22 Veterans commit suicide each day; get to know your neighbor
June 8, 2019 – June is PTSD month. Yesterday I was sitting at the Orlando Veterans Hospital at Lake Nona in the lobby at t,he back entrance next to the Emergency Room. A woman, appearing to be in her mid to late 70s, sat down beside me and said hello. Initially, my reaction was, “Oh darn, there go my peace and quiet. I came all the way back here so no one could find me.” Quickly I stopped my thoughts and said, “Hello,” and we begn to talk. Her name is not really important, but for the sake of this article, I will call her Helen.
Helen was waiting for her son, who was in the Emergency Department. She brought him in, but once they arrived, he didn’t want her in the room with him. “Typical,” she said, “He only wants me around when he needs something. This time it was a ride. I guess he couldn’t find a friend.”
Helen told me she was talking about her grandson. He lived in a room in her house but she hardly ever sees him, because the room has its own bathroom and a door to go outside. “It was a room for our housekeeper when my husband was alive. I haven’t had a housekeeper for twenty years. He [my son] helps with the rent though,” she said, “so I guess I can’t complain.”
“I do wish he would be a little quieter with his music and try not to be so loud when I am sleeping. He yells at people at night. Sometimes it doesn’t even make any sense what he is saying. One night I was really concerned, so I went to his room and cracked his door open. He was asleep, tossing and turning, crying out and yelling.” Helen said.
This morning my grandson just up out of the blue, came to me shaking and almost white. He told me I needed to take him to the emergency room at the VA, so here we are. I don’t know what to do,” she said.
I told her, “I believe you already did the right thing by bringing your grandson to the Emergency Department. I am sure they will do what is best to help him. These doctors have a lot of experience helping Veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and it sounds like your son may have been experiencing symptoms of those symptoms. I am not a clinician, but I also have PTSD. I wish him the best.”
“Have you heard of PTSD,” I asked Helen?
“No, but if you say the doctors will help him then I believe you,” she said. “I hope they can help him. I worry about him being like that all the time. It is such a struggle,” she said.
I told her if she looks around the VA Hospital, she will find big signs about PTSD Treatment. The VA takes PTSD very seriously. Also, June is PTSD awareness month. “If you would like, I can email you a brochure on PTSD that is put out by the VA,” I told her. She gave me her email and I promised to follow-up with her.
I also told her I was going to write this blog and would send her a link. Her story inspired me. She smiled and for a minute I thought I saw some stress lift. I said goodbye as I had to be on my way. I put my hand out touching hers. She smiled warmly again.
It was important I took the time to talk with Helen. She was alone in a huge institution with no support. Helen didn’t know what was happening with her grandson who she brought into the VA for emergency care and it was unclear if she was going to know. She was lonely and probably a little frightened.
When I talk about how we can be a humbler community, taking the time to speak to someone like Helen is extremely important. We can help create change that will reduce neighborhood loneliness. I was “in my own head at the time” when Helen came up and started talking to me, and I was running late by the end of our conversation. Even so, I was so glad I took the time to make a positive difference in Helen’s day.
According to an AARP study, 1 in 3 US adults over the age of 45 years old are lonely. The increase in the number of lonely adults 45 and over is significant. Loneliness, especially as it relates to social isolation factors, has real consequences for people’s health,” said Lisa Marsh Ryerson, president of AARP Foundation.
“Studies show that isolation and loneliness are as bad for health as obesity or smoking. This survey’s results send a clear signal that we need to direct more attention and resources to this complex and growing public health issue,” said AARP.
What can we do to be a “humbler neighborhood“?