the ongoing ripple effects of trauma and PTSD

Forever Crying Over the Ripples of Trauma

I was alone in the car. I made sure of that before I let the tears flow. Moments like these catch me off-guard, my reaction cannot be predicted. It was an ordinary day, a completely normal Monday, and I’d just driven past the scene of a car accident.

It’s always unexpected, really. A siren wails in the distance as I’m on my way home. I only half-register it. Then the sound building, the urgency mounting. It has my attention now. Cars are moving aside to let the ambulance pass.

I do the same. Then immediately feel my heart skip a beat, before remembering that my husband isn’t with me. No need to tense as I watch the red and blue flashing lights race on ahead to the latest emergency. No need to hold my breath and gently ask if he’s okay. No need to worry about the flashback it’d likely evoke. He’s not here. This is not hurting him.

But before I can put it from my mind, I am here. The ambulance hasn’t, as expected, carried on well ahead to an unseen drama. It’s right here, stopping the traffic with its U-turn to join the other crews and emergency services who have already arrived. And the scene is hectic. People. Activity. Debris. Disfigured arrangements that were cars only minutes ago, still hiding their drivers and passengers.

Eyes front, I tell myself. Concentrate on my car, my driving, this side of the road. So I hardly see a thing. I barely absorb any details.

But my mind wants to keep on seeing, and I can’t seem to stop it. I’m not seeing the shocked bystanders. Or the mess of vehicles. Or the injured passengers.

I’m seeing only the paramedics. Calmly, but expertly assessing the grievous injuries that occurred in a split second.

I’m seeing only the police officers. Calmly, but efficiently managing the frantic trauma scene.

I’m seeing only the SES volunteers. Calmly, but adeptly cutting into the mangled vehicle to reach the injured.

But there is nothing calm about this scene. Nothing other than the calm emergency service workers. And the feeling is utterly overwhelming. Like a torrent, it floods over me.

Which SES volunteer here is counting down the hours until they can close the door on today and lose themselves in the welcome oblivion of drink. They will drain every bottle, but even that won’t be enough to wash away the endless memories haunting their mind.

Which police officer here has just been tipped over the edge? Holding it together, barely, until the end of this job, or this shift, before numbly finding their way home as a shattered mess. They will never again put on their uniform.

Which paramedic here is already so broken that, after today, they don’t need to look for another reason. They can remain calm here, only because they are comforted by knowing that their unbearable pain will soon have its end. They will be released.

Trauma is a stone dropped in a pond, and its ripples will carry on long after the stone has touched the bottom.

Which wife will have to endure the torment generated by her husband’s alcohol abuse? Which husband will struggle to comprehend why his wife needs to leave her career, and then leave him? Which child will say goodnight to their father with an extra-tight hug, never realising it will be the very last time?

Alone in my car, there is no way to stop the tears. I cry for all the ripples. I cry because we are these ripples.

And I know there will never again be a time when I will not cry over the ripples.



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  1. I cry with you too. Those are my ex co-workers, my family, my blood who rush to help. Knowing what I know now, after 8 years of working on an ambulance then dealing with my own PTSD I can’t help but always wonder, “Who will help the helpers?” My brother drinks, my sister drinks, my uncle is so angry it’s sometimes hard to talk to him and I live in isolation. We are forever scarred by what we see but it’s only because we care so damn much (excuse the language, too many years on a rig).

    • It is such a tough job, Diana, and it’s hard to imagine that anyone can come out the other side unscathed. Some do, but far too many are touched by PTSD along the way, and it will change their life forever. I’m sorry that you’re so isolated with your battle, sometimes even being able to connect to others online can be a help. Please take care. A friend said to me today: everything will be alright in the end, so if things aren’t alright then it cannot yet be the end.

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