By I{elly Davis
Independent-Mall .


rL/10/0 2\ .t3

S i tting on an old couch in the basement of a tri-I evel house on Concord Avenue, surrounded by boxes of files and tobacco implements, Robert Clarkson speaks volu­ minously about h is service in Vietnam , but sometimes the discussion comes to a screech i n g halt. The veteran's gun-shy brain needs time to plan a route around conversational land m i n es. certa i n words a n d memor ies that m ig h t tr igger a bout o f Ilashbacks or "hauntings," h is word for uncontrollable, hours-long ruminations of events thaI terriJied him as a 23-year-old first lieutenant fresh out of Clemson University's Army ROTC program_ He's nor alone. According to the National Center for Stress Traumatic POSI Disord er, nearly 3 1 percen l of male Vietnam-era veterans had suff ered from the syn· drome since returning home al the time of a 1988 study. and 16 percenl were current­ ly experiencing it. People with posf.\raum a l ­ i c stress disorder may su ffer blackouts. violence-inducing nash backs. long periods of involuntary rum inations. sleep problems and anxiety a t tacks. To better understand the d isorder, researchers al the Harvard Un iversity Department of Psychiatry have been studying I w i n pairs where just one member i s a Vietnam veteran. Mr. Clarkson leaves Thursday f or Boston with his brother, Dargan, of Sum ter. whose congenital cataracts spared him from the draft. 'Tm a classic, textbook case," M r. C l a rkson sa i d . "That's why they want me." Most cases of the syn­ drome are associated with combat. but his disorder has its roots in near-fatal med­ ical experien ces. and h i s rriggers mainly are the sight of doctors, hospitals and p i lls. As a platoon leader in charge of 20 to 25 teen·age draftees chasing enemy so l · diers through the j u ngle in 1 970, 1st Lt. Clarkson could· n't let on that he was suffer-

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Robert Clarllson of A nde rs o n , a Vietnam veteran suffenng from post-traumatic s tress disorder, sayshe avoids sitllali n , ,!. in which he is l i ke ly to e ncou nt er his aluciety tri ggc rs , including the number 22, h i s mfantry number.

ing heal fl ashes. Whon h e became s o confused he could­ n't add or sub tract. he would halt the men un t i l he regained control. By October. h is v is i on began fa iling in term itten tly, then h i s hearing. He askt'd h is medic to surreptitiously monitor his lempera ture. which regularly reached 1 05 degrees. He ended up in a hosp i tal outside of Saigon. where he was diagnosed with malaria, hepatitis, typhus. a fo rm of poss i b l y encephalil is. Dengue fever a n d one other infection_ To fight orr the infections. his body sp iked a 107-degree temperature. " It was l i ke I was on fire." he sa id. The treatment was 1V0rs!). He was plunged into an iet'­ filled tub and subjected 10 what h e callE'd an "ether bat h." a dousing or solvenl on his bare skin lhal evapo· rated qu ickly ro reduce body temperature.

HE' endu rert 35 episodes in a week. i n c l u d i n g a 1 09clegrpe spike. each or which he tllouglll would kill h i m . " I t \Vas l I ke llemg i n 3 5 car accidents in seve" days," he said. After I ll!' hottest spike, he began to recovet: But instead of immed iale lherapeul ic in terve n t i o n . h E' was sent back to his u n i t until return­ ing hOl1le in April 1 971 . He sllll aVOids hospitals and hospItal signs. fo r fear of blackouts. Shortly afl er returning home, he " woke up" from onE' in h is car on a sidE' street; w i t h h i s hands gripping t h e wheel. He had swerved in fronl of oncom­ ing traffic at 50 m i les per hour 10 avo i d a doctor'S office hE' knp\\, was ahead. I I occurred several more t imes. but he was Mraid 1 0 lalk aboul il. Scientists now know pOSI­ traumatic stress disorder is associated W i lh physical changes in IhE' brain. and lhe

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Mr. Clarkson took this photo during his l i J\w in \'j, I I I Mr. Cl ark son and his twin brother, wpm;e ,. � l " , .. him from the Vietnam draft, are participatir,g ill it I , University study on the effects of post-traumatic ,I I ' order on the bra in.
tw in study is an effor! 10 help sort out exactly what those are_ The upcom ing trip to Boston aCl ually will b� the brothers' second. They l'trsl visited fo r the study in 1 999. where Rohrrt (I I,;, ·· new facet of l I b . ( I�r,rd, '" " was 1 00 cluusl ll " " I' ,l o h I enter the I'I'I IU IJl ,lll, \ " . 1.'1


Thi> l ime. I l ll! re Sl'a n I .. " , w i l l give h im it ,Hlal in!

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