…as the say in the medical profession.
I went to Amazon Prime Video, searching for the movie “Coming Home,” released in the 1970’s, starring Jane Fonda and Jon Voight. Amazon suggested this movie instead. Since Afghanistan has long been a subject of intrinsic interest, and my nephew had served in the US Marines in Helmed Province, of which Kandahar is the capital, and then there is the matter of medics in the military… I decided to opt for this updated version of one of the themes of the human condition, as old as Homer’s “The Odyssey,”: what it is like to come home from far-off wars.
This movie was released in 2013, by ABC Australia. The Director is Sally Sara, who, as an Australian journalist, visited and reported on the Role 3 combat hospital in Kandahar, in 2009. There she met the hospital’s very active Director, Major Marc Dauphin, a physician in the Canadian military. This movie contains footage from that visit but is primarily focused on Sara’s visit to Dauphin’s home in Quebec four years later. A telling answer from Dauphin’s wife, to the question: “Did the man you married come home?” sets the central theme of this movie. The answer: “No, he left a part of his soul in Afghanistan.”
Dauphin, now without the “Major” title, since he has been discharged from the military, comes across as quite likeable, with a self-deprecating sense of humor. As he quips, when they ask you what specialty you want to practice, they posit an initial question: Are you crazy? An affirmative answer leads to the next question on the flow chart: Do you have a long attention span? An affirmative answer shuttles the newly-minted physician into psychiatry. A negative, and you will become an Emergency Room physician, which Dauphin was, for 30 years, prior to going to Afghanistan.
Back home from the wars, Dauphin has Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). He frankly says that his 37-year old marriage was at risk, and he did not care if it ended. He also states that he had contemplated suicide. “How close did you get?,” Sara asks. “At 2 am, I had the heavy boots on to walk into the cold river.”
Why, oh why did Sara not ask the obvious next question, since Dauphin himself is the classic “test experiment.” He spent 30 years working in the ER, treating mangled bodies from car wrecks, drug overdoses, industrial and agricultural accidents, et al., he sees death frequently. Sees how families are visited with tragedy by the loss of one of their members. Yet, he does NOT get PTSD from those 30 years. Yet a much shorter exposure to largely the same experience of mangled bodies et al., in a war setting, does trigger PTSD. The why is never asked.
In addition to Dauphin’s central role in this film, Sara also interviews Dr. Frank Ochberg of Michigan State who has worked mainly with American veterans of the Vietnam War. He advocates the award of a Purple Heart for PTSD. Dr. Bill Nash, a psychiatrist, was in the battle for Fallujah, in Iraq, and note that medics are more likely to contract PTSD than the combat Marines. And there was the interview with former Canadian Lt. General Romeo Dallaire, who is now a member of parliament. He commanded troops trying to stop the Rwandan geocide of 1994 and was eventually forced out of the military since he “could not command troops,” due to the trauma that he experienced.
Eleven-year-old Abdul and his brother stepped on a mine. His brother was instantly killed. Abdul had part of his jaw blown away, and his ear. The movie shows them using an MRI to determine is any of the shrapnel entered the brain. His distraught father realizes that Abdul is the last of his four sons. Abdul will shortly thereafter die of a massive brain hemorrhage. Haunting and agonizing to watch. For more so, realizing that Abdul was flown to the hospital in a military helicopter and treated by Western military personnel. Save in extremely limited circumstances, the many 11-year old “Nguyen’s” of the Vietnam War, who had also stepped on a mine, would not have been “eligible” for such care by the American military.
Only 4-stars, for an otherwise moving and informative documentary, that failed to ask the key question that would have provided the differential diagnosis.