Through a Doctor’s Eyes

Feb 7, 2012

After a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, thousands of wounded veterans will be returning home needing treatment and rehabilitation. Their injuries, both physical and mental have an emotional impact on those who’ve never seen war, especially their caregivers. One doctor at the veteran’s hospital in Boise has depicted the trauma he sees daily in a powerful art exhibit on the impact of war. Boise State Public Radio’s Sadie Babits reports.


Dr. Bill Blahd has never served in the military nor has he lost anyone in the war. But Blahd sees the effects of war on soldiers every time he steps into the emergency room at the veteran’s hospital in Boise.


AMBY:Sound of a woman’s voice on the loud speaker, the click of a phone, people talking.


This is where he spends three days a week working 13 hourdays as an emergency room physician.


Bill Blahd: We see all the patients with medical emergencies for the most part, chest pain, abdominal pain and neurological problems.


Blahd has seen a lot in his 30 years as an ER doctor. But in his nearly four years at Boise’s V-A hospital, it’s the trauma facing veterans that is so striking


Bill Blahd: I just had one yesterday when I was working. A guy in his mid 40s who was suicidal and drunk.His wife said he’s not doing well, he’s suicidal. He had a lot of kills in the war.


Blahd doesn’t wear his emotions on his shirtsleeve. But he says the stories and experiences that veterans recount, stay with him. … So much so that he’s found a way to share those stories outside the ER.


Bill Blahd: This is called young soldier on the battlefield discovering religion.


Blahd’s other passion is painting. And for the past year, he’s practically lived in his studio depicting the mental and physical injuries of the veterans he treats through art. The result is a series of 14 oil paintings on display including this one.


Bill Blahd:  The image is a soldier kneeling on one leg and he’s got his uniform on and his rifle and he’s a 19 year old kid looking at the ground. On the ground is an army boot with part of a leg bone protruding from it.


It can be tough to look at but that’s because Blahd says these paintings also represent the unseen wounds and trauma that veterans cope with every day. 


Bill Blahd:I was stunned at the VA to see the level of emotional and spiritual trauma that these guys have had inflicted on them. I had a way through art to maybe explain some of the feelings that are hard to verbalize.


David Hale owns the Linen Building in downtown Boise. That’s where Blahd’s paintings hang from grey brick walls built back in 1910. He says the exhibit titled “In Our Name” is a very powerful body of work.


David Hale: I’ve had several different veterans in here that have gotten very emotional when they’ve gone through and looked at all the pieces because it speaks to them.


Ken Khatain (kah-TAN’), a psychiatrist at the veteran’s hospital in Boise, visited the exhibit.


Ken Khatain: 9:44 I bought this one. This is Shell Shocked. The individual is naked in a fetal position with obvious problems dealing with the memories from his head.


Khatain, a veteran of the Air force, also worked in a field hospital in England treating injured soldiers from Operation Desert Storm. 


Ken Khatain: And so I’ve heard every one of these stories many times over in various permiatations and more. He hit me with it very powerfully.


Among Blahd’s other paintings, is a smiling high school senior holding a basketball right before enlisting. Blahd wants to show people the cost of war on soldiers.


Bill Blahd:  If they don’t necessarily come home with a physical wound believe me they are wounded when they come home.


Hundreds of people have viewed the exhibit…. many stopping to share their own stories about the impact of war on their lives. Blahd says he continues to treat many of the same veterans who inspire his work.  For Boise State Public Radio,  I’m Sadie Babits.


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