“Brokenness can heal” is the lesson learned this week serving as a member on the Upshur County Schools Board of Education. A speaker at our West Virginia School Board Association November 2, 2019, meeting taught us how to help our children and grandchildren mend and learn. Michael Brumage, MD, led us in an astute lecture on “Adverse Childhood Experience and the Drug Epidemic: Why Our Kids Can’t Learn.”
The good doctor quoted philosopher and poet Rumi (1207-1273): “The wound is the place where the Light enters you.” What an aha moment! Dr. Brumage currently treats his patients in Cabin Creek, West Virginia. When I approached him after his excellent presentation, how pleasantly surprised I was that my father, Harold David Almond, MD, kept him grounded as he served as a physician to America’s soldiers in the Iraq War. He carried Dad’s book Stories of a West Virginia Doctor with him into combat, reading the stories frequently. I added that he came back to West Virginia, like Dad returned at the end of World War II.
The profound lesson learned is that after being traumatized and being broken, our students can realize that nothing is inherently wrong with them, but rather they are victims of what happened to them. Yes, they are fragile and vulnerable, but like a shattered earthen vessel that can crack, mending the cracks can result in a strong piece of pottery that just has a new pattern.
Wondering about healthy hope versus false hope, I asked Dr. Brumage how long will we suffer in Appalachia from this drug epidemic. He realistically said it could be two or three generations. He cited the following to back his assertion:
1- “Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth generation.” Exodus 34:7 (King James Version)
2- Medical science of epigenetics measures how our bodies’ molecules, as in hormones, turn on and turn off genes. Two examples of people groups—African Americans and Native Americans—have suffered in the past and still suffer today even to the third or fourth generation.
With regards to our students here in Appalachia at the epicenter of the drug epidemic, the medical doctor noted changes in two areas of the human brain:
1- the amygdala, which is the nerve center gland always scanning the environment for danger, and
2- the hippocampus, which is the nerve center gland where short-term memory is changed to long-term memory.
Naturally, even a child with infinite capacity and genius function from birth is exhausted always surveying the environment for danger. The normal hormone signal cannot be sent to the hippocampus, so long-term memory is not possible. Learning does not take place.
As a physician steeped in the Judeo-Christian heritage of Appalachia, I share that Moses, who wrote Exodus, was a physician himself. And as a physician who treated thousands of veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, I concur with Dr. Brumage’s analysis of the hippothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis in stress.
We both see therapeutic benefit for exercise and mindfulness-based awareness training for our Appalachian children suffering from adverse childhood experience associated with our drug epidemic, so they can once again learn. Brokenness can heal.