Excerpt from WAR STORIES
A few days later came a soldier brandishing a knife. A routine question in the waiting room, “where does your spouse live?” prompted the response, “if you find out let me know.” As the soldier pulled the knife and walked into the viewing room I began receiving telephone calls saying that security had surrounded the booth and was prepared to arrest him following my interview. All of this and I had not even seen the soldier. Needless to say I felt obligated to ask him his plans and he responded by giving me a detailed description of how he intended to kill his wife and do it in a way that would make her suffer in the most extreme manner. This soldier has suffered though his multiple deployments and now was going to make his wife suffer for the pains that he believed she was causing him. I knew immediately that he was going to test all that I had learned in 40 years of practicing psychiatry.
We spent an hour talking about a variety of issues. He explained the necessity of carrying the knife. He couldn’t sleep and he had a hard time eating because he had no appetite. He couldn’t shop for groceries because he couldn’t be in crowds. The knife was necessary in case somebody bumped him.
He tried alcohol to numb his psychic pain. Beating up a policeman, an arrest, and a long hospitalization helped him realize alcohol was not the solution. He was denied admission to an anger management course because he so frightened the intake worker. She determined that the other members of the course would be too intimidated by his comments.
By the end of the hour I decided to tell him simply that his plan to kill his wife was not a good idea. I explained that no matter how angry he was at her, it was not a good way to treat people and it could create a lot of trouble for him. I further explained that he simply couldn’t come back with a knife because it makes people too upset. Although he protested about his need for self-defense, he understood how the presence of the knife might be upsetting to others. He agreed to return to discuss how to more effectively deal with the real problems his wife was presenting. I have no doubt that the course on hospitality was a part of my response. No one should treat or be treated this way.
I explained to the soldier that if he could agree to come back and work on these problems, I would call his base and tell the security police outside of the video booth that he should be free to go. He agreed and he returned for months to work on these matters. He decided he cannot be an effective soldier, cannot be deployed in a combat zone and therefore should leave the Army. He has come a long way in dealing with his trauma but adjustment in civilian life will be complicated.