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Vietnam veteran finds way to cope with pain in new program at Salem VA

When John Hickman went to Vietnam as a legislation enforcement specialist in the Air Force in the early Seventies, he did not know what to do with the clouds of orange chemical substances dropped by low-flying US planes.

“We had no idea,” Hickman stated of what turned often known as Agent Orange, a poisonous herbicide utilized by the army to defoliate the luxurious jungle that supplied cowl for the Viet Cong.

“The stuff would fall down. We would see the stuff being sprayed,” he stated. “But we didn’t know it would bother us.”

It wasn’t till 2007, when the previous Air Force sergeant started having hassle maintaining his eyelids open — the primary in a sequence of well being issues that steadily worsened — did he start to surprise why.

Hickman, who’s now 69 and lives in Huddleston, later suffered an enormous coronary heart assault and has since been recognized with myasthenia gravis, an autoimmune dysfunction that causes pain and weak spot in muscle tissues, peripheral neuropathy, or numbness and pain in his decrease legs and double imaginative and prescient , amongst different issues.

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“It all has to do with being exposed to Agent Orange,” Hickman stated of the pain that plagues him each day.

As a soldier and later a tactical officer with the Lynchburg Police Department, the place he served on the SWAT group, Hickman has lengthy prided himself on his means to run and carry weights to keep match.

“Not having my pain under control was something I found difficult to swallow,” he stated.

As his situation turned extra critical, Hickman jumped at a chance really useful by his main care doctor — a new continual pain program at Salem’s Veteran Affairs Medical Center.

PREVAIL is a six-month interdisciplinary program that begins with the veteran’s assembly with 5 healthcare suppliers: a standard pain physician, a psychologist, a pharmacist, a nutritionist, and a bodily therapist.

Contrary to most medical protocols, all specialists are in the identical room with the affected person at the identical time.

“When I sat down and spoke to them for the first time, they knew everything about me,” Hickman stated. “They had done a full study on John Hickman. They had checked every inch of my charts, starting from day one.”

Rena “Liz” Courtney, a scientific psychologist who directs the program she created, stated the objective is to develop an individualized method for every of the almost 100 contributors up to now.

“No two patients with pain are the same,” she stated. “Out of 99 different patients, I have never gone through the same program course of treatment, not once.”

PREVAIL’s biopsychosocial method emphasizes the connection between organic, psychological and socio-environmental components. In Hickman’s case, it wasn’t a lot about eradicating the pain, which he now acknowledges cannot be completed, because it was about instructing him methods to cope.

A key utility has been mindfulness, a remedy centered on studying how to turn out to be extra conscious of ideas and feelings. Part of the objective was to change his fascinated with pain or ANTS for automated unfavorable thought syndrome.

“I had a negative image of my pain,” he stated. “I just wanted the damn stuff to go away, but it’s not going to do it.” Hickman recalled Courtney telling him, “I have to help you get rid of the ANTS.” And she did.”

Some of the suggestions were simple: Hickman loved riding his horse, which took his mind off the pain — until it made the pain worse. He learned to limit his trips to five or ten minutes. It was just an example of finding distractions to whatever was in the background.

“They gave me issues to do to keep away from the pain and produce it again to a manageable stage,” he said.

After his first meeting with the five PREVAIL professionals, Hickman spent five months receiving coaching either in person or remotely on his treatment plan. He completed the program in September but still uses the lessons learned on a daily basis.

“It was unimaginable to hear the tales from veterans,” Courtney said. “I’ve had folks come in wheelchairs who’re not in wheelchairs.”

Hickman hopes other veterans will seek out the program.

“The VA came to my rescue and treated me like royalty. They took care of all my problems,” he stated. “It was one of the best things that happened to me.”

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