The Fragility of the Heart


A few weeks ago my father shared a story with me. He stated that he was flooded with emotion during a meal that he usually enjoyed preparing for my son, his only grandson. He simply couldn’t eat the meal after he prepared it. These feelings hit military families when we least expect it.  The stress of a continuous deployment schedule creates a body that when under pressure, produces stress hormones, which cause your heart rate and blood pressure to increase. This can cause your arteries to grow narrower. Adrenaline, one of the major stress hormones is said to make platelets stickier. The emotional heart, the part that you can’t see on an EKG or a stress test is affected by hostility and stress and even depression. Weeks of hostility in my father’s voice reacting to me harping about a much needed procedure that would help his fractured heart, evaporated yesterday when I told him that his grandson was on a plane home.  The sock drawer was finally empty.  My father’s fractured heart is healing from this news and the gifts of modern medicine.  I often wonder if we will see a surge in heart disease and cancer in this new generation of young men and women whose daily exposure to stressful events and hostility increases their chances of disease at an early age. The Mayo Clinic reports that psychological stress is the strongest indicator of future cardiac events. Psychological stress coupled with the physical stress of war creates a perfect breeding ground for disease.  I have been impressed with the recent educational modules coming from the DOD and VA for the assessment and treatment of our returning warriors.  Research is proving that teaching this generation of veterans stress reduction techniques that have been present for centuries rather than loading them up on never ending scripts of anti-depressants, anti-anxiety and sleep medications and forgetting about them until their next appointment simply doesn’t work.  I continue to learn new techniques to utilize with veterans in my practice because of this research.  I continue to be convinced that we can care for this generation of warriors in a more civilized way than we did in past wars, if we only open our own hearts to understanding and appreciating their sacrifices.

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