Our Soldier: A Chronicle of Healing


This blog describes the treatment of one of our soldiers who served in Afghanistan. As a result of the war he suffers from a traumatic brain injury, head pain, and post-traumatic stress disorder.   An IED explosion wounded him and killed his two buddies.  He has survivor’s guilt.   For the next four weeks, I will be telling you about this young man, his pain, and what I did to help him recover, both mentally and physically.  Information about him will be disclosed a little at a time, as this is typically how trauma survivors find safety in sharing.  My job is to honor his healing process, not push.   His healing is on his terms, not mine.   His treatments have come about after a call I received from a doctor who asked if I would be willing to treat a young soldier with head pain.  I was told my treatments with the soldier would be pro bono.  I did not hesitate to tell her yes.

As the daughter of a World War II veteran my Dad would never let me abbreviate and say WWII.  He said, “It just didn’t say it all.”   And he was right.  A t barely twenty years old he fought in the bloody front lines of a battle that was 40 miles wide and 60 miles deep with 600,000 American soldiers and 500,000 German soldiers in Belgium.  He fought in sub zero temperatures without supplies and he fought at Christmas time.  This is what John Eisenhower wrote about that battle.  In the crucible of the Ardennes battle, a mass of conflicting circumstances formed the climax to the drama.  A possible allied defeat was transformed into a victory that broke the back of Hitler’s war machine.  Those that accomplished this tremendous feat deserve to be recognized in the ever growing list of America’s great.  And John was right our soldiers are great, each and every one of them. 

Transformation and healing can happen after trauma.  There is a tremendous amount of research now that supports what I am saying.  I have also watched the unfolding of healing in my clinic over and over again with trauma clients.  You can heal from war, a bad car accident, childhood beatings and sexual abuse.  There is a way out. 

The young war veteran I will be treating was badly injured in the spring of 2006.   The IED explosion injured his body and traumatized his mind.  The explosion changed this young soldier’s personality, how he thinks, how he feels, how he remembers things, and how he loves.   He suffers from pain in his body and his brain every day.  The post-trauma stored in his body and brain impact his ability to sleep which only comes with heavy medications and even still he suffers from nightmares, night-sweats and grinds his jaw at night. 

The First Treatment

Today is February 28th, 2011.  I am meeting our soldier for his first treatment.  

He expresses great gratitude to be seeing me for treatment.  He is kind.  He is scared.  For confidentiality purposes I will refer to him as Jess.  Jess shares that he has a very cold spot on the top of his head where the pain is.  The cold spot is in the shape of a funnel and penetrates deep into the brain’s core.  He describes it as an ice pick in his head.  He has horrible pressure headaches.  He has back pain all the time.  He feels a thick lump in his throat.  The doctors tell him they can’t find anything wrong.  His right and left great toes are numb.  He said that both arms and hands feel swollen all the time.  When he uses his arms with prolonged activity, like talking on the phone his arms go numb.   He talks a little about the explosion saying he was catapulted into the air.   When he landed it was on his head which immediately broke his neck and knocked him unconscious.   

If you looked at Jess he looks perfectly normal.  If you saw him walking down the street you wouldn’t think anything unusual about the person who just passed you.  He walks without a cane, he doesn’t wince when he moves and he articulates his words well.   Like all trauma survivors his injuries are on the inside imbedded deep in his tissues, deep in the bio-chemicals flowing through his veins, and deep within his unconscious mind.  With my trained eyes looking at him I can see the veil behind his eyes, the detachment, the pain, and the fear.  It’s all there. 

I told Jess I would be evaluating his spine with my hands as he lay on his back on the mat.  When I touched him his body reacted with a powerful defensive flinch.  During the course of the hour he reactively flinched three separate times.  I have been treating trauma for years I have only seen this severe of a reaction one other time and that was with a patient who had been brutally traumatized, beaten and raped.   The flinching reaction is a sign that trust has been breached.   It is a sign of a nervous system that has become disorganized.  However I know from my work that a disorganized system can move into a highly organized state relatively quickly and his will.  

When I palpated (touched) his cervical and lumbar spine to initiate treatment with craniosacral therapy I found an area where major trauma had occurred.  The area at C-6 & C-7 was wider then my hand and very deep.   The tissues had hardened, the skin temperature had decreased.  I treated this area with manual lymphatic drainage to open fluid flow and released the fasciae (soft tissue) with craniosacral therapy.

During treatment I educated Jess on the bio-chemical process of his endocrine’s systems involvement with his post-traumatic stress disorder.  He got it.  He understood everything I said.   Jess was willing to do what he needed to level out his blood sugar from the spiking adrenaline.  He was going to eliminate simple carbohydrates and sugar from his diet as this is necessary for decreasing anxiety.  I made a few recommendations for additional nutrients to assist his pancreas in healing.  I told Jess that post-traumatic stress disorder and hypoglycemia have the same bio-chemical process and that he could heal.  His eyes told me he did not believe me.

After our meeting I made a note of what I felt in Jess’s body with my hands.  The odd tension of the membranes in his abdomen is something I have never felt before.  It felt like the cells were all on alert waiting for the next bomb to drop.  It felt like something from the inside was pushing against his skin.  It was a very unusual skin tension.  This must be how the body reacts to an explosion.

His nervous system was hard to read, usually I can palpate some type of amplitude rhythm and rate of flow but it was as if all systems went silent in his body.  The trauma around neck, cervical spine areas of C-6 and C-7 demonstrated with a thickness larger than my hand and felt as deep as two inches.  The cervical neck is an area where life flow (electromagnetic energy coming from the nerves) has been blocked which is going to affect everything below the neck and is probably why his hands go numb.  His lumbar spine had blocked flow as well in the L-4 thru L-6 region which will affect his legs, feet and toes.  

My goal is to eliminate his pain, all of it.

Jess said, “I want to go off my sleep and pain medications.”  (He is on nine different meds, most he takes twice a day)  “If I go off my medication maybe I can lose weight.”  “It is embarrassing I used to weigh 175 lbs., now I weigh 245 lbs.” 

As a therapist, I like it that he cares about his physical appearance, because he still cares.  If he didn’t care I would be concerned.

The Second Treatment

March 3, 2011

Jess complained that after his first treatment he had a different type of headache.  It lasted for two days and kept him in bed.  Sometimes that happens after a treatment, although it is rare.

The probable cause of his headache has to do with how physical trauma causes the fasciae to swell.   If this was not initially addressed right after the trauma with manual lymphatic drainage then his traumatized tissues would go into hypohydrosis, meaning the tissues adhere, stick to one another which blocks fluid flow and muscle movement.  He most likely released some of the five years of accumulated cellular waste from his first treatment.    This is most likely what caused his headache.    Jess was given a recipe for hydrating his cells, hydration formula.  As a therapist my goals are to initiate lymphatic, bio-chemical, and electro magnetic flow and the fasciae is involved with all three.  This is how pain is resolved.

He reported that his back pain was much less severe.  The best news, the autonomic nervous system did not recoil with touch when I began treatment!  Trust is being established.  I performed manual lymphatic drainage on his upper chest, as well as, performed craniosacral therapy on the spine.  His tissues still had that strange tension.  I continued to work on his tissues to open up lymphatic, bio-chemical, and electro magnetic flow.

During the therapy he talked about his wife and the strain in their relationship.  He talked about the stranger that lives in his body.   He talked about his disbelief in God.  I listened.

At the end of treatment we talked about Jess returning to his hometown at the end of March.   I agreed to increase his treatments to three times a week. 


Our Soldier, Week Two of Treatment

March 7

Today when Jess arrived for treatment there was a sadness that followed him into the room.  Treatment started as usual with Jess lying on his back on the mat.  When I put my hands on his body his sadness was palpable, it was very intense.  With my left hand under him I started the cranial treatment on his spine.  Because of his sadness I asked if I could use emotional freedom technique (EFT) to treat his feelings.  I explained EFT to him and told him EFT has been used successfully in reducing trauma memories.  I asked him if I could use it with him, he said he knew of the technique and agreed.  My left hand moved to the top of his head at the apex of his pain, the area of “the ice pick, the funnel.”  My right hand was free to do the acupressure tapping technique.  My focus is on the cranial pulse underneath my left hand.  My focus is also on Jess’s breathing rhythms.  I am holding the space in the room with the highest intention possible for his healing.  I asked Jess to think about the day he was hurt and what he remembered about it.  I could feel his sadness thicken in his body with the memory.  Then I started the acupressure tapping. This is the dialogue of his session:

 “When you think of the day you were hurt where do you feel it in your body?”

Jess, “Everywhere, my body feels very heavy everywhere.”

“What shape can you give that heavy feeling in your body Jess?”

“I just feel this heavy weight all over me.”

Softly I said, “Okay Jess, if you can give that feeling a shape what shape would that heavy feeling be?”

His answers do not come quickly.  The lapse between questions and answers are anywhere between 30 seconds to one minute.  I can feel that his body is overwhelmed.  I silently and patiently wait for his responses.

Jess, “It feels like something is putting pressure all over me.”

“Okay Jess, if you can give that heavy pressured feeling a shape what shape would it be?”

Finally after ten minutes his brain was able to process an answer.  “The feeling is in the shape of a mattress lying on top of me.”

“Good Jess, the feeling is the shape of a heavy mattress lying on top of you.  That’s good, if you could give that feeling a color, what color would it be?” 

Jess responds quickly, “Grey.”

“Okay Jess, the feeling inside of you is the shape of mattress and the color is grey.”

If you could give that feeling inside of you a smell what would it smell like?” 

After a long pause Jess says in a whisper, “Nothing, it smells like nothing.”

“Okay Jess that feeling inside of you is the shape of a mattress, its color is grey, and the feeling smells like nothing but if you could actually reach out and touch that feeling with your hands what would it feel like?   What texture would that feeling have?”

Jess answers quickly, “It’s soft, really, really soft.”

“The texture is really soft?”

“Yes, soft.”

“If you could change one of the characteristics of your feeling which would you change the shape, color, smell or texture?”

“The shape, I would change the shape.  It would be wet heavy clothes.”  Jess continued to describe the feeling of the weight of the wet clothes on his body.  I continued EFT tapping.

If you could change another characteristic which would you change?  Jess did not hesitate to say the texture - soft.”  Then he started describing the blast as he viewed it that day.  “Everything looked soft.  When I looked around there weren’t any lines, or sharp edges on anything I could see.”

“Was it like time stopped, like everything was moving in slow motion?”

“Yes, everything was moving in slow motion.”

I continued with EFT tapping.  During the dialogue I had never moved my left hand from the top of his head, the apex of the “ice pick”.  At the end of the session I asked Jess how his head pain felt.  He said it was better.  He continued to lie on the mat quietly with his body and brain processing and reorganizing.   My hands were still treating his body.    

March 11, 2011

When Jess arrived for treatment his eyes seemed clearer, more present.  He was smiling a lot.  He reported that the pain in his head was no longer cold, like an iceberg.  The coldness had left after the last treatment!

Today my treatment was going to target the trauma sites on the neck and head.  Basically, my hands wove back and forth releasing the trauma from the soft tissue and performing manual lymphatic drainage to remove the congestion created by the explosion and fall.  A lot of time was spent on each cranial suture with 5 grams of traction in the direction of ease.  Multiple cranial restrictions were removed.   The boney plates that form our skull move with blunt trauma, the tissues underneath also move.  The cells of our bones and membranes are alive and hold a memory of where they belong.  With the correct pressure, traction, intention and skill the traumatized area can reach homeostasis once again. 

Conversation was light during treatment.  He said he could feel things happening inside his body, his neck pain was going away, he reported that his sleep had even been getting better, and the lump in his throat was gone.

At the end of the session I asked Jess how the pain in his head felt.  He stood up and looked at me, stared, blinked his eyes over and over, then replied.  “The funnel shaped pain in my brain has changed.  It’s not there, the funnel is gone!  Now the pain is more diffuse.  I can still feel your hand on my head.”

Before he left I asked him if he felt fatigued. He said he did, and that it was a near constant feeling. 

I muscle tested his adrenal glands, a process that involves testing vertebrae, root nerves and organ channels.  I found that his adrenals were testing very weak from the constant surges of adrenaline which is so prevalent after trauma.  (Adrenaline converts to sugar in the blood stream)  Spiking blood sugar irritates the brain.   I made a recommendation for nutrients to heal his adrenals and told him to make sure he stayed away from all types of sugar.  (See Nancy Appleton's work on sugar here).   He said he would.

Our Soldier, Week Three of Treatment

March 17, 2011

Jess arrived smiling and happy today.  The first words out his mouth were that the pain had left his head shortly after his last treatment with me.  He asked if I would heal his neck and back pain.  I said, “Yes, of course I will.”

Lying supine on the mat his treatment was initiated with manual lymphatic drainage, first by releasing his lung diaphragm, then by working the deep lymphatics in his abdomen.  After severe trauma, especially if the lung diaphragm is shocked and his was, healthy regulation of breathing will be impeded by the brain.  If oxygen flow is diminished, nocioceptors in the brain will automatically kick in cortisol and adrenaline which speeds the breathing rate.  Unfortunately the flood of stress chemicals also causes a flood of post-trauma symptoms, anxiety and anger.  This is all performed inside the body without Jess’s awareness.    Cranial and manual lymphatic drainage will help correct the trauma pattern locked in our soldier’s nervous system.  I moved to releasing the muscles along the back vertebra and co-currently drained the lymph nodes that lie directly next to the vertebra.  The spinal lymph nodes run like a strand of vertical pearls along each side of the spine.  I wanted the nodes empty to receive the fluid I would be manually moving there from his neck trauma.  My hands continued treating his spine starting from his low back until I reached the large pocket of fluid and tissue trauma at C-6 & C-7.  The trauma extended from his neck into his left posterior upper quadrant involving his shoulder.  I continued with the craniosacral therapy for aligning the cervical spine by assisting the movement of the fasciae.

When Jess sat up he smiled and said his pain was minimal in his neck and back.  He then started asking me about the work I do and how I know what I know.  The conversation was too lengthy to convey but I learned something new about Jess, he carves wood and he carves it beautifully.   Jess can look at a piece of wood, the shape, the patterns, the colors and intuitively know what the piece of wood can become.  Interestingly, Jess told me that his best friend has fibromyalgia.  When he touches her he knows exactly where to touch her to ease her pain.   

Because Jess can see beyond physical form, because he feels deeply with his hands, and because his hands are connected to his heart I encouraged him to take a craniosacral therapy class.   Jess has inborn qualities of a healer.

March 18, 2011

Jess arrived in a great deal of distress.  He was concerned about going home on the twenty-fourth and felt very shaky about his future.   Lying on the treatment table therapy was initiated immediately using emotional acupressure points for anxiety.  I suggested to him that we perform a visual journey together.  My request was honored so the journey began.  First, I knew our soldier had to feel safe.  So we established a safe place in his mind by actively taking his mind to a place in nature that he loved as a little boy.  Once I felt his nervous system calm and his breathing rate slow we began a deeper journey home using his mind’s eye to walk along a stream in the woods, then by sitting under an ancient pine on the ancient earth to feel the ancient sun’s warmth on his skin. The journey is to evoke a feeling of awareness that he is the feeling of warmth on his skin, he is the skin, and he is the awareness of the warmth on his skin.

Then together we journeyed into a day at home.  We discovered we could create a pleasant morning, afternoon, and evening by taking a slice of each day.  I utilized his sensory system to evoke feelings of wellness and safety by asking him to think about what his perfect breakfast smells like, and tastes like in the morning.  I asked him to remember what songs the birds sing outside his window.  I asked him if there was a park he could walk in if his insides and outsides started to spin out of control.   There was.  I waited directly with my hands on his body for his body to release and relax deeper into the moment by giving his brain a new idea that he could create a peace filled day.  After the visualization I directed his focus to recent research findings on happiness.  Researchers have found the following four characteristics:  optimism, gratitude, acceptance, and forgiveness as the keys to feelings of happiness.   All four principles are taught in the Holy Bible, the Koran, Buddist teachings, and twelve-step programs.  Redirecting the mind after trauma is truly challenging because of the body’s biochemistry.  By maintaining level blood glucose and knowing how to achieve that will be critical for our soldier’s success at home.  We parted knowing Monday of next week will be his last treatment.

Last Treatment:

March 21, 2011 

When Jess arrived there seemed to be a state of excitement surrounding him. 

He asked me if I would attend his exit interview on Thursday the 24th at the treatment facility where he was staying.  He said everyone involved in his treatment would be reporting on his progress.  I said, “Of course, I would love to but unfortunately I can only stay for a half hour because of my work schedule.”  Jess continued to talk about the nervousness he was feeling about his exit interview and shared that Representatives from the State of Michigan, officials from the Department of Defense and military officials would be there.

Jess lay on my treatment mat for his final time.  Visually, I assessed his body alignment as he laid there.  The horizontal and vertical axis of his body had improved from the first time I saw him.  He no longer looked disjointed lying on the mat.  It was then that I decided to scan and treat any residual trauma and pain areas I could find.  I started craniosacral therapy at the base of his spine.  I moved my hands up the spine slowly feeling for any remaining stored soft tissue trauma.  My hands also moved back and forth to major lymph channels sensing the flow of fluid, and making corrections where necessary.  I checked for temperature changes on the skin’s surface knowing if I found an inconsistent area that I would also find an underlying mechanical problem.  Whenever I found temperature variations, I treated it using manual lymphatic drainage and craniosacral therapy.  Those areas were corrected.  While I worked, Jess’s chatting was light as it should be, as he was preparing to go home.

After the treatment was completed Jess sat up and talked to me, but I don’t really remember about what.  I just remember he seemed reluctant to leave.  Then he asked me again if I would attend his exit interview.  He watched me as I wrote the time on my calendar.  He asked me to prepare a little speech on how I helped him.  He then thanked me and walked out the door.

March 24, 2011

The facility in Ann Arbor where Jess stayed was beautiful.  Jess was nervous and had drunk way too much coffee by the time I arrived.  The conference table seated around 30 people and there were that many people present.  The Master of the exit interview started with his itinerary of speakers, and then Jess interrupted and requested that I speak because I only had a half-hour before I had to go back to treating my other clients.  He stated that he wanted everyone to hear what I had to say.  

I talked about how his entire body was concussed from the blast, not just his brain.  I shared how I had felt the surface tension on his skin, something I had never felt before, and when the tension released he became ill from the cellular toxins which were stored in his body since 2006 but then recovered beautifully.  Furthermore, I talked about how soft tissue in the body swells after trauma and becomes hyper-hydrosed then becomes hypo-hydrosed causing the tissues to stick together which impedes fluid flow, bio-chemical flow, and the flow of electro-magnetic energy.  This physiological process contributes to pain.  I then explained that the only way to correct it is manually by using craniosacral therapy and manual lymphatic drainage. 

I talked about how the jaw is impacted with every head trauma and must be worked with manually.  It was only after I worked with Jess’s mouth that his jaw grinding and nightmares ceased.  Then I looked up from my paper and saw a retired Major look at me and mouth, “Thank you” from across the table.  It was the loudest lip reading I have ever heard and it was felt around the table.

I shared how the endocrine system is altered after trauma and how this system bio-chemical process creates post-traumatic stress symptoms.   Healing the organs of the endocrine system with nutrients can diminish the roller coaster ride of emotions trauma survivor’s experience.

I completed my summary of treatment, gave my copy to the Master of the exit interview and listened to Jess talk about how he experienced my treatments.  He spoke about how physical therapy helped, but that the craniosacral therapy was the most beneficial for relieving his trauma and pain.  He spoke emphatically about how he wants this for all the soldiers.  So do I.