Below is a link to an article about a flight nurse who survived a helicopter crash and went on to develop PTSD. It is a very interesting article. I wanted to share it because it kind of hits home for me. I was never in a crash, but I was a flight medic when one of our ships crashed, killing both crew members.
I will not pretend that I was affected in the same way as the flight nurse in the article. My life was not in jeopardy. But “our” crash did have an effect. The flight nurse who was killed was a friend and co-worker. She was an instructor in my paramedic class. She brought me into the flight program. I was devastated. But what I have never been able to shake is the fact that there was supposed to be a third crew member on the flight that crashed. A flight paramedic. No – not me. But a friend. She was not feeling well and decided she would be more a hindrance than a help on the flight and headed for home as the helicopter lifted off. By the time she arrived home……
At the time, I was the “Lead-Paramedic” – essentially her supervisor. We had a few conversations. One over many beers. She was in total shock. I do not think she had come to grips with any of it. She left the program not long after….I have not talked to her in more than 15 years…..
I cannot help but wonder how she is today. I have recently “found” her and hope to get together with her soon. However, I am not sure she is willing……
Do I have PTSD related to “our” crash? I don’t think so, but I don’t know for sure. I was able to get right back on the helicopter. I was nervous, but was able to get over it quickly. I even had an experience a few years later when, for more than just a few seconds, I was sure we were going down…..Now that I think about it, that was my last flight.
Here is the link:
Yesterday….no emotion. Totally numb.
Last week. The week before….and the week before……..Nothing. Numb.
Wait – I take it back. I do feel something…..A little buzz. Yep. I have a a buzz. And now a bit of fear.
Will this third glass….or is it the fourth? Fifth? Will this glass of booze bring out the emotion? Are the flood gates about to open? Which flood will it be tonight? Will it be anxiety about what might be? Or memories of what has been?
And this is how it goes…..
Sometimes a couple of drinks helps. It lets me feel SOMETHING. A lot of the time, just a drink or two eases the numbness and that is all I need. Other times, like tonight, the numbness is too deep. Too dark. Too numb. It’s been numb for too long…..So I keep drinking…..Hoping to feel something….
I know it’s not healthy. I know this is not the way to feel something. It is not a real feeling. It is totally artificial. And it is not real emotion.
But….tomorrow I know I will have a real feeling. My head will hurt. My body will ache. I will be extra tired. Emotion? I will have at least a little emotion – regret. Because I know this is not the best way to handle my situation. And yet, this is what I do….
This is how it usually goes. But this time it has been too long. It has been weeks since I have felt anything. I haven’t even been able to get mad at my wife!! Sorry – that was an attempt at humor. And that isn’t even working….
Why has it been so long? Am I blocking something? Avoiding? Or have “things” gotten worse? Have I moved backwards instead of forwards?
And what will happen when things break loose?
I understand that this is typical of PTSD. Periods of extreme emotion followed by periods of no emotion. Makes sense. I guess. But this is unusual. It’s been quite a while since I have been this numb for this long. The last time….when the emotions came, they came in full force. It was overwhelming for days…Oddly enough, I felt the need to drink……to drown out the feelings…..
Ok…there’s a hint of another emotion – Frustration. I am frustrated at the cycle. At the lack of progress. I want so bad to move beyond this and be “normal” again. But it is so far out of reach…It seems to get further away instead of closer…..
Tonight it’s not working. I’ve had plenty to drink, but still nothing. I feel nothing.
I give up…..
January 19, 1988
This was the day I responded to my very first incident. I was studying for an accounting quiz the next morning when I got the call.
I was studying Business Administration at a small college in a small mountain town in the Rocky’s. A dorm-mate and I thought it would be a lot of fun to learn how to rock climb and decided the best way to learn was to join the county search and rescue team. Little did I know how this one simple thought would affect the rest of my life.
It was a Tuesday night. About 9pm. There was a raging snow storm outside. When the phone rang, I was asked to report to the county sheriff’s office immediately and told to be prepared to hike into the back country in blizzard conditions.
A commuter airliner had failed to arrive at the airport and was believed to have gone down.
It was a very small airport and did not have radar at that time. So, initially we only had a very rough idea of where to start. By the time the team had assembled and been briefed, a survivor from the plane had hiked out, roughly two miles in a blizzard, to a farm-house and called 911 to report the crash.
Less than two hours after receiving the phone call, I was on snow shoes (for the first time) and hiking in with a small group of rescuers – trying to follow footprints left in the snow.
I’ll spare you most of the details…. but roughly half of the passengers on board survived. In fact, all but one walked out – literally walked out – with very minor, if any, injuries. The other half perished. One passed in the hospital a day or two later. The others were gone before we arrived – except one who died during our extrication efforts.
The cause of the crash? Pilot error.
It has been almost 20 years. I still get nervous every time I get on a plane. It was a couple of years before I would even get on a plane again. And several more before I could do it without being almost completely hammered drunk. Now, I fly every two to three weeks. I don’t drink every time, but if my flight is late boarding you can almost definitely find me in the bar. And I make sure I have my shoes on long after take off and long before final approach. Yes, the shoes are a conscious thought every single flight.
Why does this event from so many years ago still bother me so much? I have seen many, many more people killed in car accidents – and I never hesitate to get in my car every day. How is it that I can remember so many details from that night (I just Googled it and found that I had remembered the date and even the day of the week), but I can’t remember what I had for breakfast today? The memories are still just as vivid.
It seems the emotion has subsided. I am able to talk a little about it, and even write this post, without falling apart. I have pictures from the crash site tucked away in a box. I have not looked at them in years, but I know exactly where they are – I wonder if the pictures might revive the emotions.
No – Don’t think I’m up for that tonight. I have to get on a plane tomorrow…..