Friday, September 11, 2015

Trauma and Human Resilience: II

Part 1: 
         Then came September 11. I remembered I was on holiday in Spain when it happened. I had just finished golf. I put my clubs away and went to the club house for a drink with my playing partners. As I approached their table, I sensed that something was wrong. There were no drinks.
         Then one of them said, “One of the World Trade Centre Towers is down!”
         I was trying to see if I heard right.
         “In New York?”
         “New York.”
         Then moments later, the Spanish waitress came out and said to us, the second tower was down too.
         I rushed back to our villa and shouted to my wife to turn on CNN and tried to contact our children, one of whom worked in Manhattan.
         Lines were dead.
         Luckily, an Email came through our other daughter who was in England: Sis OK, at a meeting on 55th Street. Now trying to walk home to Brooklyn.
         What a shock.  Unlike my parents’ generation we have had a long period of peace and prosperity but now everything was shattered.
         The following day my office put a call through and I talked to my Associate Specialist.
         The clinic just had an urgent referral. A local girl was referred. Very disturbed by what happened as one of her father’s good friends was one of the pilots whose plane went down. The family spent many holidays with them in their Florida home and she was now most upset.
         “Whatever you do, by all means talk to the parents but not to the girl. No one should see her. They should not turn on the TV and avoid any reminder of what happened.”
         I then nearly said, “Give her Vodka, Gin or similar,” but I did not.
         I gave the next best thing.
         “Put her on a short course of Benzodiazepine to let her sleep for a few days.”
         It shocked my Associate Specialist. It was not a drug I normally used, if at all, and why now?
         Well, whatever happened, all I could say was that the family was in total agreement and months later my Associate Specialist told me that it was brave of me but it seemed to have worked for this girl.
        
        
         In July last year I met a young couple at the swimming pool of our holiday condo. I thought they were Chinese but it turned out they were Vietnamese Chinese.
         We started chatting. He said he left Nam (Vietnam) on the last day.
         Jokingly, I said, you mean you were on the Helicopter?
         “Yeah, how did you know?”
         “You looked too young to be working for the Embassy.”
         “My mum worked there. But my story was nothing, you should hear hers.”
         His wife, an elegant looking petite Chinese swam closer.
         “So, tell me.”
         Well, she came out later. Her mother put her and four sisters on a junk (a Chinese fishing boat), one of those that took refugees out of Nam for an exorbitant fee and generally it had to be gold. Their boat sank outside Hong Kong but they swam ashore. She spent the next three years in one of the Hong Kong camps.
         “Yes, I remember those.”
         “I know - the stench. We got used to it.”
         Those camps were run under the auspices of the United Nations but the UN never really paid Hong Kong a single dollar. However that is beside the point. Conditions were very poor and one could hardly decide if it was Hong Kong’s or UN’s fault. Every time we drove past it was like passing a local authority rubbish tip. We had to wind up the windows. Yet there were politicians who felt they needed to keep it bad to deter people. They continued to flow in right up to the handover. As it was still under British rule, Britain tried its best to keep people from going to Britain. They needed not have worried. Most wanted to go to U.S. An irony really.
         I said something that sounded like an apology, an apology for Hong Kong, and for mankind.
         “No. It’s fine. I am not bitter. We waited and we got to the U.S. There was nothing you could have done anyway.”
         She told me someone suggested that she should have some therapy. She never did.
         “Some things you can never change. If it happened it happened.”
         But she managed to get most of her family out of camps and settled in the US. She was very successful in her business and her only regret was that her parents never made it.
        
         What a story of human resilience and triumph over adversities.
         And I can still remember that lunch time meeting and the learning from King’s Cross.


Now mountains are once again mountains,
and waters once again waters.




The Cockroach Catcher












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Latest Views on the book:


5.0 out of 5 stars A Must-read for Students of Psychiatry August 10, 2014
Format:Paperback
We all have stories to tell with regard to our experiences as physicians. Zhang is one of our medical school classmates who took it to a different level by writing and publishing a book. The book details how it all started, from the time his family moved to Hong Kong from China, to his years in medical school, to his experience as a child psychiatrist in the UK. The book is full of interesting case studies of actual patients he saw and the challenges he faced dealing with them.
I was captivated by many of the interesting stories in the book. It’s a must-read for all students of psychiatry. It also makes for good reading material for anyone during their leisure moments.

From another doctor friend:

The Cockroach Catcher has evoked many images, memories, emotions from my own family circumstances and clinical experience.

My 80 year old Mum has a long-standing habit of collecting old newspaper and gossip magazines. Stacks of paper garbage filled every room of her apartment, which became a fire hazard. My siblings tricked her into a prolonged holiday, emptied the flat and refurbished the whole place ten years ago. ……My eldest son was very pretty as a child and experienced severe OCD symptoms, necessitating consultations with a psychiatrist at an age of 7 years. The doctor shocked us by advising an abrupt change of school or we would "lose" him, so he opined. He was described as being aloft and detached as a child. He seldom smiled after arrival of a younger brother. He was good at numbers and got a First in Maths from a top college later on. My wife and I always have the diagnosis of autism in the back of our mind. Fortunately, he developed good social skills and did well at his college. He is a good leader and co-ordinator at the workplace. We feel relieved now and the years of sacrifice (including me giving up private practice and my wife giving up a promising administrative career ) paid off.

Your pragmatic approach to problem solving and treatment plans is commendable in the era of micro-managed NHS and education system. I must admit that I learn a great deal about the running of NHS psychiatric services and the school system.

Objectively, a reader outside of the UK would find some chapters in the book intriguing because a lot of space was devoted to explaining the jargons (statementing, section, grammar schools) and the NHS administrative systems. Of course, your need to clarify the peculiar UK background of your clinical practice is understandable.

Your sensitivity and constant reference to the feelings, background and learning curves of your sub-ordinates and other members of the team are rare attributes of psychiatric bosses, whom I usually found lacking in affect! If more medical students have access to your book, I'm sure many more will choose psychiatry as a career. The Cockroach Catcher promotes the human side of clinical psychiatric practice in simple language that an outsider can appreciate. An extremely outstanding piece of work indeed.

From Australia:

I have finished reading The Cockroach Catcher and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Zhang, I particularly liked the juxtaposition and paralleling of your travel stories and observations with your case studies, Of course, I could appreciate it even more, knowing the author and hearing your voice in the text. Because I’m dealing with anorexia, ADD and ADHD students I was very interested in your experiences with patients and parents and your treatment. Amazing how many parents are the underlying causes of their offspring’s angst. It was an eminently readable text for the medically uninitiated like me. Keep writing, Zhang

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