Published originally in the winter 2010 issue of Berea College Magazine
by Robert L. Moore, ’13
“The veteran population is a unique group to serve. Their history and experiences are so rich and talking to them is a real pleasure.”
It’s not surprising that Leslie Boyd Long, ’89, became an internal medicine doctor. She grew up with a hospital in the back of her house. Leslie was the only girl and youngest of four children on a farm outside Tollesboro, a small town in Lewis County, Kentucky. Her father James, a veterinarian, kept a clinic at home, and his children assisted him.
Leslie’s father had intended to be a medical doctor, but after getting married, he entered veterinary medicine to start work sooner. Also the family physician, he tended sore throats, removed warts, and stitched up cuts. Both Leslie and her brother, Mike Boyd, ’85, went to Berea College as chemistry/ premed majors, attended medical school at the University of Louisville, and became doctors. “I think my father sort of pushed his dream our way,” Leslie says.
During her residency at the Cincinnati Veterans Hospital, Leslie was treating a patient possibly at risk of a stroke. One nurse, a six-year Navy veteran named Mark Long, insisted that the patient be transferred to intensive care for close observation. Leslie disagreed. “Needless to say, my (future) husband had more clout and the patient was moved,” she says.
“We started talking more after that encounter and I married Mark three years later.”
Since 2000, she has worked at a Veteran’s Administration outpatient clinic in Florence, Kentucky. She has a panel of 1,250 patients and sees 14 people each day. Her focus is geriatric care. One patient needs help with a Social Security disability application, while another needs pain treatment for terminal cancer. “I try to make certain that we have pursued all avenues,” she says. “When those have been exhausted, compassion and support are what I have to give.”
While most complaints are the same thing every doctor hears, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and complications around amputation are more prevalent. Long after active duty, prisoners of war remember eating maggot-infested food, being physically brutalized, and sleeping in the cold. Once, PTSD went undiagnosed, but it’s different today. “The emotional distress can be honed in on early,” she says.
Combat-related PTSD is a problem for female veterans, she says. “Military sexual trauma is probably more prevalent than many thought.” Department of Veteran Affairs statistics show that around 30 percent of female soldiers experience sexual assault; their attackers are often male personnel. Untreated, PTSD can lead to substance abuse and domestic violence. Leslie listens for symptoms, referring potential sufferers to therapy.
The concern with her amputee patients? “Returning them to a high level of functioning,” she says. Physical therapy is essential. Veterans may also need prosthetic devices, wheelchairs, scooters, or modified vans and homes.
Many of Leslie’s patients share her small town background. Their bond is strong, which complicates balancing her personal and professional lives. “My husband is a constant support.” She says, he often reminds her to enjoy her days off.
Despite the demands, she has no regrets. “The veteran population is a unique group to serve,” Leslie says. “Their history and experiences are so rich and talking to them is a real pleasure.”