Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. We’ve heard of it, maybe read about it, but it would be hard for me to say that I know someone who suffers from it, or know how deep that suffering goes. Until now: until reading Until Tuesday, a deeply personal, detailed, and straightforward account of one soldier’s experience – from being wounded in Iraq, to his attempts to fit back in to life at home in New York, and how not only his body but his belief in the military was shattered, and how with some expert aid he is able to talk about that today to thousands of people.
Luis Carlos Montalvan was a decorated combat veteran who returned home to the US after two tours in Iraq. While there he survived an assassination attempt and dealt with numerous tricky, hostile situations. In his book, however, those experiences are recounted in a very matter-of-fact manner and there is no expectation of judgement. Montalvan was a soldier, obeying orders, orders which he believed at the time were issued with the country’s best interests at heart. When he returns home, with multiple concussions causing Traumatic Brain Injury, fused vertebrae, and PTSD, he is confronted with the under-resourced, under-skilled, under-sympathetic Veterans Affairs institution, which has no ability to handle the thousands of veterans returning from Iraq. The terrible thing about the war in Iraq, seen through Montalvan’s eyes, is that the people are ordinary people. The war hasn’t got enemy lines like World War 1 or 2, the people are one day walking down the street with you, the next they are part of a mob trying to kill you. The soldiers, to cope, run at a state of hypervigiliance, constantly assessing everything and everyone around them for potential threats. When these soldiers return to their homes, many can’t switch that hyperalert state off, and then start to suffer from hallucinations, headaches, nausea and other symptoms of PTSD. Combined with physical injuries the soldiers are often incapacitated and turn to drink or worse.
For Luis Carlos Montalvan, an assistance-dog program called Puppies Behind Bars was his saviour. Through the program, intelligent dogs are trained to be assistance dogs, helping and healing people when nobody else seems to be able to. The dogs are stars – they are able to help the physically and intellectually disabled, by opening doors, turning on lights, picking up socks and shoes, and many other tasks that for some are just impossible. And the most important part of their help is that they form a close pack bond with their owner. The dogs will spend all their life looking after one person, and they need that closeness of understanding and love to do so. The dog that Luis was matched up with is Tuesday a golden retriever, pictured on the front of the book. Tuesday was trained from three days of age to respond to human touch and sounds. He is an intelligent, gifted animal with plenty of personality, and is by no means a pet. As Montalvan emphasises often, these dogs are service dogs, they are working animals and as such are not in the same league as pets.
From their first days together Luis found Tuesday to be the greatest help in getting him to be able to deal with ordinary life with PTSD. Tuesday can listen to his master’s breathing and know when a panic attack is imminent, and can calm him down by physical touch. At other times Tuesday knows that all Luis needs is his presence and will calmly wait until it’s time to move again. The incredible ability of Tuesday and dogs like him, to work with emotionally wounded veterans is due a lot to their very intense training as puppies. It’s inspirational, and when Montalvan tells of how he is not only able to address hundreds or thousands of people, telling them about Tuesday and service dogs, but also able to negotiate the New York Subway system with Tuesday’s help, it really did bring a tear to my eye.
The book is a great read, not too horrifying but very realistic about war and its effects on the soldiers who fight, but also inspirational and informative about the service dogs industry.
Available Now: Hachette Australia $32.99