TAMPA, Florida: He lies flat, unseeing eyes fixed on the ceiling, tubes and machines feeding him, breathing for him, keeping him alive. He cannot walk or talk, but he can grimace and cry. And he is fully aware of what has happened to him. Four years ago almost to this day, Joseph Briseno Jr. was shot in the back of the head at point-blank range in a Baghdad marketplace. His spinal cord was shattered, and cardiac arrests stole his vision and damaged his brain.
If he had just died, this story would have never made Digg. Many commenters are using it as a case against war or the state of medical coverage in our country. However, the real tragedy here is not the war or the inadequacy of veterans medical insurance. It’s more complicated.
He is no more a case against the war as the several who have died. Because of enhanced armor and field medicine we are saving more of our troops than ever before. This of course leaves many with horrible injuries yet still alive (the amount of brain trauma from this war is a big issue here). It’s really not surprising that this has happened.
If a lesson is here to be learned it is that our medical technology has advanced further than our ethics. We can keep people alive and even bring them back from death, but often leaving the patient even worse off because of oxygen deprivation. In this case, the soldier is not only paralyzed but blind and has brain damage because of the cardiac arrests that they saved him from.
Resuscitation has a success rate anywhere from 1-30% depending on the celerity and skillfulness of the response. Though even when people do survive many die shortly afterwards or suffer permanent damage to their brain and body. Until we can protect against oxygen deprivation or fuse spinal cords we need to rethink emergency resuscitation and our attitude of “save at all costs.”