By Betsy Rosenblatt Rosso
Even after the encounter in Fallujah when the IED blew out his eardrum, knocked him unconscious, and caused him to vomit, Drew Provost assumed he was fine. As a Navy Corpsman assigned to a Marine unit in Fallujah, he was used to seeing serious casualties. Since he could still walk and talk, Provost quickly went about his work checking on the condition of other Marines and civilians affected by the blast. He was 19 and a rising star.
It took four more years, another tour of duty, a divorce, struggles with alcohol abuse, and a new relationship for Provost to be diagnosed with, and correctly treated for, a traumatic brain injury (TBA) – thanks to the intervention of NMCRS Visiting Nurse Ruthi Moore.
Provost graduated from high school at 16, then moved out and supported himself working two jobs while attending community college. Weary of the bills and responsibilities, Provost joined the US Navy and went to boot camp as soon as he turned 18. He entered as an E2 because of his college credits, worked hard, and was meritoriously advanced to E3.
In November 2005, Provost and his commander ran into an IED while returning from a logistics patrol, but he never sought medical attention after the blast, despite persistent headaches. When he returned to the States in February, Provost couldn’t sleep and didn’t feel like himself. Things that had come easily before now seemed more of a struggle. He had scored well on previous advancement exams, but the exam he took after the IED didn’t go as well.
When he finally sought medical attention, doctors attributed his symptoms to PTSD and prescribed medications, but nothing helped. He started to self-medicate, began to drink excessively, behave rashly, and also married a girl he’d just met.
Then Provost received orders to return to Fallujah. “It seemed like everything was back to normal,” he said. He felt OK and even earned a Navy Achievement Medal for saving the lives of two children who were caught in sniper fire near a bridge that Al-Qaeda bombed and the Marines rebuilt and were guarding.
“The locals didn’t want to have anything to do with us until they saw the effort I put into saving their kids. That changed the whole village’s outlook,” Provost said.
By the time he returned home, Provost had earned his FMF pin and was advanced to E5, but things weren’t altogether well on the home front. His marriage was disintegrating, but the couple tried to stay together for their daughter. Then one day he came home and discovered his wife and daughter had left. Now divorced, he talks to his daughter weekly by phone.
“I lost it after that,” Provost said. “I’d been doing really well. I was a 21-year-old Leading Petty Officer, responsible for 41 people. I was excelling. It was great. I’d stopped drinking when my daughter was born. Then my wife and daughter left and I went right back to drinking and everything fell apart.” Provost was in and out of rehab facilities, receiving treatment for alcoholism and PTSD. “I finally realized that the blast was when things started going wrong.”
Provost was medically discharged after seven years in the Navy. He found civilian life to be much harder than military life. The lack of structure and direction were a challenge and he found himself drinking and getting arrested. Doctors warned that if he kept drinking, he wouldn’t live much longer. By then he had started dating Crystal, the sister of a childhood friend with whom he had reconnected. Crystal told him he had to stop drinking, but he didn’t know how.
Fortunately, Provost had attended a program which helps wounded warriors make the transition to civilian life. The NMCRS sends their Combat Casualty Assistance (CCA) visiting nurses to these events in case participants are interested in the Society’s visiting nurse services. Provost connected with Ruthi Moore, one of the Society’s CCA visiting nurses serving clients in Arizona where he lives.
“Staying sober was something I couldn’t do on my own,” Provost said. “I didn’t have any coping skills. Ruthi became a lifeline for me and my wife, Crystal.” Moore helped Provost find a civilian rehabilitation facility with expertise in brain damage. “They worked with me in a way that I was really able to ‘get it’ and understand and use coping skills,” Provost said. He spent a month as an inpatient and three more months as an outpatient.
“Drew had been going to the VA but they would schedule him to see a different doctor every time,” explained Moore. “The treatment wasn’t working and he was depressed.” She helped arrange for him to be seen by the same VA doctor and to get his medications stabilized.
“During that time, Ruthi was our angel,” he said. “I needed someone in my life who would hold me accountable, who I could say anything to. She was there for me every day for three months. Our calls slowly tapered off until I got to the point where I could handle this.”
Moore also offered a listening ear to Crystal, who said, “I can’t relate to my husband. I don’t know how to fix him and I don’t know how to help. Other than the local VA, I didn’t know who to contact or what resources were available. I just thought it was me and him. Ruthi became my go-to person.”
Drew and Crystal Provost are trying to build an antique restoration business, and Drew now likes to writes poetry. Eventually, he would like to write a book about his experiences. “I feel like I survived and I want to share that. It hasn’t been an easy journey. I want to write about how I overcame. I would tell every injured Sailor or Marine to look into the Society’s CCA Visiting Nurse program.”