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November 9, 2012 at 10:20 PM
These young war veterans didn’t lose any limbs in combat. They returned home from Iraq and Afghanistan a few years ago all in one piece, but soon began to feel the pain of invisible injuries they didn’t even realize they had.
We hear the names of these injuries more and more these days: PTSD for post-traumatic stress disorder and TBI for traumatic brain injury. Yet it is hard to fully understand the struggles these veterans go through to keep themselves together.
As Veterans Day rolls around Sunday, I will be thinking of these soldiers and the thousands more among us whose wounds cannot be seen but are very real.
After two war tours, Timm Lovitt came back home to Lynnwood in 2005 with one goal in mind: to get his college degree. But the former U.S. Army sergeant quickly found himself at a disadvantage. He couldn’t retain anything he studied would study. “I would read a page and immediately forget what I had just read,” Lovitt, 30, told me over coffee at Edmonds Community College Student Union Hall.
Doctors told him that he had lost his visual retention due to a traumatic brain injury. Lovitt guesses it may have been caused by the shock of a suicide car bomb explosion in Baghdad. He survived the attacked and was back on patrol the next day.
The TBI diagnosis allowed Lovitt to benefit from school exceptions for people with disabilities, like extended time for exams, and access to audiobooks — and found that his memory responded to sound better than images. In 2010, Lovitt graduated with honors from Seattle University.
In Iraq, Air Force Security Forces sergeant Nikki Davis and her eight-person squad provided ground security to Air Force installations. Asked about her worst experience, the self-described tough girl from Tacoma only wants to say this: “We were always fired up and ready to go.”
After her deployment, Davis, 34, quit her eight-year military career and started a new life. She juggled college classes and a job as a Pierce County bus driver.
Eventually, the stress of combat caught up with her. She couldn’t control her anger and felt no empathy for people. “Anything would get me from 2 to 60 in a hearbeat,” said Davis, who still worries someone may sneak up behind her if she has her back to the door.
Davis only started treatment for her PTSD four months ago, but she’s happy she finally sought help. “I need help. It takes a while for a veteran to say those words.”
Jeremy Grisham, a Vashon Island native who is now 37, grew angry and depressed after returning from Iraq in 2003. The Navy medic felt he could have done more to save Iraqi civilians left dead and injured on the roadside during the speedy march to liberate Baghdad.
When he returned to San Diego, where he was stationed with the Marines at Camp Pendleton, Grisham struggled at work. Even the most simple medical procedures became hard to deal with; everything felt like a life-or-death situation. He started cutting himself and had thoughts of suicide.
In 2005 he was diagnosed with PTSD and left the Navy, beginning a slow path to recovery and eventually returning to the Puget Sound area. Grisham has found ways to cope by working on habitat-restoration projects with other veterans and rollerskating with friends. “It’s important not to let the injuries define us.”
A group of Vietnam vets recently helped Bernard Baker move into his new house in the Tacoma area. Baker, a 6-foot-1 guy with the build of a basketball player, was so embarrased to get the help from older guys that he got dizzy and vomited.
Severe vertigo and migraines are just some of the symptoms of his TBI. Too much light can also make him faint and he often wears sunglasses inside the house.
Of his tour of duty in Iraq in 2004 and 2005, the Brooklyn native remembers the adrenaline rush of combat, bullets whizzing by, and an IED hidden in a garbage can that exploded within feet of his Stryker vehicle, knocking him off his seat.
Baker, 36, spends much of his time at doctor appointments now. Life feels like a roller-coaster ride, he said. “If you don’t seek help, your problem gets worse … I just don’t want to be left behind. Don’t forget me.”
What has drawn your attention around Seattle lately? Send me your suggestions of interesting places and people to sketch via e-mail, Facebook or Twitter. Have a great weekend
August 10, 2012 at 4:50 PM
Sketched July 31, 2012 [Click on sketches to see larger versions]
Even on the warmest summer day, swimming in the chilly water of Puget Sound isn’t quite as inviting as just looking at it.
If you are admiring the view near the Edmonds ferry dock, though, don’t be surprised to see scuba divers pop out of the water. Clad in wet suits, the divers emerge from the Edmonds Underwater Park, a network of submarine trails maintained by volunteers for more than 30 years.
From the shoreline, all you can see are the bright colored buoys that mark the boundaries of the 27-acre park. Under the surface, divers get an up-close look at sea life as they swim through sunken vessels, concrete blocks and tractor tires.
It’s a whole different world down there, Jaclyn Perry told me after a 90-minute dive with her buddy. “It’s very peaceful … You can only hear your own bubbles.”
Perry’s interest in diving doesn’t end with the sport. She starts college in the fall and wants to pursue a career in marine biology. Her dive buddy, Helle Hansen, said she got hooked into diving during a vacation in Guam 20 years ago.
The park is open from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. See diving regulations on the park’s page on the City of Edmonds website.
What has drawn your attention around Seattle lately? Send me your suggestions of interesting places and people to sketch via e-mail, Facebook or Twitter. Have a great weekend!
September 30, 2011 at 9:36 PM
Sketched Sept. 28, 10:15 a.m.
Marina Beach Park in Edmonds is as scenic as any other park I’ve been to along Puget Sound. What makes it special is a fenced dog beach that dog owners there said is one of the best in the Greater Seattle area.
My visit, suggested by a reader, helped me face my longtime fear of dogs and taught me that not every canine is the same. Some loved to dive in the water, others preferred jumping over driftwood, tasting seaweed or just strutting their stuff.
With help from some visitors, I learned how to tell a Gordon setter apart from a springer spaniel and even encountered that iconic dog I’m accustomed to seeing on University of Washington merchandise. Robert Blake’s husky, Kylee, did me a favor by standing still long enough for me to draw her. “She’s a prima donna,” Blake said.
What has drawn your attention around Seattle lately? Send me your suggestions of interesting places to sketch via e-mail, Facebook or Twitter. Have a great weekend!
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