CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait – As a public affairs specialist, my job is to report the news. Over the years I have found that occasionally, whether you intend to or not, you become the news.
I was recently taking photographs at a town hall meeting inside an Area Support Group-Kuwait conference room. After about an hour, I realized that I needed to change the battery in my camera. Hoping to escape notice, I ducked away from the table. I intended to stand up and quietly creep over to my bag. Unfortunately, I stood up beneath a column-mounted flat screen television.
“Stood up,” is a gentle way to describe it. The force of the collision staggered me. I was shocked and in a good deal of pain. My eyes watered. People were rushing over to check on me. They helped me over to a chair while I attempted to breathe through the pain. I didn’t want to cry in front of everyone. I touched my scalp and felt blood on my fingertips. Not a huge amount, more like a trickle.
I was embarrassed. The room was full of people who significantly outranked me. I had somewhat interrupted the event. Rather than make a spectacle of myself, I decided to wipe my eyes and keep shooting photos. After the meeting, several people approached me to ask if I was ok. I told them I was fine. I did my interviews and walked back to the barracks.
The next day I went to work. I had a headache. My unit advised me that I should go and get checked out. I didn’t really want to. Other than the headache, which was manageable, I felt like I could easily get through the rest of the workday. I think more than anything, I didn’t want to waste anyone’s time. I relented and got checked out. It was a minor injury. I was able to get back to the mission after a few days on quarters, just to be safe.
After my brush with the TV, I started thinking about my other peers and leaders, past and present. I know there are soldiers out there who avoiding getting treatment because they don’t want to be seen as weak. They don’t want to be an inconvenience. Or they simply don’t know what to get treated for. Of course, there are also Soldiers who try to take advantage of the system.
I decided to talk with Maj. Mark Epps, the officer in charge of the Camp Arifjan Troop Medical Clinic, to find out about the most common injuries here and when Soldiers should get seen in general. Epps has served for 22 years and has two deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan with the 82nd Airborne Division.
“When you get injured, and we have that culture in the Army where we’re told to ‘suck it up,’ sometimes those injures can be seemingly minor but there can be something underlying that is not going to get better if you keep pushing,” said Epps. “As an example, a [noncommissioned officer] that I ran into this morning asked me if he should send his Soldier to be seen for a sprained ankle. Apparently this kid had been hobbling around for two months and he’s trying to suck it up so that he can take the [Army Physical Fitness Test], because he doesn’t want to be one of those guys who use an injury to get out of a PT test. But for two months, he’s been walking around on this ankle that could very well be fractured.”
In this case, the soldier is not likely to get better on his own and the injury, if untreated, could be something that ends that particular Soldier’s career.
“I counsel a lot of our senior NCOs and officers quite frequently because they don’t want to do anything that will slow down their career, mission or value. And what I have to tell them is, you can take care of this problem now, and you can keep going for ten more years, or you continue sucking it up, and you go for five more years or maybe only one or two more years,” said Epps.
Epps said that while some soldiers will come to the aid station for a paper cut, others will not come unless they are brought in on a stretcher. The key to understanding when to come in is to know yourself, he said. Obviously, if you sustain an injury and the pain persists or there is swelling, then you should get it checked out. Or, for example, if you were to fall off a ladder while putting up outdoor Christmas lights; even if you felt okay, it would be smart to be seen.
“You may get told, ‘this is a minor injury, it’s going to heal on its own no matter what you do,’ but at least you’ve had that person who is trained to make that evaluation look at it,” said Epps.
The most common ailment in Kuwait is kidney stones. The environmental condition easily lends itself to dehydration. Other injuries that crop up are often related to unit combatives training and include sprained joints or rib contusions.
During our meeting, I learned that were was a difference between blast related head trauma and blunt force trauma, like hitting your head during a car accident or on a TV. The biggest concern for blunt force trauma is that you caused a small bleed in one of the layers of your brain. I learned that if I were to hit my head again, a possibility given that I am tall and somewhat clumsy, the symptoms I should pay special attention to are prolonged headache, double vision and nausea.
In the end, when it comes to your health, you should be your own best advocate. Sometimes that might mean taking a moment on the sideline.
“The Army is difficult on our bodies as it is. If you injury yourself and you give yourself time to heal, then 22 or 23 years down the road you’ll still be able to complete your mission,” said Epps.