During my recent trip to Iraq, I chose to bring along Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five as company through the endless airport terminal waits. I've read it periodically throughout my life, but it never seemed a more appropriate time than then. I was heading into a war zone, and about to witness a level of suffering I'd never imagined. While standing in the Balad Hospital hallways, watching dismembered bodies float between tents, I couldn't help but hear echoes of Vonnegut's tender and sharp prose in my head. Now, during a time when we need strong voices, one of our best has been silenced–and by TBI.
Vonnegut was 84, and recently took a fall that caused the brain injury that killed him. It's a story I hear several times a week, from family members of the elderly, and my line is always the same: there aren't any geriatric brain injury rehabs out there. Medicare won't cover your mother, and Medicaid won't find a place for your father. Your only option may be an Alzheimer's unit. It's become a regular problem in American healthcare, that we seem willing to put a tremendous amount of funding into emergency and trauma care, but we won't support the lives we fight so hard to sustain. Nobody knows this more than the brain injured elderly. So it goes.