Veterans deserve our full attention

When I walked into the hospital room with my team to meet him for the first time, what struck me was how young he looked. He was listed as 26 years old, but he looked younger than that. He looked so young that it was hard to believe he had served a tour in Iraq a few years prior, or that he likely saw things there that no one would want to see. We didn’t know much about what he did in Iraq, partly due to privacy rules, but also because he didn’t want to tell us. With his lack of eye contact, I imagined he saw things in combat that still affected him at that moment.

He was back in the hospital dealing with an infection in his blood which required treatment with intravenous antibiotics. The problem was that, when hospitalized in the past with a similar infection, he had been known to leave the hospital prior to finishing his antibiotics. It got to the point where we were trying to figure out an effective oral antibiotic regimen in the event he left again  —  and also to give him the understanding that oral treatment would not be as good as intravenous antibiotics. Our concern was that, without adequate therapy, the infection could quickly become life-threatening. Knowing his tendency to leave in the past, we did all we could to convince him to stay.

In the midst of all this, there was always the question of whether his prior military experience may have had something to do with his behavioral pattern, leading to him leave against medical advice. The challenge that presented itself, however, was whether to ask him more about his military history, particularly about any traumatic experiences he may have had. While asking him could give us a better glimpse into his history in Iraq, we were also aware of the potential discomfort it could cause and potentially impede our ability to care for him adequately. We didn’t know how he would react, and we ultimately decided not to probe deeper into his past. As his admission continued, this question would play in our minds repeatedly, but ultimately our approach stayed the same.

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