Wednesday, September 11, 2013

To talk or not to talk: Trauma & Human Resilience Part II.

©2013Am Ang Zhang  
It seems to be against common sense to suggest that talking may not be good for severe traumatic experiences. This is more so for someone brought up on psychoanalysis; yet, the evidence is clearly against talking especially in severe trauma.
The Cockroach Catcher:
The speaker was a Senior Registrar from the Maudsley.

"......He was a Registrar at the time of the King’s Cross fire. He was just coming out of the station when the accident happened, and so was at the front line so to speak not just as a pedestrian but also as a psychiatrist. He became interested in PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and did a fair bit of research on King’s Cross and other disasters.

He quoted a number of cases, including the Herald of Free Enterprise disaster. There were those who despite help of all kinds would commit suicide. Many were heroes in that they saved many lives. Yet the feeling that they did not deserve to live eventually overtook them and they committed suicide.

What was most surprising was how the group that had counselling generally faired worse, much worse than those without any counselling. The group that did best were the ones that drank, and drank a fair amount.

It was not his intention to promote vodka but he thought we could not be kept from the truth……

His research showed that talking about the incident seemed to make things worse, much worse than anyone ever imagined……”

From To talk or not to talk: Trauma & Human Resilience Part I.

Part II:

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 Center 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.

©2013 Am Ang Zhang

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

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