Every July 4th, Americans across the country light up the sky with fireworks. This patriotic spectacle is commonly enjoyed at large outdoor celebrations, though often fireworks are also set off at private homes. This circumstance brings to the fore an issue that we as a society may not generally afford sufficient attention. Namely, how do our family and neighbors react to fireworks?
After a brain injury, many survivors are highly sensitive to loud noises. Fireworks can be quite disturbing to a survivor, even if he or she enjoyed them in the past. Fireworks may lead to agitation, frustration and acting out. Prior to attending a fireworks celebration (whether public or private), loved ones should check with survivors and their therapists as to whether those survivors would do well at a fireworks display. If the survivor chooses to attend a display event, loved ones should have an exit plan prepared just in case the event goes poorly for the survivor. Neighbors should check with survivors and their families prior to setting off fireworks. Fireworks are not truly a “private” matter, since everyone in the nearby vicinity will be hearing them whether they wish to or not. It is not fair for the survivor to be put in serious distress just because a neighbor likes to set off fireworks.
This issue may prove even more pertinent when a survivor is a combat veteran. Many combat veterans who suffered injuries in battle also have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). PTSD symptoms can include flashbacks in which the veteran feels like he or she is back contending with the relentless stressors of life in combat, painful memories of the trauma of friends dying and serious sleep disturbances. Fireworks can trigger all of these symptoms and more. Additionally, many in the South have a custom of shooting guns in the air on July 4th. If fireworks are a bad idea around combat veterans with PTSD, then shooting guns is a horrible idea. (As a sidebar this practice is simply remarkably dangerous. This writer knows a woman who was hit by a bullet that was shot by an unknown individual in the air to celebrate a holiday. The bullet fell into an open restaurant area and lodged in her lung.) The combined effects of a brain injury and PTSD can make these situations especially tricky for veterans. Loved ones should check with survivors and their therapists as to whether these veteran survivors may have a PTSD-type reaction around fireworks or guns. Again, neighbors should check with combat veterans to ensure that the neighbors’ celebrations do not harm the psychological well-being of these individuals. Some combat veterans have taken to putting signs on their lawns identifying themselves as combat veterans and asking others to be courteous with fireworks. These signs should be taken seriously and neighbors should not shoot fireworks or guns near these veterans. Again, no one should be forced to suffer in service of a neighbor’s idea of “fun.”
Wishing everyone a Happy July 4th!
Learn about brain injury treatment services at the Transitional Learning Center: tlcrehab.org