Two Words That Still Change My Life

When I watched the war in Vietnam on TV news, I didn’t realize the doctor I had read about had worked there. I never imagined that I would ever go there. And I never imagined that war would help me meet my husband, and create a family that brings me joy every day.

This is one of my most viewed posts, maybe because I have shared it so many times. Every time I share it, I hear from someone, usually unexpected, who tells me the story speaks to them in a similar way.

  • A couple I’ve never met in Australia
  • A long ago friend I had not talked to since we were teenagers
  • A young mother who was a former work colleague.
  • One of my best childhood friends

I didn’t know  any of their stories before, but learning we share a similar bond brought new meaning to our relationship.

If you are someone who shares a story similar to ours, I hope you will contact me. My husband and I would love to join our hearts to yours wherever you are. Perhaps these words will change your life.

a couple sitting at a table by a window with an ocean view

Here is the post, originally called

Two Words That Changed My Life

In college I participated in Chi Alpha, a faith-based student group. When I started dating  a young man of a different faith, he enjoyed coming to the gatherings with me and my friends liked him. We were fond of each other, but his feelings grew stronger and more serious than mine.

To be fair, I ended the relationship. We parted amicably but he left our group; it was awkward for both of us. Although the breakup was best of us both, I grieved  the loss of our friendship.

One evening several of us were talking when a new member of our group joined us. We knew little about him other than he had recently left the Army and started attending the university.

He looked at me and said, “Where is John tonight?” (not his real name) No one spoke as everyone looked from me to him and back to me. Apparently he was the only one who didn’t know we had broken up.

Finally, one of the girls softly explained, “They aren’t dating anymore.”

Everyone remained silent, I suppose assuming I was upset . I wasn’t upset but I realized everyone else was uncomfortable. I didn’t want our new friend to feel bad about the mistake, so I tried to make light of it. I blurted out the first thing that popped into my head.

“That’s right,” I said smiling.  “I’m available.”

With that, everyone, including me, laughed. Thinking back now, I wonder why I said that. It was out of character for me, a confirmed introvert, and besides, I did not need or want another romantic relationship. I was planning to attend medical school, and romance did not fit into that plan.

However, the young man took me seriously, calling me a few days later to ask for a date. And despite my reluctance to become involved, I said yes.

“What harm could it do?” I thought. “Why sit in the dorm alone on Friday night?”

Two more words

That night I learned about Raymond’s past. He had served for three years in the Army . He had already earned a bachelor’s degree and was attending graduate school with his veteran’s benefits. I casually asked if he had been stationed overseas. He said yes- he had served in Germany and in Vietnam. I did not realize those words also would change my life.

soldiers at a remote military base
various scenes from the firebase where Raymond was stationed in VietNam; I understood nothing about what happened there.

This was 1972 and  the American war in Vietnam was raging. The United States government needed soldiers to carry out the engagement, and was drafting them, which they and their families  dreaded. The war was unpopular and divided our country. We watched the course of the conflict nightly on television news (no Internet  or social media then).

Raymond was the first person I knew personally who had served in Vietnam. Service members and veterans of that war were portrayed in the media as fighting an unnecessary, unjustified war at best and as baby killers at worst.

Today military service members and veterans are honored and considered heroes . Today’s veterans feel proud of what they do; far too often those who served in Vietnam did not. 

library interior
The reading room of the library looks the same as it did 40 years ago.

Over dates at  football games, church, social events and study times our feelings for each other grew from friendship to love. He asked me to marry him a few weeks later. We married about 2 years later, as he completed his master’s degree.

Soon after our wedding I started medical school, graduated and started practicing.  He pursued a career in the Information Technology industry. We raised two sons, traveled, attended church.

Expectation-“happily ever after”

But our “happily ever after” did not match reality. Our marriage was often tense, unsatisfying, and distant  and we did not understand why. We could not communicate well. He felt I was demanding and controlling. I felt he was insensitive and selfish. We had to look to the past to find the reason for the pain in our present.

family skiing on mountain
one of many family ski trips

 

 

 

Words that changed our lives- post-traumatic stress disorder

Military medicine now recognizes post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a common result of service in combat; 40 years ago it was unrecognized and untreated. There were no support groups, counselling or rehabilitative services available.

My husband didn’t talk about his military service, so for years we both suffered the effects of unrecognized PTSD. By the mid-1980s veterans’ groups pushed to recognize and honor Vietnam veterans’ service and encouraged discussion about the psychic trauma many of them dealt with; and with that came opportunities for treatment and healing.

army veteran standing next to a floral bouquet at a memorial
We always visit the traveling Vietnam Veteran Memorial Wall when it comes to our area.

 

 

 

 

Words that changed Raymond’s life

Through counselling and a support group my husband faced the past and started to move forward. After reading a book , A Missing Peace, written by another Vietnam veteran, he considered taking a trip back to Vietnam and after much thought and prayer, signed up, although we were both apprehensive.

affiliate link

He chose to travel with Vets with a Mission , VWAM,  a faith-based non-profit organization whose mission is “reconciliation” between former enemies in the Vietnam war, and also within the veterans’ themselves.

By touring the country and meeting Vietnamese people in peacetime, Raymond began moving past the painful memories and creating a new history. He found a country still suffering from the after effects of many years of war, and found a new purpose for his life- to help the very country that had caused us so much pain.

man with Vietnamese boys laughing
Raymond making friends and having fun with some Vietnamese boys

That trip led to another, and another, and another- thirteen trips  serving on volunteer teams to Vietnam with VWAM.  He served by teaching the computer technology he spent years learning and mentored Vietnamese professionals as they developed skills like his.

I accompanied him on many of these trips, serving as physician on medical teams, treating poor Vietnamese citizens in free clinics. We made friends with other veterans and their families, and with Vietnamese people, who often respected American Vietnam veterans more than Americans do.

Raymond found “reconciliation”  for himself and we experienced it in our marriage.  It was a process and still is.

All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself

through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.”

1 Corinthians 5:18, motto of VWAM
man next to concrete bunker
visiting an old war bunker on China Beach

 

More words that changed my life

As  a pre-teen I read a book about an American doctor who treated poor people in a foreign country. This and other books sparked an interest in  health care and I decided to become a doctor. I dreamed of someday traveling overseas and treating people like he and other doctors did.

I didn’t remember anything  about him except his name. I did an Internet search and found his story- Dr. Tom Dooley. Now deceased, he served  as a physician in the United States Navy and in the 1950s was assigned to direct the care of refugees- in Vietnam. (After his military service, he founded a humanitarian organization and tragically died young of melanoma.)

When I watched  the war in Vietnam on TV news,  I didn’t realize the doctor I had read about had worked there. I never imagined that I would ever go there. And I never imagined that war would  help me meet my husband, and create a family that brings me joy every day.

When I said, “I’m available” I had no idea how true that would be.

man and lady dressed in dance costumes
And I never expected us to do a ballroom dance routine for an audience!

 

 

 

Words that may change your life

 

Raymond researched and wrote about a little known battle of the Vietnam war. His is an eyewitness account of the events and aftermath of the Battle for TraBong. It is available as an eBook for Kindle apps from Amazon. The following is an excerpt.

Battle for Tra Bong Vietnam: Events and Aftermath

Fire Support Base (FSB)/Landing Zone (LZ) Cindy was established in 1968 by being relocated from Tam Ky, Vietnam. By 1970, the FSB was considered a “model” for other FSBs in South Vietnam.

The base operated on the high ground of the Happy Valley with an Observation Post (OP) Searchlight (SLT) unit that provided illumination at night for the entire valley. Next to the FSB was an Armed Forces Vietnam (ARVN) unit of 100 men. Besides the helicopter landing zone, we had the shortest airstrip in Vietnam managed by a Military Air Command Vietnam (MACV) unit. The Tra Bong village was between MACV and FSB/LZ Cindy.

The firebase had tremendous firepower with automatic weapons, 50-caliber and 60-caliber machine guns to include a Quad 50, Dusters, 8 inch and 175 howitzers, mortars, grenades, claymores, flares, etc. In the year 1970, FSB Cindy had zero Wounded in Action (WIA) or Killed in Action (KIA) men by enemy forces. Also, the North Vietnamese (NVA) did not penetrate our perimeter because our unit operated as a team.

A Battery remained at FSB/LZ Cindy (BS342882) providing general support to both US and ARVN units. On 16 September 1971, A Battery was moved to Chu Lai to begin stand down activities.

During Christmas of 1971, the ARVN camp was overrun by NVA/VC and wiped out.

The firebase did have a major battle in September 1970. That battle and how it impacted the war in general and one soldier’s life specifically is the subject of this book.

We who served on LZ Cindy in 1969 and after when the unit left in 1971 did a job that had to be done to save more lives than were taken by the enemy. All of us were there because we were asked or drafted to serve this country and help the people of Vietnam survive.

Those of us who did the job on LZ Cindy did the best we could to survive and help those who served with us. It is unfortunate that some of those did not survive, but in war people die, and there is nothing we can do about it.

 

 

We also recommend Robert Seiple’s book-

 

A Missing Peace: Vietnam : Finally Healing the Pain 

by Robert Seiple and Gregg Lewis

“The gripping account of the author’s experiences with “a war without closure” as a Marine aviator and as head of a relief agency ministering in that country. Through his own search for personal and national reconciliation, he shows us the only way to find real closure and genuine healing.”

(Amazon review)(This is an affiliate link.)

 

 

 

 

 sharing the HEART of marriage

Thanks for taking the time to read our story, we are honored you did. If you know someone who might benefit from reading it also, please share by email or social media.

Thanks for following this blog. If you’re visiting, I would love for you to start following Watercress Words : use the form to get an email notification of new posts. Don’t worry, you won’t get anything else from me. I also want you to find and follow me on Facebook, Pinterest , Instagram, and LinkedIn .

Dr. Aletha and Raymond

7 tips to calm your corona crisis concerns

Practicing mindfulness, meditation, yoga, and spiritual practices will help center you in routines and awareness, and keep your mind from wandering into the dark and sometimes irrational unknown.

Even physicians feel stressed and uneasy about the COVID-19 pandemic, maybe more so than others. After all, we’re supposed to be the ones with the answers to our patients’ questions and have the means to help them. And unfortunately this is a time when we have little of both and it’s frustrating.

One of my collagues read an article about dealing with this stress, and to decrease our stress from having one more piece of information to read he briefly outlined it in an email and added his own thoughts. I liked it so well I asked him if I could feature it here and he graciously consented. And like he did, I have added a few of my thoughts and some references, as well as a link to the original article from CNNhealth.

MANAGE ANXIETY-DON'T BE AFRAID-BE SMART
Limit the frequency of your updates, including social media  

With one of my patients who I was having to talk off of a ledge twice weekly, I suggested allowing herself one news check-in for 30 minutes each morning.  This worked for her.  Choose a frequency and a time that works for you.  But why stop there?  Consider a social media sabbatical .  Truly.  Give it a week and see how you feel. Taking the apps off your phone or tablet helps keep you accountable. 

CDC-Coronavirus Disease 2019

Coronavirus: Fact vs Fiction

a podcast by Dr. Sanjay Gupta

Join CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta for the latest news about the coronavirus. He’ll make sense of the headlines, speak with the experts and give you all the information you need to stay safe and healthy.

diagram of the human brain.
The major parts of the brain, including the pineal gland, cerebellum, spinal cord, brain stem, pituitary gland, and cerebrum are labeled. photo courtesy of Source: National Cancer Institute Creator: Alan Hoofring (Illustrator)
Name your fears

Recognize that we all have a negativity bias hard-wired into our brains.  It’s a leftover evolutionary tool that helped keep our caveman and hunter-gatherer ancestors alive. 

In addition to constantly scanning our environment for threats, it also does a good job of overestimating the likelihood that something tragic will befall us, and underestimates our capacity and resources to cope.  We’re not crazy or neurotic, we’re just wired that way.

Conversely, if you minimize or ignore the threat of the pandemic, ask yourself if you should  take it more seriously. If your reactions don’t match those of others in your community, your fear may have driven you to denial.

Practice Social Distancing
Think outside yourself: 

If/when you are feeling overly worried and anxious, and your thinking feels contracted and hopeless, turn your thoughts to how you can help someone else.  This may be a child or other family member, a group of society that is at risk or marginalized at this time, or some of the groups at higher risk due to their occupations, age, or medical conditions. 

Science is unequivocal that when our thoughts turn to serving others, symptoms of worry, anxiety and depression lessen, and we feel better about ourselves.  And this does not have to be anything big, simply shifting to focus off of ourselves and onto someone else helps.

a smiling woman working on a laptop computer
Physicians and counsellors are available virtually, by phone or video visits.
Seek support, but do it wisely: 

Don’t hesitate to ask for help if you need it.  And that goes for us caregivers too.  We are not, and should not think of ourselves, as impervious to the various stressors, the disrupted routines and all of the uncertainty that is prevalent in the world right now. Ask someone you can trust to be objective and rational, and not feed your worries or concerns. 

Pay attention to your basic needs

Don’t get so wrapped up in thinking about the coronavirus that you forget the essential, healthy practices that keep you physically well. 

  • Getting adequate sleep
  • Keeping up with proper nutrition
  • Getting outside as much as possible
  • Engaging in regular physical activity

Practicing mindfulness, meditation, yoga, and spiritual disciplines will  help center you in routines and awareness, and keep your mind from wandering into the dark and sometimes irrational unknown.

a women with hands clasped in prayer with a Bible
a man reading to two young girls, sitting in a woman's lap
Don’t chastise yourself for worrying. 

Again, this is part of our normal evolutionary programming.  And to help kids when they are scared, don’t just tell them everything is going to be alright. 

Let them know you hear their concerns and that you understand where they are coming from.  And THEN give them evidence and reasoning for the opposite side of the worry equation.  

Acknowledge their fears, and validate them…  And then do the same for yourself.

This post was adapted from this article on CNNhealth

How to keep coronavirus fears from affecting your mental health

Thanks to my guest writer-Dane Treat, M.D.

Dr. Treat graduated from the University of Oklahoma medical school, although a couple of decades later than I did. He completed residency at Good Samaritan Family Practice in Phoenix, where he lives and practices now. He also completed a Sports Medicine fellowship. He is a student of Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction. He wisely married a Mayo Clinic trained gastroenterologist, and they are the proud parents of a daughter.

near Phoenix, at Scottsdale Arizona

exploring the HEART of dealing with COVID-19

I appreciate all of you who follow this blog; there are numerous other blogs to choose from so I am honored you chose to spend some time here. A special welcome to all my new followers from this past month.

Thanks for following this blog. If you’re visiting, I would love for you to start following Watercress Words : use the form to get an email notification of new posts. Don’t worry, you won’t get anything else from me. I also want you to find and follow me on Facebook, Pinterest , Instagram, and LinkedIn .

If you are depressed and thinking about or planning suicide, please stop and call this number now-1-800-273-8255

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255

If you want to help, donate to your local food bank, or make a purchase or donate to The Hunger Site.com . (This is an affiliate link that pays this blog a commission, however 100% of a donation stays with the charity.)

                              Dr. Aletha