain isn’t braining.”

HIDE TEXT
PRINT TRANSCRIPT

So, sometimes, I've had to like cancel an appointment or cancel going to an event because just lack of interest. When I do things, I'm very good at them. I'm not going to half-ass them. So, if I can't - if my brain isn't braining today, I'm going to call you - my dog, my car, can we reschedule, thank you.  Sometimes I just won't get out of bed, and that’s wonderful because I don’t have to.

 

To cope with her memory problems, Karen writes a lot of stuff down, because if she “doesn’t write it down it doesn’t exist.”

Text only
Read below

To cope with her memory problems, Karen writes a lot of stuff down, because if she “doesn’t write it down it doesn’t exist.”

HIDE TEXT
PRINT TRANSCRIPT

Yes. If I don’t write it down, it doesn’t exist, which is a big danger when you're self-employed. So, I have a lot of things written down. I write things down a lot. I do lists. I'll write down a list of all the things that need to be done, and then at the bottom, I'll write what time it needs to be done by and then I'll do backwards, take 15 minutes, I'll do this at this time. That is a strategy and I have used it in the past, but I would say I haven’t used it recently. Is running late a thing or am I just lazy? Seriously. I don't know.