Thousands have to shake the burden of PTSD - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Thousands have to shake the burden of PTSD

July 10, 2007

Albany--  Right now more than 150,000 American troops are on duty in Iraq. Their lives are at risk every day. Everyday they hear the sounds of war and see men, women, and children wounded and killed. Many of those troops have a hard time putting those scenes out of their minds, even long after they return home. For one Albany man, that led to unshakeable stress.

One look at Lawrence Barfield's hands and you can see he holds something powerful or troubling in their grasp. "It hits home hard," said Barfield.

They have a hard and uncontrollable shake. "I really thought I was going crazy," said Barfield. A result here at home caused by things he saw so far away in Fallujah, Iraq.

"You're scared to death," said Barfield.

Barfield is a Reservist and a heavy mobile equipment mechanic with the Marine Corps Logistics Base.  His job is to help protect the military. "We would armor up vehicles," said Barfield.

In October that job became more up close and personal. He went to Iraq as part of the Navy Construction Battalion. In April he was back home, changed. His job changed also.

"I can't do that job now because of the noises," said Barfield.

The sights and sounds of combat followed him all the way from Fallujah to Albany.

"Air impact wrench sounds like a machine gun," said Barfield. Enough for this civilian employee to know that something wasn't right physically or mentally. "You went straight into rage thinking I'm going to rip his head off and you don't know why," said Barfield.

That rage can be brought on by any traumatic experience.  It's known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Dr. Lora Davis is a traumatologist.

"It's as if they're re-experiencing or reliving it all over again," said Davis.

Since Barfield can't process the trauma, Dr. Davis has to get him to see the trauma as a historical event, not something in the now. She uses cognitive behavioral treatment. Barfield's brain is stimulated as his eyes follow a blue light back and forth.

"We ask the trauma victim to put one foot back in the trauma and keep one foot back here with us," said Davis. He has to think about the worst part of the trauma and for Barfield, it's feeling like he let the front line troops down.

"We would go see what caused the armor to fail and that would be pretty traumatic. The vehicle would be burnt. You would have smells," said Barfield with obvious pain in his eyes.

Confronting the trauma is then followed by a quiet session. 

"Take a deep breath in through your nose," says Davis as Barfield closes his eyes. That helps Barfield to put it all away before he leaves. The treatment combined with a drug called propranolol, or the memory pill, could be the cure.

"I'm hoping that he will be returned to a pre-trauma level of functioning by Christmas. I hope to have him completely cured," said Davis.

"It's doing what you got to do to get back to normal," said Barfield. For Barfield, a cure would mean just getting his previous life back.

"I think I can get back to maybe not 100 percent but a lot closer than I am," said Barfield. Right now, part of him still believes he's responsible for deaths overseas.

"Felt like is there something I missed. Could I have made it stronger," said Barfield. A feeling he can't shake yet. The goal is to get him to reverse that feeling. Even then he says he's still not done.

"If I need to go back, I'd go back in a minute because that's my job," said Barfield. It's now Dr. Davis' job to make him like he was but she says with the war still raging, there will be more coming home the same way. "Without a doubt," said Davis.

Barfield has been moved to the hydraulic shop at the base to help him deal better with his PTSD. We'll follow his progress. Dr. Davis and MCLB's Chief Medical Officer have formed a partnership to help treat military personnel with the disorder.

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