A doctor who specializes in brain injuries spoke this week about the challenges faced by soldiers at a Grinell College healthcare symposium. Joseph Fins, the chief of medical ethics at Cornell Medical College, says the healthcare discussion among presidential candidates also has to include how to meet the needs of brain-injured soldiers. He says it’s estimated some 20-percent of the troops in Iraq have been exposed to the blast of an improvised explosive device.
Fins says the injuries are sometimes apparent, like those to journalist Bob Woodruff, who had part of his head sheared off. But Fin says others who were further away form a blast may look fine, but have been hit by sound waves from the explosion, and while they look normal, they have some degree of impairment. Fins says the injuries are unique to soldiers.
Fins says microscopic sound waves go into the brain and cause little holes or pockets in the brain. He says there’s no direct parallel to civilian injuries, and that’s why more money needs to be devoted to studying the problem. Fins has worked with various brain treatments, and seen some work. Fins says we’re on the cusp of some scientific possibility from the most severe to the more minor kinds of brain injury, making diagnoses critical. But, he says if you’re a person with brain injury, there’s no such thing as mild brain injury. Fins says the advancements made in medicine have led to more brain-injury survivors compared to 30 years ago.
Fins says there’s been a five-fold increase in survival, so people who would have died in Vietnam from head trauma are surviving this war. He says we are dealing with those survivors long term care. Fins says it’s a mixed picture as we’ve been able to quickly move and treat people in jets and increase their survivability, but he ways the long term care after that is a real challenge. Fins is professor or medicine and also served on a White House Complementary and Alternative Medicine Policy Commission under President Clinton.