BY BOB FRISBY, M.S.
I chose to add this chapter to the web-site because a lot of what you folks see is very similar to a war zone. You may not be getting shot at, and sometimes you are! The carnage from accidents and assaults can be overwhelming, especially if you identify in some way with the person your helping. You folks are seen on television after experiencing horrible visual stimuli. We frequently see you folks being unable to talk without breaking down. That just shows how human you are; don't try to stop the tears and don't work too hard at talking. Sometimes you just need to soak in the experience and file it away in the memory bank. You can recall it later when you sit down with your coworkers and review what just happened and how you felt about it. Every couple weeks, you and your coworkers should have a sit-down session with a skilled therapist and review how your adjusting to what you've been seeing and how it affected you in your life. No time for "John Wayne" types when it comes to talking about emotions. Everyone should accept what you are feeling and not chide you about it or speak down to you about it or tell you to "get over it". Sometimes it takes a lot of time to assimilate into your being what you experienced. If your having night sweats and waking up in the middle of the night startled, or your having trouble sleeping; including not being about to stay asleep, you may need some temporary medications to help you over the hurdle. Let me give you an example: when I returned from Vietnam I was on my in-laws farm with my wife and kids, trying to find a place to live, get into college and find a part-time job. It was a bit much to go from being bombed at night to three days later having this load on my shoulders. All of a sudden my stomach was in knots and I was having dry heaves. Given my expertise, I knew this was what we called in psychiatry "acute situational maladjustment". I went to the ER and spoke with a psychiatrist and told him what was going on. He agreed with me and I was put on the proper medication. In three days I started getting my goals accomplished and didn't need the meds anymore. It was a ten day prescription and I used it for three days. You seek help when you need it; especially if your telling yourself "I can't take this anymore" or you find yourself turning to alcohol or pot or some other substance to feel better. A lot of humans drink too much alcohol; they think it helps them cope. We really need to stop this push toward addiction in our society. You shouldn't be drinking more than a drink or two when you go out for the evening. Although American is trying to tell you to use that vodka and other "home brews" as much as possible, your in a profession where that isn't smart. It can cost you your life, or at least your way of making a living.
How do you handle seeing a mangled corpse that you have to pick up and place on a stretcher; especially if there's a wedding ring on the finger and baby toys in the back seat? Most humans will have trouble with this and that's understandable. Another example: in Vietnam we were first housed in the aide station on the chopper pad. This was a quonset hut type building with a office/reception area at the front, a large room in the middle to treat casualties, and a small room at the back where we did our psychiatric interviews. Along side the walls leading to the back door was where the killed in action were placed pending graves registration folks preparing the bodies for shipment back to the states. When I received my first patient who was having depression symptoms, we had to walk back past four KIA's to get to the interviewing room! As I walked with this man, we came to the first body of a young man who was missing at least a third of his skull and brain matter was exposed. On his hand was a wedding ring. Instinctively I told this man that we have to be able to handle this scene as we'll see more of this during our tour of duty. I explained that this was "just a body, he isn't here; his soul is elsewhere and we can't look at fingers and wedding rings and go down that road of wondering what the folks back home are going to experience in the next few days; we won't survive in war if we go there." We had to bury our emotions and continue to do our jobs. And that's what we did. No one urged that soldiers in war should have a "sit-down" every week and talk about feelings. That resulted in PTSD for a lot of soldiers and could affect you the same way; that's why your in a situation where you can have a sit-down weekly; take advantage of it. Even if it's without a professional present; get together and talk a lot about how everyone is feeling and help each other cope in better ways to what you are and will be seeing. By the way, after that depressive episode with the depressed man, I went and spoke with our Medical Unit's Battalion Commander (who just happened to be a psychiatrist) and urged we resolve this issue by having our own mental health building. We got one almost immediately and it was next to the quonset hut and still on the chopper pad.
I just talked about a dead man's soul. That spiritual belief helped me survive without much PTSD if any at all. Having a strong religious belief system in my head helped me accept the horrors of war. The elements listed in this web-site about the "Human Inventory" will help you accept the horrors of your jobs and reduce the amount of PTSD you'll have to cope with in life. Your significant others, like spouses and children and friends, won't be able to understand what your going through, so don't give them a hard time for that. Don't expect them to drop everything and listen to you, or expect them to stop talking about problems that seem minor to you. You need to learn how to leave work at work and put on your other hats when required by your family and friends. I used to say as I was leaving the building, "God, I did all I could today, you can take care of things tonight; I'll be back tomorrow." Just like the Lion King movie: "No more problems for the rest of your life" HA HA HA Ya, right. But, you can do only so much and you need another life that has humor, love relationships and peacefulness. Stuff that will make up for the negatives you encounter day to day. Things to take your mind off work and give it a rest; not booze or street drugs! Hobbies, kids games/toys, music, Disney shows, not war games! Get the picture? Study that "Human Inventory" and use it to help you have a healthy and happy life.
As a catholic I'm a believer in Saint Michael Archangel, who is the patron saint of law enforcement officers and warriors. He helped me and my son make it through wars without firing a shot. This also applies to EMT's and First Responders, as your coping with what evil can deliver. This prayer was chosen by my son (State Trooper) to be read at his funeral in August of 2018 and is spoken at the end of our mass every Tuesday morning:
Saint Michael Archangel, defend us in battle,
be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil;
may God rebuke him, we humbly pray;
and do thou O Prince of the heavenly host,
by the power of God, cast into hell
Satan and all the evil spirits
who prowl through the world seeking the ruin of souls.