Sunday, July 29, 2007

War's Unseen Wounds

Soldiers with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Some months back I struck up an e-mail friendship with a 59-year-old Vietnam vet and he told me he has PTSD. I drew a blank. "`PTSD'? What's that?" I wondered.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, he explained. "Ohhh. THAT." That I knew. Or so I thought. Years earlier, a psychologist told me rape victims frequently suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Makes you jumpy, she said. Prone to startle easily if, say, someone blows their car horn.

Beyond that, though, I've learned I really didn't have a clue. Didn't realize just how badly war's terrors can insinuate themselves into the souls of 18 and 19 year olds. Kids who watch buddies blown apart or burn to death, and wonder, minute to minute, if they'll be next.

Some, exceptionally sensitive like my friend, are consumed with guilt that men under their command were killed, but they made it back alive. Such relentless guilt and unremitting pain often seeks relief in alcohol or drugs. Even sober, the PTSD brain's capacity to feel goes numb – to keep the pain and guilt at bay.

The result: Destroyed marriages, estranged kids, lost jobs. In the case of far too many: Suicide.

At night, tangled feelings may re-emerge, manifesting as fitful sleep laced with frightening dreams. Panicked, drenched in sweat, the sufferer no longer sleeps. PTSD, the enemy lurking in the shadows.

For some, war's gory images are tattooed on their minds, the flashbacks an endless loop that constantly replays. Normal human interaction becomes something to avoid. That which is loved will someday die. Having lost emotional resilience, they have no faith they would survive.

In Washington, legislators are revisiting just what we, as a country, should do for veterans who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The Wounded Warrior Assistance Act calls for better PTSD screening of those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Such traumatized soldiers, it's agreed, should not be sent back into combat.

If their civilian lives start to fall apart, VA and Dept. of Defense mental health professionals need to coordinate the soldier's care. Now, too many solders in emotional agony aren't getting the help they need.

If their PTSD prevents them from functioning normally, such soldiers need prompt financial help, without the added stress of seeing their disability check blocked by the VA.

Some estimates are that as many as 15 percent of the soldiers returning from Iraq have PTSD. Others suggest that all of the returning vets have it to some degree.

It does not serve this country well to have allowed a man like my Vietnam vet friend to fall through the cracks. Although brilliant, he struggles daily to transcend the hand our country dealt him. Forty years after Vietnam, he's still in combat: battling for his VA pension.

If you believe, as I do, that this country's wounded warriors from all wars deserve our steadfast gratitude, you can write your representatives in support of the Wounded Warrior Assistance Act. Go to and fill out the on-line form. Be sure to include your zip code. The site's sponsors will forward your letter to those who'll want your vote in the next election. To learn more about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, visit

Carol Bogart is a freelance writer/editor. Read her columns at and her articles at Contact her at

Monday, July 23, 2007

Footloose and Free

Becoming a "city" dog was a big adjustment for a dog who spent the first 11 years of his life chasing woodchucks in the soybean field. Since moving to California from our Ohio farm, Dodger grudgingly adapted to walks tethered to a leash. Feeling sorry for him, hoping he'd just nose around in the leaves at his feet, I once unhooked his collar when we were almost home from our evening walk. He was off like a shot.

A nice young man collared him just after Dodger narrowly missed being clipped by a car. As I rushed up to retrieve my errant canine, I apologized. "Every time I let him off the leash," I said, "he abuses the privilege." Nodding as he released him, the man said, "Don't we all."

Because Dodger had always enjoyed fetching a stick thrown into the pond and creek at the farm (he's part lab – and a host of other breeds), when we first moved to California, I took him to a nearby lake late in the afternoon, hid him behind a bush and unhooked his leash. Then, I pitched a green tennis ball as far as I could out into the water. Joyfully he brought it back to me time after time. Finally, weary, I told him, "One more time and it's time to go."

I threw the ball.

Dodger swam and got it – brought it back to shore on the diagonal and trotted off down the beach. No amount of whistling, promises of treats or threats of violence could dissuade him. He had his eye on a big black dog at the top of the hill. A legal dog on a leash.

As I rounded a bend on the walking trail, hot on his heels – an elderly man seated on a bench lifted his cane in an unkind way and said sternly, "Dogs have to be on a leash here." I lifted my guilty hand around which the leash was wrapped, said, "I'm trying," and kept on going.

I understood what was in Dodger's mind. Only a month before we moved, his best friend since puppyhood had been put to sleep when hip dysplasia left Bo no longer able to get up. The two had been inseparable for more than a decade. From a distance, to Dodger's aging eyes, the big black dog at the top of the hill looked like Bo.

Although the dog's owners were unfazed by Dodger's hopeful sniffing, I quickly attached leash to collar and led him to the car. And that was it. No more outings off the leash for Dodger.

We've played many a "bring me the ball" game in the confines of the living room, but, of course, it's not the same.

Recently, with Dodger sprawled in the back seat, I went to restock the bags of birdseed. First I stopped at the bank, and then decided to try a different route than the usual. The exploration drew me back to an area I remembered where, without Dodger, I had once stumbled upon an off-leash dog park.

I'd read about such parks. Most of what I read said the dogs and owners who use them are regulars, all know each other, and there are few to no encounters of the snarling kind. Not certain how Dodger would behave with a bevy of strange dogs, I hadn't chanced it.

The weather was so nice that I was in the mood to spend a little time outdoors. Cautiously I led him into the park – on a very tight leash. Boisterous smiling dogs bounded up, made his acquaintance and bounded off. The fenced in area even had a wide perimeter of woods and trails. After a few minutes, I turned him loose. I've rarely seen him so excited.

The young dogs seemed to understand that Dodger is a codger and didn't try to include him in their rough and tumble doggie games. The park was, though, littered with well-used tennis balls. As I gripped a gritty, drippy surface to throw one for Dodger, I thought, "yuk." Tennis balls thrown in living rooms stay relatively clean. This one, I couldn't let go of fast enough. In his limping gait, Dodger chased it down, picked it up – and stopped. Brow furrowed he promptly spit it out. "Bleghhhh!!" his expression seemed to say.

Mostly, he just meandered. In and out of the woods, occasionally wending his way back for a reassuring pat to where I was seated on a picnic table. While he meandered, I watched a large yellow swallowtail butterfly dip up and down across the open space, and a hummingbird buzz a nearby tree trunk, sipping out hidden moisture.

A dog loped up to an owner seated near me, leash in mouth, as if to say, "OK, let's go." I decided to retrieve my must-now-be-tired dog.

This time, Dodger made no move to lope away. Tired, yes. Tired, content and happy.

Today, my dear old dog, now 15, is living out the remainder of his life with a friend who manages a wildlife habitat in the California Delta. No more leashes. Free to roam wherever his nose may take him. A farm dog again - at last.

Carol Bogart is a freelance writer/editor. Read her articles at Contact her at

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Rural America - A Simpler Time

As a kid growing up on a farm, fireflies, bright stars at night and homegrown vegetables and fruit were just a given. For many generations, farming figured large in our family.

My dad grew up on an Ohio dairy farm. As a small boy, he perched on a stool in a darkened barn, keeping my grandfather company each morning as he milked the cows.

My Aunt Nettie, 87, still mows the paths between fruit trees in orchards that have supplied fruit for Gerber's apple sauce for half a century.

After dad went into business for himself at age 50, he found and bought a farm for the three of us when I was 10. The first thing he did was clear a space between the house and barn for a big garden, one that proved productive with its well-drained sandy soil.

At harvest time (Ohio growing seasons are, of course, much shorter than those here in California), mom and I would pick and put up the produce.

She made jams, jellies, tomato sauce and juice, dried corn and frozen vegetables from scratch. Many a late summer/early fall day would find mom, my Aunt Mabel, gramma and me sitting around the gatelegged kitchen table – shelling peas, peeling peaches, snapping beans – and just "visiting."

The sugar content in just-picked corn means a taste treat it's impossible to duplicate. As little as two hours between picking and putting it on the table can make a difference. Homegrown tomatoes have a sweetness and texture all their own as well.

Other crops, like potatoes, aren't quite as touchy, but one of the season's treasures are the tiny new potatoes hidden amongst the big ones. Harvesting potatoes, a root crop maturing under the plant in a mound of dirt, is fun. A potato fork is placed carefully just at the edge of the mound so as not to spear any as they're uprooted. Mom used to braise the marble-to-golf-ball sized baby potatoes in butter, sprinkle them with parsley and dole them out democratically at dinner. They were coveted by all.

I still have the last lidded glass Ball jar of dried corn mom put up in 1988 (she died in 1989). I keep it as a memento of my childhood. Drying corn dates back to the days before refrigeration. With sharp paring knives, Gramma, mom and I would slice the kernels off the slightly cooked ears of cooling corn, careful to scrape the ears so as not to waste any of the sweet core of the kernels or milky liquid.

On the stove, placed across the burners, were mom's ancient tin corn driers. Water boiled in the hollow space in the bottom of the driers. The kernels were spread across their wide flat tops. Long after gramma had gone home and I'd gone to bed, mom was up throughout the night, checking on the dehydrating corn, turning it every two hours or so to make sure it didn't scorch.

The result was a carmelized corn that, when rehydrated with milk, salt and butter, has a unique, nutty taste – one prized by three generations of Bogarts. I expect my gramma learned how to dry corn from her mother, who may have learned it from my great-great-gramma Fell – who may have learned it as a girl in Scotland.

These idyllic memories are a reminder that not so long ago, food wasn't bought in stores. We sowed and reaped and lived off the land.

Carol Bogart is a freelance writer/editor. Read her columns at Contact her at

Friday, July 13, 2007

Sushi – the New Health Food?

I remember the first time a Denver friend suggested we go out for sushi. Not wishing to appear unadventurous, I acquiesced – but had zero idea which of several disgusting uncooked options to order.

"Try the California Roll," she said. "Everybody likes that." So that's what I ordered. And was immediately turned off by the bitter seaweed it was rolled with. Yuk, I thought. How on earth can anybody eat this stuff?

It was instantly clear that requesting a fork would brand me as singularly lacking in sophistication, so I listened intently as my friend demonstrated and explained the proper use of chopsticks. When, eventually, I could pretty adroitly use this new utensil to pick up a single grain of cooked rice, I felt very worldly. Fast fact: "Sushi" is vinegared or seasoned rice – not fish.

Today, I do like maguro (raw tuna), and wasabi (Japanese green horseradish), and I'm especially fond of the blush-colored pickled ginger (which there never seems to be enough of). That's it, though. Nothing else. Mike, my son and I, once included a friend of his when we went out for sushi, and were highly amused when, thinking it was safe to order soup; he was presented with a dish that contained a raw egg. He would have been much happier with a cheeseburger.

Recent research indicates that sushi has health benefits. Besides being low in fat, cholesterol and calories, raw fish is high in omega-3 fatty acids, which lower the risk of blood clots and decrease triglyceride levels, meaning it's healthy for your heart and may even have benefits for Type II diabetics. CNN reports there's a new study that says people who ate just one serving of fish a week dramatically reduced their chances of cardiac arrest.

That seaweed I hate is rich in micronutrients – in other words, nutrients needed only in miniscule amounts, like iron, manganese and zinc. It also, like all plants, contains phytochemicals, which may help prevent everything from colds to cancer. One caveat: both seaweed and soy sauce can be high in salt. Not good for pregnant women or people with high blood pressure.

The flip side is that raw anything can harbor bacteria, and some fish is high in mercury.

Now here's a personal anecdote. Some years back when I was diagnosed with Hepatitis C and had no idea how I'd been exposed; a paramedic friend asked whether I eat a lot of sushi. I said yes. By then, and for several years, my son and I had been going out for sushi at least once a week.

"That's probably it, then," he told me. He pointed out that if a sushi chef, while cutting slices of, say, maguro, nicks a finger tip, a drop of virus-contaminated blood can contaminate the uncooked fish.

Not too appetizing, is it? Even so, I'd by lying if I told you I gave up sushi. MSG (monosodium glutamate) is often used to keep such foods fresh. Some studies say MSG's addictive. Personally, I think it's the pickled ginger.

Carol Bogart is a freelance writer. Read her columns at Contact her at

Sunday, July 1, 2007

When Kids Are Cruel

Saying No to Bullies
By Carol Bogart

Her name was Gina and she was deaf. She was also the prettiest girl at church camp. Camp Premauca (Presbytery of Maumee camp) in Michigan was a popular camp for Presbyterian adolescents from Michigan and Ohio.

My parents started sending me when I was 12. By 14, I could hardly wait for the two weeks spent with peers at this camp for boys and girls. The boys were particularly of interest.

There was the usual jockeying for the attention of the cutest boys, but the summer Gina showed up for camp, none of us other girls had a chance with any of them. All the boys were united in their desire to win points with this petite raven-haired girl with friendly dark brown eyes.

Two sisters from Dayton, both with perfect hair and nails and purses, were especially peeved. They were accustomed to being the center of attention.

The year before, I'd had a rough start with them myself. The older sister cut in on me during a square dance, shoving a broom at me to replace my partner.

By the end of camp, though, they'd decided I was okay and welcomed me into their mean-spirited circle.

I was an insecure farm kid and the antithesis of "cool". I sang in the church choir, was secretary of youth fellowship, and occasionally was called upon to do readings in church because I had a good voice that carried. Later, after being the only student at our rural school to compete in the state speech tournament, I would be named outstanding senior speaker. This indirectly led to my 12 year career as a major market TV news reporter/anchor.

But at 14, I was boy-chested, gawky and easily influenced by two girls who were so much more "with it" than I was.

So when they commenced to torture Gina with grapes in her bed and shortsheeting her sheets and applying Vaseline and saran wrap on and under a toilet seat when they saw her headed for the lavatory – while the three of us occupied the only other stalls – I went along, but felt bad for Gina.

Gina talked funny because she was deaf. Her parents, though, understood her perfectly when, two days into camp, she called, in tears, begging them to come and get her.

One of the counselors confronted the three of us. The Dayton sisters shrugged, tossed their hair and stifled giggles. I said, "Where is Gina?"

When the counselor took me to her, Gina's big brown eyes welled up with tears. Quietly, I sat down beside her. Sad and guarded, she lifted her quivering chin to meet my gaze. "Gina," I said, "don't go home. We've been being mean because we're jealous. You're so pretty. All the boys like you. You didn't deserve it and I'm so sorry. Please stay."

A small smile played across her face and Gina nodded.

For the remainder of the two weeks, I had nothing more to do with the Dayton sisters. I hoped maybe one of the boys at camp would like me, but if not, I was happy to see Gina get so much attention. Eventually, she struck up a romance with the cutest boy at camp, much to the oldest sister's consternation.

It seemed as though the rest of the campers, too, no longer thought the Dayton duo was especially cool. Just mean. They were avoided at the mess hall, at the pool, at what we disparagingly called "Leech Lake" (because it was so full of leeches). A camp full of teenagers collectively decided that these were two girls needed to pay attention to the lessons learned at evening vespers.

Carol Bogart is a freelance writer. Read her columns at and her articles at Contact her at