Pain is weakness leaving the body

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I do not think it is possible to spend any time in the military without hearing this quote at least once. A friend recently purchased a T-shirt at the Pentagon with the adage proudly displayed. It is a mark of pride among servicemembers that they can endure hardship and harsh conditions with stoic acceptance.


Editor-in-Chief, Chester ‘Trip’
Buckenmaier III, MD, COL, MC, USA.

 In my own house, the prevailing military family rule is, “Thou shall not whine!” I think most military families can relate to this cultural norm. Americans depend on the moral strength and willingness of our servicemembers and their families to place the immediate needs of the country first, before their own needs and comfort.

This is a key and essential attribute of the men and women in our armed services, particularly because our society demands so much from the 1% that guards our freedoms. When it comes to health and the practice of effective medicine, these same attributes that we depend upon for success on the battlefield can greatly interfere with the rehabilitation and recovery of our wounded.

Like most Americans, I was stunned and shocked by the events of Sept. 11, 2001, and, like most, I can still recall my personal activities that day as if it happened yesterday. I was at Duke University Medical Center in Raleigh, NC, completing my fellowship in acute-pain medicine and regional anesthesia. I spent that day desperately trying to get back to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Bethesda, MD, to possibly assist with casualties and sadly learning that I was not needed, for there were far more dead then wounded from the Pentagon.

 As a response, I spent the next eight hours with many hundreds of others trying to donate blood, something positive to do  in the face of such overwhelming tragedy. I have never felt more powerless and useless before or since that defining day. In the eight hours spent standing in line, I had plenty of time to ponder how these events were going to change my military career and the lives of my family members forever. I could not have guessed that the rest of my career as a fully trained physician, from that moment until now, would be defined by war.

I had been sent to Duke due to the farsightedness of my then-leaders, who knew we needed to better manage analgesia in the changing casualty evacuation paradigm and believed regional anesthesia could play an important role in the next war. I never could have imagined (in the same way I could not imagine 9/11) the central role that pain medicine would play in my own medical career or the focus this issue would require in the recovery and rehabilitation of our wounded.

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