Through it all, even though I was a member of a team of men helping AIDS patients, I worked alone. But I was there for my patients so they wouldn’t be alone.
After the AIDS crisis passed, I spent seven years as a volunteer taking care of the dying in a hospice. I did it because so few others were willing to take on that job and face death. By that point in my life, I had already lived with death on the battlefield in Vietnam and at the side of AIDS patients. I did it because I could do it, and, once again, I did it alone.
Meanwhile, another factor deepened my isolation. That was shame thrust on me for my time in Vietnam. For decades, Americans considered the war shameful. They denigrated those who had fought in that war. Their blame exacerbated feelings of shame I already had—I was suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Injury (PTSI) in part because I had survived while soldiers fighting next me had died. It was what’s now called survivor’s guilt.
All sufferers of PTSI assume they are alone, that others are free of the malady. Besides, because of my security clearances, I couldn’t seek therapy. I had to work through the problem alone. Once again, I was on my own.
One major element of my success in coping with PTSI was the discovery that other combat veterans were also subject to the disease. I wasn’t alone after all. My brothers were there with me. Now we help each other and teach each other to take pride, not shame, in our contribution to our country.