Monday, June 21, 2004

War: We Can(t) Rebuild Him...

I'd love to kick this off with the picture from the article, but I don't know how to do that, nor do I want my first feedback on this blog to be from a NY Times lawyer...So you'll have to follow the link (which hopefully works) to see the picture. (UPDATE: A (free) subscription account is required to read the article.)

Monday's New York Times features a front-page article on the cutting-edge prosthetics work being done at Walter Reed for soldiers who have lost limbs. Much as the Times tries to apply a positive spin to this feature, it does nothing but piss me off.

How could an article about dismembered young men and women, literally torn apart physically and emotionally in the prime of their lives, be portrayed in a "positive" manner? Concentrating on the science and talking to the most upbeat amputees imaginable is a start. I really do have to give it up to some brave soldiers who are really handling their new lives in admirable fashion:

"Maybe not contact football," he said. "But flag football. I figure I've lost a couple of inches on my vertical leap, but I plan to play basketball again. I was always a point guard, so I should stay on the outside anyway. My dad was not so concerned about my losing a leg. He just wanted to know how I was going to be for elk season..."

...For routine tasks, like shaking hands and holding a glass, he snaps an artificial hand onto the end of the device. For other challenges, he removes the hand and snaps in the hook or the pliers-like grip - "It's great for changing an oil filter" - that he carries in his backpack. At home, he has snap-on kitchen devices, work tools and separate hands that help him write, play golf, shoot pool, even cast a fishing rod...

Then, generously sprinkle the article with plenty of examples of how these new limbs are as good as the originals. Wrap it up by talking about the future of thought-controlled prosthetics...and we're ready for Bush's next State of the Union address where he boasts not only about the new schools opening in Iraq, but how his little War did so much to advance limb-replacement.

It's certainly true that some amazing work is being done. And I don't doubt it's on the cutting-edge, and worth writing about. But this article leaves the impression that Walter Reed is getting ready to churn out a bunch of happy-go-lucky Steve Austins and Inspector Gadgets. There is no mention made of anyone having a hard time adjusting to life with less than four limbs or blind or otherwise scarred for life. It also fails to mention whether every soldier coming home "incomplete" will get this treatment. Much is made about the "spare no expenses" approach being employed in these cases, but that seems to be quite a departure form most coverage I've read about recent vets. And the Bush Administration (among others) has a pretty poor record when it comes to following this type of thing through over the long run. What happens when Pvt. Johnnie needs a new attachment for his $85,000 artificial hand?

The closest this article gets to somber is this 'graph (my emphasis added):
Now far removed from the front lines of military action, Sergeant Wilson and a growing number of other soldiers have shifted to the front lines of prosthetic medicine. By virtue of an unusually large population of young men and women in peak physical form who have suddenly lost a limb, in many cases more than one, Walter Reed has become one of the nation's leading hospitals in rebuilding bodies violently torn apart. Of 675 soldiers injured in Iraq since the war began last year, about 100 have been fitted with artificial arms and legs. In any given week, about 20 of them are at the hospital in some stage of rehabilitation.

Of 675 soldiers injured??!!! Where the f--k are they getting a number like that? Is that 675 soldiers that have lost limbs? Because there have been a hell of a lot more than 700 injuries. There have been at least twice that many medical evacuees! [UPDATE: The McLauchlin Group has an estimated 22,000! medical evacuees!]

Now I'm not saying the Times shouldn't update us on these soldiers. And I don't have a problem with a health / science-oriented article about prosthetics. I'm not even against a feel-good story per-se. But this article paints a bit too sunny of a picture, and seems to have some glaring ommissions, mistakes or misleading numbers as well.


Anonymous said...

I'll be the first to comment. First of all, I hope Mrs. Furious won't be too furious about this blog.

The Times article was in the Health section, so it wasn't there to talk about the political aspect of Iraq. Rather, Iraq was just a background setting to be able to talk about artificial limbs. Discussing the mangitude of the casualties in total and their treatment would move the article into a place that the writer was not comfortable with. After all, the point of the article was "look at these cool new limbs!"

Jeez, does everything have to be political with you :-)


Mr Furious said...

It may have been a "Health" article, and was categorized as such online, but the reason I knew about it was walking past the paper on the newsstand. It was above-the-fold on the front page.

Human interest stories are fine. So are optimistic, feel-good stories. My point is that the article had no balance, it wasn't really a profile, and its front page treatment should (to me) require it to present a more complete picture.

It's not always political with me, but sometimes it's more fun that way. Of course since I saw it on the same day that Congress voted to uphold the ban on casket photos it didn't help my attitude any.